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.

One day in Durres, the ancient city of Albania

Durres is the port city of Albania. The city is known for its byzantinian, roman and ottoman archeological sites and relics. It is located in the western part of Albania, only one hour driving from Tirana. On Saturday we visited the Roman Amphitheatre, the Sorrounding Walls of Durres, the Venetian Tower and the Royal Vila of King Zogu. Our last stop was at the Taulantia street by the sea. Here are some photos from our visit:

The Roman Amphitheatre built on 2d century AD by empror Trojan
The Sorrounding walls of Durres build by the byzantinian empror Anastasias
The Venetian tower built on the 15th century

The Royal Vila of King Zogu

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!