Just how critically the Albanian ministry of tourism was taking Kala competition – the primary worldwide event of its type within the nation – grew to become clear the second we stepped off the boat at Saranda to discover a police escort ready to accompany our coaches on the winding, mountainous switch. That and the arrival of prime minister Edi Rama the next day, for an impromptu poolside press conference with the organisers at our lodge.
“Albania has always been beautiful,” he mused, as an inflatable pink flamingo drifted throughout the pool behind him. “But people think of it as a place where you get robbed or killed … But the stigma has helped us. When someone visits and gets out alive, they realise it’s paradise! It’s like the forbidden apple: don’t bite it or you’ll want it all the time.”
As for his ideas on Kala? “I have to admit, I don’t know anything about the festival but, in principle, it’s fantastic,” he stated, providing one evening of free Albanian beer earlier than disappearing.
Albania’s lovely sandy seashores see a fraction of the guests of neighbours Greece and Croatia. Photograph: Getty Images
Dry Balkan wit and free beer apart, Albania isn’t excessive on the record of Europe’s most-visited international locations. It sees round 80,000 UK guests a 12 months – a tiny quantity in contrast with the three million who travel yearly to neighbouring Greece, or the 765,000 who go to close by Croatia. But that might be set to alter. In 2014, the New York Times included the Albanian coast amongst its finest new locations (“This is Europe when it was fresh and cheap,” it wrote), whereas Lonely Planet ranked its capital, Tirana, among the many finest locations to go to in Europe this 12 months.
Kala – a week-long competition held in June on the upmarket resort city of Dhërmi – may cement Albania’s repute as an thrilling new seashore and celebration vacation spot, in the identical method that Outlook and Dimensions put Croatia on the map for younger Brits. At the second, Dhërmi is slightly tough to get to: a flight to Corfu, then 4 hours by ferry and bus. However, with a brand new airport set to open in Vlora (simply 50km from Dhërmi) in 2020, entry is probably going to enhance dramatically.
Kala Festival additionally has a wellness programme
Kala befell final month throughout 5 websites in Dhërmi, with lodge seashore bars as venues. Just 2,000 tickets have been accessible, so there was loads of area on the seashore, crystal-clear water, in addition to uncrowded, easy-going eating places (seafood linguine at Luciano’s grew to become a favorite). Festival tickets included lodging packages, from seashore huts to B&Bs to good resorts, all near the motion. With a wellness programme (yoga and gong baths overlooking the Ionian sea) operating alongside the music occasions, the competition was aimed equally at these interested by a laid-back seashore break (a bit like summer-long boutique Croatian competition Obonjan), as at these eager to celebration all evening (there may be music till 6am day by day).
The lineup was predominantly digital music, utilizing London’s underground collectives – Feelings, Secretsundaze, Phonica and Stamp the Wax – to construct a crowd (many festivalgoers have been from the UK), in addition to the likes of Moodymann, Maurice Fulton and Tama Sumo and Lakuti. Headliners included Tom Misch and Todd Terje, whereas the lazy, sun-drenched soul of Roy Ayers had the gang consuming out of his hand.
The lineup is especially digital artists, picked to go well with a crowd together with a number of Brits. Photograph: Khris Cowley for Here & Now
The group that based Kala – Mainstage Travel – is behind considered one of Europe’s main winter festivals, Snowboxx. It had been making an attempt to launch a summer time event for 3 years. “We searched Portugal, Croatia, Italy, Spain, Malta, Morocco, but couldn’t find anything off the beaten track,” Alan Crofton, the competition director, instructed me. “In October last year, we visited Dhërmi for the first time and immediately saw the potential. The idea is that it’s a holiday, you come, you chill on the beach …”
Most of the individuals I spoke to echoed this. “The best thing was going somewhere I’ve never been before,” stated Rebecca, 27, from London. “I wanted to do a festival abroad. I found it on Resident Advisor and the pics just looked amazing.”
With many individuals staying for the total week, the ministry of tourism was encouraging visitors to discover different highlights of the Albanian riviera. These included Grama Bay, dubbed Albania’s reply to Alex Garland’s The Beach – a secluded bay accessible solely by boat, with dazzling blue water and lots of of rock inscriptions courting way back to the third century BC; Blue Eye spring, a 45-metre-deep pool surrounded by hazelnut bushes; and Ksamil Beach, a coastal village from which 4 uninhabited islands may be explored by boat.
Gjipe seashore, the place crowds danced till the solar went down
For me, probably the most unforgettable aspect of Kala was the venue at Gjipe, a seashore and eco-campground within the subsequent bay, a six-minute speedboat journey from Dhërmi. Just past the seashore, surrounded by lush bushes and flanked by steep, crimson cliffs, was a small stage and sound system, the place you can dance till the solar set and it was time to take the boat again.
DJs together with Bjørn Torske, Nick The Record and Jenifa Mayanja took turns to play to a crowd of sunkissed, beaming faces … music bouncing down the gorge, which modified color each hour as the sunshine light. A stroll into the canyon led to a secret waterfall – a touch of different secrets and techniques this stretch of coast may reveal.
The prime minister wasn’t kidding about what a paradise this nation is. Turns out he wasn’t kidding in regards to the free beer both. With two days to go till the tip of the competition, I bumped into Crofton, who was grinning wildly. “I just got a text from the prime minister,” he stated. “He’s sending over a pallet of beer … I guess everyone at the festival gets a free one.”
Easyjet, Ryanair, Jet2, British Airways, Norwegian Air, Thomas Cook and Tui all fly to Corfu from a number of UK airports.
Ionian Cruises ferries run from Corfu to Saranda in Albania. The quick hydrofoil takes 30 minutes and gradual ones 75 minutes. From Saranda to Dhërmi by bus takes three.5 hours.
Need to know
Average temp for July/Aug = 30C
£1 = 142 lek
Pint of beer = 150 lek