Wednesday 25th September – Qeparo, the Ali Pasha Fortress & Llogora NP
Total Distance: 4.50 miles / Total Ascent: 257m / Total Descent: 253m
Altitude Max (1) 142m / Altitude Min (1) 4m
Altitude Max (2) 934m / Altitude Min (2) 825m
An easy day was planned for today, mainly taken up with gentle sightseeing, swimming and a couple of short strolls. Perhaps a bit too easy, if truth be told, given the test we would face tomorrow: lulling us into a false sense of security when we might have been better served by the short, sharp shock treatment. It was all good fun, but isn’t hindsight a wonderful thing?
|Reasons to be smug #2: waiting for breakfast
We kicked the day off with a leisurely breakfast at the beachfront restaurant before driving along the coast to visit the Ali Pasha Fortress at Porto Palermo.
|Ali Pasha Fortress
The castle’s history and origins are a bit vague, with conflicting stories to choose from. It may have been built by or for Ali Pasha of Tepelena, there again, it may have been built by the Venetians. And the design might be French, or it might not. Either way, it’s pretty well preserved for a well-used building, and stands guard over the bay in quite an imposing manner.
|Substantial columns to support the vaulted ceiling
|A ghostly apparition?
Moving on, we made a short stop in the coastal town of Himarë for water, ice cream and any other provisions that were needed, before travelling on to the beach at Gjipë – a secluded spot reached via a rough road and a twenty-minute hike along the cliffs. It was a fantastic place, and we probably spent the best part of an hour and a half relaxing, swimming and diving from the cliffs.
|Pete showing the aerial dexterity of a Premier League striker
(Picture courtesy Dan Painter/Walks Worldwide)
After all that hard work (!) what we really needed was a huge lunch. So we had one – at a restaurant 1000m up on the mountainside at the top of the Llogora Pass. It may be true (or possibly not - don't take my word for it!) that calories consumed at altitude don’t count. But even if it were true, it rather presupposes that you’ve expended some energy of your own in order to get there. All we’d done to work up an appetite was sit through a drive of many hairpin bends.
|Long way down: the sea, 1000m below us
Subdued somewhat by sheer weight of food, we got back in the minibus and trundled the few yards down the hill to our hotel. The Hotel Sofo was a pretty smart place, just a few bends down from the top of the pass: smart being understandable, I suppose, when we realised it was situated slap-bang on the main road between Vlorë and the Albanian Riviera – a road something like a cross between the A6 and Hardknott Pass.
Having checked in, we felt the need for a brisk walk and some fresh air – especially since we were in the middle of a barely four-hour stint between massive lunch and massive dinner. We’d been interested to see the roadside stalls on the way down to the hotel, so we walked back up the road to investigate and ended up with two jars of honey and a bottle of bee Propolis!
Honey plays a large part in the life and cuisine of the area: it is served with bread at most meals, used to sweeten a variety of things and features in a lot of the (mainly Greek-influenced) deserts we encountered. Earlier in the week, Adnan had told us he had 50 hives, which were capable of producing 300kg of honey each year!
|Yoghurt, Honey & Walnuts: what's not to like?
The evening meal was again excellent, but we were stuffed from earlier and struggled to make much of a dent in the mountain of food that appeared. Which was a pity because, once again, it was all delicious.
We ended this nice, relaxing but overfed day with a couple of shots of raki – as a nightcap, you understand, and purely to be polite. I’m not saying it was a strong brew at all, but afterwards, as I tried to read my book before going to sleep, I had trouble actually focusing on it …