The small town of Përmeti in south east Albania is, according to Bradt, ‘a pleasant, clean little town in a lovely setting, surrounded by mountains and flanked by the River Vjosa’. It is noted for its roses, although in September these were past their best, gliko and a slow food movement. Gliko is fruit which is boiled with sugar into a thick sweet syrup and the slow food revolves around many locally produced wines, dairy products, honey etc. Bearing in mind its geographical location, it’s also a centre for activity sports like white-water rafting, climbing etc. We opted for slightly more sedate activities in and around town.
CITY ROCK – We walked to the City Rock, basically a huge boulder, at the end of town and feeling uncharacteristically energetic, decided we should go up it. Arrows led us round the back where we found a set of metal stairs leading us to the top (around 100 steps). There, we found good views of the town, river and surrounding hills and further in the distance the Gramoz Mountains between Albania and Greece. It’s a shame the views of the area surrounding the base were not good, looking like a waste site with rubbish dumped all over.
RIVERSIDE WALK – The riverside path, which was beautifully lit at night, all looked so new. At the far end of town was a bridge, garden, non-spurting fountain and a big sign with photos of activities in the area, proclaiming ‘Besides the sea, we have everything else’.
MAIN STREET – Again, all this looked very new and became pedestrianised from 5pm to 11pm when the shops and bars came to life. Elderly people congregated for a chat, families came out with bicycles and remote-controlled toys and everyone wandered up and down stopping at their favourite bars which became really busy. Having seen it during the day, when it was empty and quiet, it was amazing to think where everyone had come from. We were told that in winter Përmeti is deserted as it suffers from high emigration to other areas of Albania.
TOURIST INFORMATION MUSEUM – Whilst visiting the tourist office, the helpful girl offered to let us see the ‘museum’. Her colleague opened up a single room with display cases down the centre showing various artefacts including pottery, weapons and lace made during the communist time. Around the outside were white busts of Dora d’Istria, a famous author, and the three Frashëri brothers, who played a leading role in securing an autonomous Albania: the village where they came from is 40km from Përmeti. Unfortunately, the girl followed us around as we struggled to come up with interesting comments or questions.
ST PARASHQEVI CHURCH – We were fortunate that a lady was just opening up for an Albanian guide and two German tourists. The guide asked me if I knew Boris Johnson (this was the day Parliament was recalled – or just resumed as prorogue was illegal) and then showed us a photo of Mr Bean from his phone. What do they think of us? The key lady then produced a laminated paragraph in English about the church. The church was built in 1776 from local stone with a slate roof. A flood 50 years ago affected the upper floor reserved for women and so they now worship on the right-hand side of the ground floor.
UNKNOWN CHURCH – Opposite a bar we used was a rundown building which appeared to have a church, so we investigated and found it was indeed a tiny, long thin church literally down a passageway. We later found the building was the former cultural centre, but there is a dispute with the government over what it should be used for (a familiar tale in Albania).
THERMAL SPRINGS AT BENJA – These are just outside Përmeti and up a 8km track. Having parked up, we immediately got a whiff of sulphurous rotten eggs. We could see three pools across a beautiful Ottoman bridge: the first was a small pool which looked deep with incredibly turquoise water and one person waiting for her other half to get in (this involved scrambling over rocks). The other two were much larger but there were no facilities as such, and it really didn’t look worth the effort and so we gave it a miss and sat in the sun watching as people arrived, disrobed and then made their way across the rocks into the pool. Whilst the water is meant to have healing powers, it really didn’t appeal at all.
All in all, Përmeti has seen quite recent redevelopment, but having seen how quiet it is in September, it’s hard to imagine it in winter.