My sister and I had been looking for a Mediterranean destination for a short summer break. The only criteria? Not a blow-the-bank vacation, but an adventure that would afford plenty of pretty beaches, open-sea swimming and culture. Albania, or Shqiperia as the locals call it, delivered in droves. While lunch for two in nearby Corfu, a popular holiday destination in Greece, could easily cost $60 (about $80 in Canadian currency), in Albania we had a dinner feast for less than $20.
And then there were these epic road trips — totally unexpected in a country the size of Maryland. We would learn that the Llogara Pass, where we now stood, is one of the highest paved roads in Europe — a thrilling trip through different climates — from the heat of cypress-dotted Mediterranean landscapes to fog and evergreen forests. Down below, we could see a fringe of powdery white sand on the Ionian coast. These undeveloped crescent beaches are some of the prettiest you can find on the Big Blue.
Outside, the cicadas loudly buzzed and the scent of sun-baked oregano wafted through the car window. We descended from the clouds onto the Albanian Riviera. A pearl-like string of beach towns extended south toward the Greek border. The Albanians can be a party-loving bunch with electronic club music shaking up the beach clubs until the wee hours.
Even if you’re not a night owl, you can find bliss along this idyllic stretch of coastline. We found it in Qeparo, a sleepy village wedged between the mountains and the sea. We joined the local Albanian holidaymakers on the beach loungers ($5 for the day) and stared across the water to where — according to Homer’s great legend — Odysseus washed ashore on Corfu.