Friday 8 to Saturday 9 March
And so we continued our journey towards our last destination in Albania, Sarandë. We drove along the beautiful, fertile Drino Valley, with road signs pointing to Greece – how tempting. We climbed out of the valley, across the mountains. Our travel book suggested we stop to see the natural wonder of Syri i Kaltër (Blue Eye) where clear blue water bubbles from a karst and is the source of the Bistricë River, which ends in the Ionian Sea south of Sarandë. It is a popular tourist destination in Albania, when it is flowing. There we met a Zimbabwean young traveller, Alex, who had relocated to Holland. He was intending to ride his bike from Athens through the Balkans, just before his wedding. It appears that his intended bride was getting nervous and trying to call him home.
At least meeting Alex livened our visit to the Blue Eye.
We had finally reached Spring. The air was warmer and flowers were blooming.
It was a short drive to Sarandë, so we had time to detour to the ancient city of Butrint, with archaeological remains spanning 2,500 years.
Dating back to the 8th century BC, mythology tells of the ancient city known as Buthrotum founded by the exiles of Troy.
In the 4th century BC the ancient city was surrounded by defensive walls, with the city becoming a cult centre. It was considered an important route and trading centre of the main Adriatic waterway, with Corfu a short distance across the water.
By the 1st century BC it was part of the Roman province of Macedonia. Temples, forums, theatres, baths and fountains were all constructed according to the Roman style.
In the 5th century Butrint became an Episcopal residence, and Christian architecture of churches, a baptistery and basilica were constructed.
In the 19th century Ali Pasha established a fortress to ensure protection from the French attacks from Corfu. After his death it passed under Ottoman rule.
Butrint is now a National Park covering 92 sq km with a UNESCO world heritage listing. We thoroughly enjoyed exploring the suggested forest walks around the monuments in the nucleus of the park.
We arrived in Sarandë in the late afternoon and met our representative to return the car. Bruce had done an amazing job driving through cities and country, into mountains and on flat plains, so it was a little sad to give up the wheels.
Sarandë is a holiday destination on the Adriatic coast. A long promenade ran between the water and the town, with a choice of cafes and restaurants beside it. Even in late winter, on a Friday evening, it was a busy place.
The beaches close to the town were not at all spectacular, however beaches within the Butrint National Park were probably a lot better.
So after a sophisticated meal, in a restaurant full of people, we prepared to leave Albania for our next destination of Corfu. Problem was that we had unspent Albanian Lek, and there was no bank or money exchanger that would take it.
As it happened, I carried the Lek home and donated it to Rotary at the local Farmer’s Market. I wonder if they will ever find someone to exchange it?