Southern Albania

more than a year ago

Most Western visitors to Albania travel for business, and unfortunately don't see more of Albania than the road from the airport, and Tirana's bllok area. With just a few more days and a rental car you can turn a dull trip into a fascinating exploration of southern Albania, taking in some of the country's best sights, beaches and towns. Tirana In Your Pocket is at hand to tell you how.

Route & Roads

Most of the sights below can just be seen in a three-day road trip, though you'll be driving a lot, and an extra day will allow you to do it all at an easier pace. With only two days to spare, a return trip to Berat or to Llogara Pass and Dhërmi is possible.

On day one, start early and head to Durrës (driving time 45mins) for a quick look at the amphitheatre and perhaps the museum. Then drive south to Fier (1,5hrs) for lunch and a visit to the excavations at Apolonia. Then it's on to Vlora (30mins) and up to Llogora Pass (1hr). You can either spend the night in the forest up in the mountains, or descend to Dhërmi (1hr) for a hotel overlooking the beach. On day two, drive to Saranda (2hrs) to visit the Butrint excavations. Then head on to Gjirokastra (1hr) for the second night. On day three, drive to Berat (2-3hrs), following signs to Fier until the turnoff just after Patos. Then drive back to Tirana (2hrs) via Durrës.

The roads along this route are quite good. After following the relatively fast highways between Tirana, Durrës and Lushnja, you'll hit the worst stretch of road on this trip north of Fier. The road on to Saranda is reasonably good and is currently being widened around Dhermi, but it's still narrow and windy. That's part of the fun: this is as romantic and old-fashioned as a Mediterranean coastal road gets.

Fuel is easy to get as there are hundreds of petrol stations along the road; beware that between Vlora and Sarande there are only stations in Dhërmi, Himare and Borsh.

This route can also be done by public transport, though you'll need a few days more as the going is slower. Also, don't count on many late afternoon or evening departures; Albanians like to travel early. You will only need a taxi to visit Apollonia from Fier, and perhaps to reach the upper town of Gjirokastra if you get dropped off on the main road down in the valley. There are regular buses running between Vlora and Sarande along the coastal road.


For the In Your Pocket feature text on Durrës, click here.


Just 12km west of Fier along the road to Plazhi i Semanit lies one of Albania's most impressive ancient sites. Set on a hill overlooking the lagoon towards the sea, Apollonia was founded by Greeks in 588 BC and originally had a large harbour for seagoing ships. Aristotle wrote about Apollonia because of its complete lack of democracy (so it seems nothing much has changed politically). Agriculture and slave trade made the city rich, and after being taken over by the Romans in 229 BC it became a essential part of the Roman road system and a centre of education. Earthquakes and the silting up of the harbour meant the end of Apollonia's prosperity.

Not too much is left of the town, but archeologists have reconstructed the impressive six-columned facade of the bouleterion. Apart from that, you can see a Roman amphitheatre, view the foundations of Roman houses, the remains of a Roman bathhouse, and wander around the huge Byzantine walls ringing the complex. The nearby Monastery of St. Mary (200 lek) is well worth a visit. It was started in the 13th century and contains elements of Greek and Roman buildings. It now holds the Apollonia Museum and a pretty church.


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