By: Barbara Rockwell
Nestled among the pristine beaches, crystal-blue waters, and little-known cultural sites of the “Albanian Riviera,” sunny Saranda is poised to become a prized Mediterranean travel destination. While the rest of the Mediterranean is largely swarmed by tourists, coastal Albania and Saranda remain refreshingly quiet, hospitable and unspoiled.
Interest, however, is growing. Visitor numbers to Albania were up 43 percent for the first three quarters of 2009 (the most recent figures published by Albania Tourism) and new infrastructure — including roads, rail work, utilities and hotels — is being built for the tourist trade. In April, Lalzit Bay Resort & Spa, Albania’s first major luxury resort project, was awarded its first building and site construction permits.
Located on the Ionian Sea, Saranda, a small city of just over 30,000 residents, is just two nautical miles from the Greek island of Corfu, and guided sightseeing tours from Corfu to Saranda have become a popular day trip.
The beautiful waterfront, with its backdrop of rolling hills, is perfect for leisurely strolling, relaxing in cafes and restaurants, and enjoying the mild Mediterranean climate. Other stunning natural sites are close by, from gorgeous Ksamil beaches to the ksartic spring known as the “blue eye.”
In addition to its natural allure, Saranda offers several historical sites to explore. Perched above the town is the 16th-century castle Lëkurës, said to have been built by Sultan Suleyman when he attacked Corfu. Saranda is also an ideal launching point for exploring the remains of the ancient town of Butrint, now one the Balkans’ major archaeological centers and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Likely built in the 3rd century B.C., Butrint offers a glimpse for Mediterranean civilization from the Bronze Age through the Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Venetian and Ottoman periods.
Archaeological excavations began the 1920s, and the British Archaeological School opened a program here in 1994. Don’t miss the city wall dating to the 3rd century B.C., the quadrangular castle of Butrint (c. 1807-8) and the monastery of Mesopotam.