Not only sea, now well known by Italians, and Tirana, the lively capital with a tasty gastronomic offer. The Land of Eagles is one casket of cultural and natural jewels to discover and admire without haste. A road trip it is the best way to get lost among stone villages, historic cities and castles where time seems to have stopped. Without forgetting to relax among natural springs and deep pools of water on the borders of Europe.
Palaces overlooking the sea, a long strip of golden sand and clubs that follow one after the other. At first glance, Durres it hardly impresses the visitor. Yet, it is enough to go beyond the appearance and the city slowly reveals itself to visitors: from the waterfront renovated last year to the projects of the new and futuristic port – which will apparently be the most important on the Balkan Adriatic coast – to the archaeological sites. Like theRoman amphitheater, the largest in the region capable of hosting up to 20,000 people in the past, built by Emperor Hadrian and discovered in the 1960s under the foundations of a residential neighborhood. The Byzantine Forumwith the Roman baths and the beautiful Corinthian columns, the Venetian Towerpart of the wall that enclosed the historic center, or thehammaman eighteenth-century jewel hidden in a side street, which escapes the most distracted eye.
A hundred kilometers separate Durres from Berata handful of white houses dotted with numerous windows where the watchword is to get lost. The city is the best example of centuries-old religious coexistence in the Land of Eagles, a place where the voice of the muezzin mingles with the sound of bells and minarets alternate with crosses. A visit to the Gorica and Mangalem districts, separated by the Osum River, with their churches, mosques and traditional houses, and to the Solomon Museum, dedicated to the history of the Jews saved by the Albanians during the Second World War (Albania was the only country in the world not to hand over even a Jew to the Nazis), and then straight to the top of the Berat Castle, an ancient settlement still inhabited today. Here the Onufri Museumdedicated to the iconography of the homonymous Albanian painter, and the Church of the Holy Trinitywhich offers a broad view of the valley below, are two essential stops.
About three hours’ drive in the rural heart of the country, with an obligatory pit stop in the village of Tepelenë famous for having the best water source in Albania and for being the birthplace of Ali Pasha, Albanian governor at the time of the Ottoman Empire who welcomed illustrious people to his court, including the English poet Lord Byron, separate Berat from Girocastro. The hometown of the former dictator Enver Hoxha (whose family home converted into an interesting ethnographic museum is visited), is a stone jewel a few kilometers from Greece. A walk in its labyrinthine historic center, among nineteenth-century residences, bazaars where you can buy carpets with geometric patterns and traditional taverns, before reaching the Castle which offers incomparable views over the slate roofs of the old town and the mountains. To be contemplated at sunset, while the sun colors the peaks orange. Pushing even further inland, it is located Përmet. The city is known, in its homeland, basically for two things: the glikoa compote made from fruit and sugar, and the thermal baths of Benje. To reach them, you leave the small historic center, pass the Church of Santa Maria a Leusë, an eighteenth-century Orthodox masterpiece built on the remains of a sixth-century building, until you reach your destination. The natural baths flow near an old Ottoman-era bridge. From up there you can get lost admiring the majestic surrounding mountains, but it is underneath that there is the best to discover: the healing water pools, among the best in Europe, and the Langarica canyon, the undisputed kingdom for lovers of outdoor.
At the borders of Europe
The stretch of road that connects Përmet and Korça is challenging but offers wild and unspoiled scenery. The four-hour drive is broken with a tasteful stop in the village of Gërmenj, from Farma Sotiraa family-run farmhouse where the watchword is bio. After a lunch based on local delicacies (try the milk byrek), we set off again to our destination. Korça is the city of art and good food, a favorite destination for the locals for the winter holidays, thanks to the heavy snowfalls, and a lively summer destination when it hosts the Beer Festival, which every year in August animates the nights of Pazari i Vjëter, the old bazaar renovated a few years ago. And then the surroundings: Voskopojë it is a precious village hidden in the mountains that in the past housed twenty churches, today there are four and a monastery just outside the center. The most fascinating is the eighteenth-century Church of San Nicola, a casket of frescoes. Further east, however, there is Pogradec on Lake Ohrid, the oldest and deepest body of water in Europe. Lin, Drilon and Tushemisht overlook its banks, ancient fishing villages, historic souls of the lake, in whose taverns you can eat succulent dishes based on koran, freshwater fish that lives only in this area (be careful though: farmed, direct fishing in the lake is prohibited). A last look over the lake as far as North Macedonia, a stone’s throw away, with a broad glimpse of the surrounding mountains, before returning to Tirana. A panorama to be contemplated in satisfied solitude.
How to get:
Airplane: the airlines Air Albania and WizzAir fly from the main Italian airports to the capital Tirana. Ferry: Adria Ferries connects the ports of Trieste, Ancona and Bari to Durres.
Where to eat:
Durres, Marina Bistro Barto order the orecchiette with sea bass and zucchini. Berat, Antigonibyrek (savory pie) with spinach and ricotta and a breathtaking view of the city. Përmet, Villa Përmettraditional cuisine revisited in a modern way. Girocastro, Odajato order the meatballs made with rice and spices. Gërmenj, Farma Sotirafarmhouse with organic dishes. Korça, Taverna Vasiliexcellent meat cooked with cognac. Pogradec, Tushemisht, Koço Taverntry the casserole with koran fish and walnuts.
Where to sleep:
Durres, Hotel Adriatik, the best view of the Adriatic, spa, relaxation and many activities for children. Double b & b from € 60. Berat, Hotel Onufri, in a traditional house, nice view over the roofs of the city. Double b & b from € 50. Tepelenë, Hotel Lord Byronguesthouse in the countryside with beautiful views of the Vjosa river and excellent organic food. Përmet, Villa Përmet, late 19th century house renovated in the local style with a touch of contemporary design. Double b & b from € 50. Girocastro, Hotel Kodra, in an Ottoman-era building, a stone’s throw from the bazaar. Double b & b from € 50. Korça, Life Gallery Hotelboutique hotel with designer furnishings.
Source: Vanity Fair