SEARCH HOTEL BY PROVINCE
You do not often find in the same place an ancient archaeological site framed by a beautiful sea, inhabited by friendly people in an exceptional climate. This is Saranda, overlooking the Ionian Sea, where Virgil tells of the landing of Aeneas, a magical place full of history and legends.
With its temperate climate, it is worth visiting Saranda and southern Albania, the hotels can be booked all year round. Spring and autumn are highly recommended for those who love hiking, but for those who love the sea, the ideal time is from late May to late September.
The city of Saranda is situated in the south-western corner of Albania, on the shores of the sea. It is found 285 km away from the Capital city of Tirana, 124 km from Vlora, and 61 km from Gjirokastra. It borders on Delvina, Vlora and Gjirokastra, and is connected with Greece.3. How to arrive
By air: Through Mother Teresa Airport in Rinas, 285 km away. From the Corfu Airport, and then take the boat to Saranda, 30 min.
By sea: From other parts of Albania through the Durrës and Vlora Sea-ports, and from Greece through the Corfu and Igoumenitsa Sea-ports.
On land: Those driving from the north and north-east of Albania, the Durrës Sea-port and the whole of Central Albania, have a couple of options to consider once they arrive in Fier: either follow the national road to Saranda through Ballsh, Tepelena, Gjirokastra and the Muzina Pass, or drive through Vlora, the Llogara Pass, and then, along the Ionian Coastline (past Dhërmi, Vuno, Himara, Borsh and Lukova).
Those driving from Greece may choose to cross the border checking-points at Kakavija, Tri Urat (Three Bridges) (near by Përmet), or the Bota Pass (the southern corner of Albania, close to Konispol). Past Elbasan and Rrogozhina, those driving from eastern Albania, Macedonia or northern Greece (crossing the border check-point at Kapshtica) may either follow one of the two roads branching off at Fier, or choose to drive through Korça, Erseka, Leskovik, Përmet, Këlcyra Gorge, Uji i Ftohtë (Cold Water) at Tepelena, Gjirokastra and the Muzina Pass.
For the first time in the 2nd century B.C., ancient sources mention the city as Onchesmus. On his return from Rome, Cicero, the famous Roman orator, stopped at Butrint in the suburbs of which his dearest friend, Pompon Atik, lived. It seems the city became relatively important in the pax romana period. Strabon, the famous Roman geographer of the 1st century B.C., refers to it as an important transit point in the relationships between Rome and Greece. In the 4th century A.D., the city was encircled by defence walls as much as two metres thick. The hinterland of this territory reveals ruins of dwellings, as well as a palaeochristian basilica of the 6th century, featuring a floor decorated with mosaic. In 414-516, the Byzantine church annals refer to the city as an episcopal centre. In 551, the Goths originating from Attila’s Ostrogoth hordes, who were travelling on board fifty ships, arrived by land, and looted and set Onchesmus and Butrint on fire. The city experienced an important flourishing period in the 10th century, when it turned into an important harbour. In 1034, the city was invaded by the Bulgarians, who half a century later were forced to surrender it to Robert Guiscard’s Normans arriving from Sicily. They reconstructed the castle, as well. The Venetians also stayed for some time between the 12th and 13th centuries. Ottomans appeared and left five hundred years later, in 1413. Out of the irony of fate, a famous Albanian ruler Ali Pasha Tepelena ruined it for the last time. In the 19th century, Saranda had a customs office, quarantine, a sailing agency office, an inn, and a number of bars and restaurants offering services. Nonetheless, the coasts with a rich history saw a revival of the life in the territory in which present-day Saranda lies. When Albania was proclaimed independent, Saranda had nearly 100 inhabitants only. Saranda reportedly saw its greatest development under King Ahmet Zog I, in the thirties of the 20th century. Under the Italian occupation the city was baptised with the name of Porto Eda. Eda was Mussolini’s dearest daughter, but in the years of communism the city was called again Saranda.5. Population, Religion, Economy
Population: The District of Saranda includes the city, the Konispol Municipality, and seven communes (Aliko, Dhivra, Ksamil, Livadhja, Lukova, Markat and Xara). The district officially records 85,000 inhabitants. A population of Greek minority, officially amounting to 35 per cent of the total population, lives besides the population of Albanian nationality in the District of Saranda.
Religion: A combination of the two main religions, Orthodox and Moslem, is found in Saranda, as is the case almost across Albania. The Orthodox people are in larger number. Both religions have always been on very good terms with each other. Many combined marriages have also been registered.
Economy: At present, tourism, trade, maritime transport, fishing and light industry are impacting in a big way on the economic growth of Saranda. The tourism economy has become especially important for the city of Saranda in particular, as well as the tourist sites of Ksamil and Butrint.6. Traditions and Customs
Folk costumes: carried by the Labëria and Çamëria people are highly variegated. Women from the Greek minority people wear colourful and heavily decorated dresses. The Ethnographic Museum located at the centre of the city is the best place to visit so as to get an understanding of detailed folk costumes and other objects of folk culture in Saranda. Address: Pranë Limanit në shëtitoren kryesore të qytetit (near by Harbour, on the main avenue of the city). Tel: +355 852 4600.
Songs: Typical songs include the polyphonic song sung basically by the Labëria and Çamëria people, and the songs accompanied by saze*, which are more widespread in the area of Delvina.
Cuisine: Even though it has changed as Greek, Turkish and Italian cooking has been introduced, the Saranda traditional cooking has its own peculiarities. Typical dishes include kukurec (pieces of sheep liver held together by lamb/kid gut and roasted), paçe (spicy stew made with tripe or headcheese) with eggs, byrek (multi-layered pastry filled with meat, eggs, vegetables or cheese), and roasted lamb. Along with the meat-based dishes, Saranda is famous for the fish-based dishes, including grilled fish. Like elsewhere in the country, raki is the typical drink in Saranda.7. Place to visit
Saranda and the surrounding territory are absolutely the richest area in old religious objects, at a national level. Basically dating back to the Byzantine period and some of them to earlier periods, the churches remain to this date one of the most important assets in terms of the country’s cultural heritage.
Monastery Church of 40 Saints is located to the east of Saranda. It is found on a place overlooking the whole of Saranda. It was built in the 15th century. Visitors have one more chance of being enraptured by a nearly mystic atmosphere.
Monastery Church of St. Mary in Mesopotam: The Monastery is located a few kilometres away along the road linking Saranda with the Bistrica hydro-power station. It was built in the 11th century by the Byzantine Emperor Constantine Monomac. It is one of the rarest Byzantine monuments of the 11th-14th centuries. Ruins of the circuit-walls and a tower in the western part are all that has survived to date from the old monastery. The Monastery has almost entirely been razed to the ground. The church reveals a combination of the old Byzantine and Roman styles. It was built in the 12th century, when this territory was under the Angevins’ rule.
Mosque of Gjin Aleks: Numerous mosques are found in the entire area surrounding Saranda. However, they are mainly new. A mosque devoted to a Christian arouses curiosity by itself. It is called the Mosque of Gjin Aleks, and is found along with several other sacred Moslem graves at the heart of the village of Rusan. The Mosque is built on top the ruins of a 12th-century church and is still in use. The Mosque is located in the suburbs of Delvina.
Saranda Butrint – Ksamil: The road to the south of the city leads to Butrint, which is around 15 kilometres away. Visitors will be driving past a long range of hotels, and then, enter the Butrint National Park on a rocky stretch between the Butrint Lake and the sea. The ancient town is open for tourists all the week from 8 a.m. For information: Rr. “Skënderbeu”, Lgj. 1 at the Ethnographic Museum. In the park a Roman dwelling of the 2nd century A.D. will initially come into view, to be followed by a colonnade, which is thought to be older than the dwelling. The colonnade is near by the most important monument at Butrint, the ancient theatre. It was built in the 4th century B.C., and today is in very good shape. Many shows are performed on its stage during summer. The Balkan Theatre Festival, which is staged here on a yearly basis on july, is the best known event. The theatre walls carry numerous inscriptions in Latin. They are largely decisions for the liberation of slaves. The Butrint Theatre has a capacity of nearly two thousand seats. The theatre is located close to the ruins of the Sanctuary of Asclepius, the ancient god of health. It is very likely that the sanctuary was built precisely here because of a water spring to which the old Butrint population assigned a miraculous healing power. Many statues and other gifts found here have driven the scholars into thinking that Asclepius was the guardian god of the town. The Baptistery of Butrint is situated east of the theatre, not very far from the sanctuary. The baptistery was built in the 4th century. The baptismal font is found in the middle of the room skirted by a number of still surviving colonnades. The mosaic pavement is decorated by 69 medallions filled with ecclesiastic symbols and well-known scenes. Along with archaeological values, Butrint offers a whole natural complex and a special geo-system. The ancient town is nestled amidst natural greenery, at the edge of a characteristic lake, only 3 km away from the sea with which it is connected via the Vivar Channel.
Ksamil is a new dwelling area. A lot of wonderful beaches are nestled at Ksamil and the three islets. Visitors may discover them until the late afternoon hours, making use of the services offered by numerous boats. Rocky islets located close to one another, they are covered by typical Mediterranean vegetation. The sea water is rich in fauna and flora, species protected under international Conventions to which Albania adheres. They make up a unique and very representative area of the Albanian rocky Ionian coastline. The monument under discussion is in good shape. This monument is of scientific and biological value, and worth visiting by tourists. For visitors to reach this monument they should drive on the Saranda-Ksamil road, and then follow the Ksamil-Ishuj itinerary on board a boat.
Saranda- Mesopotam - Syri i Kaltër: Mesopotam is located on the side of the road connecting Saranda with Gjirokastra. This road may also take visitors to the other side of Delvina, which is four kilometres only away from it. This is an evergreen village situated on the side of the Bistrica River. The most important monument in Mesopotam includes the Monastery of St. Nicholas of the 11th century. Visitors will catch a sight of the outlines of its walls and church a few hundred metres off the main road only. Having driven past the hydro-power station of Bistrica, visitors should turn to the road on the left. In a couple of kilometres, it takes them to Syri i Kaltër, one of the most beautiful places in Albania. This is the source of the Bistrica River. It has a main six-metre diameter source of crystal-clear water that never runs dry, and a large number of water sources on the sides. Syri i Kaltër is declared a Rare Natural Treasure, and is protected by the Albanian Government. The water source is surrounded by virgin forests.
Saranda - Kakome - St. Vasil - Nivica – Lukova - Borsh: This itinerary is one of the most interesting not just in Saranda, but in the whole of Albania. Visitors on this trip follow the road connecting Vlora with Saranda in the direction of the North. Having left the suburban neighborhoods behind, they will stop first at the Kakome Bay. It is a small, but very picturesque maritime bay. Local and foreign investors are making efforts to set up a tourist village for quality tourists from Western and Northern Europe in this bay. Tourists who happen to be at the Kakome Bay should not forget to visit two important tourist spots. They include the villages of St. Vasil and Nivica. To reach there visitors should go back on the same road they followed to arrive here. Actually, the village had existed thanks to a monastery built there in memory of a 17th-century saint. The beautiful Krorëza Beach is located not far from the village.
Nivica is not a maritime village. It is very close to St. Vasil. It is a well-known village, which is mentioned at an early period in historical documents. It is particularly known for the fact that it provided soldiers who joined foreign armies, from Venice to Spain. In half an hour, visitors continuing on the main road will arrive at Lukova, another well-known village. Lukova seems to have been a very early settlement. At the place called the Gashnjar Hill archaeologists have unearthed a Bronze Age fortification. Traces of this old castle, which is thought to date back to the 3rd-2nd centuries B.C., have also been found at the place the peasants call the Bazaar Pass. Even though they are in bad shape nowadays, visitors may stop at Ballkoni i Bregdetit so as to see and imagine the great work that went on at Lukova and around it.
Borsh, another village of rare beauty, is located 15 kilometres away. The road to be traversed is a tourist attraction by itself. All the way to the village, the outline of Corfu washed by the blue Ionian waters comes into view on the left side. Borsh is one of the biggest villages in this area. A visit to old Borsh, of which ruins lie on top a rocky peak nearly 300 metres high, is very interesting. What impresses visitors as far as the main road is an old castle. This is the Sopot Castle, which the local population also call Kalaja e Grekut (Greek’s Castle). It is a highly strategic spot. From this castle the eye may capture the whole breadth of the Ionian Sea until it melts into the horizon. A source of abundant waters falling from the mountain is situated at the centre of Borsh. Visitors hanging down through the peasants’ houses towards the sea will be arriving at a small hydro-power plant, half-way between the road and the sea, which supplies electricity to the whole area. They will see at first hand how the energy of the waters they used to freshen up themselves earlier on, is now turned into electricity. Down at the plain, past a large olive- and citrus-trees plantation, visitors will arrive at the white gravel of the Borsh Beach, which is several kilometres long. At this point, visitors should not think of anything else. They should plunge into the Ionian Sea, and enjoy this still intact paradise.