I cannot tell you how wonderful it is to be sat on a balcony overlooking the Ionian Sea with a strong coffee, my daughter gurgling next to me, and to be writing about our adventures in Albania again.
After around nine months of being confined to the city due to health reasons, the noise, smog, and the sound of car horns can grate on you after a while. As I watched the coloured buildings of Tirana whiz past me as we made our way to the south, I felt that familiar excitement within me, the excitement that comes with exploring a new corner of my adoptive home.
This time it was not just me, Eri and a motorbike. This time it involved a two month old baby, a nearly-five-year-old boy, a family car and more luggage than I care to admit to. The 3 hour car journey from Tirana to the village of Radhime was punctuated with stops for the best byrek and dhalle in the country in Lushnje, bear spotting in the mountains (I saw 2 but Alen managed to spot 3 big ones!), and approximately 745 questions along the lines of “are we going to that beach?”, “what about that one?’, “are we at the beach yet?’
Our destination is the village of Radhime which sits just past Vlore, on the northern most tip of the Albanian Riviera. Ocean on one side, mountains and hills on the other, it is about 35 minutes from Vlore and about an hour from Llogara pass- a pass so high you have your head in the clouds and feel like you are touching heaven.
Radhime can be traced back to the 2nd or 3rd century but it wasn’t until 1118 that it ever appeared on a map. Over the years many artefacts including ceramics have been discovered as well as ruins of old dwellings and tombs. Until the Ottoman conquest, Radhime was largely inhabited by Christian and Orthodox families with names such as Bacchus, Sokaku, and Nikgonmitri. During communist times, it was inhabited by around 80 families and the surrounding land was developed agriculturally.
Our first stop was a small village called called Tragjas, not far from Orikum. We pulled off the main road away from the sea and made our way towards the mountains. We hoped to reach the abandoned village of Tragjas i Vjeter which was a battleground during the second world war between the Albanian Resistance and the Italian Fascists. Following the end of the war, the villagers left, moving down the mountain nearer to the coast and establishing modern day Tragjas.
The road up there is not for the faint-hearted- precarious hairpin bends and gravel mean that if you are going with your partner, you might get divorced before you reach the summit. Arguing aside, it is a wonderful drive- winding through olive trees and small holdings, watching the hazy blue of the ocean disappear behind you and be replaced with dusty rocks and grass.
We couldn’t get right into the village as the road stops and it was too hot to proceed on foot with a baby, so we stopped and admired from a distance instead. Amongst the green foliage spread over a small hills is a number of grey stone buildings, missing roofs and windows, some missing part of their walls. These crumbling dwellings were Tragjas i Vjeter- all that remains of the old village. It was truly fascinating- I wondered what it would be like to wonder around them, to explore, and to retrace the footsteps of the ghosts who I am pretty sure, still live there. It was very eerie to think of this once inhabited place on the mountaintop, now left to decompose and crumble back into the earth.
Ravenously hungry at this point, we decided to put our relationship to the test and hit the road back into the village. We stopped on the way at a secret location (if you ask nicely, i may tell you) where a local family served up the most incredible, traditional food.
We ate sweet tomatoes with cucumber and lettuce two types of cheese with white butter melted into freshly baked bread. Then our hosts brought us green peppers stuffed with cheese and garlic, and pickled aubergine with more garlic. Last but not least, they served a tray full of soft, buttery, deliciously fragrant and fatty lamb cooked in its own juices. Washed down with water fresh from the mountains and Turkish coffee, we handed over just 3000 ALL (about €25 ) and left feeling full, satisfied, and slightly dozy.
I think I was the only foreigner they had seen in a while as a flood of curious questions came my way, including them trying to guess my nationality. I nearly choked on my cheese when they asked if I was Russian.
As the sun began to set over the Karaburun peninsula and Sazan island in the distance, we were happy to be heading to our final destination for the night- Hotel Picasso. We chose to stay here due to the fact that within the grounds is an art gallery that holds regular exhibitions.
On Saturday we will be attending the launch of a new exhibit called “No Man’s Land”. It will explore the nearby island of Sazan through photography archival maps, and other mediums. A research based art project it combines facts and history with beautiful imagery.
The hotel itself is a stones throw from the beach and is run by a family since 2016. Kind and welcoming, impeccably clean and nicely designed, we were happy to rest our feet and to unpack the approximately five tonnes of accessories and paraphernalia that Dea requires in order to travel.
We finished a long day with Dea snoozing in my arms.
This article was originally published on The Balkanista.
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