Discovering the not-so-undiscovered beaches of Albania
Our last stop in Albania was in Dhermi, on the Ionian Coast. Everything I’d read about Albanian beaches described them as an “undiscovered paradise.” A New York Times article made it seem like the perfect spot for some quiet and relaxation. In response to the article, a reader wrote “I’ve wondered since 1992–my first trip to Albania–how long it would take this area to be discovered.”
As it turns out, one man’s discovery is another man’s lifelong vacation spot. The Ionian Coast isn’t South Beach, but it’s not the set of Castaway, either.
Here’s the thing about “undiscovered places:” there’s usually a reason why foreigners don’t flock to them. In Albania, it’s because it’s freakin’ hard to get there. The roads from Berat to Dhermi were rough–a theme here–but they improved as we drove through the mountain forest of Llogara National Park and down to the shore. We passed several busses taking the same route, but I wouldn’t recommend it. I’ve read that the bus rides are terrifying–and not just because the drivers have their doors open the whole time.
Yet when we caught our first glimpse of the coastline, I was in awe.
It turns out that Albania still has plenty of empty beaches, but many are inaccessible by road. Sunseekers must hike there or find an illegal boat ride. Since we needed to find a place to stay that night, we moved on.
We passed several hyper-developed towns before leaving the highway to check out Dhermi. Our hotel manager in Berat said it was one of the quieter towns along the highway, and in retrospect I completely agree. There were three hotels, at least two restaurants, and miles of open blue water ahead of us. Jackpot.
What the beach lacked in isolation it made up for in excellent calamari, big glasses of wine, and the most perfect temperature of water in the world. But I’d be kidding myself–and you–if I said it was ideal. Abandoned buildings line the beach. There were problems with water pressure, i.e., there was none. Generators strained to keep the lights on and disco music blaring. Trash was tossed all over the place. Dhermi seems to be caught between trying to be a rustic family vacation spot or the next Budva, but accomplishes neither. On the bright side, we were there at the height of tourist season, it was half the price of a Montenegro vacation and I’m still dreaming of that water.
If we’d had more time in Albania I would have considered camping out on an inaccessible beach via boat. We were told it was illegal to transport foreigners by boat in Albania, but with a wink and a nod that told us it was not an insurmountable problem. After all, Albania may be off the beaten path for foreigners, but it’s a well-worn road for Balkanites.