The Riviera Highway is a spectacular route running down the coast for Albania from Vlora in the north to Saranda in the south, climbing to 1043m over the Llogara Pass. Until 2009, it was a narrow and partially dirt track. Now it is a well made tarmac road.
After Vlora, the road follows the coast along lovely coarse white sand beaches with very clear water. There are many restaurants along this stretch with people dressed in traditional costume encouraging tourists to stop.
After Orikum, the road leaves the coast and begins the climb up the valley towards Llogara Pass. This is a pastoral economy with cows and sheep and chickens and turkeys. The Cika mountains are limestone and this is typical karst scenery with bare slopes and dry river valleys. There is little settlement although any available piece of flat ground is cultivated. The road climbs up through steep hair pin bends and we had to make an unscheduled stop by a small farm for the engine to cool down. There was a small stall beside the road selling onions, Honey and dried herbs. The farmer must have thought all his birthdays had arrived when he saw our minibus pull up.
As we approached the summit, we ran into coniferous woodland and there are several restaurants along the road. Local lamb is a speciality and tastes wonderful, although it does have a lot of bone!
Once over the summit, the road drops steeply down to the sea. There is a large layby where everyone stops to take pictures of the bare mountain slopes and the hair pin bends. There are views across to Corfu with the coast of Italy beyond.
The road runs past a series of small villages based on tourism. Being limestone, there is little surface water and goats, with bells around their necks, replace sheep and cows. There are olive groves on terraced land. Some families still have a donkey and the donkey cart is still used to transport the family short distances.
The road then runs past the area which was used by Russian submarines during the Cold War. It has only recently been opened to traffic and the remains of the huge concrete customs posts used to control movement are still there, now much covered with graffiti.
Opposite the Soviet submarine base on a small promontory in Port Palmero is Ali Pasha’s Fortress, built in the early C19th to consolidate his power base in his struggles against the Ottoman Empire.
From here is is a straight drive along the coast to Saranda.
Allow plenty of time for the drive – we took all day. The scenery is dramatic and I would have appreciated a few more photo stops!