THE ULTIMATE TRAVEL GUIDE TO A BEACH HOLIDAY IN ALBANIA

How many of my readers have visited Albania?
I do plan to share many descriptive and personal blogs about destinations in Albania where I have been and I will visit again, but there is one thing that I like to do. I like to “hunt” for other travellers blogs about Albania. In this way I discover new blogs, new and very interesting travellers, because we are used with the ones who go to the most typical places to visit in Europe, not like Albania, which is not yet viewed massively like a first choice touristic destination…Also, I discover their point of view and I have to say I have never been disappointed from what I have found.

My last “discovery” is a very brave and interesting traveller, Heart My Backpack and her post of 2015 about Albanian Riviera.

I contacted her and got the permission to share this post. I hope she doesn’t mind that I will also add some other pictures in this post.

Want a budget beach holiday in Europe? Travel to Albanian Riviera with this guide and you’ll be all set, because Albanian beaches are amazing. I promise.

Totally empty white beaches with crystal clear turquoise water, fresh seafood, baklava and local wine, and prices so low they make Thailand look expensive – isn’t southern Europe just wonderful?

gjipe Gjipe Beach
gjipe2 Gjipe Beach
Wait. Europe?

It doesn’t really seem possible that an undiscovered beach paradise could be found in Europe these days, much less that it would be so affordable. But that’s exactly what the Albanian Riviera is.

Okay, maybe it’s not totally undiscovered, but while there in early June Dan and I had most of the beaches we visited pretty much to ourselves.

After falling for the Albanian Riviera last year, I couldn’t wait to return again – this time with a car! After only spending time on Saranda, Ksamil, Himara and Vlora’s main beaches (and Lazarat, but that’s another story…), this time I was determined to explore every nook and cranny of the Riviera and find the best secret beach spots.

And that’s exactly what we did!

Car Rental in Albania

To properly explore Albania’s best beaches, you’ll definitely need a car. Or at least, you will if you want to see all the best, hidden beaches in Albania! During my first trip to Albania I hitchhiked and took the bus everywhere, but this time I wanted to be able to stop at all the hidden spots I saw from the road, so we rented a car in Tirana for a week.

Car rental in Albania isn’t too expensive, but it’s SO worth it. You can see so much more with a car, plus renting a car in Albania meant that we could get to totally deserted beaches instead of sticking to the more popular (and crowded) beach spots like Ksamil and Vlora.

Driving in Albania

A lot of people have asked me about driving in Albania, and while Dan was actually the one doing the driving, I would say it really isn’t so bad. Most of the roads of little traffic, and for the most part the roads are very wide and nicely paved. And I felt like Albanian drivers were very reasonable – it certainly wasn’t a scary place to be driving.

Well, it was fine aside from the time we drove down Albania’s Death Road – but that’s far away from the Albanian beaches, so you probably won’t be headed there.

I would recommend renting a car through a global chain as their prices are lower and the companies are reliable – I usually use Sixt because it’s the cheapest, but also has good customer service. In fact you can save 10% on car rental in Albania with this link

Travel to Saranda

Saranda (Sarandë) is the main city along the Albanian Riviera, though with around 30,000 inhabitants it’s not exactly huge. While this is probably the main destination for tourists on the Riviera, it’s not actually the best for beaches – but it’s a fine base from which to explore some nearby beaches, as well as Butrint, the ruins of an ancient city nestled in a dense forest.

While there are better beach spots along the coast, Saranda is well worth a stop to get a feel for Albania’s beach towns. You can buy cheap seafood and produce (try the cherries!!) at a local market, check out the shops and restaurants along the main beach promenade, and walk up to Lekursi Castle for some unreal views.

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Don’t forget to wave smugly at the throngs of tourists across the bay in Corfu, paying three times as much to swim in these same waters. I mean, if you’re the sort of person to do something like that, which of course you aren’t. Me neither.

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The Best Saranda Hotels and Hostels

DEMI HOTEL // for those wanting a luxury hotel in Saranda

This four star hotel is right on the beach, and it’s absolutely worth upgrading to a sea view room for a balcony overlooking the water! This is a family-run hotel so it has a lot more character than a big chain, and the staff are super sweet and helpful here.

Click here for current rates and availability at Demi Hotel

BED & BREAKFAST AHMETI // for those looking for a mid-range hotel in Saranda

This B&B is run by a very nice family and I love that it’s within easy walking distance of the city center while still being tucked away from the noise downtown (it’s about a 10 minute walk uphill from the center). They also have parking spaces available here, so you won’t need to stress over finding a spot on the street.

Click here for current prices and availability at B&B Ahmeti

DOLPHIN HOSTEL // for those traveling to Saranda on a budget

Dan and I stayed at Dolphin Hostel while in Saranda, which I couldn’t recommend more highly! Even when we arrived exhausted from a harrowing drive from Tirana we somehow ended up staying up late into the night talking with the hostel’s manager.

Breakfast is included (and amazing!) and on our second night he cooked everyone a delicious meal of fish and fresh clams, which mysteriously only cost us each 1 euro. The best!

Click here for current prices and availability at Dolphin Hostel

Ksamil – a favorite Albanian beach town

A 15-minute car or bus ride away from Saranda, Ksamil is where everyone goes to see the nicest Albanian beaches. These are some of the only truly sandy beaches on the Albanian Riviera (most have smooth white stones).

The only downside to Ksamil is that its beaches are fairly small and often privately owned, so you’ll have to pay a couple of dollars for a beach chair or drink/snack to use the beach, and there are more people here. I mean, by Albanian standards, which really just means you’ll see 4 or 5 other people on the beach.

Ksamil is perfect if you want a pretty beach without traveling far from the center of things. You could even stay in a lovely apartment right by the beach there.

The Best Hotels and Apartments in Ksamil

HOTEL CASTLE // mid-range to luxury hotel accommodation in Ksamil

There actually isn’t really any true luxury hotel accommodation in Ksamil, but Hotel Castle is still quite luxurious, especially with its gorgeous views out over the Albanian Riviera. It’s right by the beach and near town and the design is sort of hilarious Albanian kitsch in a building meant to look like a castle!

Check current rates and availability here

VILLA MARKU SOANNA // mid-range apartment accommodation in Ksamil

Villa Marku is run by a really lovely family who speak good English, and the apartments are right by the sea and near the town center. The owners will happily give you tips and advice for exploring the area, though you could also just relax near the hotel as it’s close by everything.

Check current rates and availability here

KSAMIL APARTMENTS // budget apartment accommodation in Ksamil

The Ksamil Apartments are a short walk both to the beach and the town center, but still in a quiet area. The apartments are spacious with balconies and really for the price they are such a good bargain.

Check current rates and availability here

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The Blue Eye (Syri Kalter)

Okay, this is a spring, not an Albanian beach, but you might want to forget the seaside and just spend your entire Albanian holiday gazing into it.

Water in The Blue Eye bubbles up from more than 50 meters deep at a sort of alarming rate. Seriously, where is it all coming from, and how can it be that blue? Is Albania’s tourism board secretly dumping dye into this thing each morning?

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The Blue Eye spring is about a 25 minute drive inland from Saranda (on the way to Girokaster) and I’ve heard that it can get crowded in the summer with people swimming, but in early June it was empty – and freezing!

And before heading back to Saranda drive farther up into the mountains for some pretty stunning views!

Drive the SH8 from Saranda to Himara

The drive along the seaside from Saranda to Himara is stunning, and full of turn-offs into little abandoned beaches. We simply turned down every small road we passed that looked like it was heading towards the water, and not once were we disappointed.

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Llogara pass
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Porto Palermo Beach
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Llaman
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Borsh Beach
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Dhermi Beach

One of my favorite spots was a teeny tiny strip of beach right after Porto Palermo – the view of the little islands from the road wasn’t terrible either!

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One of my favorite spots was a teeny tiny strip of beach right after Porto Palermo – the view of the little islands from the road wasn’t terrible either!

We stayed at Himara Riviera Rooms, where we had a lovely little apartment with a balcony overlooking the sea. The owners were SO lovely and this is really my #1 recommendation for a hotel in Himara. It really is just perfect.

Check current prices and availability at Himara Riviera Rooms

CAMPING KRANEA // budget accommodation in Himara

Our first night we camped at Camping Kranea on a beach in the north of town, and it was so, so lovely to wake up right on the beach. If you’re on a very tight budget this is an excellent option.

Check current rates and availability 

RAPOS RESORT HOTEL // luxury hotel in Himara

This is the only real resort in Himara, and it has amazing sea views from its rooms, a swimming pool, and a beach right in front of the hotel. The wonderful thing about a beach holiday in Albania is that a hotel like this isn’t even expensive – if you want to escape to a beach resort I would highly recommend heading here!

Check current prices and availability at Rapos Resort Hotel

The Best Albanian Beaches near Himara

One of my favorite beaches in the area wasn’t actually in Himara, but 10 kilometers north in Jala. Jali Beach wasn’t as empty as other beaches we went to, but I enjoyed sunning myself with the locals and taking in the relaxing atmosphere of the small beachside village.

Travel to Dhermi

Dhermi (Dhërmi) was my favorite place we stayed in Albania! Dhermi Beach is the longest I saw in Albania and seems to cater to more upscale tourists. The village itself lies up a hill from the water and has beautiful old stone houses built into the side of a mountain. If you want the best Albanian beach experience, I would definitely recommend heading to Dhermi (in fact I have recommended a beach holiday in Dhermi to so many of my friends!).

Best Hotels in Dhermi

GUEST HOUSE FOUR SEASONS // budget to mid-range hotel in Dhermi

We stayed in a double room at Guest House Four Seasons, which had a balcony overlooking the sea and was surprisingly cheap. It felt like being on a luxury holiday, but on a backpacker’s budget.

Click here for current prices and availability at the Guest House Four Seasons

SARAJET E PASHAIT // mid-range to luxury hotel in Dhermi

I had dinner here one night and it was SO nice. The food was amazing, the restaurant has a view over the water, and it’s really close to a sandy beach. If you want a luxury Albanian beach escape, I’d definitely come here!

Click here for current rates and availability at Sarajet e Pashait

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Dhermi

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The Best Beaches near Dhermi

Dhermi is also just 8 kilometers from what might be Albania’s most beautiful beach: Gjipe Beach.

You’ll have to walk the last couple of kilometers, but I promise it’s worth it! This was definitely my happy place on the Albanian Riviera, and I plan on returning to Gjipe Beach again and again.

Driving from Dhermi to Vlora and Tirana

And, if you’re heading north from Dhermi you’re in for a serious treat – well, unless you’re prone to carsickness. The hairpin curves on the road climbing the mountain towards Vlora are brutal, but they’ll take you to a heavenly view of the coastline.

Why Go To Santo Domingo

How many of you have been to Domenican Republic? And how many of you have skipped Santo Domingo? Having also an airport in Punta Cana, the resort lovers skip Santo Domingo, but I really loved this place with so much history and charm.

Why Go to Santo Domingo?

IMG_0499IMG_9698Christopher Columbus tried to settle in the “New World” several times before getting it right. The first and second attempts, La Navidad (in Haiti) and La Isabela (near Puerto Plata), were plagued with fire and disease. It wasn’t until the third time, on an opposite coast of Hispaniola, that he and his men perfected the recipe. To this day, Santo Domingo is still a lively, thriving metropolis and acts as both the capital city of the Dominican Republic and the largest city in the Caribbean by population. But it’s also so much more: The sounds of merengue, bachata and salsa drifting from a Malecón nightclub or the smells of conch gratinée wafting from a romantic café in Zona Colonial. Due to its history, it’s also a city of superlatives: where you’ll find the first church (Catedral Primada de América), the first stronghold (Fortaleza Ozama) and the oldest street (Calle Las Damas) in the Americas. This is the real Santo Domingo.

Best Things To Do in Santo Domingo

Despite its location on the Caribbean Sea, Santo Domingo is far from a beach town. Instead, you should expect to spend some time at historically significant sites like the Catedral Primada de América or the Fortaleza Ozama. Make sure to allot an hour or two for the architecturally significant Columbus Lighthouse. Meanwhile, night owls should check out the city’s vibrant nightlife — some say the Malecón’s nightclubs and late night entertainment are the best in the Caribbean.

What You Need to Know

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• There’s plenty of top-notch shopping From amber and larimar (Dominican turquoise) jewelry, to hand-wrapped cigars, the DR as a whole is known for its high-quality souvenirs. You’ll find stands and shops all along the Malecón and within the Zona Colonial.

IMG_9695.JPG• The nightlife is excellent Even the hotel clubs are pretty lively in Santo Domingo. And you’ll also find an enviable assortment of bars, dance clubs and casinos along the Malecón.

Béisbol is the sport of choice Several major league baseball players got their “swinging” start in this city: The Pittsburgh Pirates’ Pedro Alvarez, the Colorado Rockies’ Cristhian Adames and the Boston Red Sox’s David Ortiz, to name a few. Go root for tomorrow’s MLB pros at the Estadio Quisqueya.

Must See Places

A visit to Santo Domingo wouldn’t be complete without a stop at the Zona Colonial. This UNESCO World Heritage Site was founded in 1498 and boasts more than 300 historical sites within its parameters.

santo-domingo-coastline-leo-arturo-martinezFor a stark contrast from Santo Domingo’s Zona Colonial, take in the sites and entertainment of the newer Malecon.

If you happen to be wandering around Santo Domingo’s Malecon, you’ll likely spot the area’s famed El Obelisco. Originally built in 1936 by the country’s notorious dictator, Rafael Trujillo, this monument now depicts anti-Trujillo murals and honors anti-dictator campaigners assassinated in 1960.

IMG_0556IMG_0559p1000392Wander the historic Calle El Conde and you’ll likely stumble upon various art vendors, as well as multiple shops and restaurants.

Also known as the Catedral Santa María La Menor, this 16th century church used to house the purported remains of Christopher Columbus. They were later moved across town to the Columbus Lighthouse

IMG_9714 Christopher Columbus’ influence on Santo Domingo is certainly felt in this central square, which honors the historic figure through its name and its statue of the late explorer.IMG_9717 The beautiful Alcázar de Colón was once the home of Diego Colón, Christopher Columbus’ son and former viceroy of what is now the Dominican Republic

IMG_9716 The first street created in the city’s Zona Colonial, Calle Las Damas is known for its decorative tiles and historic charm.

IMG_9712.jpgThis Zona Colonial ruin isn’t much to look at during the day; swing by in the evening instead when it’s perfectly illuminated for photo ops.

IMG_9715When this controversially designed lighthouse is lit, the beams can be seen from Puerto Rico.

Although Santo Domingo is known more for its historic architecture than its beaches, several are easily accessible from the city. One such beach is Juan Dolio, which is located about 38 miles west of the capital.

Best Times to Visit Santo Domingo

The best time to visit Santo Domingo is between November and March. That’s when this city experiences its best beach weather, even if there aren’t many great beaches to enjoy it on. April to July is also a pleasant time to visit, but you should avoid this area at all costs during the hurricane season, which runs from August to October. Whenever you visit, you’ll find the hotel rates are agreeable; even the best properties have rooms available for less than $150 a night.

Albania Cultural Tour: North to South

Albania may be a little country but there is a lot to see and do in this exciting up-and-coming location. Bordering Macedonia, Greece, Kosovo and Montenegro, Albania’s long coastline is one of the most ruggedly beautiful in the world.

While Albania is slowly becoming more popular with tourists it remains extremely undiscovered, as well as almost completely unspoiled. Albania boasts some of the best examples of Ottoman architecture in the world, along with supremely clear Mediterranean air and stunningly fabulous beaches.

And, perhaps best of all, travelling to Albania remains an extremely affordable trip, even compared to much of the rest of this part of Europe. Let’s start with the city and cultural tour North to South.

1. Gjirokastra

The City of Stone

Old City Gjirokastra

Old City Gjirokastra
The old bazaar

The city of Gjirokastra is part of the UNESCO World Heritage List and is one of the most attractive tourist sites of the country. Perched on the eastern side of the Wide Mountain (Mali i Gjërë), the city began as a fourth century castle, which is today the greatest castle in the whole country. Inside the fortress is the Museum of Weapons, where weapons of different periods up until the Second World War are displayed. Gjirokastra is known as “The City of Stone”


The museum city of Gjirokastra was built on the eastern side of “Mali i Gjerë”. Since 2005, it has been in UNESCO World Heritage site. The origin of the city starts with the castle of Gjirokastra, built in IV century AD. The main characteristic of Gjirokastra is the intensive use of stone in building the houses, which look like small fortresses, the streets of cobblestone, which all lead to Bazaar. Due to all these features, Gjirokastra is also known as the “The Stone City”.

Zekati family houseGjirokastra FortressThe most important structure of the city is the castle, which is the biggest castle in Albania. You can also visit the house of Zekati family in Palorto, in a dominating position, which has undergone restoration. It is one of the most magnificent and characteristic buildings of Gjirokastra. Built in 1811-1812, it is a magnificent three-floor building and has two twin towers.

2. Butint
The Microcosmos of Mediterranean

Butrint Ancient theatreButrint mosaicButrintButrint Ancient theatreThe first Albanian site to be included on UNESCO’s World Heritage was Butrint, in the south of the country, in 1992. It has been inhabited since prehistoric times and was a part of the Greek and Roman colonies.
The most ancient objects found at the archeological site in Butrint are a stone hammer and a shaft belonging to the second half of the second millennium B.C.

Hekateus made first mention of the city at the end of the sixth century B.C., affirming that the city was built according to Troy and that the origin of the name refers to the sacrifice of a bull, Buthrotos, provided by the Trojan prince Aeneas on his way to Dodona. During its early period, Butrint was the center of the Kaonic tribes, later to become part of the kingdom of Epirus.

The most extraordinary objects discovered in the theater of Butrint are the statue of Apollo, the goddess of Butrint, the marble heads of Zeus, the portrait of Agrippina, the head of Livia and many Latin and Greek epigraphs. Parts of the city were rebuilt during the fifth century B.C.

3. Apollonia
Where Roman emperor Augustus study philosophy

APOLLONIAAPOLLONIAAPOLLONIAApollonia was an ancient Greek colony city and former bishopric in Illyria , located on the right bank of the Aous river (modern-day Vjosa). Its ruins are situated in the Fier region, near the village of Pojani (Polina), in modern-day Albania.
The ancient city of Apollonia is situated in southwestern Albania, about 13 miles from the city of Fier. The fascinating landscape of the archeological park, which has been preserved in an exceptionally intact condition, comprises a successful combination between the beauty of monuments and nature, attractive through its long history, in an atmosphere of relaxation and meditation. Its foundation took place immediately after the foundation of Epidamnus – Dyrrachium and quickly became one of the most eminent cities of the Adriatic basin, which was mentioned more frequently from the other 30 (thirty) cities bearing the same name during Antiquity. The city lay in the territory of the political communion of the Taulantii and was broadly known as Apollonia of Illyria. According to the tradition it was founded during the first half of the 6th century BC by Greek colonist from Corfu and Corinth, led by Gylax, which named the city after his name (Gylakeia). After its quick establishment the city changed its name to Apollonia, according to the powerful divinity Apollo. It stands on a hilly plateau from where expands the fertile plain of Musacchia with the Adriatic Sea and the hills of Mallakastra. The ruins of Apollonia are discovered in the beginning of the 19th century.

This archaeologic park or site contain also a Museum of Archaeology that is situated at the old Monastery of Saint Mary .

4. Berat
2400 year old museum city

BERAT1Berat Old CityBERAT CASTLEThis 2,413 years-old city, the pride of Albanian architecture which is under the protection of UNESCO, is located 120 km from Tirana. The city forms a wonderful combination of eastern and western cultures, costumes, traditions and outlook. Berat is a treasure-trove of Albanian history, culture and a testament to the country’s tradition of religious harmony
The city’s life began in the 6th-5th century B.C. as an Illyrian settlement. Later, in the 3rd century B.C., it was turned into a castle city known as Antipatrea. The castle expanded afterwards, particularly during the feudal dominion of the Muzakaj family. Inside the castle, they built churches with valuable frescoes and icons, and also a calligraphy school. Uniquely today, residents still live inside of the castle walls. The three major neighborhoods of the old city are Mangalemi, Gorica, and Kala, where the castle itself is located.

5. Kruja
The City of Scanderbeg

Kruja MuseumKruja CastleKRUJA The Old BazaarKruja is just 32km away from Tirana and very close to Tirana International Airport. This historic city is 608m above sea level and offers an open vista to an amazing panoramic view.
The name and the importance of the city are closely related to the 25 years of activity of our national hero, Skanderbeg, who in the fifteenth century made Kruja a bastion of uncompromising resistance against the Ottoman. The Gjergj Kastrioti Skanderbeg Museum is situated inside the castle walls, which date back to the fifth and sixth centuries A.D.

The museum itself was inaugurated in 1981. Within the walls of the castle are also the Ethnographic Museum and the Dollma Tekke. Near the castle’s entrance is a traditional market, which dates back to the period of Skanderbeg. Here, tourists can find Albanian craft products such as embroidered items, carpeting, silver objects, copper, alabaster, filigree, traditional clothing, antiques at the traditional Old Baazar of Kruja .

6. Shkodra
Gateway to the Albanian Alps

Shkodra, it is one of the oldest cities in the country, founded in the 4th century B.C. as the center of the Labeat tribe of Illyrians known with the name Scodra .
Shkodra has been occupied several times throughout history: First by the Romans (168 B.C.), then the Serbians (1040), the Venetians (1396), and finally by the Ottomans (1479).
The city returned to Albanian control as the feudal principality of the Balshaj during the 14th century and served as the municipal center of the Bushatllinj Pashallëk from 1757 to 1831. Shkodra is very rich in cultural heritage , the city itself as well as the people bear pride in the large number of artists, musicians, painters, photographers, poets, and writers born here. Shkodra’s main tourist attraction is Rozafa Castle. Rising majestically upon a rocky hill west of the city, the outcroppings and battlements paint a blazing picture against the setting sun.

Shkodra is one of the most important cities of Albania and is also known to be the center of Albanian Catholicism , Culture and Harmony between different religions .

The lake of Shkodra is also suggested to visit , to bath , or to eat some of the best dishes of Albanian cuisine like Krap ne tave typical for this region .

3 lakes, view from castleCastle of ShkodraShkodra Pedonale

7. Tirana

The lively capital

We all can say convinced that the capital of Albania has transformed into a lively, affordable destination. And I might add, that every foreigner I have met there has falled in love with the city.

Interest in Balkan countries has soared significantly in recent years, with curious travelers now regularly seeking out the serenity of the Adriatic Sea and medieval, stone-walled cities like Dubrovnik in Croatia and Kotor in Montenegro. Tirana does not embody such traditional allure. Instead, it impresses as a soulful, urban hub with a strong personality shaped by a turbulent history.

Much like Sarajevo remarkably moved past the atrocities of the 1990s to evolve into a thriving Eastern European capital, Albania is looking past its own decades of horror and isolation to the future.

This is only the main cultural scene of Albania. Many more to come on beaches and entertainment on future blogs. Stay posted.

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19 Surprising Facts About Malta

I want to start by saying how lucky I feel to have witness the Azure Window in Gozo Island, Malta, only a few months before the earthquake crashed it. Also, as a fan of Game of Thrones, I feel almost proud I witnessed such a spectacular place that demonstrates the force of Nature.

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Witnessing Azure Window

Let’s start with the fun facts: There are over 200 islands in the Mediterranean, but a whopping 90% of tourists stay on just 10% of them.

1. Calypso Cave is said to be the cave that Homer wrote about in The Odyssey. The cave itself isn’t all that great, but the views of the nearby beach are.

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2. There are three islands of Malta: Gozo, Comino and Malta, the country that sits about 50 miles south of Sicily.

3. The official languages are English and Maltese, which sounds Arabic.

4. Victoria, the capital of Gozo, is also known as Rabat. It’s famous for its beautiful Cittadella, which goes way back to the Middle Ages.

5. Mdina, the nation’s old, walled capital, only allows cars of residents on its roads.

6. Peak beach season can last until through mid-fall.

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Malta, Paola, Hal Saflieni Hypogeum, Interior

7. Hal Saflieni Hypogeum, an underground necropolis, UNESCO World Heritage and was excavated around 2,500 B.C.

8. They drive on the left.

9. Comino, the smallest of the islands, is virtually uninhabited—save one hotel—and is carless. Blue Lagoon is its biggest attraction and it’s not hard to see why.

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The Blue Lagoon, Comino Island, Malta

10. The Brits ruled Malta until 1964, when it became independent.

11. There are more than a few sunken WWII ships along the coastline.

12. Valletta, its current capital, is one of the most concentrated historical areas in the world, according to UNESCO.

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Valletta Skyline

13. One of the “three cities,” Vittoriosa (aka Birgu) was damaged in WWII but Fort St. Angelo, which was built in 870, remains.

14. It’s a walkers paradise, with numerous tours to take visitors along the coastline of Malta and Gozo.

15. The 16th century Verdala Palace, is now the official summer residence of the President. It’s closed to the public except during the Ball of the August Moon party, which is on August 3. Get your tickets online…for real.

16. Malta was the 48th happiest country on earth, according to a 2013 UN report. For those keeping score, the U.S. was 17th.

17. San Blas Bay is a red sand beach on the northeast coast of Gozo.

18. Azure Window is Gozo’s naturally flat-topped rock, which you can’t walk on, but you can bathe nearby (now collapsed).

Game of Thrones
Game of Thrones Season I

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19. Hagar Qim, which dates back some 5,000 years, is the best preserved ancient limestone temple on Malta.

Don’t miss this amazing country in summer and winter (almost 20°C in February)

AMAZING!

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10 things to expect from Côte d’Azur

What to expect from Côte d’Azur?

                     

Over France
Airplane wing

 

 


The Côte d’Azur stretches from Théoule-sur-Mer in the west to Menton on France’s border with Italy. Along the way it takes in Cannes, Nice, Antibes and even another country, the principality of Monaco. The mention of such names evokes the sun-drenched and easy-going lifestyle on offer along the French Riviera – the alternative name for the Côte d’Azur. Whatever you call it, the “azure coast” provides all the glitz and glamour you could wish for – as well as beaches, dramatic coastal vistas, medieval villages and untamed wilderness.

 

 

 

 

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Menton
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Menton
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Menton

 

If you don’t like the crowds of summer, winter is an ideal time to visit because the warmth and light, which has attracted everyone from aristocrats to Impressionists, remains.

Where should I start?

The département’s capital, Nice.
The Hôtel Negresco is a venerable Nice institution, still favoured by the stars.
The city’s old town, Vieux Nice, is an atmospheric tangle of tiny streets lined with shutter-clad town houses and appealing restaurants. For further details contact Nice Tourism on 00 33 892 707 407, and visit http://www.nicetourisme.com.

 

 

 

​Can I feel the Riviera breeze in my hair?

Yes: time to hit the road, preferably in an open-top car. Rental car agencies rents convertibles, such as the Peugeot 307 coupé cabriolet,. You can choose from three parallel and twisting coastal roads: the Haute, Moyenne and Basse Corniches, which wend their way in a ribbon along the coast between Nice and Monte Carlo. The Haute Corniche is one of the world’s most romantic roads with sharp bends and plunging views that make you catch your breath.

 

 

 

Has movie magic survived?

Yes. The most glamorous event of the Riviera’s calendar is, of course, the Cannes Film Festival each May, when thousands descend on this city to publicise, prance and party, but most of the real action happens behind closed doors in the five-star hotels or the many sleek yachts moored in the bay.

Cannes

 Can I move like Harlow in Monte Carlo?

Yep! Somerset Maugham may have described Monte Carlo as “a sunny place for shady people”, but its hedonistic formula of sunshine, casinos, high-rise apartments, ritzy shops and a yacht-filled harbour makes for an entertaining stay You can also try your luck in one of the principality’s casinos where you can break the bank – or not.

Following hot on the heels of the film festival in May is the Monaco Grand Prix, when the streets of Monte Carlo become a racetrack for the F1 champions to battle it out towards the chequered flag.

 

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Monaco – Port Hercules

 

 

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Monaco – Port Hercules
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Monaco – Port Hercules

Some medieval magic?

The prize for the location with the deepest history goes to Eze, which occupies a magical spot 429m above sea level, just off the Moyenne Corniche and a short drive from Nice. Eze was one of the first settlements established by the Gallo-Romans. Its strategic position meant that it passed into different invading hands several times, with everyone from the Moors to the House of Savoy staking their claim. A wander around its labyrinth of streets, stopping off to visit its botanical gardens and generally soaking up the views, is a must.

 

 


I want to be alone

The Côte d’Azur may seem to be one long and crowded sun-and-champagne-soaked party, but there are plenty of places where you can get away from it all. Nine out of 10 of the Alpes-Maritimes’s one million inhabitants occupy its 120km coastal strip, so that leaves the rest – a stunning wilderness of snow-capped mountains, pine-clad valleys and undiscovered villages – to explore. A must for wildlife lovers and hikers is the u o Mercantour National Park. This diverse landscape of Alpine peaks, lakes, rivers and pine forests is home to over half of the 4,200 species of flora found in France, and fauna including eagles, peregrine falcons, ibex, chamois, wild boars and wolves. The park is also marked with 600km of walking trails.

Mercantour National Park

 

Can I head off the beaten track?

Yes, on one of France’s most spectacular railways. The Chemins de Fer de Provence. It passes through breathtaking mountain scenery and calls at several stations, such as the pretty fortified village of Entrevaux.
Or you could escape to the peaceful Iles de Lérins, just off the coast near Cannes. You can visit eucalyptus-blanketed Ste-Marguerite and St-Honorat, which is home to a monastery dating from the 11th century.

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A day at the beach?

Rocky headlands, shingle and golden sand: you can find it all on the Côte d’Azur. The Plage Mala, in Cap d’Ail, is where you’ll find the beautiful people, and where you can party and sip cocktails well into the night. On Cap d’Antibes, the Plage de La Garoupe found immortality in F Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night, and is one of the most beautiful beaches on the coast.

How do I get around?

Renting a car gives a certain amount of freedom – but in summer the traffic congestion can be horrendous. An excellent alternative is the TER (Regional Express Trains) that connect all the towns and cities on the Côte d’Azur as far as Ventimiglia in Italy. The Ligne d’Azur offers a well-developed network of buses surrounding Nice, with destinations including Vence, Grasse, St-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, Villefranche-sur-Mer and further inland.

Scent of the cote

Grasse is the capital of the world’s fragrance industry – many legendary perfumes, including Chanel No 5, were created there. Wander through fields of jasmine, tuberose and lavender at La Bastide du Parfumeur in Mouans-Sartoux on the edge of town. Opened in June, this botanical garden is filled with fragrant plants cultivated for the making of perfume. It opens 9am-5pm daily from October to March, 9am-6pm in summer. Most of the perfumeries are open to visitors, and Parfumerie Galimard, Parfumerie Fragonard, and Parfumerie Molinard, offer free guided tours in English. They also offer the chance to create your own perfume.

 

 

 

On the trail of the artists

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“What I shall bring back from here will be softness itself, white, rose and blue all wrapped up in this magical atmosphere” – so said Claude Monet when he arrived in Antibes on the recommendation of Guy de Maupassant. Monet was just one of many artists who flocked to the Côte d’Azur to try to capture on canvas its elusive “luminosity”.
A new route, The Painters of the Côte d’Azur, leads you in the footsteps of some of the Riviera’s most celebrated creative residents and visitors, including Picasso, Chagall, Monet, Renoir and Bonnard. With the itinerary as a guide, you can visit the towns where they painted: Le Cannet, Mougins, St-Paul-de-Vence, Cagnes-sur-Mer, Nice, Villefranche-sur-Mer and Menton. Each point has a board erected on the spot where the artist set up their easel, a reproduction of the painting and accompanying information. The itinerary can be downloaded from the Riviera Côte d’Azur website, http://www.guideriviera.com.

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VALENCIA LIKE A LOCAL

img_9551Nowadays we read and learn so much about a city or a place we will visit, we see so many pictures and videos. Does it happen to you too? Already have seen a movie stetted there, maybe. So it kind of ruins all the fun and the surprise of a new place you are visiting. That did not happen to me with Valencia. I didn’t  know much about it and I preferred not to read or look at any pictures of the city. Amazed! Loved it! After all I love everything about Spain.

What to do? If you don’t really check beforehand, you might skip something interesting, some great recommendations and regret it when someone asks you: “Have you been there, or seen this?”, so, you kinda have to decide between the surprise, or checking almost all there is to see. You can always check once you are there, after all we are in the “Wi-Fi WORLD”. You can always ask the locals, and it’s always better if you can understand the language, because in my experience, only with English you don’t go very far. (Yes, i have been lost more than once asking for directions. That’s why Google Maps is so famous).img_7729

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In this case, in Valencia, it is somehow difficult to communicate in English… Thank God for Latin soap-operas i used to watch when I was a little girl… so I could try to speak Spanish and communicate with locals (I thank them for the patience with me).

I know Valencia is famous for Las Fallas Festival every March, but this time I was there in February. I would love to go back for the festival of course.

What I did in Valencia to try to enjoy it like a local? First, I said “Hola!” all the time. Friendly people. Spain is love, after all. Vamos!

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Plaza de la Virgen

Relax at Plaza de la Virgen

From here you can glance at the 14th Century Miquel bell tower of the Catedral de Valencia, the domed Basilica de Virgen de Los Desamparados, and the 17th Century Palau de Generalitat.

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Plaza de la Virgen

img_9555-1The cathedral is well worth visiting. You can climb to the top of the Miguelete bell tower and admire views of the city.

Miguelete bell towerInside the cathedral, the Holy Grail is one of the must-see attractions for those of a religious following. Legend has it that the cup travelled from Rome centuries ago. However, when the Muslim rulers took over Spain, it was placed into hiding for centuries and only returned to the city in 1427 by the gloriously named King ‘Alfonso the Magnanimous’.

 

Valencia is famous for its oranges and the streets are filled will beautiful orange trees, offering shade from the sun’s rays whilst you relax in street cafes and bars. Oranges of the street trees have a very bad taste, as I have heard, so I recommend breakfast at Plaza de la Virgen, enjoying the pace of life of this historical city.

 

Local Market (Mercado Central)

It’s a paradise for food lovers .  A big modernista covered market, with a vast array of local smells and colors. Sunday is closed. I always have “bad luck” and decide to visit some specific place the day they are closed. My local host recommended me to just go there, find a tapas bar, sip some wine and enjoy the atmosphere. Inside the market i found e cool beer place, with all kind of different beers, with pretty bottles, made me fall in love with beer.

Also, the Local Market is surrounded with coin and stamps market. You can sell your coins there. I  loved the big stamp books. I went by only to take a look, the seller offered a chair to sit and check all the time i needed. You can find any kind of stamps for 10 cent (China and Japan stamps are 80 cent per piece “LOL”), so  I ended up with a lot of exotic places stamps of places I plan to visit (Asia, Africa, Latin America all the way).

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The first day  there, I also loved the area of Plaza del Ayuntamiento, literally translated “Town Hall Square”, is the main square in Valencia and my favorite, even just to stare at the fountain rhythm, which by the way becomes colorful at night. Purple took so long to show up!

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City of Arts and Sciences.

Be ready to get transported into the future. First, so I don’t forget, is very easy to walk or take a bike here. You can rent a bike to go to City of Arts and Sciences and also to the beach area. Do not make my mistake. I did not do that. Everyone recommends it, and I have seen a lot of locals and tourists with bikes. Made me so envy, really.  I am transporting you there through the pictures. Didn’t really do a good job on the pictures for this trip, but could not leave out Valencia anyway. But, take my first advice, don’t get too informed before going. Just go and immerse yourself there.

Just chill there after long tour inside.

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Finally I showed my face… Well, almost!

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Which one of the three is most like the sculpture?

Fail!

The Food

The original paella was born in Valencia.

Paella Valenciana, besides rice, this includes chicken and/or pork. Also, many natives include rabbit.

Paella Mixta, is a mixture of the paella Valenciana and the paella de marisco . It contains meat, chicken and seafood. Sometimes this paella is called Paella Andaluz and is the most commonly ordered and eaten paella, specially by tourists. (It was too heavy and messy for me. Where is my shrimp!)

Paella de Marisco (known as Paella Marinera when it has 5 seafood ingredients) – This is a seafood paella that does not contain meat. It usually contains prawns, mussels, calamaris, clams, and other seafood.

Of course you cannot go without trying the traditional Paella Valenciana, which I liked, but I prefer Seafood Paella (Paella de Marisco), even though it is cooked with different herbs, so it tasted different that the ones in Barcelona, according to my humble opinion as food lover.

Are we there yet? The Beach!

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Work in progress

Just take a bike! Valencia has e really long stretch of shoreline.  The most popular beach, La Malvarrosa, which starts around the port area and is split into Playa las Arenas and the Playa Cabanyal, eventually stretching up to the Playa de Patacona. A bit further away you will find the other local beaches such as Playa de Pinedo and Playa el Saler. North of the city you will find Playa Port Saplaya, and a bit further still, the Roman area of Playa Sagunto.

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I wasn’t there during summer, it was really nice and quiet. Perfect for my dreamed bike ride. Also, you can stop for a beer or lunch in one of the many seafront bars and restaurants.

In Valencia you find yourself transported from historical old city, into the future, in pure science fiction. What an experience!

 

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