You’ve been dreaming about the rivieras all winter. The beaches, the yachts, and the rosé wine along the French Riviera, or the Côte d’Azur as you should probably start calling it. The beaches, the tiny fishing villages, and the pasta along the Italian Riviera. And the beaches, the ancient ruins, and the raki along the Turkish Riviera. All three are enticing, beautiful, and crowded. Very crowded. But there’s another riviera that isn’t overrun with jet setters—yet.
The Albanian Riviera extends from Vlorë to Sarandë in southwestern Albania. The Ceraunian Mountains—the thunder-split peaks—run straight down to the Ionian Sea. Corfu, one of Greece’s Ionian Islands, is in the distance. While little villages have stone churches, waterfront seafood restaurants, and those beaches about which you’ve been dreaming.
Dhërmi is one of those villages. It has old stone homes, with terra-cotta roofs, perched on the side of the mountain. Olive trees line narrow streets and driveways. Panagia Monastery and St. Theodhor Monastery sit at the top of the village. Gjipe Canyon, a four-kilometer hike, passes the Petasma waterfall and the ruins of St. Stephen’s Church. Plus the people speak Himariote, a Greek dialect only heard in a few villages along the coast.
You make a beeline for the turquoise water, of course. Ride a boat to the pirate’s cave, where rocks surround a protected grotto. Walk around Gramata harbor to find freshly pressed olive oil, freshly collected honey, and freshly caught seafood. Beach hop between Drymades, Shkambo, and Jaliskari beaches. They all have little pebbles mixed with golden sand and crystal-clear water. Stop at the Havana Beach Club for a cocktail in the open-air bar. You never know who might be sitting next to you among the white cushions and the sheer curtains. But ultimately decide that Perivoli beach is your favorite. You have the three-kilometer beach practically—and amazingly—to yourself.
It isn’t until the sand starts to cool off and the sun begins to sink toward the horizon that you realize you haven’t eaten much today. No, that cocktail earlier doesn’t count. Make your way to Piratet, where white tables and chairs sit on a deck overlooking the water and the coastline. Sip chilled white wine as you try to decide between seafood crudo, grilled octopus, sautéed mussels, fish ravioli, or a huge lobster. Ultimately choose linguine with shrimp after seeing it delivered to the table next to you. You’re surrounded by good food, good wine, and stunning scenery as the sun sets. It’s the riviera you didn’t know you were dreaming about all winter.