Exploring Albania…

Sarande – November 2015

Our next adventure to Albania was in November 2015, the old stone house still fresh on our minds, we needed to see more of Albania and more of what the property market had to offer before we could make any decisions.

We decided to go on a road trip, just the two of us for a few days. We persuaded Grandma (Gjyshe) to fly over from the UK to look after our daughter whilst we were away, she was more than happy to do so and has been a frequent visitor to Kosovo and now Albania.

We didn’t really have a plan or any accommodation booked, this was very unusual for me; as a travel agent I normally like every detail planned and to know exactly where I am staying, although on this occasion we didn’t want to be under any time constraints, so this gave us the flexibility to just drive, explore and see where we end up.

Our aim was to head as far South as possible within the 3 days we had given ourselves, having researched other parts of Albania I was keen to explore Dhermi, Himare, Qeparo and Sarande, as well as spending some time in Vlore/Radhime where we had viewed the old stone house.

After leaving Pristina on a cold chilly November morning we arrived to glorious sunshine in Vlore around 4 hours later, it was a very pleasant 20 degrees and very few cars on the road, this is a totally different story in the summer months and has taken us over 6 hours during this very busy period. Since 2013 there has been vast improvements made to the road network and is still ongoing to this day, with much more planned. More info

We stopped for a quick lunch and after checking google maps we decided to continue on to Himare, around a 2 hour drive from Vlore. Having only been as far as Radhime we were both excited to explore further south, we had heard this drive was amazing, through Llogara National Park and is the driving point between the Adriatic and Ionian Seas.

Llogara National Park

Albania is home to no less than 15 National Parks – all of particular importance to the Country’s tourism.

Simply Albania

It certainly didn’t disappoint, this journey known as Llogara Pass takes you from Orikum to Dhermi and begins in the village of Dukat. We began the ascent on to curvy roads and steep climbs, surrounded by beautiful forests. I noticed several restaurants along the way, as well as local honey, nuts and olive oil for sale on the side of the road. It was tempting to stop and sample the delights on offer but we needed to get to Himare to find a hotel for the night, we would save this for the return journey or the next time we were visiting.

After about 30 minutes driving we reached the peak, just over 1000 meters above sea level, the forest opened up to reveal the Ionian Sea below – it was a breathtaking view, full of green mountains all the way to the turquoise, tropical looking Ionian Sea.

View of the Ionian Sea from Llogara

Small unspoilt beaches as far as the eye can see are dotted along this coastline, known as the Albania Riviera the closest to the National Park is Palasë Beach, located in the municipality of Himare, 13 km from the town. It looked glorious and deserted at the time.. “perfect spot to build we thought” way out of our budget but 4 years on and this area is well and truly under construction.

Green Coast Albania – a MEGA tourism investment in Albania aims to place Palasë region on the world tourism map. Considered as one of the most important investments in the Albanian tourism sector. The first large-scale residence project spreads over 50 acres of land in this beautiful bay, now offers architectural designed individual villas, ranging from small individual villas to elite deluxe villas, as well as plans for a 5* international brand hotel, upscale service and entertainment, traditional and gourmet restaurants and a picturesque promenade along the sea.

With villa prices ranging from 1,750 – 2,100 Euro per square meter, this place is not cheap compared to other property, however if everything planned is delivered this will be a 5* luxury resort, offering a good return on your investment through their smart investment program

Our final destination for the day was Himare, we arrived early evening, after around 6 hours driving, although we had not viewed any property I was impressed with the unspoiled nature and beautiful scenery we had seen along the way.

As we drove in to the small coastal town, hoping to find a hotel for the night and a nice restaurant for dinner, we were surprised to see how quiet this place was, very few people and most of the hotels/restaurants looked closed. I had not realised at the time how seasonal the tourism industry is in Albania, especially in these smaller coastal resorts, typically runs from May – September so to find a hotel that stayed open in November here was going to be a problem, after knocking on a few doors we were directed back to the main road in to the town, the only place open was a hostel – although not my first choice of accommodation, I didn’t really care at this point, we just wanted a bed for the night and the only other option was sleeping in the car.

This actually turned out to be one of the funniest and most memorable nights we have spent in Albania, our room was huge with a large balcony opening up to the beach/sea, it was cold so we were given extra blankets and bedding but we slept with the doors open all night so we could hear the sounds of the waves crashing on to the beach, listening to Jo Whiley on BBC radio 2, we found a local bar for a pre dinner drink, witnessed a fight here then found the only restaurant open; where we had a delicious meal which ended with the locals buying us rakia and not wanting us to leave, they were very surprised to see English people in November, it was a good night and one I will never forget.

Himare – November 2015

We woke early the next morning to another glorious sunny day, Himare although quiet looked beautiful, I liked the pace of life here and the people were very friendly and so hospitable.

I had seen some property for sale here so after a light breakfast we set off to explore and see if we could find the apartments advertised online. It was not easy to find and we did get lost a few times but eventually we found what was 5 luxury apartments for sale, located just on the outskirts of Himara, on the main road. First impression was good, the building looked new and recently finished to a high standard, only 3 floors and 2 apartments on each, 2 bedroom, 1 bathroom, kitchen, balcony and allocated parking space.

Luxury apartments for sale – Himara

If we were going to consider an apartment this type of property would be preferable, a smaller quiet place, not a high rise large apartment block. This one wasn’t for us though, we didn’t like the location on the main road out of Himara, too far out to walk to a beach or the center, the price was 71,400 Euro for an 84 Sq Mt apartment, fairly high we thought for the location.

We realised then that location was important, we had to consider the future tourism projects and development of the country for the investment to work as a business, a holiday home for us but more importantly a unique Airbnb property; this was the dream and the more time I spent in Albania I could see the potential for the tourism industry and I was determined to make this happen.

To be Continued…

Thanks for reading, please like and share to spread the word.

If you would like more information on investing in property or visiting Albania please feel free to contact me.

Other titles to look out for:

‘Top tips for visting’

‘Where we are now’

Follow my blog to discover more about this exciting destination and keep updated with new posts.

Our Investment Story…

After 2 years of living in Kosovo and the prospect of my husbands job continuing, we needed to make some decisions. We only ever expected to stay for 1 year, however we were enjoying life here, although both very conscious of the fact we had no roots, we had sold our house in the UK and most of our belongings were in storage.

The more time we spent in the UK we realised we needed a base, somewhere to call home, although we had very hospitable friends & family when we were visiting, we needed something more permanent, a financial commitment.

Towards the end of 2014 we decided we should start looking for another property in the UK, we were both keen for a project as we had both enjoyed renovating previous properties we have owned and felt now was a good time to re invest and get ourselves back on the property ladder, this however became a complete nightmare; we found a property quickly and had an offer accepted but the nightmare began whilst we were trying to secure a mortgage – this was a lot harder than we expected because we were living outside the UK and we had no financial commitments in England, after a very long 9 months and still no mortgage offer we decided to withdraw from the house purchase.

Unfortunately we put our trust in one person to get us the mortgage and we were massively let down, we later learned this person had not even submitted our application, this was obviously a big disappointment, although after 9 months for me it felt like ‘it wasn’t meant to be’

During this time I was also researching the property market in Albania, becoming more and more despondent with the mortgage process in the UK and the time it was taking. I was pleasantly surprised by what I was finding, the amount of property available, also the price – we could buy a property with no mortgage in another country, one we had visited a few times by then, although still developing, tourism was growing and the government were actively seeking foreign investment in this sector.

The question for me was ‘why not’ there are no restrictions for foreigners to invest in Albanian property and the process seemed fairly straightforward. I was excited to explore this opportunity further and surprisingly so was my husband.

We began our initial search for property on the internet, one property stood out for both of us – an old stone house, located in a village close to Vlore. Both still keen for a project we made some enquiries with the agent and my husband asked his colleague Ylli, who is from Albania for some advice.

Within 2 weeks we had arranged to see the property, along with Ylli and his lovely wife Dese, they were both happy to help us with the process and have continued to do throughout this journey. We couldn’t be more grateful for their help.

It was great to have their view of Vlore too, it was our first time this far South in Albania so we knew very little about this area, fortunately Ylli did. We met them for lunch at Hotel Liro located right at the sea, on the road south as you leave Vlore, beautiful views from the restaurant. It was a grey rainy day but we enjoyed a lovely seafood lunch and were excited to learn more about Albania.

There was big change happening in Vlore, Ylli told us about the “Vlore Waterfront Promenade” (Lungomare) project, this was underway and was due for completion in 3 years, this was very apparent when we drove through, although we could see the potential from what we had seen and experienced by this time.

After lunch we met the agent and set off on the road South out of Vlore to view the old stone house, we drove around 4 km along the coast road towards Radhime, a nice small coastal resort with a good selection of hotels, restaurants and shops, just past the Paradise Beach Hotel (where we were staying the night, now one of our favourite hotels to stay) we turned left and headed up to Radhime Village, the road was not for the fant hearted and some parts even missing! I was slightly concerned to where we were heading, the higher we got though we could see the views were beautiful, overlooking the Bay of Vlore, eventually we arrived at the house, in the centre of this rustic Albanian village.

Radhimë Village, view from the house

The views were amazing from the road, the house was nestled down a very steep hill, set within a nice stone walled garden, accessed by a few steps. When we entered the garden to see the plot, I think we could both see the potential, we knew the house was derelict and would need a total re-build, however we had no idea if this was achievable or even realistic at this point.

We also knew the house came with the title deeds, it is important to make sure you are buying from the true owners and they have the right to sell the property. Since the end of Communism in the early 1990’s properties in Albania were handed back to the people from the state. It is estimated that some 85 per cent of property has now been checked to have correct title deeds, but the remaining 15 per cent is mostly in Tirana and on the coast. Most reputable estate agents will only sell property that has the correct title deeds.

There was a lot to take in and we had 1000 questions to ask, mostly for the process to purchase a property in Albania and more importantly the procedure for re-building such a property, “is it even possible” as well as the costs involved, there was a lot to think about.

We took lots of pictures and discussed possible options for re-building the property, one thing we both agreed is the house had to be constructed with 2 floors, to take full advantage of the views. We were told this could be possible but there were “no guarantees” you have to obtain permission from the Vlore municipality for re-building, similar to the UK system for obtaining planning permission, however this process in Albania was in the midst of change at the time, little known about the full procedure or costs involved.

After around an hour we decided to retreat somewhere to continue the discussions out of the rain, we headed back to Vlore and ended up at the New York Hotel situated in the Uje i Ftohte (cold water) area of Vlore, overlooking the sea. My daughter was extremely bored by this point so I took her down to the sea to keep her occupied and left my husband, along with Ylli, Illir the estate agent and Miftar the owner of the house to continue the talks and to hopefully answer some of our burning questions.

That night was filled with lots of ‘if, but and maybe’ discussions to weather we should buy the old stone house or invest in Albania, we still had lots to consider but this was a good starting point and we were excited to see more of what the property market had to offer here.

Thanks for reading, please like and share to spread the word.

Albania should be top of your holiday list for 2020

Simply Albania

If you would like more information on investing in property or visiting Albania please feel free to contact me.

Other titles to look out for:

‘Exploring Albania’

‘Top tips for visiting’

‘Where we are now’

Follow my blog to discover more about this exciting destination and keep updated with new posts.

Where the journey began…

Our journey began when we moved to Kosovo as a family back in February 2012, my husband was already working in the country and was also posted here during his time in the British Army, so following an initial visit with my daughter in September 2011, my husbands knowledge of the country and the prospect of us all being together again we made the decision to move.

It was enough for me to give up my career in travel; which I loved, sell our house, leave family and friends and move to a country and area I knew little about.

I have to say it was a move I do not regret, although originally our plan was to emigrate to Australia for a better life we found it in a place we least expected to ever live, being closer to home, friends and family also made it easier.

The move gave us quality time together and wonderful opportunities to travel and explore this amazing Balkan Region.

Time spent in Kosovo as well as weekends and holidays in North Macedonia, Greece & Croatia, all very accessible by car from where we live; something my husband has loved as he hates flying, so a driving holiday is preferable for him.

We have also been very fortunate to meet some lovely people, hopefully now life long friends from Kosovo, Albania & Croatia, it was some of these friends that first introduced us to Albania – A country closed off from the world during the Communist era, one I knew little about or ever expected to go to on holiday.

Our first trip to Albania was in September 2013, we stayed for 1 night in Tirana then headed South just past Durres, near Kavaje to a place called Plazhi i Gjeneralit (General’s Beach) our good friends Jeremy & Altina recommended a stay here, they were frequent visitors when they wanted to escape for a few days by the sea, being the nearest coast to Kosovo and the tips we have had from Altina we decided to give it a try.

To be perfectly honest that first trip was not without problems, we found the roads and traffic chaotic, especially in Tirana, we got lost numerous times, even with written instructions from our friends to Plazhi i Gjeneralit.

‘At that time the infrastructure was still a working progress and there were limited signs to follow’

However once we arrived to find a deserted beach, small wooden villas dotted around the gardens of a secluded bay and the restaurant serving delicious fresh seafood, we could see the attraction.

Yes the villas were basic and very rustic, wifi was non existent and the hot water was temperamental, however for 30 euro per night we were not complaining because the weather was perfect, we were by the sea and we enjoyed long days on the beach, my daughter loved exploring the rock pools, burying us in the sand and we all enjoyed the beautiful sunsets at the end of the day.

‘It reminded me of caravan holidays spent in Cornwall, with family as a child’

Evenings were spent at the restaurant, where the food and hospitality were great. We struggled slightly with the language but managed with the very little Albanian we new – we took Altina’s advice to pre order the village bird (roast chicken dish, cooked in rice and vegetables) for dinner one night, which was delicious, also to try the homemade pizzas & salads, both amazing. Seafood was also delicious, fresh from the catch of the day.

They also have a great wine selection and rakia (fruit brandy popular in the Balkans) a drink myself and my husband now have a taste for – the best we have tried is raspberry rakia, which apparently is hard to find, if anyone knows someone producing or supplying raspberry rakia I would love to hear from you.

The restaurant also serves a light breakfast, eggs cooked to your preference, bread, cheese, jam, tea & juice included in the room rate. This is a typical breakfast in Albania and one I really enjoy.

This family run beach resort is a real find, we have since returned twice, most recently in August this year, where we met up with Jeremy & Altina. We hadn’t seen each other for 4 years so it was so nice to meet up here again in Albania, time spent relaxing on the beach and catching up with old friends.

It was also great to see how much the resort had improved in the years since we were last there, from the new scandi type villas (highly recommended) to the new sun loungers/parasols and beach bar, this place is now on the tourist map, much easier to find with better signs and road improvements made, also wifi in the new villas.

This confirmed to me how much tourism has grown since our first visit and continues to do so. Read more

It’s where our love affair with Albania began and why I am now on a mission to show you what this beautiful country has to offer.

Thanks for reading my first blog, please like and share to spread the word.

Albania should be top of your holiday list for 2020

Simply Albania

If you would like more information on Plazhi i Gjeneralit please feel free to contact me.

My next blog title to look out for:

‘Our Investment Story’