A few years ago I wouldn’t have even been able to tell you where Albania was, let alone tell you anything about it as a country. That is until I met my lovely friend and housemate Ajvi, who moved from Albania to London and opened me up to a whole new part of the world.
Now I can safely tell you that Albania is a small country on Southeastern Europe’s Balkan Peninsula with a mountainous centre, several quickly developing cities and a long coastline full of white sand beaches.
However, I’m a firm believer that you’ll never really know a place until you’ve spent time there yourself. So last month, after many failed attempts at planning a trip to Ajvi’s home country, we managed to get away for a long weekend so I could finally experience the place I had learnt so much about.
With only 3 days to explore, we took to the city of Durres to make the most of the boiling 35-degree summer heat. Durres is located on the coast, just west of the capital Tirana, and is home to the biggest port in Albania.
More importantly, Durres beach is the biggest and most popular beach in Albania, with over 10km of white sand and shallow waters perfect for swimming in.
Some parts of the beach are public but many are private and belong to the beachfront hotels. Obviously, the public stretches get much busier than the private sections, however even if you’re not staying at one of the hotels you can pay for use of their beach and deck chairs.
From our experience, I’d definitely recommend the private beaches as they are nicer and more chilled out for a relaxing day of sunbathing and swimming. Premium Beach Hotel is where we spent our first day and is pictured below.
If you’re more of an active person than a sunbathing person, Durres also has you covered. There are plenty of watersports on offer, from pedal boats to jet skis! We opted for jet skis and spent the last half an hour of our beach session splashing through the waves at 40 mph. The water was relatively smooth and empty, making for perfect jet skiing conditions.
Luckily, having Albania speakers with us, we managed to negotiate a good price. However, even if you don’t speak Albanian, it’s still worth negotiating anyway.
Those who have eaten with me before know that I am not a big fan of seafood, however, when in Rome…
Being a coastal country, Albania is fond of its seafood. I was taken by Ajvi’s family to a lovely local restaurant called Valledoria at Golem Beach, just half an hour down the coast from central Durrës.
After being sat down at our table, the owner and head chef Beni personally came out and showed us the fresh fish he would be cooking for us. It was at this point that he was informed of my dislike of seafood. With a disapproving look, he said to me “You will try everything, and only then if you don’t like it I will cook you something else!”. And so I did, and it wasn’t half bad!
The mussels were served in a delicious tomato and garlic sauce, which luckily for me overshadowed the fishy taste enough for me to quite enjoy them. The seafood pasta looked amazing (and that’s coming from me!), and was packed with the likes of shrimp, mussels and octopus. All of the seafood served in the restaurant is locally caught and freshly prepared.
Eventually, Beni did cave in and whipped me up a special non-seafood pasta dish of pancetta and rich tomato sauce. Having been a chef in Italy, this dish, which he threw together oh so casually, was one of the best pasta dishes I have had in a long time! A delicious and extremely filling meal in a beautiful beachside setting.
After a long day at the beach, or exploring in the heat, what’s the one thing you definitely need? Ice-Cream of course!
For the best Ice-Cream in Durres, we headed to Pasticeri Pelikan on Bulevardi Dyrrah. With its many different exciting flavours, as well as sweets and chocolates galore, Pasticeri Pelikan is heaven for those with a sweet tooth!
Plus, if it’s popular with the locals, you know you’re on to a winner.
What really took me by surprise was Durres’ nightlife. Bars, beachfront hotels and restaurants remain open for drinks into the night, and the city streets remain bustling with people until the early hours. However, it’s when the clock strikes midnight that the real parties begin.
Several large beach clubs line the coastline, playing host to live Albanian artists and DJs throughout the summer months. We headed to a new club Cinco Cavalli.
Even after arriving at midnight, it wasn’t for another hour or two that the party really got into full swing. Having reserved a table, our group had our own small area, raised above the central tables and directly facing the stage. Not only were bottles of drinks delivered straight to our table, but we were also brought a plate of watermelon to start the night with it.
From our table we had a great view to watch the DJs and artists perform throughout the night, accompanied on stage by the likes of fire dancers, aerial acrobats and impressive light displays. At one point in the night, sparklers were even given out to those dancing in the crowd!
I can honestly say that my Albanian clubbing experience was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before. A mix between a beach club, nightclub and live concert, there was enough to keep the party in full swing until 8am when the venue finally shuts.
Heading into Durres City? Check out this post for a 2 day itinerary of all of the best things to do, see and eat.
Where to stay in Durres Albania?
Set on a private beach in the southern area of Golum, Premium Beach Hotel is a luxurious sea-facing hotel with an outdoor pool, on-site restaurant and cocktail bar.
Alternatively, if you want to be a little bit closer to Durres City and the centre of the action, try the recently renovated Hotel Adriatik. Albania’s first ‘tourist hotel’ is now a beautiful 5* resort with a private beach area, an outdoor pool with its own waterslide, spa and sauna facilities and an on-site restaurant serving traditional Albanian specialities and Italian food.