Our time in Albania has come to an end. We’re sad to be leaving but excited to start exploring Greece. Our final Albanian destination as been Sarande (or Saranda depending on who you talk to). This is a lovely little beach town, much like a miniature version on Split, Croatia. We spent a glorious 2 days, 3 nights here and would have quite liked longer.
Sarande is a quite town that booms during the summer. Just opposite Corfu, it’s a cheaper option to the classic Greek Island holiday and is very popular with tourists from all over.
Getting to Sarande
Actually getting to this lovely little town was a bit of a headache. I’d been dreading it since we started our planning in New Zealand. There was no bus timetables online, infact there was no bus information at all. I found some bits of information on TripAdvisor which suggested we needed to get one bus to Gjirokaster (which does not appear on Google Maps) and then wait for a mini bus going in the right direction. I thought ‘well it’s popular enough, people obviously get there’ but was also a bit panicked by the lack of information.
Turns out it’s easy! There are a number of buses that starts in Tirana and goes all the way to Sarande. You just need to find out the schedule and buy a ticket at the bus station. The old fashioned way! Though be warned, the bus ride is not for the faint of heart, or stomach.
Where we stayed
Boy were we happy campers!! Accomodation is very cheap in Albania and I had book us an appartment very near the beach. This seemed luxurious in itself and then we were upgraded! We paid €30, about $50NZD for 3 nights in our own appartment with a small kitchen, bathroom and a balcony. It was glorious. The room was big and clean and the balcony looked right on to the beach. We even had a semi-private beach that was shared by us and two hotels and as barely anyone was staying at the hotels it was practically deserted, day and night!
Highlights of Sarande
Our epic accommodation meant that much of our time was spent at the beach. We might not have got up to a huge amount but we’ve got plenty of reasons for you to consider visiting Sarande, whether it’s for a couple of days or a couple of weeks.
Beaches to be more accurate. Sarande is built along the coast and only goes inland a few hundred meters. Wherever you are, the beach is close. The beaches here are white stone and many are manmade for the tourist industry. Our favourite was the beach we were staying on as the access was so easy. We spent every minute we could here. If you make it to Sarande these are a few suggestions for using the beach:
- Sunbathing is a must! The breeze from the sea during the day cools you off beautifully. Even Daniel managed to lay in the sun for a few hours.
- Swimming! This seems like an obvious suggestion for a beach holiday but swimming in Sarande is heavenly. The water is the perfect temperature, it cools you off while being warm enough that you can dive in with ease. Corfu shelters Sarande so there is not too much water movement, allowing the Mediterranean sun to warm it up. It also means that the water is very calm so you can easily swim out to deep water.
- Picnic by the water. Everything tastes better when eaten image beach. Especially a stone beach that won’t get sand in your food. We are every meal either on the beach or on the balcony overlooking the beach.
- Drinks with new friends. We met two fun German girls, Julia and Anna, in Shkodër who happened to arrive in Sarande on the same day. With them and more friends they brought along we spent a very enjoyable evening sitting on the stones, sharing local beer, wine and rakija.
- Watch the sunset. Another obvious must of a beautiful beach destination.
- Skinny dip in the moon light. My favourite swim of Sarande late at night. On the night before we left Sarande we slipped down to the beach to cool off before bed. The water was perfectly still and cool. We were able to swim out into the bay and enjoy the lights of Sarande.
With so many lovely things to do at the beach in Sarande, it’s pretty hard to leave!
Beach hoping roady
Feeling a but lazy laying on the beach all day? Why not try out a few different beaches? We had the pleasure of being invite on a lovely road trip with Julia, Anna and another girl Jem. We visit the local tourist attraction, more on that later, and then tried out a couple of beaches.
Paradise beach: following an argument with Google Maps and some very dodgy roads we finally found Paradise beach. This beach is snuggled into a very sheltered cove and has fine pumice like stones instead of sand. This makes the water quite milky with dust from the stones.
You can rent a lounger with an umbrella or lie on the beach with you feet in the sun water, my preference. Again, this was a lovely spot to lounge in the sun and cool off in the water. There was even a diving platform, which provided plenty of entertainment.
The Beach of Monastery: odd name but a lovely beach. Once we braved the very steep road down we found a little secluded stone beach. This beach sloped down quicky so you could practically dive from shore. There are facilities for camping and we were very jealous of the vans parked up near the water and for your pleasure an Italian cafe right on the beach if you fancy a bite to eat or a drink.
The fruit eaten in Sarande definitely requires a mention. There is so much of it and it is beautiful and very affordable. I wish I could give you a favourite but cherries and strawberries are tied. Lining the streets of Sarande there are loads of stalls, markets or just people with baskets selling beautiful produce.
At some stalls you just put what you want in a bag and they weigh it. At others they serve you, using their hands to scoop masses of fruit into bags. On our last day in Sarande we brought over a kilo of cherries, a punnet of strawberries and a bag of peaches and then sat on the beach stuffing ourselves silly.
Tourist attractions in Sarande
This is an area where we have little knowledge as we were busy lying on the beach. There are a few attractions in the areas surrounding Sarande. You need a car or to go on a tour to look at most of them.
The Blue Eye: this is the one tourist attraction we managed to visit during our stay in Sarande. Our beach hoping started with a trip to The Blue Eye. About 40 minutes from Sarande The Blue Eye is a natural spring that wells from the ground at an impressive speed and creates a river that flows to Sarande. At the origin the spring is about 5 meters deep and is crystal clear.
There were lots of other people visiting the spring and I was glad that we were not on a tour. You walk about 50 meters from the carpark and you are there. Once you’ve had a look and dipped your feet (it’s freezing), there is not much else to do. The attraction would really benefit from a walkway through the bush to add some time to your visit.
The Butrint ruins: just north of Sarande is a small town called Butrint. Here you can find ruins from ancient Greece and Roman times. We had planned another day trip with the girls but had to forgo the trip and dedicate our day to working out how to leave Sarande (and going to the beach). They never actually made it either as the entrance fee was really high and they decided to leave it.
The Sarande Ruins
A free option to look at some ruins lies in central Sarande. These ruins are from the 5th century and were originally a synagogue. You can walk in right from the street and wander around. We passed these many times during our stay. I really liked how you could see the outlines of rooms from the low walls.
Sarande really comes to life in the evening once things have cooled down. This is when the locals come out and spend time on the streets. They get all dressed up and then promonade with their families, eating popcorn and chatting with friends. We really enjoyed wandering around the cooler streets and enjoying the buildings all lit up.
There are many many waterfront bars and restaurants to choose from if you feel like having dinner out or enjoying a drink overlooking the water. Sunset Bar is a romantic bar on its own little peninsula. The bar is surrounded bar water and lit up with lots of twinkling little lights.
We really enjoyed our time in Sarande and wish that we had had longer to enjoy its beautiful beaches. We felt that relaxation was the best thing this town had to offer. We visited before high season and found it very warm, sunny and most importantly not busy. It felt like a total honeymoon.
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Chloe and Daniel xx