Hello dear Dame Travelers! My name is Ina and I am writing to introduce my beautiful home country, Albania. A few years back I promised myself that I would explore a different country at least once a year. I can say that I’ve been lucky enough to have hiked thru the rainforest in Costa Rica, kayaked and snorkeled in the turquoise waters of Antigua, fallen in love with Versailles in all of its grandeur, aimlessly wandered through the alleyways of Barcelona, and experience the chic Italian Riviera.
I realized one day though that while I was on this quest to immerse myself in foreign lands, I had yet to uncover all the gems that my own home country, the one closest to my heart had to offer. Prior to moving to NYC, I spent the first years of my life in my beloved Albania. Nestled in the heart of the Mediterranean, Albania is truly a hidden jewel. With its neighboring countries being in the touristic, Albania is the road less travelled. which has allowed it to maintain its true character. From un-trekked mountain trails to virgin pebbled beaches to cascades and waterfalls in the midst of fairytale like settings and not to mention ancient ruins as well as UNESCO world heritage sites, Albania has something to offer something every type of traveler.
As if its natural beauty isn’t not enough, what makes Albania even more attractive to travelers is the fact that it is still relatively inexpensive. The country uses its own currency called Lek (as opposed to the Euro). You can have a three-course meal in a restaurant in the heart of Tirana (the capital) for $20-25. A frappucino will cost you less than $1.25 (take that Starbucks!) and a cup of espresso will only set you back 50 cents. Now if that’s not a bargain!
This past October I spent a whole month exploring my home country and I consider myself very lucky to have had the opportunity to do so. Traveling from the Northern alpine terrain to the turquoise beaches in the South, and everything else in between, Albania left me in awe.
Situated in a crescent shaped bay, the city of Saranda is one of the most popular destinations in the south of Albania. It typically serves as a good base for visiting some of the most picturesque and interesting sights in the area. Its Mediterranean weather makes for some 300 plus sunny days per year. Who doesn’t love that!
Blue Eye, Saranda
Only 25 km from the southern city of Saranda lies a true wonder of nature, and one of the most magical places I have been to in my life. The Blue Eye (Syri i Kalter in Albanian) is a natural spring with one of the purest and deepest shades of blue, turquoise waters I had ever seen. Divers have been able to descend some 50 meters below the surface, but the depth of the water at the center of the spring is still to this day unknown, adding some mystery and even more charm to this natural phenomenon. Due to its depth, the water at the center is a striking shade of blue, giving it the impression of the center of a human eye, hence the name Blue Eye. As the water moves further along the center, it changes color to a stunning blue/green and turquoise shade, much like the iris in a pair of blue eyes.
Ksamil is situated in the Ionian Coast, only a few kilometers south of the city of Saranda. Beautiful beach, turquoise water, olive and lemon trees and even tiny islands you can swim to from the shore! Oh, and sun, sun, sun. This picture right here was taken in October! Need I say more?
Grunas Waterfall, Theth National Park
The Grunas Waterfall is one of the many natural beauties you will encounter in your journey through the Albanian Alps. Its crystal clear waters, falling down the rocky cliffs from an altitude of approximately 30 meters, offer some of the most beautiful sights.
Thethi National Park
Thethi National Park looks like a painting no matter where you turn. Its picture perfect landscape serves as a wonderful backdrop to the 5-6 hour hike to reach another oasis, the Blue Eye of Theth. Yes, yet another Blue Eye (remember the spring in Saranda?).
Blue Eye, Theth
We had been walking and hiking the entire day through winding trails, and I would be lying if I said my feet weren’t crying for help at this point. But as soon as this beauty uncovered right before my eyes, this is all my brain could focus on at the moment and all else had seemed to vanish. This natural pool of amazingly blue water was surrounded by a jungle-like environment, which made it seem like a place fit for a fairy-tale.
Vaskat e Gurit, Theth National Park
Stone formations in Theth National Park, known as “Vaskat e Gurit” since in many areas they resemble small bathtubs where travelers and locals alike can refresh and unwind with a quick dive during the hot summer days.
Valley in Theth, surrounded by the Albanian Alps, where you can find guesthouses that provide meals & lodging to travelers. These guesthouses are family-run places and the families cultivate their own food with everything from vegetables, dairy products, meat, and even honey!
The most scenic drive in all of Albania is the coastal road between the cities of Vlora and Saranda. Driving through this road you will find the Llogara pass (pictured), a mountain pass overlooking the Albanian Riviera. Seen from this high above, the sky and the sea really seemed as one!
As you are driving down meandering roads, at any point during the course of the road you will find the majestic view of the mountains on one side and the beauty of the Riviera on the other. Driving through this road is no easy task as it involves unexpected twisting and turning, but it is most definitely worth it!
Kepi i Rodonit
A tranquil field offering beautiful views of the Adriatic Sea on the far right (this is on the way to Kepi i Rodonit, not far from the city of Durres or the capital city of Tirana). The building on the photo is a 14th-15th century Albanian Church known as Saint Anthony’s Church (Kisha e Shna Ndout), which to this day is considered a sacred place by Catholic and non-Catholic Albanians alike.
Albania is one of the more rare countries where religious peace coexists. For centuries Albanians have lived under the slogan “Feja e Shqiptarit eshte Shqiptaria” which roughly translates to “The religion of Albanians is simply ‘Albanianism’.”
For more adventures, visit Ina’s Instagram