Southwestern Albania features several must-see sights, including the magnificent archaeological site and national park of Butrint, the majestic Ottoman city of Gjirokastra, and the Riviera’s gorgeous beaches and crystalline seas.
The Greek name for the town, Ayia Saranda, is related to a story about 40 Christian legionaries who were executed in the 4th century. A pilgrimage church dedicated to the 40 saints was built on a hill behind modern Saranda Albania in the 5th century, rebuilt in the early 9th century, and unfortunately used as a base by German troops during the Battle for the Liberation of Saranda in 1944, resulting in the church’s destruction by British bombers.
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Summer vacations in Saranda Albania
Saranda Albania has a great climate, with around 290 sunny days per year and pleasantly mild temperatures that rarely reach 30°C. Some hotels include outdoor pools that are typically only available during the peak summer months, while others are connected to one or more of the beach resorts along the coast towards Butrint.
The beach in Saranda Albania is good enough to catch some rays between excursions. But if you want to spend the day at the beach, I recommend going to Ksamili or to the Albanian Riviera.
Best places to see on Saranda Albania vacation
1. Old fortifications
Saranda Albania is an ancient town founded by the Chaonians, who named it Onchesmus in the 4th century BC. Cicero refers to it as a handy port with a good prevailing breeze. It was never a Roman colony, although it must have been rather affluent in the 2nd and 3rd century AD because mosaics from that time period have been discovered at numerous locations throughout the town.
Onchesmus was defended by a roughly semicircular wall about 850 meters long and 6 meters high in the 4th century AD. These defenses were reinforced with turrets, and coins discovered in one of the turrets date the tower’s useful existence from AD 334 to AD 578.
On the town shore, the remnants of one of these turrets may be seen. Because the shoreline was not fortified, likely because it could be protected from the sea, this tower marks the end of the wall.
The city walls were virtually intact when British artist and poet Edward Lear painted them in 1859. Even until the 1990s, sections of the fortifications could still be seen. Since then, the unrelenting pace of new construction in Saranda Albania has demolished practically all of them, leaving only a few minor pieces standing.
2. Museum of Tradition
On the seafront, the Museum of Tradition is a good venue to learn about Saranda’s history.
The visit opens with a replica of Lear’s sketch and a 1930 image taken from nearly the same vantage position, at a period when only eight of the original twenty watchtowers were standing. More 1930s images depict the Forty Saints Church before it was destroyed during World War II. Nothing of the ancient church is visible above ground, but the crypt contains some remaining paintings.
The display continues with fascinating pictures of Saranda Albania in the years between the wars. In the 1930s, the town was developed on a grid layout, with buildings maintained low-rise so that the entire town could be viewed from the sea, rising upward like theater seats. A collection of ethnographic items depicts daily life during this time period.
Textiles and musical instruments are shown upstairs, along with images of individuals making and playing them. Through more images and household goods, the exhibition’s last chamber provides an intriguing view into life in the town and surrounding region in the 1960s and 1970s.
3. Synagogue Complex
An entire corner opposite the main plaza has been excavated to uncover the remnants of a 5th or 6th-century synagogue complex, complete with a mosaic floor showing Jewish symbols like a menorah (candelabrum) and a ram’s horn.
Previously discovered mosaics on the same location are believed to have comprised the floor of a Roman villa. In the latter quarter of the sixth century, a portion of the synagogue was turned into a Christian church, and the third layer of mosaics was installed.
The panel at the site’s entry is quite informative, with a useful map. There, you can also see images of the menorah mosaic, which is generally kept covered to protect it from the weather.
4. Archaeological Museum
Another mosaic in Saranda Albania may be found in the Archaeological Museum. This mosaic was uncovered during construction work at the neighboring post office in the 1960s, and the museum was created particularly to safeguard it. It is supposed to have been the floor of a basilica in the sixth century AD.
The museum also features a modest exhibition of images and information about the archaeological and historical monuments in the Saranda area, which includes, of course, Butrint, but also Phoinike and the Islamic structures near Delvina.
5. Memorje 78
Memorje 78, a concrete pillbox partially dug so that you can gaze through a grille into its interior, is one element of Saranda’s communist history. It is located opposite the post office on Rruga e Flamurit. Inside, there is an information panel with images of several types of bunkers as well as blueprints of their construction.
Where to eat in Saranda Albania
The local specialty, mussels, has been cultivated in the Butrint Lagoon since the 1960s. They are often accessible all year. Unless otherwise specified on the menu, sea bream and sea bass will be farmed. The eateries along the oceanfront promenade are, predictably, more pricey than those in the town center. Out of season, many eateries close early in the evening (or altogether). Booking is required in the high season (July and August) to ensure a table.
Taverna Fish Filipi
Go up the stairs from the port to find this wonderful 2-in-1 taverna and fishmongers’. Treat yourself to delicious fresh fish and seafood paired with grilled veggies and salads. Bring your appetite, because the portions are generous!
Lëkursi Castle & Restaurant
Built on the remnants of an Ottoman fortress on the nearby Lëkursi Hill, this hotel restaurant has stunning views of the Butrint Lagoon and the shore to the north of Saranda Albania. Choose this place if you want to savor traditional meals specific to southern Albania.
In the summer, you can also enjoy open-air live performances at the terrace bar.
The restaurant of the Demi Hotel is located at the eastern end of the promenade and it features a large, covered terrace that overlooks the sea. When eating here, try their fresh fish, mussel dishes, or seafood risotto/pasta.
Bar Restaurant Limani
Limani benefits from a wonderful setting in the local port, amid the little boats, with a view of the entire bay. Their menu features fish (including some wild varieties), plus pizza, risotto, and pasta with seafood.
Go to Gërthëla to enjoy a meal devoted entirely to fish and seafood, excellently cooked and served. Their menu also features a large range of wild fish.
Where to stay in Saranda Albania
If your trip to Saranda Albania lasts more than a day, I recommend booking accommodation in advance for your vacation on the Albanian seaside. Here are some of the best Saranda hotels to check availability:
Hotel Butrinti & SPA
Hotel Butrinti & SPA is located in Saranda Albania, 100 meters from the Beach. It has a restaurant, free private parking, a seasonal outdoor swimming pool, and a fitness center. The spa and wellness center comes with access to the sauna and hot tub.
This 5-star hotel features a bar and a tennis court, as well as complimentary WiFi. Air-conditioned rooms with a desk, a safety deposit box, a flat-screen TV, and a private bathroom with a shower will be available to visitors. Every room at Hotel Butrinti & SPA comes with bed linen and towels.
A continental breakfast is available to guests at the hotel.
Book Hotel Butrinti & SPA to wake up to the most wonderful views of Corfu across the bay!
Hotel Brilant Saranda
Just after the promenade, Hotel Brilant Saranda Albania offers complimentary Wi-Fi and private parking. It has large rooms with LCD cable TV, air conditioning, and a minibar. The hotel bar is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
In the vicinity, you will find a grocery shop (50 meters), a restaurant with Mediterranean delicacies (100 meters), and a nightclub (200 meters).
Book a room on the upper floors to enjoy splendid views!
Hotel Kaonia is located in the heart of Saranda Albania, about one minute away from a pebbly beach. On-site, you’ll find a pub with a large patio. Parking is free, and Wi-Fi is available in public areas.
Each air-conditioned room has a flat-screen TV, a table and chairs, and a private bathroom with a shower. The balconies either overlook the sea or the garden.
The nearest restaurant with Mediterranean cuisine is only 10 meters away. There’s also a grocery shop 100 meters away.
Hotel Livia, built in traditional Albanian architecture with wood and stone, is located in the protected region of Albania’s greatest archaeological site, the Butrint National Park. It has an on-site restaurant and complimentary WiFi.
Each accommodation is air-conditioned and has a balcony with views of the forest. Some flats have views of the Vivari Canal. A flat-screen cable TV and a refrigerator are standard conveniences. Private bathrooms have a shower as well as a hairdryer.
The well-known Restaurant Livia provides traditional Albanian cuisine made with fresh seafood and beef from a nearby hamlet. The hotel also has a garden with a view of the Vivari Canal where guests may dine or unwind with a drink.
Sun N Blue Hotel
Sun N Blue Hotel is located in Sarande, in the center but still only two minutes away from the beach. The hotel overlooks the small harbor and also offers beautiful city views from the panoramic lift.
This Saranda hotel has a 24-hour front desk and room service, as well as free WiFi throughout the facility. There is free private parking accessible, and the hotel also offers vehicle rental for visitors who wish to explore the local region.
Every room at the hotel has air conditioning, a desk, a balcony with a view of the sea, a private bathroom, a flat-screen TV, bed linen, and towels. Guests will find a wardrobe and a kettle in each apartment.
Sun N Blue Hotel serves a continental breakfast every day.