Vlorë and the Zvërnec Monastery: a Day Hike

Events in Vlorë and Zvërnec happened on Monday 15th of June, 2015.

Good Morning Vlorë

My hosts left for work in the morning. My plan was to take it easy since I had picked up a cold in Sarandë, or when hitchhiking from Sarandë to Vlorë. The idea I had for ‘taking it easy’ was going on a nice long hike (10 kilometers one-way) with lighter luggage. Within a reasonable distance, the hike to the Zvërnec Peninsula and Island northwest of the city center seemed like the best plan. My hosts confirmed it was pretty there.

Walking out of Vlöre was fairly easy as it’s not so big. Part of the route follows the train tracks out of town. The railroads are apparently in active use for passenger trains, though I’ve never seen one. The road continues through a beautiful coniferous forested area, my favorite kind. The air smells amazing and I feel a lot better already.

I continue walking at a steady pace until I see the shores of the Narta Lagoon (Laguna e Nartës). The water levels seem to be quite low. I see the little island not far away. Like the peninsula that leads to it, the little island is also riddled with trees. That beautiful spot is also the location of an old monastery, which is my goal of the day. I walk past another one of the Albanian bunkers – of which there are so many – until the wooden bridge that crosses the lagoon to the island.

The bridge’s start is in excellent condition, but towards the middle, it becomes more wobbly. And then… there’s a gap. The boat is tied on my side of the broken bridge, but I feel like it’s not my place to get myself over to the other side with someone else’s boat. Eventually, a man shows up to help me get across.

Zvërnec Monastery

Once on the island, it’s an oasis of peace, decay, and quiet contemplation. The ancient monastery is Byzantine in origin and still looks like it’s holding up quite well, or going through some sort of revival. Humans are in a minority as the monastery grounds are occupied by chickens and shy bunnies. Some of the buildings have been fixed up and are in use for spiritual purposes.

I walk around the island, through the pine forest and spot the – not yet open to the public – uninhabited Sazan Island in the distance. I’d thought of visiting Karaburun before coming to Vlorë, but it seemed to be a little too tough and inaccessible at the time. By now, both areas have been turned into a giant marine park.

The island has beautiful views of the Narta Lagoon. I decide to have a break with some water and snacks on the high slopes of the island hill. It’s one of these travel days that reinforces why I like traveling so much. I head back to the archeological/spiritual site and see there are also a few (angry-looking) geese around now. The rabbits are still around, relaxing in the grass until I approach too closely.

Returning to Vlorë

I head back to the bridge. There are two men now, one of which paddled the boat over the first time. We go back to the half-broken bridge as the man pulls the boat along the rope. I try to help but the man asks me to just sit down and enjoy the passage. The sun is now in a lower part of the sky, and I know it’s time to head back. I change my route slightly from the way I came, but eventually go back to the main road.

I hitch a short ride back into Vlorë with a small truck, lessening the strain of the mostly flat but lenghty hike of today. My hosts let me back inside and I tell them about the hike and how I spent my day in blissful solitude. Since I’m feeling better, we’re making social plans for the evening with some of their friends.

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