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Sarandes, Albania – a Flying Visit

Current Location: Sarandes, Albania
Current Position: 39 52.25 N 020 0.21 E Click to view map.
Distance sailed since last post: 18 nautical miles. View the map of our voyage track here

From Paleokastritsa we needed to go around the top of Corfu Island to go and check in. But we also needed to go outside the EU so as to reset our VAT clock (allowed a maximum of 18months in the EU otherwise we have to pay VAT on the boat).

Since the trip to Albania was shorter than to Corfu, we decided to fit in a quick visit. Albania has a bad reputation, but we had been told that now it was quite safe to visit. So we thought we would go off the beaten track and see what it was like.

It proved to be very straight forward. Before we departed, we were in contact with the customs agent Agim Zholi, and then we radioed him on channel 11 as we approached the harbor. As we got there he had one of his assistants waiting for us.

The quay at Sarandes is TINY. And it is in constant use by ferries going to Corfu and further afield. That meant that we had to move twice on the quay so as to let a ferry use our space. Eventually we were snuggly tied up on one corner of the dock. There were three other yachts there, plus one big motor yacht.

Checking in was painless. We just gave Agim our papers and he did it all. And even supplied us with a huge courtesy flag for us to proudly wear on our starboard spreader. However, we then spent several hours sitting around waiting for Agim to reappear, and for us to be assigned a proper place to tie up. One thing that caught us unawares was the time change. We had put our clocks an hour forward for Greece, and didn’t realize that they needed to go back an hour again for Albania. So it seemed to us that everyone was an hour late, until we finally figured it out!

Where the little yacht is, is where we ended up tying up. After first moving twice.

The next day we took a day trip with a guide that Agim found for us. He was excellent, but a bit pricey (130 euro for a 12 hour day). He was very enthusiastic, even showing us the town and villages where he grew up and went to school.

The two key cultural destinations are Butrintit, which is an island fortification dating back to 600 BC, and Gjirokastro, which also has a fortress and old town. Both are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. And the entrance fees to visit them? 1.50 euros each! Wow, what a change from 11 euros in Sicily!

The chain ferry crossing over to the Butrintit headland

The early Byzantine baptistery in Butrintit has a beautiful intact mosaic on the floor. The trouble is, in order to preserve it, they only uncover it for viewing every few years.

The skeleton of a baby, buried in a clay pot that was found in the necropolis.

Albania uses the Leke as its currency. With the current exchange rate of about 138 Leke to the USD we found things to be pretty cheap. We stocked up on 50ml beer for 79c in the supermarket, and bought heaps of fruit.

Albanian store on the main street

Orthodox church. Albania is about equal Christian and Muslim, having been ex-Ottoman Empire

Inside the church. Note the lack of an alter, as is normal in Orthodox churches.

The narrow beach crowded with parasols

Sarandes has street sellers and an open market.

A view of the beachfront development, most of it from the last 3 years.

‘Blue Eye’ – a gorgeous river location that is fed by a upwelling river that rises from over 50m underground.

Children love to jump and dive into the Blue Eye – with a depth of over 50 meters I guess that is pretty safe

In Gjirokastro we had a large Albanian lunch – which, including drinks, cost the grand total of 21 euros for three people. Gjirokastro was a charming little town, with little tourist development.

Our Albanian lunch

A view of Gjirokastro

Inside a 100-year old house, decorated in Muslim style.

Gal: Albania, August 2012 dsc08786 The museum inside the Gjirokastro fortress. So many guns. Most of them dating to WWII

Gal: Albania, August 2012 dsc08753 More guns. The fortress is huge

Gal: Albania, August 2012 dsc08776 A large stage in the grounds of the fortress, used for large concerts

Ceu is constantly looking for fresh figs. Finally she found some

In Sarandes, which is the beachfront town, it was difficult to find Albanian food, as it was primarliy Greek and Italian catering to tourists.

Gal: Albania, August 2012 dsc08731 A view of Sarandes from a different fortress above the town

Albania used to be communist, but is rapidly embracing capitalism. We met a British couple who had moved there three years ago. They told us there had been huge development in Sarandes in just those few years. Certainly there were countless new and unfinished apartment blocks up. The streets were congested with traffic, and the beaches were heaving with tourists. Loud music blared from countless bars and restaurants.

We also visited nearby Ksamil – a beautiful setting on the way to Butrintit (but we visited by boat) – that was spoiled by the numbers of speedboats, jetskis, swimmers, and beach crowds.

The crowded beach at Ksamil

And so our impressions of Albania were very mixed. The people were very friendly. Their language incomprehensible – but many spoke English. Prices were cheap. The cultural sights we saw were world class. But it is clearly rapidly developing its tourist trade and the beach front towns looked almost identical to every other well developed beachfront in the Med.

No doubt before too long their prices will catch up too.

For yachtsmen it is an interesting place to visit for a few days. But there are some obstacles to staying for any length of time. For one thing, they charge 10 euros a day for just being there. This is not a docking/mooring fee – that was free. So our total stay, including Agim’s services and the courtesy flag came to 70 euros. Not bad for resetting our VAT clock. But 10 euros a day would start to add up for a longer visit.

On top of that, there are not too many places one can anchor. Large parts of the coastline are ex-minefields. They are safe on the surface, but not for dropping and anchor to the bottom. And there are basically no marinas to visit either. But the coastline that is accessible, is beautiful – though very similar, of course, to Corfu and mainland Greece just to the south.

We didn’t visit inland or northern Albania. The mountains are much less developed and sounded interesting. They even have skiing there, which would no doubt be pretty primitive!

A good brief visit, but that was enough.

4 Responses to “Sarandes, Albania – a Flying Visit”

  • Honeydew #1:

    Very cool!

  • Honeydew #1:

    …minus the diving into the ‘blue eye’ part! lol

  • Rick:

    Love your blog. We lived in Albania for three years in the early years of this century. Butrint was our favorite place, although we found the people warm and friendly everywhere. They love Americans (Pres. Wilson kept them from being swallowed up by Yugoslavia at the end of WWI) and Canadians too! Infrastructure has been a problem but in their rush to develop their economy they had chased after the tourist dollar, and unbridled development of their coastline. Glad to see you had a favorable impression.

    My wife and I bought our L38 two years ago and spent most of the last two years fitting her out. We like your itinerary so far, and hope to model our own on yours. Keep up the entertaining blog!

    • noel:

      Yes, we did have a good visit to Albania. I am sure you are going to have a great time with your Lagoon. They are nice boats. Maybe we will run into you somewhere along the way!

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