THE BLOG
10/09/2014 10:56 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Invading Albania's Party Beaches

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Enver Hoxha was right. An invasion of the Albanian Coast is coming. However, his projection for the arrival of the foreigner hordes was off by about 60 years, and it looks like the roughly 700,000 igloo-shaped pillboxes dotting the Albanian coast and countryside won't be necessary.

Hoxha, the brutal communist leader who ruled Albania from 1944 until his death in 1985 was almost comically paranoid that the entire world was coming to get Albania. The landing craft never came. Hoxha died, and in 1992 Albania voted the communists out of power and began a long transition to democracy.

Albania was sealed off to foreigners for almost the entirety of the Cold War. With democracy came an influx of visitors from the rest of the world. No one knew quite what to expect.

Let's just get this out of the way now, getting to the pristine beaches of the Albanian Riviera is not an easy task. Traveling in Albania can be a tiresome, frustrating and it's always quirky.

If you're headed south, you are more than likely going to begin your journey in the capital city of Tirana. For reasons that have never been clearly articulated, Albania does not believe in central bus stations like the rest of Europe. There are proper buses, but they leave from random street corners in different parts of the city. If you want to ascertain the departure point of a certain bus, you need to scour the internet, ask around and most likely buy your ticket from the newspaper kiosk closest to the departure point.

While full-size buses exist, most people travel via furgon. The furgon is a minibus that travels along a semi-set route. Again, it picks up and drops off at odd locations that will make absolutely no sense to the neophyte traveler, but it works. Don't question it, embrace it and learn to love it.

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To head south towards Dhërmi, you will need to find a bus or furgon in Tirana bound for Vlorë. The ride takes about four hours and costs roughly $4.50 USD. Some visitors choose to spend time in Vlorë. During the summer there are many restaurants, beach clubs and a buzzing nightlife.

If you've come this far though, you want to push on and find the truly remote beaches. There are very infrequent furgons running from Vlorë to the smaller towns further south. If you can find a translator, or by some miracle you know Albanian, you can decipher the schedule and see if you want to wait. If time is an issue, a taxi can be hired for ~40 Euro to get you from Vlorë to any of the smaller towns that lie on the Albanian Riviera about 60km past Vlorë.

The drive from Vlorë to the sea is not for the faint of heart. About thirty minutes outside of Vlorë, the road enters the Llogara National Park, which has a distinctly Alpine feel. There is thick greenery boxing the road in on all sides, and as the track begins to rise into the mountains and twist around a series of narrow curves, the air temperature drops noticeably.

Just when you've settled into this twirling ride through the trees, the road spits you out on the shoulder of a mountain and below you are the crystal clear waters of the Ionian Sea. They are very far below you. The 1,027-meter descent through the Llogara pass can be terrifying. The roads are narrow, the grades are steep and the turns are tight. As an added bonus, there is no guardrail along the shoulder, so much like when driving along the Amalfi Coast the only thing keeping your car from plunging off the side of the road and down the mountain is your skill as a motorist.

This might be a good time to mention that prior to the fall of communism, there were only 600 cars in all of Albania. It was impossible to get a permit for a car unless you were a high party official. As a result, almost no one in the country has been driving for very long. Paved roads are in short supply, and questionable condition. Traffic can be downright awful and observance of traffic laws is spotty at best. Perhaps you'd rather not have that fact lodged in the back of your head as your taxi driver checks his text messages while ripping around a blind curve 1,000 meters above the waves, sorry.

After white-knuckling your way around the switchbacks, the danger subsides and the road rolls towards the beach.

Dhërmi has a reputation as a party beach for the Albanian elite. The white rocky beach spills up to the edge of a sea that is almost unimaginably clear and blue. This is as close to unspoiled as you are likely to find in Europe. The "town" if one can call it that is a two block long stretch of bodegas, restaurants and very modest hotels.

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During the day, visitors laze in the beach chairs along the stones, enjoy fresh fish in the beachfront restaurants or head out on the water in jet skis. At night, Dhërmi and neighboring Drymades beach come to life. There are cocktail bars along the beach that give way to enormous open-air clubs as the evening goes on. Dhërmi has been called the "Ibiza of Albania," and the clubs here draw in big name DJs like Tiesto and Paul Van Dyk. The wildest parties can be found at Havana Club.

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As an added bonus, the highest price of a Birra Tirana anywhere along the Albanian Riviera is about 90 cents.

The biggest parties are on the weekend, so if you tire of lying on the beach, eating freshly caught fish and drinking cheap beer, you can always go back to Vlorë, nearby Himari, another secluded beach paradise like Jale, or further south to Sarandë, where you can catch the ferry to Corfu and continue on the Greece.

Just make sure you don't tell too many people about this unspoiled paradise, the abandoned pillboxes won't be very effective at repelling a large-scale landing.