surf spotlight on albania

31 October 2011 10:25:00 AEDT

Okay, so the missus was trying to suprise you for your next family vacation and asked you where you might be able to get some waves in Europe. One thing leads to another and somehow you end up going on a surf trip to Albania. Dont despair though - you can get through this! Lets step through your options.


34b7347c187d8ed2a6d5f8a8a5d5e933Map of Albania

Albania is rarely documented as a quality, reliable surfing destination but there is potential. Nestled on the Adriatic Sea behind Italy, there is a fairly narrow swell window which makes every spot more of a novelty, breaking maybe a couple of times a year at best. If you are in the area and the Sirroco is blowing across the Mediterranean and manages to kick up into the Adriatic from the south west there are some locations you may wish to investigate


2cfc9b4c9995b3092d7f3102d89b5e6dRemains of the Greek colony of Apollonia c588BC

Like much of the surrounding regions of the Adriatic, Albania has been inhabited by humans since the stone age. In turn, the great empires of the world from the Greeks, through to the Romans, the Byzantines and the Ottomans have swept through the area.

All of them have left their own unique art and ruins which will give you plenty to see and do when the surf is flat. The country has a proud history of resisting and repelling invaders. Most notably, it is the only European country that exited World War II with a larger Jewish population than it had started with.

Despite being occupied by Nazi Germany at the time, the government refused to hand over lists of Jewish residents – instead they forged papers for them, accepted refugees from other countries and hid them within remote communties. All of this despite the fact that the majority of the population were muslim – maybe there is a lesson in there for the rest of us.

Initially allied with the Soviet Union after World War II, relations broke down with that entity in the 1960’s and then with the other major communist power – China in 1978. Albania then pursued a policy of self reliance which was to end in disaster. The countries economy totally collapsed and over 6000 citizens were executed for ‘political reasons’.

Democracy came to the country in 1996. Steady reforms since that time have led to Albania’s acceptance within the European community and identification as a unique and historical tourist destination within the area. For the surfer, it is the south western coastline of Albania which offers the most potential and exposure to swell and weather systems emerging from the Mediterranean.

The coastal resort city of Durres offers both the most potential and due to it’s jutting location – manages to shield the northern coastline from all but the most powerful and rarest of swell producing weather systems.


7fa50965928f192b8e4516c2a42fc2f4Small day at Durres

Whilst Albania has many stunning beaches in the central coastal region, it is only those with a south westerly aspect that have any real opportunity to catch the swell originating from the Mediterranean. The Adriatic sea itself is no more than 200 miles wide at its widest expanse and thus has no real opportunity to generate a windswell of major interest.

The coast south of Vlore is quite rugged with mountains plunging into the sea, beautiful in it’s own right but not conducive to surfing. Between Vlore and Durres, several major rivers empty into the Adriatic and create gently sloping sandbars that react to even the smallest swells. The Vlore river actually empties into the Adriatic just north of the city and offers a quality left hander sandbar in the right conditions.

Tirane is another rivermouth break about 20 kilometres to the north.The smaller beaches away from the rivermouths are just too steep and the colder water reef systems to deep to provide any real surf potential. Further north, the city of Durres is a coastal resort with several man made groynes. Occasionally weather systems can deposit favourable sandbanks around these groynes which can result in 2-3 foot left handers given a favourable southerly swell.

The rivermouth breaks between the two major cities of Vlore and Durres are surrounded by agricultural land, expect to walk a mile or so from the nearest roads – rest assured that you wont have a crowd on your hands to deal with however. Durres is a larger spa / resort town and the water will be busy - not with surfers but with swimmers, waders and the infirm getting their annual dose of sun in the summer time.

Make sure you take something buoyant to surf these waves as the general lack of swell period can make catching them a little tricky.


61bd3e48f4086b46dadeb7bbdc0c2afeMighty South Albanian Point - silent

The capital Tirane is well connected by European carriers but it is an inland city, great for a few days exploration however. Durres is only 40 K away on the coast. From there, hire a car and head down the coast. Check the rivermouths including the main one at Vlore which is about 140K to the south. If your coming from Greece to the east – you may wish to consider arriving by road and coming into Vlore; an amazing road covering some breathtaking alpine scenery.


19be041633d811cdb2b771ad2db968d6The Passage of the Sirocco

Albania experiences a mild Mediterranean or Continental climate with warm summers (30 average) and cool winters (13 average). Most rainfall is experienced from Oct-Dec but there is reliable precipitation around the year. Snow is common above 1500M with good falls lingering until Spring. Conditions away from the coast can be much cooler due to the mountainous geography. Probably the most interesting phenomena concerning the surfer are the Sirocco Winds.

These winds which can reach cyclonic force are most common in March and November. These weather systems are caused by dry, hot air from the Sahara and Africa mixing with the cooler moist air of Europe. The resulting mix can travel eastwards across the Mediterranean unleashing extreme winds and dust storms that may persist for 4-5 days. Accordingly, one should aim where possible to plan a surfing trip within the geographical vicinity around these swell windows.

where to stay

Ccf02947e7751ad8b901335762c0beeeTirana - On a Shoestring

Accomodation is very reasonably priced throughout the coastal areas with Durres being the most popular. The summer time is the peak for vacationing by the sea and hence accommodation can book out rather quickly. Many hotels will expect a 2 week minimum stay during these periods also. The rivermouths are where you are likely to score the most waves and these are predominantly away from the major cities.

The rural areas of the country are very scenic and many local farmers would be delighted to have you stay for a few days for next to nothing. If you are lucky they will even run you down to the beach on their tractor to save you the 1-2 K walk from the main road.

what to pack

4e734e95107b2dd4d2442c0036864c63Limetolime: Electric blanket; 30 November 2007

Going in winter will require appropriate clothing. A small backpack makes a good carryon bag and will be useful in daily life. Women: remember to take a good flat pair of shoes....the roads and pavements can have plenty of holes so be careful. And for everybody: pair of comfortable walking shoes will be great for sightseeing. Beach clothing & sandals will be useful if you are going to the seaside and in the warm season. Try to choose classics, and items that you can mix and match. Have at least one set of nicer clothing for more formal occasions.

Definitely take along some insect repellent spray! You can also pack an electric blanket to keep you warm and dry out the beds. Albania is very damp in the winter and the cold gets into your bones.

The story with the medicines is pretty much the same as in all European countries. Better take your medicines with you, though you will still be able to by them on the spot. Just keep in mind that the brands can be unfamiliar and cost more. By the way, getting medical insurance for the trip would be a good idea.

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