Ask any sun-seeking holidaymaker where they’re going this summer and you’re unlikely to hear ‘South Albania’ as their response, which is exactly why this little-known area is so charming. Virtually unknown in comparison to its neighbour Greece to the south, it shares the same beauty but with half the tourists, and crucially half the cost. Hire a car from the historic UNESCO World Heritage town of Butrint and take a road trip north to discover some of the hidden coves and wide stretches of sand, which will make you fall in love with this indescribably beautiful part of the world.
Located so close to the Greek island of Corfu you can almost touch it, Ksamil beach also has its own tiny islands offshore which you can swim to without getting into trouble with immigration.
The warm, shallow water is perfect for children to splash and play, and the white sand practically squeaks underfoot, it’s so soft. Previous travellers have described this turquoise water and white sand as like something from the Caribbean, and they’re certainly not wrong. Save for the handful of beach bars and restaurants on hand to provide you with a refreshing drink to cool off, you’re not likely to find too many others enjoying this part of the coastline with you.
Away from the coast, around 15 minutes’ drive down winding roads from the coastal town of Saranda, you’ll find a place known as ‘Blue Eye’, or Syri i kaltër in Albanian.
It’s a naturally occurring phenomenon which changes the colour of a crystal clear lake from emerald green to a deep cobalt blue and back again before your very eyes. The water is so clear that you can see every rock, pebble and fish below, and that’s a long way down… No one actually knows how deep the lake is, but divers have been to a depth of 50 metres and still not reached the bottom. If you can stand the cold waters it’s a refreshing place to take a dip and escape the summer heat, but if you’re travelling in the cooler season, only the very brave will want to dive in here!
If you like your beaches long and sweeping then 7 kilometre long Borsh Beach will be love at first sight.
Borsh tends to be overlooked by travellers on their way to Saranda, so it has a quiet, intimate feel despite being a relatively large beach for this part of the world. It is backed by the Mal Luce Mountain and surrounded by grazing goats and picturesque olive groves, and the colour of the sea is simply breathtaking. Take a seat at Ujvara Veranda and sip coffee whilst watching a nearby waterfall empty into the sea, then while away your afternoon under a sun lounger. After all, beaches like this were made for relaxation.
1 hr 26 mins
Also known as Himare, this popular beach resort has less character than its quieter neighbours but can’t be beaten for great amenities, including some excellent restaurants and bars.
Taverna Lefteri consistently tops the bill for its great fresh seafood such as saganaki shrimps and locally caught codfish. There is also a characterful Old Town at the top of the hill which embodies Albanian history perfectly with a few crumbling fortress style buildings and bunkers used to protect the town from invaders. Back on lower ground, the pebbly beach is a great spot to recline and enjoy the warm climes, with green-blue water and large selection of parasols.
1hr 47 mins
Within the Himara district, Dhermi Beach is a favourite for local tourists from Tirana and is a centre for those wishing to kick back and have a party.
Despite its loud bars spilling onto the beach, there is a lot to discover here, including a couple of lovely monasteries (Saint Mary Panajia and the monastery of Saint Theodhor) at the top of the village. Offshore, there are a range of caves and beaches to explore by boat. Be sure to visit Pirate Cave Rock and Shkambo, Jaliskari and Perivoli beaches which can only be accessed by the water. If you’re feeling active, a speedboat ride to Gjipe Bay followed by a 4km hike up to Gjipe Canyon will reveal the beautiful Petasma waterfall, measured at over 75 metres high.
2 hr 15 mins