Where Eagles Soar

Take it to the Limit
Sunday 10th July 2022


We got up at 5:30am this morning which wasn't such a shock as we usually get up at 6am when Sylvester nudges me awake with the sun already shining and the birds in full chorus outside our window. 

With Gatwick the only airport with flights to Tirana from the UK we stayed last night in a Courtyard by Marriot hotel. We were economising. In the past we would have stayed in the Sofitel connected to the terminal but that was £100 more expensive.

Instead the price we paid was the inconvenience of waiting for the hoppa shuttle bus to arrive. Twenty minutes later it arrived. Our flight's departure was scheduled for 9:00am so we had plenty of time.

The North terminal was busy. The queues for check-in appeared horrendus but they were fast moving and before long we were at the automated self-service bag drop. We were relieved when we weighed our suitcase. (Usually we check at home but we couldn't find the scales). With an allowance of 23kg we squeezed in at 22.3kg. A few extra pairs of underpants and we would have been over!

 We waltzed through security and marched through the long and winding duty free shop. We didn't stop. We were on a mission, Operation Breakfast. The first restaurant we came across was called Juniper & Co. "This'll do" we both said.

Their full breakfasts were expensive at around £17 so we dumbed down and went for the cheaper bites, a bacon bap (albeit in a brioche bun) for Julie and a "mediteranean" breakfast for me which had falafels and houmous. 

The money we saved was spent instead on a Dutch courage Gin cocktail and a glass of champagne, both for Julie. We were hiring a car in Albania so I couldn't have anything, not even a drop.

Our gate number came up and we suddenly realised we hadn't bought our customary bottles of champagne and large Tolberone so we mad a dash all the way back to the start of the duty free. I had pulled my hamstring on Thursday playing football so I wasn't moving too freely and was finding it difficult keeping up with Julie.

With our goodies in the bag we then made the dash across to gate 103. It was some distance away. By the time we got there they were already queuing to board the plane. We joined the back of it.

When we got to the desk six armed police officers were questioning this young man. His young wife and baby were also being questioned. She was in tears. They looked normal although for a grown man he was dressed like a child, baggy shorts, baseball cap worn back to front, etc.  I don't know what he had done but they took him away.

Our flight was delayed whilst they got their luggage off the plane.

Eventually, sat in our prefered seats we took off South. It was a noisy flight, crying babies and a lot of coughing and spluttering. There were no Covid restrictions to enter Albania and no mandatory mask wearing either but we felt like we could have done with some masks. There would be nothing worse than being on holiday then catching the virus.

Despite being 45 minutes late leaving Gatwick we actually arrived on time. The pilot must have taken a few shortcuts, if that's even possible in aviation!

Passport control, baggage reclaim, even picking up the rental car was all trouble free, until we actually saw the car.


Oh my God! My first thought was "How am I going to prove that I didn't do this!".

The car was peppered with dents, scratches, cracks in rear lights. It was bruised and battered. Whilst I was busy taking photographic evidence of  every square inch of the car Julie mentioned its state of disrepair to the Alvis car hire guy and he just said "It's Albania. What do you expect?"

"Thanks for that, pal" I muttered under my breath. Julie was already anxious enough about our road trip without someone telling us that we should expect a bumpy ride!

Anyway, we set off slowly, driving less than a mile away, stopping at the first petrol station. The tank was empty, despite requesting a full tank deal. Nevermind. It was a pump where you got served by someone, which harks back to the old days in the UK.

When I went inside I asked the girl at the register what was the word for thank you in Albanian.  When I returned to the pumps I couldn't tip the attendant as I had no local currency but I did manage to say "Valermidermit" and he genuinely seemed pleased with my efforts.

With a full tank and our TomTom set for our final destination of Himarė (which is pronunced Himara)  we set off with a four hour drive ahead of us.

We began by driving away from Tiranė, as it's spelt locally,  along the autostada to Durrės, a major city on the coast. The car was automatic which actually made it easier to drive. I didn't have to worry about gear changes whilst focusing on driving on the wrong side of the road.

 The roads weren't at all congested. The only thing of note was every now and again we came across very aggressive drivers, mostly in black German cars, (Mercedes, BMW,Audi) ignoring the speed limit, and almost pushing the cars out of their way. They would drive up close, literally inches away from the car in front, weaving intimidatingly until they got out of the way.

After two hours of steady driving we decided to stop at a service station just outside Novosele, a town between Fier and Vlorė. The petrol company was called Kastrati which made us laugh as it was too similar to castration to be serious. The sevices looked newly built, to the point I wasn't sure if it had opened yet.  The place was empty, we were the only ones there. 

Thankfully it was open, so we bought something to drink. A strawberry juice and a blueberry which turned out to be absolutely delicious.

The autostrada stopped at Vlorė where we reached the coast.  Having already stopped for our "comfort break" we kept on driving, following the road South, hugging the coastline.

The words "hugging the coast" sound idyllic but all we could see was back to back hotels, a constant chain of concrete resorts for over 10km.

When we reached the town of Orikum we turned inland and came to the imposing Ceraunian mountains, sometimes refered to as the Thunderbolt mountains.

I was quite excited abut the prospect of driving over them through a twisting mountain pass. I hadn't mentioned this to Julie. As we drove up the Dukat valley she asked "Are we having to go over that?"  with a quiver of fear in her voice.

The road began to climb, twisting and turning its way up the mountain side. It seemed to go on forever. At its highest point Llogara pass reaches 1027m, a similar height to Yr Wyddfa, (Snowdon) the highest mountain in Wales. 

It was a beautiful sunny day but oddly enough we were feeling cold with the air-con blasting in our faces so we switched it off and opened our windows. We immediately felt the warmth fill the car, we could even smell it, that sweet fragrant air from the shrubs. We could also hear the constant chatter of the cicades. Despite the countless hair pin bends we were both really enjoying the drive. 

At the top it had an Alpine feel to it as we drove through a tourist village of timber lodges in the woods. Its a popular summer destination for hiking trails. 

Having reached the top the only way was down. When we emerged the other side we pulled over at a convenient view point to admire the stunning scenery of the mountains and the sea stretching South as far as we could see.

We didn't hangaround for long. It was so blustery it almost knocked us over. When we took a selfie it looked like we were sky diving! So we returned to the car and continued our journey.

Along the way we passed this guy wearing nothing but a pair of swimming trunks, those rubber moulded sliders and carrying a beach towel. "What the ..... !?!?" we both blurted out. He must have been 5 miles and 2000 ft above sea level. Crazy!

The road now meandered South, constantly weaving around the contours of the mountains. Despite  skirting the coastline we rarely saw the sea. Every now and again we would catch a glimpse of the Adriatic (or was it the Ionian?) but not once did the road actually drop down to the shoreline.

Instead we drove through stunning lush landscapes at the foot of Maja e Ēikės. the highest peak in this mountain range. The area was sparsely populated. We drove through a handful of villages clinging to the hillside, such as Dhėrmi with its quaint monastery.  

Just when we thought we were on our way down to the coast the road would twist and we would find oursleves driving back up the hill. Up and down and around and around we drove for what felt like an age until eventually we kept on heading downhill towards Himarė. 

 Before our SatNav proudly declared we had reached our destination I switched it off and went solo.  I knew our hotel wasn't in the centre of town but a mile or two further down the road.

Situated right on the road the Palermiti Luxury Suites couldn't have been easier to find. With some considerable relief after our long journey we parked the car and went to find reception.

At the end of the row of chalets was a swimming pool and a small bar area which doubled up as their reception and office. A young lad named Drilon greeted us and spoke good English. He took us to our room.

Despite being right on the road the hotel was positioned in a great location, sat high on a rocky outcrop with  views over the sea.  Each chalet had a shaded garden with a swing chair (only one) from which you could relax and watch the sun set.

The room itself was spacious and bright with patio doors onto the garden. The bathroom was modern with a large walk-in shower with a floor to ceiling glass panel looking back into the bedroom. If you didn't like the idea of being watched whilst showering there was a roller blind you could pull down!

Having spent all day travelling we weren't in the mood to get back in the car to find supper so we decided to eat at the hotel. We weren't expecting much but they had some nice choices on their menu. We sat by the pool and ordered food. Julie fancied the chicken dish but it was a whole chicken for two to share, so she had to go for a grilled chicken fillet instead. I chose a Greek salad to start and a tomato pasta to follow.

When the food arrived some things must have been lost in translation as my spaghetti came with pesto and we also had this baked cheese dish which we hadn't even ordered. They also arrived all at once. Not wanting to offend I didn't turn any of it away.

I ploughed through my salad. The local feta cheese was hard and very salty. Not my favourite. I then had the bonus of a whole baked block of it! I struggled to finish. I moved on to my pasta which by now had gone cold. Also because my palet had been assaulted I couldn't really taste the pesto.

On the positive side Julie really enjoyed her chicken and the Italian Pinot Grigio was perfect.

After supper we sat out for a while to finish our bottle of wine. The view from the loungers over Porto Palermo, a sheltered bay with a medieval fort on an island in the middle, was absolutely breathtaking.  

It was a beautiful evening, the air still warm and the sky aglow with the sunset. We wrapped ourselves in our own contentment. It was just so relaxing. The road below us was quiet, hardly any traffic to disturb the peace.

At 8pm we decided to call it a night and retired to our room. We were very tired and more than ready to catch up on some much needed sleep.

  Next Day >>>  

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