Few of Corfu's first-time visitors, realise how close
the previous communist state of Albania is - in places only 2 miles! It is
quite safe though! Several years ago, there were reports of 'Albanian
Pirates' swimming across to steal boats from local Corfiots. This was an
isolated event and is now unheard of.
If you are really intrigued, it is possible to go on a
local ferry (from Corfu town) and visit for the day. I have been several
times. It is fascinating, but I am not sure whether I would enjoy the day
more just sitting around the pool with a good book!
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TWO TRIPS TO ALBANIA
Report by Angela and Graham It was
1989 when we first had the opportunity to visit Albania.
I remember someone saying on the boat as we sailed over,
how privileged he felt to be making this trip. The
captain of the ship explained that he had persuaded some
Albanian officials to try and bring some tourism to the
area in order to bring in some foreign currency which
was badly needed. It was still communist at this time, a
year or so before the uprisings and overthrow of the
Albanian government. We were not allowed to take any
written material into the country and had to list every
currency note that we had on us including the serial
number. We also had to sign to say we were not
concealing any video cameras, televisions or washing
As we sailed up to the harbour in Saranda, it was quite
a strange sight to see a wide curved bay with a sandy
beach spread out in front of us. It had a lovely
promenade with palm trees, but there was no one on the
beach, no sun beds, sun umbrellas or beach bars that you
would expect to see on a beach on the Ionian sea. Built
into the rocks on the harbour side of the bay was a
swimming pool, it was full of children, hundreds of
them. There was a great lack of colour, everything was
very drab, especially the clothes that the people wore.
Two high speed armed patrol boats were moored along side
the harbour and armed guards stood on the dockside. They
just looked at us as we walked past, to the two buses
awaiting our arrival. Not a very friendly welcome. There
were no private cars, only army vehicles and old local
buses with broken windows, the few shops that existed
were empty there was nothing to buy, literally nothing!!
We were taken to the archeological site in Butrint and
passed soldiers in their concrete bunkers at regular
intervals along side the road as we drove through the
countryside. We passed donkey carts as we drove and saw
many people working in the fields.
After our visit to
the archeological site of Butrint we were taken to the
only hotel in Saranda where we were served the most
enormous meal with so many courses it went on forever,
whilst we watched the local folk dancing. We were not
encouraged to go out into the town, hence the large
meal, but we did manage to get a quick walk around,
before we returned to the boat but there was very little
to see, only poverty.
In September this year 2003, we returned to Albania on
the same trip as we took those 14 years ago and what a
different place we saw. The trip on the boat was very
straightforward although a visa is still needed, there
were no restrictions on what we could take into the
country. The armed boats had gone and the swimming pool
in the rocks had gone. When I told the guide of the
children I saw on the previous visit she explained to us
that the children went to the swimming pool at the
weekends to swim and play at the beach whilst their
parents were working in the fields. She said it was very
sad to see them in those days, on their own, the parents
so busy working in order to get enough money to feed
them that they had no time to spend with them. The town
is very pretty and this time there was much more colour.
The buses that met us on the dockside were much improved
and as we drove through the town, we saw shops with
goods in them, many new hotels and new buildings
everywhere. Many of these new buildings are empty
hotels, waiting for tourism to take off. The hotel we
were taken to was very clean and modern and a big
improvement on our previous visit. We again visited the
archeological finds in Butrint. We drove through the
fields, and a village, where there were new houses and a
great deal of building taking place, a hotel on the
beach (with sun beds and sun umbrellas !!) and continued
alongside the huge lake where the mussles are farmed.
The lake spreads all the way along to the site of
Butrint, an old Roman township that was visited by
Julius Ceaser. It is amazing how much of the ancient
buildings are still intact. It is now a world heritage
site and is considered one of the most important
archeological sites in Europe. Much of the work to
uncover these historic buildings is funded by large
donations from Lord Rothschild and Lord Sainsbury and
much more of it had been restored than on our first
visit, it is a site really worth visiting. It is in a
beautiful area where the plains stretch along to the sea
facing Agni bay in Corfu, and the mountains stand high
at the back of the plains where in winter they are
covered in snow.
We returned to one of the hotels for a rather late
lunch, nothing like the size of the one we had 14 years
ago! We visited a few of the shops and bought hand made
lace mats and tablecloths from the ladies selling their
goods along the promenade and outside the hotels. There
are now a few tourist shops selling souvenirs and many
people on the tour bought cigarettes and tobacco which I
believe is even cheaper than in Greece.
The whole day was full of interest and passed very
quickly and it was sadly time to return to the boat to
go back to Corfu. I will always remember the relief on
returning to that boat on our first visit. Although the
visit was interesting, it felt very unwelcoming and
frightening seeing soldiers with guns everywhere, it
made us realise the freedom we have in our modern
European countries and I was glad to be back on that
This visit was very different and that uncomfortable
feeling was no longer felt, big improvements have been
made and it is quite remarkable how much has been
achieved in about 10 years. I believe the country has a
long way to go yet to reach today’s European standards,
a little paint would go far and a rubbish collection
service is long overdue, but there is a vast
improvement. It is not dangerous to visit this part of
Albania, although the British Home Office does issues
warnings about Albania, this is a day trip to a seaside
town in an area that belonged to Greece until the second
world war and holds non of the dangers of the capital
city. It is quite safe, the people are friendly and
pleased to see you, the guns are gone and the communism
with it. Do take the opportunity to visit and support
these people that are trying so hard to make a decent
standard of living for themselves and their future
We are sorry there are no photos of our first visit, to
compare with this years visit, but cameras were not
allowed on the visit in 1989 and although we managed to
purchase a few postcards from the hotel there were no
postcards of Saranda which was rather disappointing.
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