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The best of Greece plus the best of Italy: I’m a travel expert and here’s why the Albanian Riviera is Europe’s most beautiful budget holiday secret (and it’s cheap, with carafes of wine for £4)


In the market for a holiday somewhere beautiful, yet not so touristy?

I’m Gilbert Ott, frequent flier and Founder of travel site godsavethepoints.com, and here’s everything you need to know about the underrated (and underpriced) gem of Albania.

WHERE IS THE ALBANIAN RIVIERA?

Geography lessons in Europe are always fun, in part because they’re usually surprising. The Albanian Riviera is mere miles across the water from Corfu, on the border with Greece and couldn’t be closer geographically to Puglia, Italy, and places along ‘the boot’.

If you weren’t sold on the potential for beautiful coastline before, hopefully the realisation that Albania is smack-dab in the middle of many of the most iconic beaches and seasides in Europe helps. 

Travel expert Gilbert Ott reveals everything you need to know about the underrated (and underpriced) Albanian Riviera. Above is Saranda, which, he says, 'is the most popular Riviera town'

Travel expert Gilbert Ott reveals everything you need to know about the underrated (and underpriced) Albanian Riviera. Above is Saranda, which, he says, ‘is the most popular Riviera town’

Pictured is Gilbert Ott, frequent flier and Founder of travel site godsavethepoints.com

Think of the best of Greece and the best of Italy, but at prices that would blow your mind.

GETTING THERE

Getting to Albania is nowhere near as difficult as it once was.

Top European airlines like Lufthansa and British Airways now offer direct services to Tirana, Albania, and many discount airlines such as Wizz Air, Alitalia and Pegasus do as well. But that still leaves you a four-plus hour drive down to the coast.

Instead, catching one of the endless number of flights to nearby Corfu is the smart play here. Not only does it create an opportunity for a little two-in-one trip, but it saves you hours on the ground. From Corfu, you’re just a 30-minute ferry ride from the heart of the Albanian Riviera.

WHO WOULD LIKE IT?

It’s a destination for travellers looking for a spot with gorgeous beaches, delicious food and fascinating heritage, but without a back-breaking price point.

The Albanian Riviera offers the best of clear blue waters, sandy beaches and laid-back life in an area that’s still largely underdeveloped. If you had to compare it directly to another location, it’s probably got to be Greece. Deep blue waters, beautiful cliffs, fresh seafood and a laidback lifestyle, all served with enviable charm.

The coast near the village of Dhermi - an area that tends to 'win over the hearts and minds' of travellers

The coast near the village of Dhermi – an area that tends to ‘win over the hearts and minds’ of travellers

If you weren’t already sold, a carafe of wine is about $5USD (£4) for good stuff. You won’t get any of the $700-(£579)-a-night resorts of Greece or Italy, but if you want something amazing for under $70 (£58), this is your spot.

WHERE TO GO

Let’s be real – nothing here fits the pop culture bill of ‘touristy’, like, say, the Cinque Terre or Mykonos, but this little gem of an Eastern European secret is getting more attention with every day.

Saranda is the most popular Riviera town and is worth exploring, but it’s areas such as Ksamil, Dhermi and Vuno that tend to win over hearts and minds.

A list of Saranda hotels on Tripadvisor shows that there literally isn’t a hotel over $100 (£83) per night, most are around $50 (£41), and you can find others for far less. The same goes for Ksamil, too.

Gilbert says that Ksamil, pictured, is 'everything rustic, charming, authentic and unique that you seek'

Gilbert says that Ksamil, pictured, is ‘everything rustic, charming, authentic and unique that you seek’

The coast near Ksamil. Gilbert describes the Albanian Riviera as a 'little gem of an Eastern European secret' that's 'getting more attention with every day'

The coast near Ksamil. Gilbert describes the Albanian Riviera as a ‘little gem of an Eastern European secret’ that’s ‘getting more attention with every day’

The hardest thing to overcome is the mentality that hotels will automatically be horrible for the price, because they’re just not.

If you want to take things a step further and experience a place which almost all critics agree is simply wonderful, Ksamil is the town. It’s everything rustic, charming, authentic and unique that you seek. 

The seafood rivals the best in the world, the beaches are beautiful, small and often half empty and the town puts you in a virtually perfect position to explore nearby places of cultural interest, including the Unesco World Heritage site Butrint.

It’s near a perfectly preserved area from Greek and Roman times with incredible ruins and angles that will make your Instagram following very jealous. Oh, and the bus ride is less than $1 (£0.80) between the towns.

Because we as tourists are drawn like moths to flames toward anything crystal blue, liquid and beautiful, another must-see along the Albanian Riviera is ‘The Blue Eye’ (Syri I Kalter). It’s accessible by bus for under a buck.

This mysterious natural spring is phenomenal to witness, in part because you can’t take your eyes off the deep blue eye. Imagine a placid, beautiful river-style setting that’s worth visiting anyway, but where a 50m- (164ft) deep hole with the most captivating aqua-blue water bubbling up to create an optical illusion.

Gilbert recommends going on  a day trip to explore the 'incredible' ruins of the Unesco World Heritage site of Butrint

Gilbert recommends going on  a day trip to explore the ‘incredible’ ruins of the Unesco World Heritage site of Butrint

A must-see along the Albanian Riviera is 'The Blue Eye', pictured, a mysterious natural spring that's 'phenomenal to witness'

A must-see along the Albanian Riviera is ‘The Blue Eye’, pictured, a mysterious natural spring that’s ‘phenomenal to witness’

The Blue Eye is a prized place in Albanian history, and during the communist days of the country, only the elite were allowed to visit. Some say it holds magical powers, but whether you believe that or not, you might as well see it.

WHEN TO VISIT THE ALBANIAN RIVIERA 

This area, like the Grecian and Italian cities surrounding it, is almost perfect from May to October. Obviously, in a place with gorgeous beaches and crystal blue waters you want to be able to actually enjoy them – so going when it’s warm enough is key.

You’ll find low rainfall and hot hot heat from June through late September. If you had to pick, late May before the summer crowds or mid-September after them are probably the most idyllic times to visit. Really, you can’t go wrong.

There just aren’t that many destinations where you can experience something beautiful and unique without a price gouge, and this up-and-coming part of the world won’t stay under the radar for long. On that note: bring cash, because credit card machines are not yet a ‘thing’ here.

The original version of this story appeared on godsavethepoints.com.



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