Tepelene is a town in the south of Albania, located in Gjirokaster some 215km from the capital of Tirana.
The town sits in an expansive, green valley that the Vjosa River runs through before it runs into the Drino. One of the most beautifully green and luscious parts of Albania, a drive to Tepelene takes you on a winding road through the mountains and alongside and over a river with the most impossibly turquoise water.
There are also a number of caves, waterfalls, springs and canyons for you to explore.
Overlooking Tepelene is a defensive tower that was built by the Byzantines before being repurposed by the Ottomans in the 15th Century and Ali Pasha in the early 19th Century.
li Pasha was born in Tepelene where his father Veli Bey was a local ruler. According to some historical accounts, Pasha was a part of the Lab tribe who were considered poor and predatory by other Albanian tribes of the time. In his early years, Pasha considered himself as a bandit and aligned himself with the Bektashi sect of Islam. After his father was murdered, Pasha’s mother Hanko reportedly formed her own band with the vow to revenge and recover their wealth and status.
Pasha went on to create an almost independent state spanning much of Epirus, Greece, Albania, and Macedonia. He was finally declared a rebel in 1820 and was killed in 1822 and the grand old age of between 80-82.
Years later, Tepelene was seized by the Fascist Italian forces in 1939 who managed to hold it until 1941. After the end of WWII, Communist regime converted one of the Italian army camps into a forced labour camp known as the “Albanian Belsen” due to the alleged levels of brutality, cruelty, and disease found there. A number of influential Albanian families were detained there because the Communists wanted to eliminate them. Many of them died and their graves were hidden.
The camp closed in 1954.
Then in 1997, after the fall of Communism and under the government of Sali Berisha, Tepelene was a centre of rebel activity. A people’s committee took control of the town in March 1997 and released Fatos Nano from the local prison. Following this, the movement spread to nearby Gjirokaster.
Tepelene has also been visited by a number of distinguished guests over the years including Lord Byron in 1810 and Edward Lear in 1857. Lear (my great uncle) painted a number of views of the surrounding area and wrote of the devastated buildings following an earthquake.
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Today there are a number of guest houses in the area and both tourism and the local mineral water plant serve as main sources of income and employment for the area.
My favourite place to stay in Tepelene is the Lord Byron guesthouse. Owned by a family they offer a wonderful agrotourism experience as well as the chance to relax, swim, kayak and unwind on their grounds.
Even if you do not stay in Tepelene, you should stop off to try the food at their restaurant. We love the place so much we have decided to hold our wedding there next summer!