Qeparo, a beautiful lonely village in the South of Albania

This year, we again decided to venture to the south of Albania to pick up where we left off last year. It’s July 17th 2021. Rains and precipitations are causing floods in Germany, but the blazing sun, the breeze, the deep blue Ionian see, the cypresses, the hillsides full of olive groves, the cicadas were still there. South Albania was waiting for us proudly and faithfully, being there for ever and ever. The beautiful villages of Dhermi and Vuno were still there and happy to see new faces this summer.

This time, we decided to go deeper to the South to discover new places, new people, new fates, to hear new stories. The idea of not being far from Greece filled us with joy; for the famous island of Corfu could be seen on the other side of the sea. We ended up in the village of Qeparo. We arrived late in the evening and booked an accommodation for one night at “Blue View Apartments”, located in the new part of the village close to the sea.

As expected, the Albanian hospitality was there. We had the impression it grew even more. Was it because the year has been a long, an extremely long year and the country seemed so joyful to receive impatiently new travelers and visitors after the pandemic ?! Or is it just about a hospitality that is inseparable of the Albanians?! Probably both.

Thimolea, the kind host, thin and suntanned as all the Mediterraneans welcomed and showed us the places where to swim. The way to one of the beaches was with plenty of path stairs.

He invited us for a coffee and told us about his story. Like all the other people of the region, he left the country after the collapse of the infamous old regime to go to Greece and work as construction truck driver. In the nineties, when the Albanians were searching for a living, the villages of the Greek coasts and islands were being built and covered in concrete.

A beach next to the Sea View Apartments

Thimolea left his children in Greece and came back to his native village to stay for ever. “Here, there will always be someone to bring me a flower on the tomb”, he told us.

Next morning we headed towards the old village of Qeparo.

The old village of Qeparo took our breath away. It was another part of the village. The road uphill was in poor condition but we finally climbed it on board of our car. The old stone houses up in the hill amongst olive trees overlooking the blue Ionian sea reminded us very much of other Mediterranean villages. But this village was a phantom village; it was almost uninhabited; barely a human soul could be seen high noon, the paths of cobblestones destroyed, a small grocery shop restored somewhere in the middle of the village by a couple of Albanians newly arrived from Greece. (Again Greece!). One old lady in black with a white scarf would come out of a path as a sudden living revenant; several meters away, another lady with an elegant straw hat just appeared in front of us in the middle of dog barking in the courtyard of a derelict church black bell tower but with no church; few children riding a bike in the middle of the destroyed path of stones, a very old tree in the middle of the village next to a ramshackle restaurant. It was a desolate place, with bleak and sad emptiness, yet beautiful and surreal. We started dreaming about moving into this village, picking up our favorite house, owning our own olive trees and enjoying the quietness of the village and the stillness of the summer days. At least this is what three French and one English did. We were told that they bought several dilapidated houses and gave them a new soul but to no avail for the village. There were still lots of ruinous houses, falling to pieces whose owners had died or dispersed around the world. Facts and phantasy mixed in our minds. All suddenly, the children grabbed my husband and me to wake us from our deep daydreaming. The sun dizzied us, the place transported us… This is Albania, my love Albania.

We finished the visit and turned back downhill the slope. Our children wanted so much to go down to the beach. Probably, it was just an excuse to leave the village. We stopped once again our car in the serpentine road to have a last look as if we separated forever. The solitary village was still up there on the top hill with its slopeside location, with the houses appearing to cascade down as the hair of a beautiful creature carved in mountain. We looked each other for the last time. I set the car in motion and turned my head for the last time with a long glimpse. I don’t know whether it was a farewell or a “see you again”.

Favorite beaches in Albania

Many friends and acquaintances have asked me about the beaches of Albania. Which beaches are worth visiting in Albania? How to get there? Is it safe? etc. The albanian coast is really beautiful, there are two kinds of beaches in Albania: sandy beaches, those along the Adriatic sea, and the rocky beaches along the Ionian sea in the southern part of Albania. The locals prefer very much the southern seaside especially the beaches of Vlora, Saranda and Ksamil. I have visited some of them and these are the five favorite beaches for now which will be updated through time of’ course.

Kep Merli, Ksamil

Kep Merli is a private residential resort in Ksamil with a small beautiful beach. Quite and very intimate. The visitors need a prior booking to visit the beach. The view is very beautiful facing the greek island Corfu.

Palasa beach

Palasa beach is egzotic. The colour of the sea is blue and turquoise from the white little stones of the beach. The high greyish mountains of Llogara give a very exotic and authentic look to Palasa. Next to the beach is a luxury resort with vilas and appartments that are availabile for rent.

Dhermiu beaches

Dhermiu village boasts some of the most famous beaches in Albania such as: the beach of Gjipe, Jaliksari, Pirate, Canyion of Gjipe, etc.

The beach of Gjipe is a very beautiful beach. Authentic and quiet. The walking distance from the parking to the beach is about 30 minutes. It is a mountain rocky road and forbiden for cars. So in case you are not a good walker than it is better you skip Gjipe or you use the boat transport from Dhermiu. Many visitors use the beach for camping. The mountains with the cristal clear sea are very charming. Perfect place to take memorable instagram photos.

The photo below is of the beach next to the restaurant called Pirate’s restaurant in Dhermiu.

Beaches of Qeparo

Qeparo is a charming village in the county of Himara. The village is dispersed in two parts, the upper part called Old Qeparo and the lower part by the sea. In Qeparo are few beaches, some more private and some are next to the restaurants and hotels. They are really lovely.

A beach next to the Blue Sea Apartments in Qeparo

Bora bora beach, Ksamil

Bora bora beach is just one of the many beautiful beaches in Ksamil. In front of the beach are two small islands, which may be visited by a boat. Usually in July, Bora Bora is very crowded but if you visit in June and end of August, it is very nice and quite.

Beaches at the Cape of Rodoni

Cape of Rodoni is only one hour drive from Tirana. It is an authentic and historical site. There are three famous beach resorts there, Rera e bardhe beach resort, Arbeni beach resort and the beach next to the medivial church of st. Anthony. It is a very nice destination for families and children.

Vuno, the idyllic village of Albania

I fell in love with Vuno a month ago during our family trip to the south of Albania. A small village up in the rocky arid mountains with its beautiful white houses facing the deep blue Ionian sea. Charming, authentic, desolate, enchanting.

I was invited again by the village. I returned last Saturday, July 11th 2020, ready to experience the village, know its secrets, walk its streets and meet the people.

The first local from Vuno that we met was Filip, the owner of the Villa Filip, where we booked our room. His house offered a splendid view on the sea and was a few kilometers from the village.

Villa Filip, Vuno

We spent the afternoon amid chirping of cicadas. Their music lulled us. We could not resist their songs. We were watching the sea from the Villa’s terrace. An invitation to laziness. I liked it.

Filip prepared us a simple dinner. At the same time, he would tell about his time when he left Albania to go to Greece for a living, with his young children on the shoulders. The old regime was falling apart. He decided to come back thirty years later and construct with his wife the house he called a villa, a simple building where he offers bed and breakfast and a beautiful hospitality without fuss and glitter.

The little chapel in his yard intrigued us. My children entered and rushed to the candles to lighten them in the middle of the wooden icons. I was observing the momentum. A small demi arched window offered the blue of the sea which in combination with the whiteness of the small church’s interior reminded us Greece. For indeed Vuno has a flavour of Greece. It is not far from it and the island of Corfu can be seen from the village.

On Sunday morning, we went to the centre of the village. A small coffee place in the middle of the village aside the main road that leads you to the south of Albania invites you necessarily and you can’t resist. The tourists were already there mixing with old people of Vuno who were drinking “raki”, the Albanian fruit flavored alcoholic drink, early in the morning.

The centre of Vuno

The coffee place offered a view on the slope of the hill where white houses were standing out from the greenery. It was idyllic. We felt extremely happy. It was peaceful.

The waiter and owner of the coffee bar was suggesting us to see a church in the vicinity telling us proudly that the prime minister’s mother was from the village. He invited us inside the coffee bar handing us the key of the church. I had never had a church key before! I was puzzled!

We headed towards the church of Saint Mary. I had its key in my hand. I felt baffled but also like a child about to open a treasury. I was moved to open a church built in 1783 turned into a cinema during communism. The iconostasis displayed in front of us. My children would rush again to the candles playing with some coins left aside as charity. We were alone in the church serving guides to ourselves. I turned the key back to the owner. It happened in Albania, beautiful and exotic Albania.

It was time to go for a swim. We left the village and discovered some beaches nearby. The beach of Jale, Gjipe, Dhermi, Palasa are the most visited and are said to be some of the best beaches of Albania. But they are not the only ones in the area. There are many that are off the main roads and one needs to get off the beaten track to reach them.

Beach in Palasa near the Green Coast Resort

We finished the day on the beach of Palasa swimming in its crystal blue-green water with white stones. The sharp mountain was behind us. We knew that we had to climb the narrow serpentine road again for a 4-hour trip back to Tirana knowing that those mountains and sea would be there forever for new invitations.

The Castle of Kruja, an Albanian true fairy tale

(Inspired by our family’s visit to Kruja, a city in north central Albania, in January 2020)

Up in the rocky mountains of a faraway land called Albania was a castle nestled in the hills, overlooking the lowlands, hamlets, pastures and olive gardens. The endless beautiful blue sea could be seen far on the horizon held in the arms of the blue sky. A nobly family lived there taking care of their lands. The small kingdom belonged to Lord John Kastrioti and his wife Vojsava and their sons and daughters.

Who could ever imagine that one day some strangers would come far from the east all the way up to the Castle to violently take the littles sons of the Kastroti family from their mother’s arms to be sent to the unknown?

Is it a fairy tale or is it a true story?

It is both, even now after many centuries is on my mind as I stand in in front of the Castle as I write to you with a desire to invite you to this fairy tale based on a true story.

I am telling you, dear Reader, the same story I told my children on the way back home, after the visit, on this day of a cold sunny Sunday of January 2020. And the story goes on …

It happened years and centuries ago.

The mountains and the walls of the ruined castle of Kruja are still there to bear witness of the blood and tears of the noble family. The desolation has not yet left the once beautiful lands with their many people.

The Castle and the possessions were grabbed and its people subjected to the new rulers. The Lady of the Castle, their mother, saw her little boys taken away by the strangers to be sent far away to the unknown. This has happened many years and centuries ago. Grief and mourning took over the beautiful Albania for many long years and the foes of the Castle Kruja would never be forgotten.

The Queen Mother had a dream that their boys would come back in all their brightness. And that did happen! The youngest son, the Great George Kastrioti, would come back for revenge for the death of his father. He never forgot what the strangers did to him, to his family and people. He and his small army would come and take the Castle again and stand against the unknown strangers for years and years.

Wall painting at the Museum of Gjergj Kastrioti

Afterwards he married a beautiful princess. The kingdom was once again happy with their Prince and Princess! They recovered their freedoms, the liberty to rule themselves without a mighty stranger over them, without seeing again their children taken away and sent to unknown empires. He then united noblemen and highlanders around Kruja and also other peoples and regions all the way up to Hungary. Some betrayed him. Some remained faithful and lost their lives before his death. For long years he resisted the big empire of barbarians coming back from unkown faraway lands seeking revenge on their turn.

Wall painting inside the museum of Gjergj Kastrioti

The end was looming. In the final days of his life he stood alone. His allies had abandoned him. His faithful fighters had died. His bones had been taken from his tomb to be lost for ever! The barbarians did not want him to be remembered for the posterity. His wife and sons left Albania to take refuge in the faraway lands of Spain.

Today, on this day of a cold January Sunday, I am standing in the ruins of this beautiful Albanian medieval castle, thinking of glorious times of the history and the beautiful tragic figure of brave George Kastrioti, while my children tugged my dress while asking all the questions of the world!