Planning our itinerary for Albania we considered driving from Gjirokastër to Korçë in the southeast corner of the country. As happens when you travel our itinerary changed, but we still wanted to drive one of the most scenic parts of the drive along the Vjosë (or Vjosa) river around the town of Përmet.
Përmet, small town Albania
Luckily Përmet was only a short 1,5 hour drive from Gjirokastër, so we decided to make a small detour before heading to Berat. We spent the night in this small typical Albanian town which had a big rock in the Vjosë river near the town center as its most defining landmark. The town’s central square looked recently renovated, but still had that former east bloc feel to it. We liked it.
As soon as we turned off the main Gjirokastër road and started driving along the emerald blue water of the Vjosë river, the beauty of this part of Albania revealed itself. On internet we had found one very scenic bend in the river that we absolutely wanted to see. The friendly lady at the local tourist office could tell us where it was: just 30-40 minutes from town on the way to Korçë. The big question was: was she counting in Albanian minutes, which in our experience have way more than sixty seconds.
Three scenic bends in the river
After pointing it out on a vague map we set out to find our picturesque riverbend. After passing the turnoff for the Bënjë thermal baths and the village of Pertan we had to keep our eyes open, we were told. Soon enough we saw a bend in the river. Already a beautiful sight, but definitely not the one we were looking for.
Following the damaged tarmac of the quiet, winding road we stumbled upon a second bend in the river. This one also looked pretty, but again: it was not the one we had seen the picture of.
And then, about twenty minutes after the Bënjë turnoff, there she was: the extremely picturesque bend in the river that we’d been searching. A beautiful composition of green, blue, yellow and grey. This alone was worth making the Përmet and Vjosë river detour for. And indeed about forty minutes from Përmet.
Bënjë thermal springs
Eating a lunch of cream-filled mini-croissants we admired the view for a while and then drove back to visit the Bënjë thermal springs (parking fee 50 lekë or 32 cents, yes Albania is cheap). The springs are located on both sides of the Lengaricë Canyon. The first thing we saw however on approaching the canyon was the beautiful Ottoman bridge of Kati, which made for some great photo opportunities.
The Bënjë thermal waters have been known since ancient times. The sulfur springs emerge from deep inside the earth and stem from different sources on both sides of the Lengaricë Canyon. Surprisingly those on the left side have lower temperatures than those on the right. Each source is said to possess different therapeutic properties for curing various ailments.
Most people, however, seemed to use the biggest spring near the canyon entrance as a kind of swimming pool. Walking along and through the the rocky streambed it was possible to find more quiet springs further up the canyon, although many people seemed to be on the know about this too….
We found the thermal baths surprisingly busy, the sight getting more crowded as the afternoon progressed. Our advise therefore is to get there in the morning or early afternoon. And are the waters are really therapeutic? We didn’t feel any better (or worse) after our visit. We did smell like rotten eggs when we returned to Përmet….