Discovering the coastline of Albania from Sarande to Durres.

190909 2 Sarande Harbour

Sarande Harbour 

190827 2 Arriving Porto Palermo Ali Pashas castle granted to the navy in 1803190828 1 Checking out the water in Porto Palermo Albania

Just 15nm north of Sarande lies the Port of Palermo. Recognised as one of the best natural bays for protection from weather north or south it also has a long history as a military base and as such has been off limits for cruising boats. As we approached the entrance to the bay a small navy rib was patrolling but to our relief they simply waved and we continued in past the impressive remains of Ali Pashas 19th century castle to anchor in the most beautiful water. 

On further investigation it was confirmed by the one and only restaurant in the bay that during the months of June to August the restriction of entering the bay is lifted and boats are allowed access to the harbour. A welcome relief for us as we had read many articles about yachts being sent away from the harbour at gun point and with sirens blaring!

We initially put down the anchor in the bay but holding was not the best and with the possibility of the afternoon winds blasting through the anchorage we decided to relocate to the “dock”. Tying up to the dock took a little ingenuity and a lot of fenders but it was certainly secure. 

The Concrete dock - definitely a need for line protectors and fenders but secure

Porto Palermo as seen from the castle

190828 19 Ali Pasha Tepelenas  castle Porto Palermo Albania


On the small hill in the centre of the bay sits the fortification called “Ali Pashas Castle". Ali Pasha of Telepina was a military leader who rose through the ranks to become a powerful ruler or governor of the Ottoman Empires southern European Territories. Ultimately it was his determination to become one of the most powerful leaders that led to his death in his early 80’s after falling foul of the Ottoman Central Government and being beheaded in 1822 as a traitor.

190828 8 Military Area Porto Palermo Albania




The castle and bay were granted to the Royal Navy in 1803 by Ali Pasha and have since remained as military territory and a closed zone. On the northern side of the bay a tunnel is cut into the hillside and opens out onto the Adriatic sea. It is said that this was a Submarine base during the rule of dictator Enva Hoxha, but today it is no longer in use but still guarded by the military. 

190828 41 Out to dinner Porto Palermo Albania

Dining out Porto Palermo

190828 37 The dock to the boat a OH&S nightmare Porto Palermo Albania


Above the port was the restaurant Porto Palermo. The friendliest of staff and great tasting simple food the journey back at night under the guidance of torchlight would have been an Occupational Health and Safety officers worse nightmare as some care was needed to negotiate the pathway along the dock back to the boat.

We stayed in Porto Palermo for two nights enjoying the opportunity to explore the castle,  the beautiful limestone overhangs and to swim in the pristine water. 

190828 5 Checking out the water in Porto Palermo Albania

One of the caves of Porto Palermo 

190829 3 Porto Palermo to Gjiri Shengjergjit beautiful cove to be investigated Grama Bay190829 7 Porto Palermo to Gjiri Shengjergjit bunkers beyond counting

The next 30 nm of coastline from Porto Palermo to the Island of Sazan is rugged with cliffs often plummeting vertically into the sea. 

One potential stop was in Grama Bay. We stuck our nose in to have a look and the bay was truely beautiful with a small summer cafe hidden from view on the corner of the beach. The acoustics in the bay were amazing - the voices of people swimming were bouncing off the surrounding hillside. There was a new large mooring buoy in the harbour, bright red so it couldn’t be missed, that we declared we would investigate on our return south. 

The one element we noticed on sailing the Albanian coastline was the number of bunkers that dotted the shoreline and surrounding hillside. It was simply impossible to count the number in any one area. Just when you thought you had achieved a calculation there were more sprouting like mushrooms across the landscape. We were told by a local Albanian who once served at Port Palermo that during the rule of the communist dictator Enver Hoxha around 750000 bunkers were built. That was a ratio of almost 1 bunker for every four Albanians. It came at a huge cost to the country both  financially and in the use of raw materials. 

190829 10 Passing Haxhi Aliu Cave on our way to Gjiri Shengjergjit

A surprise discovery - Haxhi Aliu Cave 

190830 2 Haxhi Aliu Cave in the dinghy


Our next two night stop was in the Bay of Shengjergjilt. As we rounded the Karaburun Peninsular into the bay we were surprised to see a tourist boat heading towards a large cave. The cave turned out to be a national monument steeped in history and stories of piracy and conspiracy. The cave is named after Haxhi Aliu a warrior who legend tells fled to the caves with his son, then helped the shepherds to fight off the intruding pirates. The limestone cave has a maximum height of 18m and 12m in diameter. It was an impressive site to return to and photograph from the dinghy. 

190829 15 Dinghy exploring Gjiri Shengjergjit Bunker Door

Solid concrete bunker door 

The restaurant view - bunkers at the door.

Our first night on anchor in Shengjergjlt was perfect. We explored the bay in the dinghy checking out the bunkers scattered across the hillside, discovered a concrete door in the cliffside that lead into a 100m long bunker and ate at a restaurant set up on the hillside to service the beach. The restaurant only operates from June to September so we were lucky to have arrived just before their closure for the season.  

Unfortunately the next evening an unexplained swell rolled in that saw Katherine rolling gunnel to gunnel all night and an early departure for Durres was very welcomed. 

190903 3 Port side Serenity Katherine


Saturday the 31st of August saw us arrive into Durres. This was to be our turn around point for Albania. It was also where we were meeting Francois from Paradigme. We met Francois in Cartagena in 2017 and cruised southern Italy and northern Sicily together. It was exciting to know we were going to have the opportunity to catch up and cruise back to Sarande in his company. 


(For more photos click here.) 


© SV Katherine 2018      Cover Photo: Katherine on Anchor Isle Tabarca Spain