The Incredible Llogara Pass and Dhermi Beach
After spending the night in Vlorë (read more about that here), I woke up to this little monster here:
When my friends Stephanie and Cristian had finally succeeded to brutally separate me from my beloved Bianca, we left to search for some breakfast along the coast of Vlorë. The city was now a lot less creepy than the night before, when we had been driving on a small, dark and rocky road coming from the Zvërnec Islands. Looking over the sea, we ordered a coffee and bought some fresh fruit and snacks. Then we got into the car, with the plan to search for a quiet beach in the national park Karaburun Peninsula via the town Orikum. We had no clue what was waiting for us.
Just after we passed Orikum we stumbled upon a huge iron fence full of signs: "no photos, no video, no telephones" - we had arrived at a military zone. A couple of armed soldiers were standing in front. For a moment we were not sure about what we should do. Then, brave as we are, we decided to drive up to the fence and ask them whether it was possible to pass. The soldiers were friendly, though they spoke little English, and finally we understood that we could buy a ticket for 200 LEK to enter some kind of archeological park. An old man coming from nowhere gave us some paper tickets. We had to hand in our passports so that we would come back the same road. Not entirely sure where we would end up, we just took the tickets and drove inside.
Parku Arkeologjik Orikum
Once we entered the military base, the sea scenery changed. Beach clubs made place for destroyed concrete buildings, chaotic graffiti, and a huge amount of bunkers - pieces of them scattered along the shoreline. After about 2 kilometres the asphalt road ended, and a sign said we had to follow a small sandy road up a mountain to get to the archeological site. Since we had paid for it, we decided to have a look. It was an extremely hot day, and without having any background knowledge the site looked more like an assembly of ancient rocks and structures without much context. We hoped to come across a place where we could swim, but that clearly wasn't going to happen here. After half an hour we decided to drive back, and just before we went into the car we came across what seemed like the only other human being in the area. An Italian man who had been kayaking came up to me and pointed towards a trash bag. I understood he needed one. I gave him the wrinkly plastic bag in which we had kept our fruit, and as if I had just given him something of great value, he pulled out one of the amazing eel fish he just caught and pushed it into my hands. Not quite knowing what to do with it, he insisted we find a place to cook it, and he walked off. Oh, well... a fish for an old plastic bag. Not a bad deal!
Driving back, we still didn't know how to get to the area we wanted to go to. We found out that Karaburun is actually only accessible by boat - that is, if you don't have a 4x4 and some serious skills off-roading. Yep, that was not going to happen with our Fiat 500 L. Better luck next time!
After getting our passports back (phew!) we drove further to Dhermi, for which we had to pass through what might be the most beautiful road in all of Albania: the Llogara Pass. Besides that this mountain drive is incredibly beautiful (you can't even imagine!), it is also a serious work-out for your driving skills, and it will definitely work to your advantage next time you challenge a 7-year-old at Mario Kart ;-) At 1027 meters high, the view is incredible. Here photos speak louder than words. It was a lot fresher than down, and there was a strong wind, which was very welcome on such a warm day. Going up the mountains with full speed would limit our poor car to about 40 kml/h, and going down all I had to do was brake, brake, brake. One time in particular, when suddenly a herd of more than a hundred goats appeared on the middle of the road. In fact, this happens all the time :-)
Straight after the Llogara Pass we found the Druri Dhermi guesthouse, which is even more amazing than on the photos (which are already beyond amazing), with huge banana trees covering small wooden huts. We liked it so much we decided we would stay two nights, and finally have our relaxed full-beach-day the next day.
It was now late in the afternoon, and apart from the coffee and fruits we hadn't eaten all day, so we were STARVING. Hence the first thing we did in Dhermi was order a gigantic pizza at The Royal Blue restaurant that tasted better than ever before. Straight after we finished it we ran into sea to take our very first dive. It had been months since I had last swam in the (way too cold) Dutch north sea. Let me say: the crystal clear turquoise water of the ionic sea doesn't compare to that! When we finally got out the sun had already started to go down, and we spent the rest of the evening on the beach, chatting, watching the sunset, and listening to the calming sound of the waves. Welcome to the Albanian riviera.
P.S. You're surely wondering, how did the fish taste? Unfortunately it had been in our warm car for quite some hours, so when we finally found a restaurant who was prepared to cook it for us, they told us it was no longer good... next time we'll have to build our own fire on the spot :-)