‘The Best Coastal Drive in the World’: Ksamil Beach & The Llogar Pass, Albania

“We can’t go to Mongolia if you can’t cope with this.”

Mark’s words stung like a whip. I felt desolate.

On a strip of yellow dirt, in a 16-tonne truck, with nowhere to turn around, we were lost somewhere in southern Albania.


I knew Mark was right, but even before this unpaved road threatened to shatter our long-held dream – the very reason we’d bought The Beast – terror and uncertainty had already made me want to weep.

The preceding conversation had gone along the lines of,

“It’s down an unmade road. I don’t know where it is, and we didn’t have any internet at Butrint to look it up. I think it’s down here somewhere.”

“We’ve got internet now. Do you want me to look it up on Park4Night?”

“It’s not on Park4Night.”

“What’s it called and I’ll look it up on Google.”

“I can’t remember, but I’ll know it when I see it!”

We never saw it, but fortunately, when things looked absolutely desperate, we found an alternative.  

Perhaps the Cubana Beach Bar Mark was aiming for no longer existed, but we negotiated an overnight stay at another bar in the vicinity for the princely sum of €10.

Our final resting place

Lalaine, an artist we met at Butrint, had raved about the white sandy beaches of Sarandë,

“I’ve only ever seen beaches like that in Indonesia.”

We’d chosen Ksamil Beach because it was hailed as the place to go if you want to get away from it all. In particular, away from Sarandë, the Ibiza of Albania.

Our outlook over the bay was stunning. Parked in a peaceful olive grove, we could see cornflower blue seas enveloping domed islands scattered like green and gold confetti in their midst. I said to Mark,

Our outlook from the beach bar park up

“If we weren’t keeping Kai’s wounds dry, we could paddle out to those on the SUPs!” (Our pup, Kai, was still recovering from a dog attack in Vlorë)

With a glass of chilled wine, we watched a magnificent sunset. All we could hear was the ocean, the tinkle of goat bells, and the throb of drum and bass music, which continued until 3 a.m., then started up again at 06:30.

Sunset from Ksamil

When we drew our eyes away from the ocean into the olive groves, we could see trash everywhere, even in bags hanging from the trees.

Sadly, litter is an ever-present scourge in Albania. We spoke about it to a German guy we met on the beach.

“I pick up litter around here, but it’s so depressing when I see my landlady just chuck her garbage straight out of the door. The authorities charge to empty the bins, so most people can’t afford it, or just don’t bother. When I snorkel here, there are tyres and all kinds of plastic in the sea.”

Sometimes, we’d struggled to dispose of our own rubbish, never mind what we accumulated when we collected litter from our park ups. There were plenty of huge wheelie bins around, but many were padlocked, and many more were overflowing. Fortunately, we could just strap the bags to the outside of our truck until we found somewhere to dispose of it properly, but we seemed to be in the minority.

Yet, besides garbage, we had another more pressing disposal problem. Part of the reason we had stopped at a bar rather than wild camping was because we needed to empty our loo. Despite the €10 charge to stay overnight, the bar owner declined our request to use his facilities lest we caused a blockage. His advice was,

“Just tip it in the olive grove.”

Although we had long run out of chemicals, so our ‘problem’ was purely natural and organic, I assure you we did no such thing!

The olive groves where the bar owner told us to empty our loo! There was garbage everywhere, including in bags hanging from the trees

Thankfully, our PortaPotty was not full. It merely presented an olfactory challenge because of the high temperatures and lack of chemicals. At least we had internet, so Mark set a course for a proper campsite the following night. One that specifically advertised ‘facilities’.

As for Ksamil Beach, we were so glad we went there.

Despite the indescribable beauty of the place, we knew never to go back!

The Fab Four at Ksamil

And so, the following morning, with no sleep, our facilities exuding questionable odours, and nerves already rattled from the drive in, we took on one of the most iconic routes in Albania. One whose 11% gradients, tight turns, narrow spots, high elevation, and lack of barriers have earned it a place on the website ‘Dangerous Roads’. The website even warned about the requirement for frequent braking. Not what you want to hear when you’re driving an antiquated truck with drum brakes, with their well-known penchant for overheating, which leads to rapid brake fade. Mark reassured me he’d thought this through.

“We’re going up the steep side so we don’t burn out our brakes.”

But I couldn’t completely discount Newton’s law: “What goes up must come down.” Nor Scottie from Star Trek’s legendary claim that, “Ye cannae change the laws of physics.”

The start of the Llogar Pass from Ksamil
We’re going up the steep side so we don’t burn out our brakes.”

I blog. I do Facebook. And I post updates on Polarsteps, yet it seems almost everyone we meet asks,

“Are you on YouTube?”

That morning at Ksamil, we met Magdalena, a Bulgarian TikTok sensation. She filmed us and The Beast on her phone and, within the hour, had unleashed us upon her 45,000 followers.

A fellow nomad, Magdalena made her living from TikTok. When I asked her how, she told me,

“It’s easy! To be an influencer, it’s better to have five videos a day that aren’t perfect than one a week. They only take a minute of people’s time, so if one’s not so good, it doesn’t matter. The next one will be fine. And five lots of content is good for the algorithms.”

Magdalena, a Bulgarian Tik Tok sensation who filmed us & had us online within the hour!

As someone who can spend weeks researching, writing and editing a single blog post, Magdalena’s next comment really hit home.

“Not being a perfectionist unleashes your creativity!”

I was inspired.

‘The Best Coastal Drive in the World’ seemed a good place to skyrocket my chances of YouTube stardom and untold riches, so I filmed our ascent of the Llogar Pass.

The Best Coastal Drive in the World seemed a good place to skyrocket my chances of YouTube stardom

Things started reasonably well. Early on, we passed a precipice with the remains of a car at the bottom, although I failed to get my phone out quickly enough to film it. I captured thrilling footage of a pair of laden donkeys trotting unaccompanied down the road. Seconds later, I filmed a rotund man waving a stick, in hot pursuit of his escapees. My commentary included astute observations on Albania’s roof top water tanks and the fact that bushes always seem to obscure the views the second you switch on your phone to film a magnificent panorama.

As we ascended into the clouds, I reflected on the incongruity of a sign outside a hill village 3,000 feet up announcing ‘The Albanian Riviera’. Shortly after, I recorded my joy at the appearance of a small triangle of bright blue Ionian ocean, framed by steep hillsides.

By the time we made our first stop to cool down our brakes, I had bored myself.

Mark added his own thoughts.

“It was extremely dull,” he said.

Not only that, I had used up the phone’s entire memory.

Above the magnificent beach at Borsh (the cover photo of this blog), I abandoned all thoughts of becoming a YouTube phenomenon. No amount of editing would make my films remotely interesting!

Mark is never dull. Here he is ruining another photo above Borsh Beach on the Albanian Riviera!

Speakers of the local Greek dialect know the Llogara mountains as Κεραύνια Όρη (Keravnia ori) – the Ceraunian or ‘Thunder Mountains’. Under lowering skies, we stopped at another Ali Pasha fortress. The left turn to drive to it was too sharp for The Beast. With our leisurely 25-metre turning circle, the lay by and road ahead were not wide enough to accommodate a full U-turn. Unable to approach from the opposite direction, we parked and walked back towards the fortress.

As soon as we were far enough away from the dry warmth of the cab to ensure a thorough soaking, whichever direction we fled, the heavens exploded around us. We hurried to the shelter of an unmanned dive shack, where we regarded the castle through scything sheets of rain, and gave up. A boat named Wet Dream sat on a trailer outside. The irony was not lost on me.

Ali Pasha’s fortress in the background remained a wet dream, as we sheltered from torrential rain

We hurried back to the truck. Then, surrounded by the steamy fug of four wet dogs, two wet humans, and a plethora of soggy dog blankets, we pressed onward into a grey wall of rain. We passed a submarine base and bunkers. Lots of bunkers.

Which makes now a good time to tell you about Albania’s bunkers.

A bunker on a hairpin, Llogar Pass

Albanian dictator Enver Hoxha was so paranoid about potential Russian/Yugoslavian/Greek/NATO aggression, he peppered the countryside with over 750,000 of them.

Under Hoxha, Albania literally became a global Johnny No Mates. After breaking ties with Russia, then China, Albania was left with no allies, and became the most isolated country in the world.

Everyone aged 12 and over had to do annual military training. Despite this, Hoxha knew that his small standing army stood no chance in a conventional military standoff against an invading force. However, as he was well aware from his partisan days, the country’s topography lent itself to guerrilla warfare. To deter potential invaders, Hoxha offered the certainty that every city street, beach, village, crossroad, highway, and mountain peak would be viciously contested by the Albanian resistance. Central to his strategy were the bunkers.

The construction project, which started in 1967 and continued until 1986, devoured the country’s resources. Hoxha claimed,

“The fortification of the country is the most efficient investment of our nation’s sweat, and every drop of sweat consumed by the fortifications is a drop of blood saved on the battlefield.”

Enver Hoxha

He built new steelworks, and conscripted most major factories into the production of reinforced concrete parts for on-site assembly. Bunker construction occupied 80% of the army’s resources and continued in all weathers, with a human cost of around 100 lives per year. Mules carried the components into the mountains.

A concrete watchtower/bunker on the LLogar Pass

In a country with an acute housing shortage, each bunker cost the equivalent of a two-room apartment. Their ubiquity also put precious arable land out of use. Although a single shot was never fired in anger from one of his bunkers, the diversion of funds and assets into Hoxha’s concrete legacy perhaps explains why today, Albania remains one of Europe’s poorest countries.

Mostly, we saw the small, domed two person QZ (Qender Zjarri or ‘firing position’) bunkers. They built these in clusters around larger, permanently manned PZs (Pike Zjarri or ‘firing points’). In cities, such as Gjorokastra, they also created huge concrete shelters to shield the population in the event of attack.

With an average of 67.5 per square mile, bunkers are as much a part of the Albanian landscape as the trees, mountains, and coastline.

The Fab Four on a decorated QZ bunker

A steep, winding descent through groves of citrus and olives took us to Camping Moskato, just north of Himarë. Livadh Beach, the longest in the region, was directly across the road.

The first person we met was a Dutch chap in a motorhome who warned us, “Wear flip-flops or shoes on the beach as there is glass.”

Our hearts sank. The trash was getting to us. Mark felt the same when I said,

“I feel like going somewhere spotless, like Slovenia.”

However, when we took the pups for a run on the beach, we found it clean by Albanian standards. We collected litter, but it was mostly that day’s detritus of plastic cups, cans, and bottles. The only glass we saw was sea glass, polished and rounded by the waves. We picked up a sodden copper-coloured puffer jacket, which felt rather sombre. Items of clothing on Mediterranean beaches inevitably make us think of people like Kevi, the refugee we met in Matera, except these were some of the ones he described to us. The ones whose luck had run out.

Sunset on Livadh Beach

At sunset, we returned to the beach to enjoy the softening light and watched the rise of a full moon. For some reason, part of the beach was furnished with four-poster beds, complete with curtains. As we lay on one, tranquillity washed over us with the cool night air and the sound of the waves. There was no loud music, and the moonlight playing on the water was so bright, it looked like a slick of white gloss paint.

Full moon & Four-Posters on Livadh Beach

We’d survived the first part of the Llogar Pass. How would we get on with the next half?

Here, I refer you to the name of a local bed and breakfast establishment.

Wait and Sea!

Below – The Pawsome Foursome by moonlight on Livadh Beach

Come Truckin’ With Us – Get Outdoors Through Your Inbox!

Published by Jacqueline Lambert @WorldWideWalkies

AD (After Dogs) - We retired early to tour Europe in a caravan with four dogs. "To boldly go where no van has gone before". Since 2021, we've been at large in a 24.5-tonne self-converted ex-army truck called The Beast. BC (Before Canines) - we had adventures on every continent other than Antarctica!

15 thoughts on “‘The Best Coastal Drive in the World’: Ksamil Beach & The Llogar Pass, Albania

  1. So sad about all the rubbish, it’s hard to believe that solutions can’t be found. 😦 I must admit I’ve been toying with the YouTube idea because we have a big trip coming up from mid year which will take us to some rugged and remote areas. Still thinking about it though, but thinking hey if only family and friends have a look they might find it interesting.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. If it’s done well, YouTube is amazing. I think it’s just not my thing. I’m a written word gal.
      Some of the professional YouTubers dedicate their entire trip to planning the perfect shot, then editing hours of footage.
      I’m sure there’s a happy medium somewhere, but my commentary and film was incredibly dull!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Magdalena blogs quickly so that she can be an influencer, I blog quickly so that I don’t forget what I did just a few hours earlier. Leave it a day and it’s gone! However, your blogs are well worth the wait! What a contrast to the Butrint blog, all the litter sounds horrendous. And I can’t believe the density of the concrete bunkers, what a phenomenal waste of resources. Another fascinating read, as always!!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Albania really looks so beautiful! Just a shame about the rubbish! My interest in visiting has definitely piqued because of your posts!


    1. Albania is stunning, and now is a great time to visit – before it gets really popular and over developed.

      Unfortunately, trash is a huge problem in so many countries, particularly many of those we’ve visited in Eastern Europe and the Balkans. The big companies are happy exploit the markets there, and provide their goods in lots of lovel packaging, but there is no plan or infrastructure to deal with the waste.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I can’t beleive those views are from Albania! I’ve thought about YouTube or Tiktok but I’m not an in front of the camera person. Hearing the description of putting out 5 bad videos a day turns me off. So I guess I won’t be an influencer 😊 Maggie

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I came to terms with not being an influencer very quickly! 🙂
      As I mentioned in response to Glenys, we’ve met YouTubers whose entire trip is governed by their getting the perfect shot. It’s not how we want to travel!
      I think you’re influencers in some way with your beautiful blog, which is always a pleasure to read and your photos are always wonderful!
      I think we all find our niche.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Ha, I wonder what Hoxha would say today if he saw four doggies sitting on one of his bunkers! It’s a shame to have so much trash on such beautiful beaches. I mean … just look at the lovely sunsets. And then the surprise – four poster beds on the beach! Can you believe it!

    Liked by 1 person

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