The very south corner of Albania - the country which is still a black spot on the touristic map of Europe offers, in my opinion, the best beaches in the entire old continent: white sand, tropical color of the clearest possible seas, the exoticism of the area and most friendly locals. Most of the very few individual foreign tourists who get to the beach village of Ksamil arrive by ferry from the neighboring, overcrowded by tourists Greek island - Corfu. I followed the same route. And, I really thought that Corfu is amazing until I set foot in Albania's shore. My jaw literally dropped. I immediately felt as if I was transferred to one of the tropical, paradise-like postcard spots. It's a mystery to me how this exceptionally beautiful piece of land lacks any recognition among foreigners. But maybe it's better this way!
How to get to Sarande and Ksamil
The easiest way to get to Albania from the south is to fly to the Greek Island - Corfu. There are many cheap flights from all over Europe for those seeking sun holidays. Allow 1-2 days to visit the island as it has some interesting points to see apart from the overcrowded resorts. Soon I will also write a post about Corfu.
From Corfu, there is everyday, early morning ferry service to the port city of Sarande in Albania. Apart from the ticket, you will have to pay some taxes and the journey will cost in total around 30 EUR (37 USD). Sarande is located merely 30 km away and it takes around 1 hour to get there.
The ferry turned out to be a small boat and very few people were traveling to Albania (mainly tourists that had bought a one day Albania tour from one of the tourist agencies in Corfu). I wouldn't recommend a tour like that at all. Albania is so fascinating and diverse that it deserves to be a final destination to all of those who love to explore.
If you wish to travel inside Albania, I would recommend a great tourist company run by a friendly local couple. They have many packages, transport and tours prepared for all kind of travelers (and for every pocket). I traveled with them in Albania and experienced many local, off the beaten path places I would not have otherwise been able to see. If you would like to obtain more information, contact me here.
The port town of Sarande
At the port of Sarande I was greeted by very friendly (!) border control staff who didn't bother keeping me too long at the passport control desk and with a smile wished me a great onward journey. That was a surprise! The only country where border control staff were even friendlier was Georgia, I got wine as a gift while crossing the border (you can read about Georgia here)!
The town of Sarande is very new, full of bright, colorful buildings. It still looks a bit as if it was under construction. The streets and the waterfront promenade are very neat and clean. There's a beach stretching along the town, however, it's not sandy. The water is clear and nice.
I stayed only an hour or so in Sarande, had a short walk around and took a public bus to Ksamil. The fare is very little and it took around 30-minute ride to get there.
Ksamil - A piece of tropics in the heart of Europe
Ksamil is a little sea village that turns into a busy resort in the summer. I was lucky visiting it in June, the weather was great, the sea warm enough to swim and there were not many sunbathers. June or September are indeed the best month to visit because later, Ksamil can get overcrowded. However very few foreigners ever make it to Ksamil so it still will have the local atmosphere.
The village of Ksamil is a bit messy with many buildings still under construction erected here and there with no planning at all. It reminds of South America a lot. Not all the streets have been paved yet but it all won't matter when you see the sea and the coast.
The accommodation is ridiculously cheap, there is even one hostel in Ksamil where I stayed. It was neat, clean, simple and nice. The food is superb, the restaurants are mostly run by the families and the staff is very friendly. The prices are literally shocking - a main course with a pint of ice cold beer costs around 4 EUR (5 USD)!
There is also a supermarket in the center of the village. The staff were so honest that although I didn't speak any Albanian, when I'd bought a few items and left the store, they ran after me and I was given some chewing gums and beers. I have no idea why, maybe it was a deal or something. Albanians are the friendliest nation I have ever met and they seem to love foreigners!
I'm not a huge fan of resorts with a long boring beach and sunbeds squeezed so tightly that you can only see your sunbathing neighbor's back (like in Greece or Malta) but Ksamil was different. It wasn't a long boring beach but many little ones segregated naturally by the rocks. Not to mention unbelievably beautiful mountainous scenery. It felt like paradise.
There are a few little, very green islets just off the coast and it's a pleasure to rent a sea bike to look around. One of the islands is called... Jamaica. The color of water is unbelievable. Turquoise green, the clearest water I have ever seen in Europe. When you add the perfectly white sand to it (not pebbles), you get a full package that feels like a paradise abandoned island, not Europe.
Just a mile or so north, between Ksamil and Sarande lies a hidden, little beach squeezed in between white cliff rocks. It's called Pasqyrat Beach (beach of mirrors). It's more secluded, no hotels or any resorts nearby. It's wonderful, and the water here has a different, bright blue hue. It's not sandy like Ksamil but really worth visiting. You won't believe your eyes when you see that bright blue sea emerging from between the hills.
Butrint - Ancient Greek Settlement, UNESCO
If you are interested in ancient towns and ruins, Butrint - UNESCO archaeological site is situated just 2 km (1.25 miles) from Ksamil. In antiquity, it was known as Buthrotum, the center of the Greek tribe of Chaonians. By the 4th century BC, Butrint became an important city and had its own amphitheater and temples. Within the next two centuries, it was annexed by the Roman Empire. For more detailed information, visit Wikipedia.
Butrint is beautifully located on a lush green hill, among spectacular lakes. On top of the hill there is a medieval fortress which is now turned into a museum. The entry fee is around 800 ALL (5.70 EUR/7 USD).
To get to Butrint, it's easy to ask about the transfer at your hotel in Sarande or Ksamil as there is no public transport that runs there. Even if there are no typical tourist offices around, the transport can be arranged very easily for a really good price.
The Blue Eye Springs - Syri i Kalter
You just can't miss the Blue Eye spring (Syri i Kalter) while you are visiting the south of Albania (20 km/12 miles from Sarande). It's truly magnificent, the clearest fresh water spring, river and lake I have ever seen in my life. It's like a fairy tale. You might get the impression that you are admiring not a natural lake, but a huge aquarium. The water is so clear that the boats and water bikes seem to float on air. Click here to check out my full article about The Blue Eye with detailed description and photography.
Only 50 km away from Sarande, there's a completely different world. The cozy little town of Gjirokaster is picturesquely set between high mountains - it's quiet, beautiful and perfectly well maintained. It's unbelievable that such a place, with extraordinary architecture is virtually left out by all tourist who visit Corfu, Budva in Montenegro or Dubrovnik. But this is, of course its great advantage! It's authentic, has nice locals and amazing food in restaurants covered in grapevine. Don't miss it while visiting the area! Have a look at my post about Gjirokaster here.
From Sarande, north up to Vlora you can admire spectacular beaches, towns and coastline of Albanian Riviera. If Ksamil during the season is too busy for you, head on north and you'll find some absolutely amazing, unspoiled places just for you to enjoy. Have a look at the Related Posts section below to find out more on how extraordinary this off the beaten path piece of Europe is!
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