Albania wasn’t on our must-see list. To be honest we just had to get out of Greece before our 90 days were up and Albania was the closest country.
When we arrived in Saranda aboard our yacht MIMPI in February 2020, we had no idea what to expect. Based on sailing pilot book details we got in touch with a local agent to assist us with the check-in process. Thank goodness we did because that could have gone very wrong, very quick considering we couldn’t speak a word of Albanian.
The country and its sites quickly grew on us, and we are so glad we got the chance to visit and explore different parts of Albania.
Must see places near Saranda
We walked from one end of Saranda to the other looking for things like a plug for the galley sink and a 2020 diary.
When the compulsory boat jobs were completed, we hired a car and explored further afield.
First stop was a water hole known as the ‘Blue Eye’. This place could easily be missed as you drive along the winding road. It’s not very clearly marked and kinda looks like you are driving into a paddock.
Thank goodness for our trusty google maps. We followed the directions and the limestone and rock road to our destination. Oh my!
The Blue Eye
Here comes the tourist blurb…The ‘Blue Eye’ is a beautiful water spring in southern Albania. Try saying it in Albanian… Syri i Kaltër
Apparently, the super clear water runs through the mountain and bubbles up to create this natural phenomenon. I read somewhere that divers descended to about 50 metres to explore but it kept going so the actual depth is still unknown.
No matter it’s path, the source of the water is at an altitude of 152 metres above sea level which is probs why it is moving so fast.
The colours in the water are indescribable. I’m not sure the photos or video really capture its beauty.
When we visited big signs said ‘no swimming’ which was disappointing because we had our drysuits in the car. But it was also a bit of a relief too considering how fast the water was moving. We were glad we found it.
Butrint National Park
Next stop was Butrint National Park which is only 18 kilometres south of Saranda. According to intoalbania.com Butrint’s 2500-year-old ruins, within a 30km wide natural reserve, are some of the most well-preserved in Europe. In 1992, Butrint was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
As well as being a significant archaeological site, that provides evidence of ancient and medieval civilizations, the site is also home to precious flora and fauna. We spent hours zig zagging across the park and loved it, like really loved it. You can check out more on our YouTube channel here.
The night we stayed against the massive concrete pier at Porto Palermo on our journey from Saranda to Orikum, wasn’t our best introduction to this spot.
When we had a sunny day, we took the opportunity to drive back for a closer look.
So glad we did! Apart from the magnificent views, the Porto Palermo castle is very impressive AND there is a submarine hole in the mountain in the bay as well. Although we didn’t attempt to get close to that it was amazing to look at from a distance.
Porto Palermo castle or Ali Pasha’s castle is definitely worth adding to your Albania must-visit list and the caretaker is a real character.
A funny story
As we walked into the entrance of the fortress castle there was a small table with a piece of wood on it leaning up against it. Our view said it was one price and the other side said another price, a tourist price we assumed. LOL!!!
We stood there for a minute waiting and wondering which price we would be charged giggling to ourselves for finding the ruse.
Turns out he charged us the local price and then he proceeded to show us around different areas of the castle, explaining in his broken English the stories of the site’s history. It was fascinating and he was hilarious.
In making the YouTube video about our visit I had to translate what he said and do it as a voice over because he was really hard to understand. If you’re curious, check it out here.
We wandered from top to bottom of the castle and then sat at the one and only restaurant nearby for a lovely late lunch.
Located two hours north-east of Orikum, the drive to Berat castle is a reasonable day trip. It’s worth it to see the castle or fortress and the views overlooking the town of Berat, in Albania.
The walled fortress is perched upon a hill 214 metres above Berat. We weren’t sure our little hire car would make it up the steep hill so found a parking spot and walked it instead. Leg workout day for sure.
When we got to the top it wasn’t what we expected or have seen with other castles. The area is open and features churches, mosques, restaurants, homes and various ruins. Again, we wandered for hours, enjoying the details and the sunshine then found a local restaurant for a very inexpensive meal.
As we were leaving a guy selling local wares asked how we got to be in Albania. Obviously due to covid, there hadn’t been very many tourists visiting. We had a brief chat that involved some hand gestures and signals to try and get our meaning across and then tackled the walk down the hill.
Yes, we made a YouTube vid about this spot and a few others – it’s here if you want to check it out.
When we travelled around Spain in 2016, we visited a bunch of castles. They were all so different and fabulous. So, when we arrived at Gjirokaster we were not expecting such a massive and interesting structure. We were blown away by the history, the size, the artifacts, and the views. The blog cover photo is from Gjirokaster.
We spent hours wandering around and exploring every corner of this castle. So glad we took the drive inland for this experience. Plus, we stuffed ourselves silly with crepes beforehand – they were soooo good. The same YT vid mentioned above also has footage from this amazing castle. I think it’s a must see in Albania.
For more info about Albania check out our YouTube channel here.