The Albanian Riviera
It is of dreams, this place. Relatively unknown to tourists, Caribbean blue waters, and a bargain at every purchase. Before even unpacking our bags in Saranda we bragged on every network of this view that we would enjoy for three weeks.
But we did find ourselves getting a little restless.
And this is how far we got.
Less than 20km south of Saranda is the ancient city of Butrint, one of only two UNESCO sites in Albania (Berat being the other), containing artifacts and structures that date all the way back to the Bronze Age. Of all the ancient ruins we’ve visited over the years, this small site is placed firmly among our favourites. With few other tourists to contend with, and in its natural swampy state inviting frogs and turtles to live among the ruins, we could have wiled away much more time enjoying Butrint if we didn’t have such a heavy day of touring planned.
Just north of Butrint is dreamy Ksamil – and it was in this tiny town that we declared that we had finally found the nicest beach in all of Europe. There are even three islands within swimming distance which become busier in summer with plenty of restaurants and bars. We were lucky to find one open during our off-season stop.
If Ksamil is too busy in summer months, then just south of Saranda is secretive Monastery Beach. It is rocky in comparison, but also practically deserted. It takes a good climb up and down a steep hill to get there (I wouldn’t try to drive it!), and looks to be a very good spot for swimming.
The Blue Eye
Heading inland from Saranda we found the Blue Eye, a hypnotic spot where the Bistrice river begins (we had never seen the actual start of a river before). Clear blue water bubbles up into a pool more than 50 meters deep and begins its glide to the Ionian Sea.
Heading north from Saranda, we had the intentions of getting as far as Himare but didn’t quite make it. We had clearly underestimated the number of photo stops we would make along the way, and it was slow going as the road consistently dipped nearly seaside and then back up again, along thin mountain edges. We made stops at nearly every available turnout, and even had one local graciously invite Pete up to his terrace for a better view.
The best part was that from beach level, we could still see snow capped mountains in the distance. As lovers of both peaks and sea, the Albanian Riviera might just be our favourite place to get both.
Where we stayed
How to do it
It is possible to see all of the above via public transportation, but not in one day. Renting a car in Saranda is easy as there are several places to do so, and most of them can be found near the port.