SARANDA, Albania – How often can you put your towel down on a sunbathing beach next to the remains of an ancient Roman portico, circa 2nd Century A.D?
We did that today and it was the perfect symbol of a country that boasts the ruins of past civilizations at every turn.
Albania is a living museum. It’s also a country on the verge of becoming a delightful destination for travelers in search of new opportunities for cultural and historical exploration along with the trappings of luxurious lifestyle.
The Albanian Riviera? It’s not quite here yet, folks — but it’s on its way.
When the “Panorama,” our sailing yacht, berthed in the Albanian port of Saranda this afternoon, half of our co-passengers took a bus to tour its nearby ancient Greek and Roman remains in the UNESCO World Heritage city of Butrint, now an archeological site going back earlier than the 3rd Century BC . Others went ashore to explore the town.
Me? I jumped into the water off the stern of our boat. Having swum in the lovely Adriatic the last few days, I wanted to see if there was any change in the water of the Ionion Sea, where we are now. There wasn’t. Both are deliciously warm.
In its more recent history, during the second occupation in World War II, Benito Mussolini changed Saranda’s name to Porto Edda in honor of his eldest daughter. Following the restoration of Albanian independence, the city took its Albanian name of Saranda, which remains today. It was Mussolini, incidentally, who first promoted extensive archeological excavations in this area to promote the notion that Romans/Italians first civilized Europe.
Given their beaches and Mediterranean climate, Albanians have high hopes that their coast will become the new tourist hot spot of the overcrowded Mediterranean.
One of our younger passengers, Michael Golin of Atlanta, brought his snorkeling equipment along and his new miniature HD video camera to capture beautiful photos of this Albanian coastline — both above and below the water. “There’s a lot to see under there,” he notes, “and the waters of the Adriatic are as clear as any I’ve ever seen.”
Albania and all of the other countries we’re visiting are presenting the best of the Mediterranean Diet to us, and our chefs have been turning the olives, the fish, the tomatoes and the fruits into memorable meals with a lot of variety. Breakfast buffets always include an egg dish and homemade pastries. Lunches offer all kinds of crisp salads and fruits, and dinners bring us appetizers, soups, salads, and a choice of meat or fish entrees. Desserts include different fruits and more homemade pies and cakes. The fish, of course, is local and plentiful. We’ve had grouper and bream, among others, and on a Greek theme night, octopus.
Cabins are clean and comfortable, and all 25 of them have at least a window or porthole and a television showing local programs. In the bar, two flat-screen televisions show international sports events. Needless to say, everyone has been watching the World Cup soccer marches, sometimes long into the night.
The passengers on this particular cruise represent a global mélange. There are French, British, Australians, Germans, Canadians and Americans. The crew consists of Greeks, Croatians, Mauritians and Ukrainians. This ship is a floating World Cup.
Photos by Timothy Leland