Classical Tour of Albania
With short stops at Vlora, Llogara Pass and Ali Pasha's
was a long day in the coach through some amazing mountain
scenery. The first part of the drive to Vlora was along the
coastal plain which was drained by the Chinese in the 1980s
who planted olive groves. It is an agricultural economy
growing cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes, okra, aubergines,
melons and cabbages, often in poly tunnels.
Fier is the third largest city in Albania and one of the most prosperous from the local oil industry. We past evidence of the TAP project which is building a massive pipe line to bring gas from Azerbaijan to Europe.
There is a large area of salt flats just before Vlora, which have been worked since the middle ages.
Vlora is one of the oldest cities in Albania, being founded by the Ancient Greeks in the C6th BC. All that is left is some of the remains of the city wall near Flag Square.
Vlora was an important port in Roman times and the first Adriatic port to fall to the Ottomans in 1417. Ali Pasha captured the city in 1810 and held it until he was killed in 1822. Delegates from all over Albania met here in 1912 to declared independence from the Ottoman Empire, ending 400 years of Turkish dominance and preventing their country being swallowed up by their Balkan neighbours. Skanderbeg’s ancient emblem, the double headed black eagle was raised above Flag Square. This is now an attractive open area with gardens and the Independence Statue.
Vlora was the capital of Albania for a short time before being replaced by Tirana. Parliament met in the former quarantine hospital which was the only building available. It is now the Independence Museum.
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.
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. Once over the summit at 1043, 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 Palermo is Ali Pasha’s Fortress. Ali Pasha was responsible for building the present structure in the early C19th to consolidate his power base in his struggles against the Ottoman Empire on the foundations of an earlier C15/16th Venetian triangular fort built to control the trade routes.
The fortress is reached by a rough track across a narrow and easily defended causeway. This is scrub vegetation with huge bushes of Euphorbia and tall spikes of white flowered Sisyrinchium.
It is surrounded by tall walls and there are watch towers at the corners and there is a single entrance. .
Inside there is a network of dark narrow passageways giving access to the different parts of the fortress.
Steps lead up to the top of the fort with gun emplacements and a small stone arsenal.
Clumps of Matricaria daisies and herb robert were growing among the stones.
The sun was setting as we left and it was completely dark by the time we reached Saranda.
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