1. Visit the ancient city of Butrint

Image Butrint Amphitheater

A Unesco World Heritage site, Butrint gives visitors a chance to truly peer back in time. The archaeological site is located at the end of a quite interestingly-shaped peninsula, just south of the town of Ksamil.  This amazing city has been excavated to reveal numerous ancient architecture, exhibiting the remains of a number of powerful civilizations.  In fact, Butrint is considered a microcosm of European history since it was invaded and rebuilt almost by anyone who came through Europe at one time or another.   You will find spectacular evidence from the Greek, Roman, Venetian and Byzantine empires, just to name a few of the many cultures who inhabited the walled fortress.  During Albania’s communist regime the site was open only for tourists to visit, and was closed to Albanian citizens due to fear that they would try to escape.  The Butrint Foundation has a vast amount of fascinating information on their website at www.butrint.org.

2.  Soak up the sun in Ksamil

One of the most beautiful beach locations in Albania yet still somewhat undiscovered, Ksamil is a must if you intend to catch some rays on a vacation to Southern Albania.  The drive alone is quite beautiful since the road goes along a narrow peninsula, with views of the ocean on your right, and of Lake Butrinti on your left.  There are several small islets which are close enough to swim to, and the sandy beaches are uniquely shaped.  There are a few restaurants which have great seafood, and chairs with umbrellas out on the beach where you can sip your beverage of choice while relaxing.

The name Ksamil comes from the Greek word Εξαμίλια “Exa-milia”, which means six miles, since it was supposedly six miles from the island of Corfu (yet I’m not sure about this since it looks to be actually only two miles away).  If you are visiting the district of Sarande you should not miss a trip to Ksamil, perhaps making it your afternoon stop after a morning stroll around Butrint.

3. Take a drive to see the Blue Eye (Syri i Kalter)

A natural fresh water spring with a depth of 50 meters, the “Blue Eye” was given its name since the shape and color resemble that of an eye, with the darker center resembling a pupil.  This is another beautiful location which was off-limits to the general public during the communist regime, since officials used it for their own repose, dining at what is now a restaurant, overlooking the nearby rushing stream.  (A word to the wise, we hope the situation may have changed by now, but during 2006 when we dined at the restaurant, we found the food to be less than appetizing, to put it mildly.  It was a shame since the location is absolutely magical, but don’t let yourself be fooled and instead prepare a nice picnic to enjoy next to the spring.

4. Ride a hydrofoil to Corfu, Greece for the day

If you are vacationing in Saranda there is already a good chance you’ve included Greece in your itinerary.  If not, don’t miss out on the quick ride over to Corfu (in Greek Κέρκυρα, “Kerkyra”), to get a nice taste of Greek culture.  As with many of the Greek islands you will find plenty of beautiful beaches and an ancient castle, but Corfu also has great hiking trails, Italian-influenced culinary traditions, and the classic but trendy “old town” which was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2007.

5.  Go diving

There is at least one diving outfit we are aware of in Saranda, and the underwater creatures to be seen are far beyond what you would imagine lurk in the depths off the coast of Saranda.  Sea animals range from dangerous eels, 150 cm long fish, and “bearded fireworms”  to less intimidating species like  star fish, colorful sea slugs, shrimp, crabs, snails, squid and octopi.  Not to mention there are sunken war and cargo ships as well as deep underwater caves to explore.  For more information check out “Polish Diving Base” at www.albaniadive.com.  They offer trips and courses (including those for beginners) from June to September.


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