A few kilometers from the border with Greece, embraced by a splendid bay on the sea, overlooks the charming town of Saranda. In Italian it is also known by the name of Forty Saints, in reference to the nearby Byzantine Monastery dedicated to Forty Martyrs of Sebaste.
Thanks to its location, Saranda offers a splendid view of the island of Corfu, from which it is a little less than 15 km.
- The city. General presentation
- What to see in the city
- What to visit in the surroundings
- The most famous beaches
- Typical dishes
- How to get
- Getting around
- Useful Numbers
At the center of Saranda are the remains of an ancient synagogue, which would appear to have been the first building of this type in all of Albania. Founded by Jewish descendants who settled in southern Albania around 70 BC, the synagogue was later supplanted by a Christian church around the sixth century.
Of spectacular beauty are the Mosaics of the old pavement of the synagogue, recovered thanks to a long archaeological work begun in the 2003. For those that have been the results of studies in scholars' possession up to now, the recurrent symbolism in the fragments gradually recovered (for example, the seven-branched candelabrum and the ram's horn used as a musical instrument during some religious celebrations) is the typical one of all synagogues erected during the period of the Byzantine Empire.
As mentioned in the presentation of the city, Saranda owes its current name to the presence, in its vicinity, of the Monastery dedicated to the Forty Saints, 40 Roman soldiers martyred in 320 AC in Sebaste, Armenia, during the persecutions of the Emperor Licinius, why not they wanted to apostatize the Christian faith.
The monastery suffered heavy damage during the Second World War, but its ruins, on a hill about 4 km from Saranda, can still be visited, having preserved their historical and archaeological charm.
Among the naturalistic wonders of southern Albania, the Blue Eye is the best known in the world. It is a natural source of fresh water with a spectacular blue color, from which it takes its name. Average depth of 45 meters, surface temperature of approximately 12 degrees, the point of attraction of the source is that in which the water gurgles to rise. It is there that the name 'Blue Eye' definitely takes shape.
One of the most important archaeological sites in Albania, declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1992, houses the ruins of the ancient city of the same name and the National Park established by the Albanian government.
Town of the historic region of Epirus, according to Virgil it was founded by Eleno, son of King Priam. The historian Dionysius of Halicarnassus wrote that also Enea, fleeing from Troy, passed by Butrint.
Founded between 10 ° and 8 century BC, the town was born as a center that traded with Corfu and the nearby Illyrian tribes of the north. It became a Roman protectorate in the 228 AC and, as intended, was to become a city of veteran Roman soldiers. Those gradually transferred there repopulated it and equipped it, among other things, with an aqueduct and thermal baths. The city already had a sanctuary, a theater and theagora.
Almost completely destroyed in the 3 century by an earthquake, a century later it became a bishopric and the baptistery and the Basilica were erected, whose valuable remains can still be seen today in the Archaeological Park.
Archaeological excavations, begun already during the Fascist period and continued, in stages and thanks to international work teams, to the present day, have gradually brought to light also other architectural masterpieces, such as the famous 'Lion's Gate'.
If you want sea and tranquility, but want less cement than what you can see in Saranda, Ksamil is for you.
This small fishing village has been fortunate to offer pristine beaches with crystal clear water for a relaxing holiday, in fact it is busier than Saranda by families with children.
Technically, it is part of the Butrint National Park, being only a few kilometers away. Its best attraction is the so-called 'Islands', an orogenic formation, dating back to the Jurassic, of 4 islands that stretch out towards the Ionian.
The archipelago is more known as 'Three Islands', even by the locals. In fact, two of the four islands, the outermost ones, are linked together by a small spit of land, so they are considered as a single islet.
For brave ones who have resistant arms, you can try swimming up to the inner islands, which, in fact, from shore could also seem quite close. Know that, in reality, the archipelago can be reached by boat. Or on a pedalo, if you feel like trying. They rent them on the beach in front of the islands.
On the hill around Saranda there is this fortress, born as an Ottoman outpost to control the whole bay. It offers a spectacular view of the city and the most romantic ones go from sunset onwards to see illuminated Saranda. To be clear, most of the Saranda by-night photo shoots on the net are from up here.
Exceptionally preserved, declared in the 1970 Cultural Monument of the first order by the Albanian government, the original building had a square plan with two round towers in a specular position. One of the terraces of the castle now houses a renowned typical restaurant.
About 8 km from Saranda, on the State Road towards Butrinto, there is this beautiful beach which owes its name to the ancient Monastery of Sang Giorgio, located on the hill overlooking the beach.
White pebbles and crystal clear water, the beach is relatively small and within reach of all budgets. You can reach it by car but also by bus, following the Statale. In the latter case, however, know that the stop is not very close to the beach and you will have to take a nice walk to reach it.
Along the state road between Saranda and Ksamil lies this beach practically indicated only by handwritten signs, so in the car you have to be careful to see them.
It takes its name from the colonies of seagulls that flutter on the crystal clear waters of this bay.
Very popular with young people, if you want to stop there to eat you can take advantage of one of the two restaurants overlooking the sea. The bar, instead, rents deckchairs, umbrellas and, for those who wish, jet skis too.
Going towards Butrinto again, you will find this crystalline and low-cost beach. As for the Spiaggia del Monastero, you can choose to go by car or use the bus, with a stop on the state road.
On your arrival, the surprise. Not one, but two twin bays, one fully equipped, the other free, but accessible only by sea. About that. The water reaches half an adult's belly, so if you want to try to stop on the free beach, in addition to being careful of your load of deckchairs and umbrellas, equipped with life preservers for your children. If you can walk, they will be forced to swim already.
Little suggested by word of mouth, generally, but if you are already in Ksamil deserves to venture towards this beach, distant 5 km from the village. As you will have understood by now, the most beautiful Albanian beaches ask for the effort to make the road for you.
This is no exception, but it is advisable because, from a naturalistic point of view, the sea of rocks alternates with a sea of sand within a few tens of meters and is the most suitable for children, having very low water in many points.
As in the best tradition of seaside towns, the king of the table, declined in a thousand ways by the chef's imagination, is fish. Saranda certainly does not lack excellent restaurants, which serve both seafood and meat dishes.
The fish is always very fresh and, indeed, some restaurants do fishing 'independently', so to speak, guaranteeing the famous 0 km chain.
I live by the Italians. Don't ask to eat sea date! As in Italy, even in Albania their market is illegal. Although many restaurants in Saranda advertise themselves on the internet with dishes based on this shellfish, avoid ordering them. You would be liable for a fine in case of checks. And, we assure you, there are many in the summer.
Respectively by plane or by ferry. Then choose whether to rent a car or rely on public transport to go south. Consider an average time of around 5 hours to get to the south, traffic permitting.
If you choose to drive, you have two alternative routes to choose from. Make the internal road that passes from Gjirokastra and that will assure you typically hilly breathtaking landscapes or make the coastal road that starts from Vlora.
This last solution is the most panoramic but also the longest, because it makes you first ascend a mountain pass, that of Llogara, and then descend back towards Saranda. In the intermezzi, many small villages to cross almost at walking pace.
In reality, there would be (the conditional is a must) a direct ferry line that avoids the call in Valona to take you directly to Saranda. Unfortunately it is a fairly problematic line, because the port of Saranda is not big enough to handle the huge traffic of passengers and vehicles of the summer season, so, theoretically working, it is often subject to interruptions. We will mention it for completeness of information, but make sure before the departure that the ferry actually arrives in Saranda and does not undergo deviation on Valona.
(arriving with the usual ferry from Brindisi) is the cheapest solution to reach Saranda. Arriving at the Greek port, in fact, it takes two hours by car to reach Saranda.
A relatively fast alternative is the Corfu-Saranda sea route. Arriving at Corfu airport, we then move to the port to embark. With fast hydrofoils, it takes only half an hour. For those who want to enjoy it better, there are the most relaxing crossings with classic ferries and it takes about two hours.
Once the absence of a railway line has been established, public transport can be relied upon to move around Saranda and its surroundings. Be aware, however, that outside the municipality, the stops are on the State Road, so it is necessary to pay some attention if, to reach your destination, you have to walk the rest of the way.
This is the case, for example, if you want to go to the beach without using the car.
The bus line is Saranda-Ksamil-Butrint. Except for changes at the beginning of the tourist season, departures are every hour.