Luxurious Rooms and Private Beaches

Trip Start Oct 24, 2005
Trip End Ongoing

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Where I stayed
Greccia Hotel

Flag of Albania  ,
Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Despite our love for Gjirokastra, we knew that we had to be moving on or the rest of our plans would all fall to pieces. So, after just spending one afternoon and evening in that lovely city, we were packing our bags and walking down the hill with Ricci and the Swiss couple we'd met on the bus. We were all interested in going to the Blue Eye Spring, an unusually deep pool in the wilderness of southern Albania, so the next step was to try and track down a car that would take us there for a reasonable price (no public transport was available). From what I'd read, it shouldn't have been a very difficult task, but we were unable to find anyone who quoted us a price anywhere near what we'd expected. 

In the end, we opted for a furgon headed to the beach town of Saranda, hoping that there would be taxis along the road near the Blue Eye that would be able to drive us the three kilometers and back from the main highway. The drive showcased more of Albania's hidden beauty, and before we knew it we were at the turnoff for the Blue Eye. There wasn't a single person around, let alone a taxi, so it looked like our plan was busted -- on to Saranda it was.

In Saranda we parted ways: Ricci was going to the ruins of Butrint, and the Swiss couple was planning to go south to Ksmail, while Konrad and I needed to head north along the coast. The two of us were able to locate an 11:30am bus, which meant we had a spare half an hour to relax before continuing the journey onward. I took advantage of that time to withdraw way, way too much money from the ATM and grab some snacks to tide us over til we had a chance to eat a proper meal.

When we got on the bus, we still hadn't decided which of the beaches we wanted to go to: Himara, Dhermi, or Drymades. All three sounded wonderful, and we changed our mind by the minute about which was the best choice -- it looked like once again we'd be making a spur of the moment decision (but, really, when you're choosing between three beaches, how wrong can you go?). The bus meandered north along Albania's western coast, taking us once again high into the country's striking mountains, past waterfalls, and through tiny seaside villages.
After much indecision, we made the call to rest our heads in Dhermi for the next two nights; we felt that since it was so close to Drymades, we might be able to kill two birds with one hotel. The bus let us off at the turnoff to Dhermi around 2:30pm, and we pulled on our packs and began the hike downhill towards the beach. In a move very unlike our normal selves, we took the first place we looked at: a beautiful, brand new (as in we were the first people to stay in our room), sunny and spacious room with a sea view all for the hugely discounted price of 20 euros per night. 
We walked out onto the balcony, took one look at the inviting blue sea below, and immediately threw on our swimsuits. Once on the beach, we had to make a pit stop for lunch (I'll give you one guess what lunch was...), and then found a spot on the sand to while away the rest of the afternoon. The beach in Dhermi is very, very long, and, like the rest of the "Albanian Riviera", it was very quiet and sparsely populated. 

This was the day after the bee face off, and the sting on my bicep had grown massive, red, hot, and itchy. I hadn't been stung by a bee since I was a little kid, so I had no idea if this was a normal reaction or not, but I was leaning towards the "not" side of things. A little bit of internet research later (what in the world did we do in the 90s when we had medical problems?), and I learned that it probably was normal. Crisis averted, I relaxed a bit and enjoyed the rest of the evening on our balcony and at the popular pizza joint down the road. (seriously, the Balkans is not a very veggie-friendly region)

Since we'd spent Tuesday in Dhermi, we thought we'd walk over to Drymades and give that a try for the day. True to form, we were a bit late getting started, so it was nearly high noon as we began the 30 or 45 minute walk up and over the hill. 
Hoxha, the uber-paranoid Communist dictator of the country from WWII until the mid-80s, had decreed that the Albanian citizens build thousands of concrete bunkers around the country in order to protect themselves when (not if, but when) the country was attacked. After his death, and as the country began opening up, the people started to see the lunacy of this plan, and wanted to destroy the bunkers -- but, as they were built to protect people from bombs and guns, it was no easy task. As a result, the countryside and coastline is littered with thousands of these bunkers still today. Throughout our time in Albania, Konrad had been playing a game we'd simply titled "Bunker". It was nothing more than a bunker-spotting game, but we were keeping score, and he'd trounced me up to this point. As we walked from Dhermi to Drymades, we passed countless more bunkers, as well as gorgeous, terraced groves of olive trees. Apparently, another of Hoxha's back-breaking directives was that the steep and rocky coastline be terraced. The people followed his order and those terraces are still around today, providing a lovely break between the stunning mountains above and the turquoise sea below.
The beach at Drymades was even nicer than that at Dhermi, so we felt good about our decision to make the trek over. There were a number of beach bars that threatened a possibly noisy afternoon, but it turned out they were pretty quiet, and the beach was even longer and emptier than that in Dhermi. The water here also seemed a bit clearer, though the waves were bigger -- and those weren't the only positives about this beach: we found a gorgeous lunch of tzatiki, Greek salad, and veggie risotto -- a meal without pasta or pizza!
From there, we decided to hike over the rocks and explore the different coves further north along the coast. The coves went on forever and ever, and most of them were deserted. The water here was even bluer and clearer than that on either of the other beaches, so we plopped our towels down and spent an excellent afternoon snoozing, swimming, and reading. 
The walk back to the hotel was wonderful as well: we saw wild horses, herds of sheep, and a superb sunset over Drymades. It had been a perfectly relaxing day in a perfect place, and we would be sad to say goodbye the next morning, but Montenegro was calling....
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