Butrint

 

A visit to the ancient city of Butrint is another must when travelling in the vicinity of Saranda. Butrint is described as a microcosm of European history since it exhibits remains from most major empires of the area, including Greek, Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman ruins. Information about the city is well-presented in English and Albanian brochures which are distributed at the entrance, also each important site has a sign with historical facts and dates in order to help visitors understand what they are seeing.

Interesting things to see in Butrint include the Greek amphitheatre (later remodeled by the Romans), the baptistry, the cathedral, the lion’s gate, and the museum which includes many interesting artifacts found in the area.

Butrint is one of several places in Albania which was kept off-limits to the general public during the Communist Era. The city was made into a tourist destination for foreigners to visit, but Albanian citizens were not allowed due to fears that they would try to escape by swimming the short distance to Greece.

– view Butrint on a map

The Blue Eye - “Syri i Kalter”

 

This natural, deep spring embodies the clear, vibrant blue color which is seen in many of Albania’s water bodies. The way in which the water bubbles up to the surface helps create the illusion of an eye, with the dark-colored center as the pupil, and the surrounding blue water appearing as the iris. The spring is reported to be about 45 meters deep, but some say it goes even further.

During Albania’s communist days, the Blue Eye was one of several places reserved only for the communist elite to visit, and was kept off-limits to the general public. The Blue Eye or “Syri i Kalter” as it is known in Albania, is located just off the road between Saranda and Ghiorgnzzati. If you are driving from Sarandë towards Ghiorgnzzati the turn will be on your left-hand side, about eight miles from Sarandë.

The travel blog Finding The Freedom has some extra information on visiting the Blue Eye spring.

– locate the Blue Eye on a map

Ksamil

 

In order to really enjoy swimming and sunbathing while in Sarandë, it is really necessary to spend at least a day in Ksamil. There are a few beaches from which it is even possible to swim to one of the nearby islands. Paddleboats are available for rent, or else you can pay a boat to take you to one of the islands which are a little further away. There are nearby restaurants which have freshly caught fish, and mussels from lake Butrint. You can get to Ksamil by following the road towards Butrint.

– view Ksamil on a map

Lekursi Castle

 

Built in the 16th century (circa 1537), Lekursi Castle is located on the top of a hill, overlooking Sarandë. There are excellent views of Corfu and the islands of Ksamil from the castle, and inside you’ll find a nice restaurant which is frequently visited by tourists. The castle was built because the vantage point was ideal for protecting the city from invaders who might have tried to come by boat.

– locate Lekursi castle on a map

Synagogue Complex

 

Located near to the City Hall in Saranda, these ruins show that there was a large wealthy Jewish community in Oncheasmos ancient name for Saranda) during the 5th century AD. There was a community center and school in addition to religious activities. The floors have many different mosaics, including animals and also a menorah and other Jewish symbols, which proves that this was a synagogue. The buildings were destroyed either by an earthquake or by Slavic invasion. The synagogue had been converted into a basilica during the 6th century.

– locate the Synagogue complex on a map

40 Saints Monastery

 

The 40 Saints Monastery refers to the same story where modern “Saranda” got it’s name from (Saranda means “40” in Greek). This monastery was built in the 6th century, then was modified over a period of several hundred years. It is comprised of two levels, but the upper one was destroyed in WWII. The monastery was built in honor of 40 Christian martyrs (Roman Soldiers) who were sent to their death in Siberia when they wouldn’t renounce their religion. Visitors can enter the crypt with permission from the town hall in Sarande (ask for the “Bashkia Saranda”).

– locate the 40 Saints Monastery on a map

Ancient Town of Finiq (Phoenice or Phoenike)

 

Visit Finiq by following the Sarande-Gjirocaster national rd. Here you can see evidence of life from during the Bronze Ages, but also the remnants of a town which developed mostly during the 2nd century BC, but continued into the 5th and 6th centuries BC, with the greatest amount of development during the 2nd century BC.

Finiq was the most fortified town of the Illyrian tribe of the Chaonians. It had merchant connections with cities as far as Corinth and Syracuse, which was proved by coins found during excavations. 233 BC Finiq became the center of the Epirote league. In 230 BC, the Ardians (another Illyrian tribe) invaded from the North, then took slaves and war trophies and left. This is where the Treaty of Finiq took place, an agreement between Rome and Philip of Macedon which ended the First Macedonian War. In 168 BC the Romans invaded and took over Finiq. The amphitheater of Phoenike was one of the biggest during its time.

– locate Finiq on a map

Saint Nicholas Monastery

 

Located in Mesopotam, this monastery is on a small hill between two branches of the Bistrica River. There are several large white blocks at the base of the church which are pre-christian. It also Includes relief sculptures of mythical animals. There is a large, unique and complex church. Destroyed and rebuilt many times, stages of building are visible. The Albanian government is currently undertaking restoration. The wall of the complex includes ruins which are older than the church itself, and also several towers.

– locate Saint Nicholas Monastery on a map (Mesopotam)

Lukove

 

Lukove is a beautiful seaside village, with an old road that leads down the hillside to "Lukove beach" (really the road is so rocky that you are better off parking your car and walking down). During the summertime it is a peaceful escape from the more crowded beaches of Saranda and Ksamil. The beach is characterized by course sand and smooth pebbles, and the water is an aquamarine color like you'd expect to see only in the tropics.

As with many coastal locations in Albania you can see lots of abandoned cement bunkers, which were used as lookouts during the days of Albanian isolation. The village is very small and offers little in the way of amenities, but there is at least one decent-sized hotel to stay at. The hillsides of Lukove are full of olive and citrus trees that were planted by communist work parties. For an interesting account written by an Albanian woman who participated in this work party, read the blog post: "A Trip to Lukhove During the Days of Albanian Communism."

– view Lukove on a map

Borsh

 

Located in the Northern part of Sarande District, the beach at Borshi is known as “the Pearl of Southern Albania”. It contains a castle, a mosque and a madrasa (an Islamic school).

The territory changed hands several times throughout the years, being at one time a part of Ancient Epirus, another time part of the Roman Empire, and also was held by the Turks.

At 5 km, Borshi has the longest beach in the Ionian Sea.

– view Borsh on a map

Himarë

 

Although technically located in the District of Vlorë, Himarë is not too far from the city of Sarandë and would make a nice day trip or else a nice place to stop if travelling up the coast. There are beautiful white sand beaches, and majestic mountains which slope down towards the sea. Himarë is bilingual, with many of the residents speaking an archaic dialect of Greek.

– view Himarë on a map

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