Albania as a destination has long and undeservedly been neglected over the years. I dare say, mainly out of ignorance. We can easily blame the Albanian national marketing and its inefficiency in reaching us as potential customers. However, the truth is that we did not try to learn more about a country that may not be exactly our neighbor, but is a stone’s throw away. I offer you a few reasons why it is worth paying attention to it, and we will focus on South Albania s a start.
- Access from Bulgaria is not only easy but very pleasant
Unlike trying to get directly to the capital of Tirana through Northern Macedonia and many, really many road bends, the approach to South Albania can be made via the Struma Motorway down to Thessaloniki, then Egnatia Odos (or A2 Motorway) to Ioannina and a very short stretch to the north-northwest to reach the Albanian border. Quick, easy and convenient. If you have traveled on this highway, say, to catch the ferry to the island of Corfu, you know that it cuts through many mountains with beautiful views. After entering Albania, a certain number of road bends are still waiting for you, but not for long.
- The Adriatic Sea is wonderful
Who would miss such a sea? Crystal clear waters in which light refracts at countless angles and you can see starfish five meters below you even without goggles. Stone coves, where the rocks tower over each other, and here and there a bush sticks out, clinging with all its might to the unfriendly environment… The most famous resort on the southern Albanian Adriatic coast is the town of Saranda, but I personally preferred the village of Ksamil. And what I liked the most was “our” bay with the loud name Heavens Beach, located at the end of a dirt road and most of the time almost only at our disposal.
- The ancient city of Butrint
Butrint National Park is located on a small peninsula, on one side of which is the curly Adriatic coast, and on the other – either a very long sea bay, or a salt lake of your choice. At its heart are the remains of the eponymous ancient city, a UNESCO site. The northeast coast of the Greek island of Corfu lies literally accross a stretch of water. What is preserved from the city of Butrint, in varying degrees of conservation, are individual parts scattered around today’s forest. The groundwaters on the peninsula are high and often flood the remains, but luckily we hit the rare opportunity (about once every five years) to enjoy the mosaics in the baptistery.
- The Blue Eye
You will find it on the maps of South Albania and on search engines like Syri i Kaltër (in Albanian language). This is a source of crystal blue water, the spring of which lies at the bottom of a 4-meter funnel, so if you look from above, you see how the dark blue depths seem to bubble when the water comes to the surface and starts to overflow. Almost mesmerizing. Apparently there were others experiencing the same feeling, as the hosts had put quite a big sign in front of it with “No diving!”
- The medieval town of Gjirokaster
Its name comes from Greek and is actually Argyrokastro, or Silver Fortress. And it is also included in the UNESCO World Heritage List. The fortress that stands above the city today is not silver, but it is still impressive. Its history is intertwined with the history of the city itself, and the connection is quite tragic – first with the bloodthirsty local Ottoman ruler Ali Pasha of Ioannina, and then with the bloodthirsty local socialist ruler Enver Hoxha, a native of here. Under the fortress, the old quarter of Gjirocaster stretches in all directions, with houses just like the ones in Melnik, Bulgaria, but even more so if you know what I mean.
- The discovery of great food
On the one hand, the seaside resorts of South Albania offer exactly the same as the seaside resorts everywhere – “tourist” food of fried fish, grill, french fries and – here and there – a salad. On the other hand, it is quite possible to find a small family-type restaurant that will surprise you with their imagination. For example, fish soup prepared as a ‘soupe à la crème’, or a salad with pomegranate, nuts and local cheeses. The most delicious saganaki I’ve ever tasted, and an unusual variety of cocktails and desserts. I boldly claim that in this respect the little Ksamil was definitely beating the bigger sister of Saranda.
The episode of the podcast Chat with Manya dedicated to South Albania can be found here (though only in Bulgarian for now).