Holiday special: Ksamil, Albania

In Corfu, the taxi driver just laughed at us.

“Albania!” He chuckled through his third cigarette of the 20 minute journey. Suddenly serious, he continued. “You don’t go there for holiday, you go for survival. Don’t go out at night, not safe.”

Outwardly I laughed. Inwardly I was mentally leafing through the ferry timetable for earlier return journeys, and wondering whether the two lessons of jiu jitsu I took when I was 8 would be enough to ward off the danger that awaited us.

Needless to say, had I needed to use aforementioned martial arts moves, I would have been immediately killed. Also needless to say, the taxi driver was full of shit. We got there, it was lovely, normally I wouldn’t bother you with the details.

However, given its relative unknown status, especially amongst us Brits, there’s not a great deal of good recent information about Ksamil, we only really heard of it when working out what to do in Corfu and then looking at pretty pictures. So in an attempt to rectify that, here’s what we did.

Getting in

The easiest way to Ksamil is via Corfu. In fact it’s pretty much the only way if you’re coming from western Europe – Albania is not exactly laden with airports. We split our trip between Corfu and Ksamil, with about 5 days in each, and it worked nicely.

There’s a regular ferry between Corfu town and Sarande on the Albanian coast. In the summer months there are 3 or so a day, check out Ionian Seaways for a timetable. We booked tickets on the website, but don’t bother. The price is spectacularly incorrect, you don’t actually pay for the tickets in advance, and you can buy tickets from the port in about 5 minutes from the Ionian office.

Tickets cost about €24 per person one way as of 2017.

The boat takes about an hour for the slower ferry, but it’s a nice trip and dolphins often swim next to the boat – we saw them going out and coming back, and I used my magical camera skills to capture one in all its glory for your viewing pleasure. I think this picture ought to win some sort of award:


On arrival in Saranda/e/ë, whichever you prefer, breeze through passport control and out onto into the port.There’s a taxi rank just to the left on the road (not down the slope), but we didn’t spot this. You can also take a bus if you go right out of the passport office and down to the roundabout with the big tree. I saw two buses in Albania- one of which was large, crisply air-conditioned and generally awesome as far as buses go, and another which looked like the kind of minibus you see burnt out in fields, only in worse condition. Now admittedly the bus is very cheap at 80 Leke (55p), but do you want to take that chance?

We decided to splash on a taxi, and were immediately collared by a man who was fairly insistent that he was a taxi driver. I had my suspicions given that he was almost definitely selling postcards seconds before we turned up, and these suspicions were only heightened when he had to borrow a car from a friend to drive us.

We agreed a fee of €20, which was tantamount to robbery but we admired the man’s hustle. €10-15 is about right, and taxis/random blokes will gladly accept Euros.

It takes about 20 minutes to get from Saranda to Ksamil, and I couldn’t tell you which side of the road cars are supposed to drive on.

On arrival, you’ll notice that you’re not exactly short of hotels to pick from. Apparently owing to a glorious lack of planning, Ksamil has just sort of sprung up all over the place. There are probably more hotels than people. To be honest it’s not a particularly pretty sight – especially as the official response to illegal building appears to be tear down most, but not all of the building, leading to such stunning vistas as this:



Thankfully, there do seem to be plenty of hotels available that aren’t falling down. We picked Villa Ideal, and were glad that we did. It’s well located about a 5min stroll to the best beaches and town amenities. It’s run by a very friendly family, it’s the cleanest place I’ve ever set foot in, and 4 nights at peak season for a big, comfy room with occasional complimentary lemon ice tea will set you back a princely €130. There’s also a glimpse of sea view and the 3 islands of Ksamil from the balcony:IMAG0872.jpg


Stuff to do

Ksamil is famous for its beaches and has the perfect climate for sunseekers. This patch of Albanian coast is only 10 miles from Corfu, so has the same Mediterranean wall-to-wall sunshine and 35 degree heat. The beaches are so famous though that they are consistently rammed throughout July – think Italian-level busy. It’s very much a sunbeds and parasols affair – almost all the beaches are private, but two beds and a parasol for the whole day will only cost you 500 lek (£3.50), so it’s not hideous. The best private beaches we found were in front of Korali and Guvat restaurants. You can also order food and drinks from your lounger and there are lots of men, women and the occasional toddler (genuinely) selling snacks on the beaches, so you can spend an entire day without getting off your arse if that’s your bag.

Busy though they are, the beaches, water and general surroundings are very pretty, and again startlingly clean. There are little islands just off the coast that are in easy swimming and pedalo reach.IMAG0866.jpg


We prefer a bit of peace and quiet, and this is achievable with a small amount of effort. The islands are almost deserted compared to the beaches. You can either rent a pedalo or hire a man and boat to run you across, or you can swim across yourself (it’s very easy) from the main beaches. Invest in a cheap dry bag (this one worked a treat and was also a good general rucksack) and all of your stuff will bob gently on your back while you serenely float to an island. There are two close by, and a bigger one about another 300m out – swimmable if you’re strong but probably easier to take a boat. We opted for one of the close by pair and more or less had it to ourselves all day:


If beaches aren’t your thing, how about some history? Butrint National Park, of which Ksamil is a part, contains the ancient Roman city of Butrint. It’s about a 15 minute bus from Ksamil, and the bus runs every hour or so from next to the post office (on the main road close to Tirana Bank, outside a small bakery). It cost us 100 leke for 2 people. Ignore the taxi drivers when they say it takes an hour and goes via Saranda. It doesn’t.

The ruins are really good and definitely worth a day trip and the entry price (700 leke), it’s a huge sprawling city and took us the best part of 4 hours to see everything. On the other side of the lake there are bison roaming about and a chain ferry. Basically it’s all very exciting.


I think it’s possible to walk to Butrint from Ksamil via a load of olive groves, it should only take an hour and I could see paths from the bus. If anyone wants to share a route of how to do that be my guest…


Back in Ksamil, there are plenty of food options, and it’s all laughably cheap. The best restaurant we found was Korali, on the promenade bit on the waterfront. The food in Ksamil is pretty heavily influenced by the rest of the Med – lots of fresh seafood and grilled things. We had the seafood platter for two, some starters, three beers each and some raki as a liquid dessert, and that came to the grand total of about 30 Euro. Like everyone we met in Albania, the staff are super friendly and all spoke English.

Guvat, next door, was also nice and did some more pasta and meat type dishes which were pretty good. All of the restaurants double as cafes and beach bars so it’s easy to find beer, wine, coffee etc.

We tended to get breakfast and lunch goods from the small supermarket at the top of town (next to the fast food restaurant). There’s good selections of fruit and snacks. There are also any number of delicious bakeries (Furre I think) which do sweet and savoury baked goods for no money. There’s a great one on the road to the right of the bus stop. Have what everyone else is having, or the chocolate bread, and you won’t go wrong.

Our other favourite, and I’m not ashamed to say this, was the fast food place at the top of town. You can get a delicious pork or chicken souvlaki (with chips actually stuffed into the sandwich – genius), and it will cost less than a pound. And you’ll be delighted. We ate there twice.


Cash is king. There are two cashpoints but only one takes Mastercard. It’s in the petrol station on the main road (left as you go down the hill). It does charge you 700 leke per withdrawal so use it wisely…if you have a Visa there’s a couple more machines around town, including by the bus stop at Tirana bank.

You can buy ferry tickets from the office at the top of town near the supermarket, this saves you getting in a flap when you get back to Saranda like we did. Hotels should be able to sort out a taxi, or just give you a lift like ours did.

The ability to speak even any words of Albanian goes down a storm, and helps calm some of the crushing embarrassment of being English abroad. We managed to get by with ‘Falemenderit’ (thankyou), ‘Tyeta’ (hi), and ‘Mah falni’ (Sorry). Also ‘Po’ means yes and ‘Yo’ (spelt Jo I think) means no, or vice versa, which isn’t at all confusing.

May, June and mid-August onwards are apparently much, much quieter.

Tirana beer is better than the other beer.

If you’re looking for a sunny holiday that’s a bit different and won’t trouble your bank balance, you won’t go too far wrong with the Albanian Riviera and Ksamil for a few days.

“Thank you for travelling on the Central line”


Did that actually happen? Right, status check: Am I still asleep? No. Am I drunk? No. Is the body odour emanating from the man whose armpit I’m now inhabiting causing me to hear things? It’s possible, but normally there are more dancing rabbits by this point.

No, my ears did not deceive – a mode of transport just thanked me for choosing it.

I’m not sure how many of you have experienced the joy of any tube line at morning rush hour, but choice is a concept that is far removed from such an environment. Unless you’re into being half-crushed by leaking strangers in a box that makes a clown car look roomy, it’s very unlikely that you’ve expressed a strong consumer preference to travel on the Central line.

That’s not to say there aren’t options. There are certainly options. I’ve even tried some, a personal highlight being the bus, which assured me it was a 40 minute journey and then proceeded to take two bloody hours. Cycling won’t get me killed but will make me unsuitably sweaty for a work environment which is distinctly lacking in showers. Walking is a stretch at 5 and a bit miles. So yes, in one way I am choosing to travel on the Central line, but in another, much more realistic sense, of course I’m fucking not. Allow me to paint a word picture:

Person: “I’ve chopped my arm off by accident.”

Doctor: “I can see that.”

Person: “Can you help?”

Doctor: “I can. But first I’d just like to thank you for choosing our hospital today. It really means a lot to us that you’ve chosen to have your gushing, terrifying wound treated here.”

Person: “But the next nearest hospital is 30 miles away.”

Doctor: “I know, but still, you’re a valued customer.”

Person: “I really am losing quite a lot of blood.”

That is the kind of thanks you’re getting on the Central line.

No TfL, thank you.

No TfL, thank you.

This sort of unnecessary, simpering, hollow adoration is becoming more and more commonplace – and it’s unbelievably annoying. Somebody, somewhere, has sat around a table and said “Tube users need to feel more valued. Why don’t we thank them every time they step into a carriage?”, and a group of other, supposedly rational and qualified people have agreed that this is not a wholly shit idea.

It is a wholly shit idea. It’s a massive, flashing, neon sign that says that you know your service is horrendous, and the only thing you’re going to do about it is record a short voiceover. The worse a company is, the more thanks they offer. TalkTalk are serial thankers who are unable to provide even a vague semblance of internet for vast swathes of the year, while Ryanair host a small party for their customers whenever a plane lands on the same day it was meant to.

Meanwhile, better organisations spend less time trying on the empty platitudes. (Sadly, this doesn’t mean they’re actively rude to customers – it would be a glorious day when John Lewis unveil the slogan “Shut up – you fucking love it”) What they do do is spend more time on actually doing things to improve how people experience their brand, which is easy to lose sight of when your company is juggling the really important stuff like getting more likes on Facebook. The best brands don’t tell customers how much they love them, they show them. Actions speak louder than words.

In summary, keep the thanks, buy more fucking trains.

An Englishman’s Guide: Mallorca Pt 2

Thinking about it, this section is going to be largely based around alcohol, and accurately recalling experiences involving copious amounts of the stuff is an inherently difficult thing to do. So this could be quite short. Sorry.

Amendment: It’s not! It’s really long! Sorry.

Uno mas?

Pleasingly, Mallorcans seem to view casual drinking as a way of life. Not in the same way that we view hardcore drinking as an essential pillar of life, but in a more sedate, refined way. A small, ice-cold beer with your lunch is standard fare. Every cafe and tapas bar, and I imagine many churches and playschools as well, have some kind of delicious brew on tap. Generally it’s Estrella, the delicious gold nectar out of Barcelona. This can only be a good thing.

If a beer at lunch and dinner just isn’t going to cut it for you, there’s a handful of good bars in Palma town. One of these is certainly not Shamrock’s, or pretty much any place on the waterfront. Shamrock’s is a little slice of Southend on a Saturday night. It smells a bit like vomit, even outside. Whilst enduring my beer, we witnessed a man run past who’d had so much coke that he was clutching his shoes in one hand and his heart in the other. After pausing to scream wide-eyed at a lamppost he sprinted off down the road. About an hour later he ran back the other way. He didn’t have his shoes any more.

Try and check out Lorien, which is a tidy little beer cave just up from the waterfront, near-ish the Cathedral. Aficionados will note the mind-boggling range of heady brews, as well as the terrifying man that serves them. Gibson, which is more in the centre of town, is also a good watering hole, especially if you are on a date or have money, because it’s also crazy expensive. Another of its plus points is that you can hide in the corner and play ‘would you rather’, with a focus firmly on the rest of Gibson’s clientele, with 3 Finns, an English girl and a wonderfully angry American.

Top Tip: Finns do not understand ‘would you rather’. They get the concept, but will spend a long time forlornly muttering “but this is not how it works reeeeally” in a very Finnish accent. Pretend you don’t understand their concern, it only adds to the amusement.

Anyway. Wine.

One must in Mallorca is a wine-tasting experience/bender in Santa Maria. Take the excessively-developed-for-a-tiny-island train network from Palma towards Inca and you’ll wind up in Santa Maria in about 20 minutes. Don’t get the stop wrong, because the majority of other stations on the island are helpfully located in the middle of vast fields, miles from anything.

Head towards the Macia Batle Bodega first of all; it’s Mallorca’s biggest and most famous winery. I think. Take the self-guided tour, i.e. wander aimlessly through the cellars nodding sagely but not quite understanding, until you reach the tasting room. Unfortunately we couldn’t do the proper tasting as there were 60 Russians having a private gathering, but eventually a sturdy German girl took pity on us and gave us a mini tasting, which still consisted of a good 7 or 8 wines in about 20 minutes. Their top whack red is a hefty 15 Euros a bottle, but is admittedly delicious; a mellow and fruity explosion of happy.

Don’t stop there. Wander out, half cut, into the blazing 6pm heat and then stalk the town looking for free wine. We only managed to find one more that was open, maybe they saw us coming, but that was a surreal treat too. The Sebastia Pastor Bodega, I couldn’t for the life of me tell you where it is, was a tiny little family run concern. We were given a rambling 15 minute verbal ‘tour’ of the bodega, some of which I understood (which is odd given that I don’t speak any Spanish, must have been the wine), by the absolute boss on the far left. Check out his bloody moustache! One of the main things I noted about this family was that every man, literally every man, is called Sebastia Pastor. All I could think was, “That must make the post a very difficult time.”

Angry American politely listened to all of this before cracking out something to the effect of “Great. Where’s the free wine?”, at which point Sebastia Pastor went on a one man crusade to get us monumentally drunk. A couple of large glasses of his finest Crianza, or 10 minutes, later and we were all fucked, slumped against wine tanks or leaning a little too casually against walls.

It was great.

We also saw a woman come in and buy some wine and produce, all the while with a small parrot clutching on to her shirt and squawking. Nobody batted an eyelid. I bloody love Mallorca.

One quick tip: Santa Maria has an amazing public toilet shaped like a wicker basket (for some reason). Locate it and remember it early on, you will need it.

rantraverelax Phrasebook

I promised activities and exciting adventures with tour buses. I lied, that stuff got covered off in Part 1. Ille Cabrera and the Caves at Porte Cristo. That’s two activities. Happy? Good. Time for some filthy language!

As I’ve mentioned, I don’t speak Spanish, but with the help of Spanish-speaking Americans I now know some useful phrases and quite a lot of sleazy lines, which I’m happy to share here. Family members should probably go and do something else now. Put the kettle on, have a nice cuppa. For everyone else, master these lines and you’ll be as successful with the ladies as I was…

“Si” – Yes.   Use this a lot, even if you don’t have a clue what’s happening.

“Claro” – Clear/Understood/Ahhh OK.   Ditto.

“Vale” – OK (pronounced like ‘ballet’).   Ditto Ditto.

“Hace calor, o eres tu?” – Is it hot in here, or is it you?

“Hace calor, o eres mi polla?” (ll pronounced like y) – Is it hot in here, or is it my penis?

“Hace calor, o eres ti concha?” – Is it hot in here, or is it your…you get the picture.

“Tu me pon es” – You turn/are turning me on.

“Me voy a carrer” – I’m going to come.   Strangely, given the sure-fire-winning nature of the previous lines, I didn’t get to use this one.

And no, I didn’t learn anything actually useful.

In Summary

In the format of potential tourist information slogans:

“Mallorca – The rock that rocks”

“100 quid return on Ryanair – what the fuck are you waiting for?”

“Hace calor, o eres Mallorca?”


An Englishman’s Guide: Mallorca Pt 1

Bought to you by me! An idiot in a jaunty hat.

So, Mallorca.

Those of you with a passing knowledge of European geography will be aware that Mallorca is one of the Balearics, a small group of islands that sit off the east coast of Spain. Balearics sounds a little like bollocks, and as a youth I certainly thought of Mallorca as such. In Essex at least, the kind of people who generally want to go to Mallorca are the kind of people who have nicknames like Jizzy Pete and hang around outside terrible clubs looking for ‘fanny’. Amongst the Brits, Mallorca is probably best known for Magaluf, or Rashtown as I like to call it. It’s the kind of place you can find Jizzy Pete looking for fanny.

Don’t be fooled, however, because the island is actually an absolute gem. Whether it’s beaches, mountains, good food, good wine, or just a massive piss-up you’re after, then Mallorca is probably the right place.

Go Mobile

Hire a car. I really can’t stress that one enough. You can have a great time without one, but you’ll have an unbelievable time with some wheels at your disposal. Public transport on the island is very good, but the best it has to offer is well off the beaten track. We booked and picked up our brand spanking new Peugeot 208 on the same day, and 3 days of use came to about 160 euros. We went with Goldcar and they were pretty good, and I’ve also heard good things about RecordGO.

Sun, Sea, Psicobloc

The last time I visited Mallorca, a two day jaunt at the end of a long month travelling, we stuck strictly to Palma beach. This is a perfectly nice beach, and a bit of a tourist hub, but there are some absolute stunners out there that you really shouldn’t miss. First and foremost amongst them in my mind is the magnificent Cala Varques on the eastern side of Mallorca.

This unbelievable little cove is a must see for any visitor, and almost makes the car hire worth the cost in itself. Drive towards Manacor, noted for producing Rafa Nadal and absolutely nothing else, then head for Porto Cristo. You need to take a right onto the Ma-2015 and follow it to the end, then left onto the Ma-2014 and right after about 100m. To my knowledge it isn’t signposted at all, but is worth a little head-scratching to get to. You’ll find yourself on a dirt track, which you should park on. Follow the trickle of locals for what seems like 10 miles through the forest and scrub, before emerging in a little piece of paradise.

I was too busy avoiding weeping to take any pictures, but luckily Google has come to my aid:

Not even a good picture

Apparently every now and then you’ll be greeted by a cow on the beach being herded by a naked elderly man. This can only be a good thing. We managed to plonk ourselves down behind a group of girls, one of whom kept standing up, facing towards us, and tweaking her nipples. This can only be a good thing. I had to resist the urge to applaud loudly.

Over to the left of the bay is a little covered outcrop where an elderly lady and middle aged man, who I can only hope are lovers, serve cold drinks, cocktails and fresh sandwiches. I was driving so stayed off the hard stuff, but elderly lady made me an awesome homemade lemonade, and the girl next to me squeaked a bit when she tried her caipirinha, so I think it was quite good.

The real pleasure at Varques is up and over the rocks to the left. If you follow the trail up and over you come to one of the world’s premier psicobloc sites. For the uninitiated, Psicobloc (aka deep water soloing), is a form of rock climbing where you mill about with absolutely no ropes above a suitably deep bit of ocean. If you fall off, you only hit crystal clear blue coolness. It’s incredible, and I’d urge anyone to try it. There are also a couple of big caves around there; try swimming to the back of the left-hand one and putting your face against the hole.

Sa Rapita is another tidy little beach, this time on the south of the island; it runs into the famous Es Trenc beach but is a little quieter, and seriously beautiful. The water seems to run as a little shelf for about 50 metres out to sea, it’s only about two feet deep and like a bath, before plunging into proper, glass-clear water. Something about the length of the beach gives it a really great atmosphere; you get a feeling that you’re just a tiny speck in a vast paradise. It’s quite pleasant.

The beach at Sa Rapita.

Finally, there is Sa Calobra.

Sa Colobra is brilliant for two reasons. One is that it’s unlike anything else I’ve ever seen. The beach is formed as the Torrent de Pareis tumbles headlong out of the mountains between two vast rock walls; the result is an unusual arrangement that feels a bit like the scene in Star Wars where they almost get squished by slow-moving walls. (Quite why they jumped down that trash chute has always puzzled me. Surely any self-respecting Death Star would have had a fire exit they could have fled through? Less dramatic I suppose…)

“Shut down all the garbage mashers on the detention level!”

The second plus point to Sa Colobra is that you have to navigate a bum-puckeringly tight set of mountain roads to get there. This is excellent if you are driving with a mortal enemy with a heart complaint: they won’t make it half way. I managed to terrify a Texan and an Essex girl with what I called my precision and they called “fucking insanity”. This can only be a good thing.

Eating. Drinking. More drinking.

There are many culinary and bacchanalian delights to be found on Mallorca, as long as you are prepared to accept that serrano ham and cheese are classed as necessities in every meal. This can only be a good thing.

Being Spain, tapas is pretty popular, and every Tuesday and Wednesday night Palma holds la Ruta. Smack bang in the centre of town you’ll find a load of tapas bars that have clubbed together to make this event successful. 2 Euros will get you a little bite to eat, there’s always a healthy selection, and a canya (small beer) or glass of wine. Not only is this dirt cheap, and good food, and an acceptable way of getting trollied, but it’s also a good way to meet people as half the town seems to come out and play. Expect the revelry to go on until at least 2, although the tapas is usually gone by 12.

Staying in Palma, the Can Juan de S’Aigo has to be checked out too. It’s been about since the early 18th Century and serves up ice cream you’ll struggle to beat anywhere. The Almendra (almond) and Fresones (strawberry, more like a sorbet) are particularly good, but at 2 Euros a pop you could eat your way through the whole selection and not feel hard done by. Half chocolate, half strawberry is a definite winner. While you’re there, pick up a freshly baked ensaimada, a local pastry which is gorgeously light and perfect for dipping into the dribbly remains of your ice cream.

I don’t know what flavour this was but it tasted like happy.

Veering out of Palma is worthwhile for some good eats. Get up into the mountains just to the west of Palma and there are some real treats. There’s a sleepy but beautiful little village called Puigpunyent. A small bar on your right as you head into town serves a great Pa amb Oli with typically Catalan service; the woman seemed genuinely affronted that we wanted to order food and drinks. I like that. Pa amb Oli is a simple yet delicious plate of lightly grilled bread doused in fine olive oil and a suggestion of fresh tomato, then topped with your choice of ham, cheese or any combination of those two. It’s a world of choice. There’s also a handful of fresh local olives and some spicy pickles to go with it. In a swelteringly hot place, it makes for a pretty perfect meal.

If you want something more substantial head up to Genova, a short trip from Palma. The place seriously enjoys meat. The most famous establishment is Can Pedro, where roast lamb in a hundred different ways is the order of the day. Make sure you’re hungry, when you order roast lamb that is literally what you get. Beware the meat sweats. There would be a picture but I was too busy struggling to breathe. One note of caution, expect to pay 20 Euros for food and drink there. It’s good, but probably touches the margins of good value.

Finally on the food front, get up to Valdemossa and enjoy a coca de patata (cake made from potata. Not as weird as it sounds) with a big bowl of dipping chocolate (chocolate a la taza or  similar). It’s a good way to spend an afternoon.

Potato and cake, together at last

On that sweet thought I’m going to leave it for now. In the next episode, alcohol, activities and how to alienate friends you only just made with the help of a Peugeot 208 and a Portuguese tour bus.

Stay tuned!

P.S. I have shamelessly pilfered most of the pics in the above from my travel and drinking companion on account of being woefully inept at cameras and stuff and she is in touch with the social world whereas I still regularly forget my phone has a camera on it. Check her out! @katie_jane_rose