Albania has a coastline stretching for 362 kilometres from the sandy northern deltas of the North to the majestic bays of the South, its shores washed by both the Adriatic and Ionian seas and its profile distinctively Mediterranean. With its spectacular cliffs and azure waters, churches full of mediaeval religious art and a history that blends classical ruins with Illyrian heritage - not to mention the fine seafood cuisine - the Albanian Riviera is a potential attraction also for international tourism.
A journey along the Albanian Riviera begins at the pass of the Llogara Mountain, where the Llogara National Park (900 meters above the sea level) offers large pine forests and lively mountain streams. Descending along a road offering panoramic views, where local sellers offer honey, beeswax and local raki, the first stop on the Ionian coast is the spacious and secluded beach of Palasa, located at the beginning of the Karaburun Peninsula, where Julius Caesar's legions are said to have landed on their way battle Pompey in the 1st century BC. Further south is the village of Dh Ebrmi, where the houses and churches are perched on the very edge of spectacular cliffs. As well as its famous beach and vibrant night life, Dh Ebrmi is home to 31 churches and monasteries, including the Saint Mary Church and Panais Monastery, with a Byzantine-style basilica dating back to the 14th century.
Further along the coast lies the resort town of Gjipe, with a kilometre-long canyon filled with ancient trees and stone walls, followed by the town of Himara, where the long, sandy beaches are surrounded by hills planted with olive and orange groves and elegant cypresses. First settled by an Illyrian tribe, Himara has been inhabited for thousands of years, and has seen Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Goth, Slavic, Saracen and Norman occupation. Its 5th century BC castle is now home to the Church of Saints Sergius and Bacchus. Another 10km along, the Castle of Ali Pahsa sits on a peninsula running into the Porto Palermo bay. It was built in the 18th century by the Ottoman-appointed Albanian sovereign, Ali Pahsa Tepelena, in honour of his wife. In the 19th century he also played host to the rebel British poet Lord Byron.
For the camping enthusiast, the Bay of Jala offers a retreat into spectacular nature alongside deep blue waters. For a more worldly atmosphere, the town of Saranda is the largest on the Riviera, with well-developed accommodation and a lively night life, a favourite spot for Albanian honeymooning couples. At night, the Castle of Lekures offers spectacular views over the bay. Ksamil is one of the most attractive tourist villages in the south, with its five small islands hosting a variety flora and fauna.
Butrinti is the historical and archaeological jewel of the Riviera - a World Heritage site dating back 2,500 years. Legend has it that this Hellenic site was established by the same refugees of the Trojan War who would later found Rome. It has a complex of ruins that include public baths, Roman housing and a basilica, as well as fine sculptures, carvings and mosaics.