Saranda (or Sarande in local language), is a coastal town and municipality in southern Albania. Stretching along the Ionian Sea in the central Mediterranean it is a historic and hotspot for tourists from the region, but not only. The municipality of Saranda, with a population of 36.500 inhabitants, includes the city of Saranda and Ksamil, and the villages of Cuka, Metoq, Gjashta, and Shelegar.
Saranda is some 285 km away from Tirana, 124 km away from Vlora, and 61 km away from Gjirokastra. It is one of the few cities in Albania where visitors can find a vibrant city, ancient archeological sites and beautiful beaches and coastline. Thanks to its warm climate, it is possible to visit the city throughout the year. The best time to visit is from April to late October.
The southern horseshoe-shaped city of Saranda is one of the most visited destinations in Albania. It’s the country’s most sought-after spot for summer and a charming winter gateway for Mediterranean retreats.
Despite the lack of urban planning and the dull architecture, Saranda is a modern city that cannot leave the visitors indifferent. It is considered an escape for international citizens that are investing in Saranda’s real estate.
How to get there:
By air: Flight to Mother Teresa Airport in Tirana or to Corfu International Airport and take the ferry boat to Saranda. It takes over an hour by ferry boat and 30 minutes by hydrofoil boat.
By sea: Travel to the ports of Vlora and Durres in Albania, or to Corfu and Igoumenitsa in Greece.
By road, follow these two itineraries:
Tirana-Fier-Levan-Tepelena-Gjirokastra- Muzina Mountain Pass
Tirana-Fier-Vlora-Llogara Mountain Pass-Albanian Riviera.
(If you travel from Greece): you can enter Albania at Tri Urat cross-border point in Permet, Kakavija in Gjirokastra, and Qafe Bota in Konispol.
(If you travel from Macedonia and Northern Greece): you can enter Albania at Qafe Thana and Kapshtica cross-border points and either follow one of these itineraries:
Old photo of Saranda, photocredit/ Saranda Opinion Facebook
For the first time, the city is mentioned in the ancient sources in the 2nd century BC by the name ‘Angjismos’. Cicero, the famous Roman orator, passed through Saranda via Butrint to return to Rome. The city took importance in the period of “pax romana”. Strabo, the Greek geographer of the I century BC, considers a crucial transition point between Rome and Greece. In the 4th century BC, the city was surrounded by walls two meters long. Within this territory, there were discovered residences, but also a 6th-century Paleochristian basilica, with mosaic-decorated floors.
The city experienced a significant bloom in the 10th century AD when it became an important harbor. In 1034 the city was conquered by Bulgarians, and after almost a century they passed it to the Normans of Robert Giuscardi that came from Sicily. They even rebuilt the fortress. Between the 12-13th century, the Venetians settled there.
The Ottomans then took control of the city for 5 centuries until 1413. The last devastation, as per irony, happened because of the Albanian ruler, Ali Pasha Tepelena. In the 19th century, Saranda had a customs office, a quarantine, an office of a sailing agency and some offices of service. When Albania became an independent country Saranda had only 100 inhabitants.
The biggest development of the city came from the period of the ruling of King Zogu I, in the 1930s of the 20th century. During the Second World War II, Italians invaded the city and they baptized it by the name “Porto Eda”. Eda was the beloved daughter of Mussolini, but when the Albanian communists took the city in their hands it took the old name of Saranda.
The county of Saranda includes the city halls of Konispol and Finiq, with a total population of 85000 inhabitants. In addition to the Albanian population, there is also a smaller Greek community living there. Religion
In Saranda, like everywhere in Albania, you will find the two biggest religions in the country: Muslim and Christian. They have always lived in peace with each other, and the marriages between people of either faith are very common in Albania.
Mussel farming in Butrint lake
The biggest economic development today Saranda has it thanks to: tourism, trade, maritime transportation, fishing, and textile industry. Along with Saranda, Konispol and Butrint have turned into the main touristic centers of the south of Albania.
The folk costumes are diverse in ‘came’ and ‘labe’. The traditional costumes and other objects you could find them in the Ethnographic Museum, which is located in the center of the city (the address: near the harbor, in the main promenade, tel: 03558524600).
Polyphony is a characteristic of the zone and is practiced more in the locals of “labe’ and ‘came’, as well as the songs associated with harmonica, played especially in the Delvina area.
Photo credit /The Mussel House Restaurant
The traditional cuisine of Saranda, even though has some influence from the Mediterranean region like the Greek, Italian and Turkish cuisine has its very own specialty. The typical cookings are: ‘kukurec’ (lamb intestines in a skewer), tripe with eggs, pies, the roasted lamb, etc. At the same time, besides the meat-based cooking, there are fish-based cookings like fish in barbeque, bass, and mullet. The local drink of Saranda, as it is all over the country is called ‘rakia’.
In Saranda there are two local channels: Saranda TV and Tele Joni. Regarding the online media, there is the only website that offers all the information about Saranda, called ‘Saranda Web’.
Places to visit
Saranda seen from the shore
Saranda and its territory are absolutely the only places in the country rich with old cult objects. Mainly, churches built during the Byzantine period and some built prior to that period are considered the biggest wealth regarding the cultural heritage of the country.
The ‘Monastery Church of 40 Saints’ is located in the east of the city, where you could enjoy a view of the city. Built in the 15th century offers an almost mystical atmosphere. Whereas, the ‘Church of Monastery of Saint Mary in Mesopotami is only a few km away between the street that connects Saranda with the hydropower of Bistrica, and it was built in the 11th century during the era of Byzantine ruler Constantine Monomachos. It is considered one of the rarest Byzantine monuments between the 11th-14th centuries. From the old monastery there only left the ruins of the surrounding walls and a tower on the west. The monastery has almost completely vanished. The church is a mixture of the old Byzantine style with Roman influence, and it was built in the 12th century.
The ‘Mosque of Gjin Aleks”; in the areas surrounding Saranda you will find many mosques, but they are mainly new. Amongst them, there is a mosque which is dedicated to a Christian. It is called “The Mosque of Gjin Aleks” and in the yard, at the front, there are some holy Muslim graves in the middle of the village of Rusan. The mosque is built above the ruins of a church of the 17th century and it is still in function. It is located in the outskirts of the town of Delvina.
Butrint National Park
Butrint Archaeological Park, Unesco World Heritage site
A great place of interest if you are visiting Saranda is also Butrint, which is in the very south of the city. It is only 15 km away and at the end of the street, you will find the ‘Butrint National Park’, in-between the beautiful lake of the same name and Ionian sea. The ancient city is open for visitors from 8.00 a.m.-8.00 p.m., from Monday to Sunday. At the entrance of the park, you will find a Roman building belonging to the 2nd century AD and afterward a colonnade, that the archaeologists believe it is older than the building itself. Beside the colonnade, you will find the most important monument of Butrint, the ancient theater. This was built in the 4th century BC and it is well-maintained. During the summertime different plays take place there. The most well-known activity is the ‘Balcanic Festival of Theatres’ that it is organized each year on the month of July. On the walls of the theater, you could spot many inscriptions written in Latin. They are mostly decisions regarding the release of slaves. The theater of Butrint could accept 2000 spectators. Near the theater, there are the ruins of the temple of Asclepius, the God of Medicine in Greek Mythology. It is believed that the local residents of Butrint built it exactly there because it was a source of magical healing powers. Many statues and other gifts found also in the zone, it is very likely that Asclepius was the defensive God of the old city. In the east of the theater, you will see the baptistery of Butrint, built in the 4th century AD. In the center is the salon of baptism surrounded by columns which are still there to this day. The mosaic-decorated floor displays 69 medals of church symbols, famous scenes, and baptism. Aside from archaeological values, Butrint offers a wide natural complex and a special geosystem. The ancient city is ‘placed’ beautifully in a middle of a greenery land, near the lake that holds the same name, only 3 km away from the sea, which is connected by the channel of Vivari. How to get there and more information you could phone this local number: 04 222 5068. Also, there is public transportation that can take you every hour from Saranda to Butrint during the peak season in the summer. (1 Euro).
Ksamil (or Ksamili) is a village and a new residential center. In Ksamil and the three small islands in front of it, you could find amazing beaches, which you could explore in the late hours of the afternoon with the small boats offering this service. The rocky islands are located beside each-other, covered with typical Mediterranean vegetation quite well-developed. There is a rich flora and fauna in the seawater protected from the international conventions, where Albania is part of. It is a unique and quite representative area of the Albanian rocky Ionian coastline. Over there is also a monument which has scientific, touristic and biological values. To get there you should take the highway Sarande-Ksamil and from Ksamil to the islands by boats.
Monastery of Saint Nicholas in Mesopotam
Mesopotam is beside the street that connects Saranda with the city of Gjirokastra. You could go there from Delvina as well, which is only few km away. Mesopotam is a beautiful green countryside, with the river Bistrica that runs close by. The most important monument in Mesopotam is the ‘Monastery of Saint Nicholas’ (in Albanian ‘Shen Kolli’) built around the 11th century AD. The silhouette of its walls and the church you could see it only few km away from the main street.
“Syri i kalter” (The Blue Eye)
Syri i Kalter, Blue Eye
After leaving behind the hydropower of Bistrica, turn to the left and only 2 km away is one of the most beautiful and picturesque natural sceneries in Albania called the “Blue eye” (in Albanian “Syri i kalter”). Over there you could spot also the bats during nighttime. It holds scientific, touristic, esthetic and soothing virtues. It serves also as the source of the river Bistrica, with a diameter of 6 meters with clear blue water. It is declared a “Rare Natural resource” and it is protected by law. The resource is surrounded by amazing pristine forests.
The villages of Nivica, Lukova and Borsh
Nivica (not to be confused with Nivica in Kurvelesh) is a non-coastal village, near Saint Vasil which is documented early in history. It is most famous for sending soldiers in foreign armies from the Italian city of Venice to Spain. If you drive along the main road, in less than 30 minutes you will find yourself in another well-known Albanian village called Lukova.
It is believed that Lukova is a very old village; the archaeologists have found in the place called ‘The Hill of Gashnjari’ (in Albanian: Kodra e Gashnjarit) the ruins of a fortification belonging to the Bronze Age. Traces of an old fortress that is believed to have been built between 3rd-2nd centuries BC have been discovered in the place that villagers call “ Qafa e Pazarit” (which is literally translated ‘The neck of Bazaar’). Even though nowadays it is damaged, you could stop by in the “Balcony of the shore” to overlook the amazing work done throughout the centuries in the village of Lukova and its surroundings.
After driving 15 km you will reach another village with a beautiful landscape called Borsh. Onto your left, along the main street, you will enjoy the great silhouette of Corfu island with its turquoise water. Borsh is one of the biggest countrysides in the area. The old Borsh is very interesting too, the ruins of which stretch along a peak almost 300 meters high. What it may catch your eye is that down, in the main street, there is an old fortress. This is the ‘Fortress of Sopot” (in Albanian Keshtjella e Sopotit) that the locals call it also by the name the “Fortress of the Greek”.
From here you could have a view of the beautiful Ionian sea. In the center of Borsh, there is a resource that descends from the mountain nearby, and in-between the street and the sea, where the houses of villagers are, there is small hydropower that provides with power the whole area. You could see with your very own eyes how the resources turn into electrical energy. Down in the field, after passing by a whole plantation with olives and citrus, you will reach the white gravel of Borsh, few km long. The last thing to do for you is to dive into the Ionian sea and enjoy this southern paradise of the coast of Albania.
Location and Schedules for bus transportation from Tirana to Saranda
The location of the buses in Tirana to head south to Saranda is in “Shqiponja” Square, Street “Dritan Hoxha”.
Schedules for itineraries: