My visit to Albania began with a ferry crossing from Corfu to Sarande on a rather tired, smoke-belching Russian-built hydrofoil. It was like a well-worn slipper, not attractive but comfortable and it served its purpose.
Waiting for me at Sarande was my guide *Jimmy Lama, a young man with an impressive green sports car. He drove me to my hotel and I settled into the very basic but clean room. No shampoo but a delightfully second hand pair of flip flops for guest use. The central staircase lead upwards into a void, as further floors were being added to the hotel. Sarande itself resembled Costa Brava in the 60’s with construction work going on in every available space, in preparation for the hordes of tourists that the Albanians are expecting; the country having now opened its borders to outsiders.
The beach at Sarande
Situated on the Adriatic and Ionian Seas and sharing borders with Greece, Kosovo, Macedonia and Montenegro, with Italy just across the Adriatic, Albania offers turquoise blue seas, beautiful beaches, rivers, lakes and forests backed by snow-capped mountains. All this natural beauty complimented by the friendliness of Albanians themselves; and backed up by Albania’s mild Mediterranean climate. It rarely gets cold in the lowlands and on the Ionian Coast in particular temperatures between 8–10ºC (46–50ºF) are achieved, even in winter.
A quick drive along the seafront showed Sarande as a small but rapidly expanding town sandwiched between high mountains and the Ionian Sea. Other than enjoying its nice seaside ambiance, there is little of note within its boundaries, but a short drive away is the sensational archaeological site of Butrint.
The Venetian Tower at Butrint
The city of Butrint, which was awarded UNESCO World Heritage listing in 1992, was a major part of Albania’s ancient cultural landscape. It is surrounded by dense vegetation and visiting the site does require some agility and stamina but it is well worth the effort. Butrint reached its zenith in the 4th century BC, when the city boasted a population of around 10,000.