Home BalkansAlbaniaPermet Përmet and the Balkan side of Albania

Përmet and the Balkan side of Albania

5 October 2014
Permet, Albania
If last time I showed you the places I liked the most during my road trip around Southern Albania, this time I’m bringing you to the town where I found a great Balkan atmosphere: Përmet and the surrounding mountainous area.
Our three days in the Përmet area were very rainy, so we didn’t have the chance to spend a lot of time around.  We had to skip many open-air places on my bucket list, such as the ancient village of Frashër within the Fir of Hotova National Park and the Këlcyrë gorge, while we played for time and stayed a bit longer than planned into Përmet delicious restaurants tasting its well-known cuisine. In fact, this is not only the area of large national parks and beautiful green valleys, but it’s also renowned for its local wines and traditional products (such as the many different types of jam and compote), some of which are even protected by Slow Food Albania.

Flanked by the Vjose river, Përmet is a former Ottoman village from the 15th century, which nowadays claims to be the cleanest and greenest town in Albania. What I surely know is that Përmet, with its 12000 inhabitants, is a relaxing and quiet city surrounded by unspoilt nature; it was considered the unofficial capital of Albania during the communist regime, hence the rational architecture and urban planning typical of that era.
Përmet doesn’t have the old Ottoman buildings protected by UNESCO of Berat and Gjirokaster or the crystalline water of the Albanian Riviera; it doesn’t have the cultural charm of Korça and neither the highlights of a bustling and colourful capital town such as Tirana. But in Përmet I found something I do value much more: an authentic Balkan charm.
Permet, Albania
Permet, Albania
Permet, Albania
If Albania doesn’t look so much “Balkan” after all, in Përmet I found a heap of what speaks Balkan to me: small houses with admirable vegetables gardens, elders chatting on a bench, locals gathering on the main street for the traditional xhiro, fresh and tasty fruits and vegetables not only in every restaurant but also on sale along the streets, unspoilt nature, evenings spent sipping a beer at the bar on the main square, home-made raki and an excellent local wine, rational communist architecture, groups of kids dominating the streets, several different religions coexisting, the call of the muezzin and the Orthodox community praying just on the sidewalk, old vintage cars, decadent buildings, fresh mountain air and -in general- the warm, beautiful feeling of being lost into the Balkans, which for some reason is the closer feeling of what “home” means to my nomadic soul.
And, in Përmet, I finally felt at home.
Permet, Albania
Permet, Albania
Permet, Albania
Permet, Albania
Permet, Albania

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Albania > Leusa

At 5 pm the big storm stopped; we didn’t have so much time left to visit the surrounding area with the daylight, so we headed to the nearby village of Leusa, a tiny village made of few stone houses on the mountain behind Përmet. It is possible to reach Leusa only by walk, better say hike; what for Leusa inhabitants is a common daily activity for me felt like climbing the highest mountain on earth, but I must admit that the view on the Vjiosa river and its valley from up there was totally worth the slog. I marvelled at the colour of the ground and at the beauty of the surrounding wood, which hides the real gem of Leusa village: the Orthodox Church of St. Mary well-known for its outstanding iconography mural paintings from the Byzantine era.
Leusa, Permet, Albania
Leusa, Permet, Albania
Leusa, Permet, Albania

Albania > Benjë

Even after four beautiful days on the Albanian Riviera, we hadn’t got enough of swimming and so, when in Përmet, we went to the famous thermal waters of Benjë, which are located in a very scenic surrounding: under the Katiu Ottoman bridge.
Benje thermal waters Permet Albania
Benje thermal waters Permet Albania
The bridge marks the end of the 5 km long Lengaricë Canyon, which you can enter from here through what I found a very slippery and tricky path –but I am sure you are braver than me!
Walking towards (and inside) the canyon you will also discover more thermal pools, which are less crowded than the two famous ones at the entrance. Luckily we went there on a cloudy day of September and so we did enjoy the most beautiful pools all for ourselves, relaxing within their warm, clear and smooth water -and then we visited the other pools just for exploration’s sake.
Benje thermal waters Permet Albania
Benje thermal waters Permet Albania
Hello!

Albania > Petran

After the day at the thermal waters, we kept driving on SH75 until the small and very picturesque village of Petran, which is made up of a colourful school, few stone houses, a bridge and a beautiful tavern with a terrace overlooking the Vjosa river.
Petran, Albania
Petran, Albania

Albania > National Park Bredhi i Hotovës

As I was mentioning above, this wonderful natural park of 1400 hectares well-known for its extensive forest consisting mainly of Macedonian Firs is among the attractions we had to skip due to the inclement weather. What I regret the most is that I didn’t visit the ancient village of Frashër, but this only means I must come back another time!

Albania > Këlcyrë

Still, on the bank of the river Vjose, Këlcyrë is the second biggest town in Përmet District. It is well-known for its bustling flea market and for the gorge.
Kelcyre, Albania
Kelcyre, Albania
Kelcyre, Albania
Kelcyre, Albania
Kelcyre, Albania
Unfortunately, we didn’t make it until the Këlcyrë gorge (a 13 km long gorge along the Vjose river with small waterfalls sprouting from its walls), as the rain was approaching, but still we enjoyed the lunar landscape of a small pond nearby.
Kelcyre, Albania

Albania > Ersekë

Halfway between Përmet and Korça, at the foot of the Gramos mountains, we found Ersekë -a small alpine town which is one of the highest cities in Albania. Here we wandered around the town stopping to buy some fresh fruits and to taste the two products for which Ersekë is well known: apple and honey.
erseke, albania
erseke, albania
erseke, albania

Bonus track

This is the area where an odd Albanian phenomenon is especially widespread: the habit of hanging plushies.
Permet Albania
Permet Albania
Permet Albania
At first, we saw them in the countryside, so we thought they were a sort of scarecrows, but then we saw more of them also in downtown Përmet and got so intrigued that we still wonder which is their purpose… are they hung to protect from bad luck? Any guess? Let me know in the comment area below!

Permet Albania || Where to stay

Hotel Alvaro: we stayed in this big hotel overlooking the Vjose River, owned by a very welcoming couple made by a bubbly lady and a refined man who happens to be also the president of Slow Food Përmet. The aspect I liked the most of Alvaro hotel is the very yummy breakfast made with all Slow Food products from the area.
Another option is to sleep surrounded by the unspoilt nature of the National Park Bredhi I Hotovës: there is no lodging within the park, but it is possible to camp with tents or stay in the forestry station after obtaining approval from the appropriate authorities.

Permet Albania || Where to eat

In Albania there are two Slow Food convivia, one in the North and one in Përmet: it goes without saying that it is not so difficult to find fresh and tasty food in this area, which is also well-known for its wine production.
Antigonea Restaurant, Përmet: it was our favourite restaurant in the area! We liked its cuisine so much that we ate there twice! Soups were quite fatty, but everything else was delicious, especially the selection of fresh vegetables. At the end of the meal, the owner offered us a cherry tomato dipped into honey: it was an unusual and surprising taste for me, but I did love it!
Edjon Restaurant, Përmet: close to Antigona, there is another traditional restaurant serving typical local dishes; here we had a soup (less fatty than soups at Antigona’s) and fresh salad, accompanied with a local wine.
Amel Restaurant, Përmet: here we just had a glass of red wine accompanied by local cheeses and homemade pickles. We were especially curious to taste Përmet well-known cheeses, which are from goats and sheep, and they didn’t disappoint us at all!
Inn in Petran: this is the only inn in Petran, on SH75. Here we ate fresh trouts on a balcony overlooking the river, accompanied with a salad straight from the garden; a very local tavern you shouldn’t miss!
Permet Albania
PEEK THROUGH | You find Permet and its beautiful surrounding area in my video “My 13-days road-trip across Albania…in 130 seconds

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Permet Albania  Permet Albania

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