|Xsamil beach in Albania with Corfu island in the back.|
|A view of Saranda, Albania.|
When the ferry departing Corfu island of Greece lands in Saranda, Albania one feels like riding in a time capsule. Indeed, the town and the promenade were a mixture of Beirut, Kusadası and Kumburgaz (a cheap summer house place in Istanbul) but back in the 1980s. Right across from Italy, and northwest of Greece, one wonders how Albania could remain what it is even today. Politics, as always, is the answer of course but for all the destitute feeling of the barren customs control and run down buildings of the communist era in Saranda, there is a certain naiveness in the air. It is not only the niceness of the people and the good Italian and Greek food for half the price or the barber shop or the barren cultural museum across the street. It is the feeling of being in the Balkans, and meeting Kosovars and Macedonians who have descended to Albanian riviera. Although the roads are full of cars with license plates from Italy and Germany, one quickly realizes those are the locals who migrated for a better life. There are few tourists who want to explore the last frontier in Europe.
|Albanian goodies on the beach, Xsamil.|
|On the way to Lekursi Castle in Saranda shows|
Albania in a nutshell: mushrooms and Mercedes.
|Blue Eye, Albania.|
|View from Skanderbeg Square |
in Tirana with the Opera House in the back.
If you want to see Saranda to the full extent, a 2-3 days stay is a must. So is a car. You can spend a day on the long stretch of Xsamili beach but beware that if on a weekend, it may be very crowded. Apparently the most virgin beaches of Europe are around Lukova -28 km from Saranda- with some places only accessible by sea but we did not have time to do that. A visit to the Blue Eye -a natural deep spring water that looks like an eye- is a must. At sunset, go up the Lekursi Castle and enjoy the view with a beer and possibly dinner. If you have time you should also visit the ancient city of Butrint and Gjirokaster (50 km from Saranda) which is a small Ottoman village with a beautiful castle on top. We just saw it from a distance on our way to Tirana.
|Ethem Bey mosque in Tirana, Albania.|
|The interior of the Ethem Bey mosque has these interesting murals|
given the representation ban in Islam.
|Sunset at the Tirana park's artificial lake, Albania.|