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  • Writer's pictureCaptain Ian

Albania, July 2023

We only saw the far Southern coast of Albania (within the close vicinity of Saranda), which is a very small sample of this large and complex country. I think it’s fair to say that Saranda is not an average representation of Albania as a whole.


Saranda

It was only 30 years ago that Albania transitioned away from a very strict communist regime. A regime that lasted 45 years. Our tour guide told us about growing up near the Greek border and how people were being caught and shot for trying to escape over the border. No Albanian had freedom of movement and Albania was known as being the most difficult country in Europe for outsiders to visit. Even today, wherever you look, there is a constant reminder of Albania's communist past. The country and coast line is peppered with bunkers and pillboxes (173,000 of them in fact) and there is even one still standing in the main street of Saranda.


30 years later, the Albania of today is very different. Down here in Saranda (the Albanian Riviera) they seem to be making up for lost time. Growth in this area is astronomical. There is construction and new apartment buildings going up everywhere. They are building whole suburbs of apartment buildings before the roads into them are even built. The narrow streets are full of cars, which is astonishing given that no one was allowed to drive a car 30 years ago. And the car horn has become the Albanians first choice for communication. I even saw a policeman with his hand on his horn while stuck in a traffic jam. (I wish I got that on camera). Private boat ownership is an even newer thing, and outside the main ports the police don’t seem to have the resources to keep people in check. It’s common to see a boat or jet ski go full speed through a group of swimmers. It really does feel like the wild west and a bit out of control. I may be wrong, but to me it feels a lot like growing pains.


All of this aside, the Albanian people have been lovely to us. There are very few visiting yachts, however the authorities have been very welcoming and kind. The food has been both great and below average, but I put that down to our poor choice of restaurant. The fresh produce here has been some of the best we have seen in Europe though. At night, the whole city seems to gather on the Saranda foreshore and party till very late. Many are tourists from Greece, Italy and the UK, but the vast majority of them SEEM to be Albanian.














Kakome Bay


For varying reasons, we didn’t travel all that far from Saranda. We had a few big blows come in from the North and there is very few anchorages with good protection from the weather. There is a great anchorage south of here in Ksamil, but at this time of year there is no room for visiting boats. One hour north of Saranda is a beautiful little anchorage called Kakome bay. The water is clear, warm and the floor is sandy. All in all, we spent about 7 nights in this bay (half our total time in Albania). Unfortunately, because it is so pretty and also so close to Saranda, it is the choice destination for all of the tourist boats, pirate ships and day boats that depart Saranda. Fortunately most of them only stay for 30 minutes before leaving for their next destination. 11am to 3pm is hectic. Sunset is magic though and often it was just us and some horses on the beach left. By far the biggest detraction though, was the rubbish on the beach… Again, growing pains.













Butrint

A highlight of our stay in Albania was our excursion to the Unesco listed site of Butrint. For €70 each we had a driver (who waited for us) and our own personal tour guide (who was both lovely and very knowledgeable). Butrint was amazing. Still to this day a working archaeological site, human evidence has been found from as early as 50,000 BC. However inhabitants really kicked off around 1000 BC when the Greeks moved in. In fact, according to writer and poet Virgil, Butrint’s founder was the son of king Priam of Troy, who had moved West after the fall of Troy. The Greeks built the impressive inner wall and the equally impressive theatre. In the first century AC, the Romans moved in and built aqueducts, baths, an expanded outer wall and villa’s with hypocausts (hypocausts still blow my mind). Later on the Byzantines and the Venetians also had their time with Butrint. The site is littered with history and impressive buildings and every year they find more. I absolutely recommend a visit to Butrint to anyone who visits Albania.

























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