Weekend in Sarande & Gjirokaster

Butrint is described as a microcosm of European history since it exhibits remains from most major empires of the area, including Greek, Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman ruins.

Saranda (alb. Sarandë) the gateway to the southern Albania, is a small town of about 22.000 inhabitants (2008 est.), situated on a beautiful horseshoe bay between a mountains and the Ionian Sea. The name Saranda derives from an early Christian monastery dedicated to Agioi Saranta (Forty Saints). Situated opposite of Corfu island, Saranda is often visited by day trippers who come to enjoy this previously inaccessible resort. There are daily ferry services to and from Corfu available. The sea panorama, the variety of flora, favored by the soft climate and warm sea waters, make Saranda the preferred center for rest and recreation and an important tourist town. Honeymooners traditionally spend their holidays here. Saranda has an excellent climate, averaging 290 sunny days a year. In the summer temperatures rarely exceed 30 degrees during the day, while the sea breeze at night is quite refreshing. Saranda is an old town, first settled by the Illyrian tribe of Chaonians who named it Onchesmus. Cicero mentions it as convenient harbor with favorable winds. The bay on which town is build gives Saranda its charming look, that can be better appreciated if approached from the sea. Many mosaics found in the town confirm that the town must have seen some above average development around 2nd and 3rd century AD. The town is a good base for exploring the most beautiful part of the Albanian coast – a strip also known as the Albanian riviera. The coastal road to Vlore is also wonderful. Near Saranda there are the ruins of the ancient city of Butrint and the Springs of “Blue Eye”. 

Butrint – one of the most important archeological finds in Albania, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Butrint was an ancient city throughout Greek, Roman, bishopric and Byzantine periods. The city was finally abandoned during the Middle Ages perhaps due to the marsh surrounding and subsequent malaria epidemic. Despite being one of the greatest classical cities of the Mediterranean, Butrint remains largely unknown. The current archaeological site includes an impressive Greek amphitheatre, a Byzantine Basilica (the largest in the world after Hagia Sophia in Istanbul), a Roman temple with mosaic floor, a beautifully carved Lion’s gate as well numerous constructions built throughout the periods. Furthermore, what you see is just 15% of what lies beneath.
Known by many as the City of Stone, Gjirokastra is a developing centre for cultural heritage tourism. A walk around the network of cobbled streets that climb steeply out of the bazaar will transport you back in time.

Gjirokastra (alb. Gjirokastër) – situated in southern Albania, Gjirokastra perches on the steep side of the Drino valley overlooking an historic landscape framed by snow-capped mountains.This ‘city of a thousand steps’ comprises hundreds of Ottoman-style tower houses with distinctive stone roofs, wooden balconies and whitewashed stone walls. Dominated by the sheer flanks of its vast castle, Gjirokastra is a magical city with a tumultuous past. From feudal stronghold to Ottoman jewel to Italian colony, the city has known many rulers and has inspired poets, authors and artists. Its old town is inscribed on the World Heritage List as “a rare example of a well-preserved Ottoman town, built by farmers of large estate.” Known by many as the City of Stone, Gjirokastra is a developing centre for cultural heritage tourism. A walk around the network of cobbled streets that climb steeply out of the bazaar will transport you back in time. A visit to the vast 13th-century castle brings the adventurous tales of medieval rulers and communist atrocities alive. There is much to see in Gjirokastra and the surrounding areas, and a stay in bed and breakfast accommodation in one of the converted Ottoman houses can make an excellent base for exploring the region. Gjirokastra is an ancient city with traces of human habitation dating back to the 1st century BC. It is located on the slopes of the Wide Mountain (Mali i Gjer), overlooking the Drinos river. The city was probably founded some time in the 12th century AD around a fortress on the hillside. Under the rule of the Byzantine Empire, it developed into a major commercial centre known as Argyropolis (Silver City). The city was part of the Byzantine Despotate of Epirus in the 14th century before passing to the Ottoman Empire in 1417. It was captured in 1811 by the Albanian-born Ali Pasha, who carved out his own semi-autonomous fiefdom in the southwestern Balkans. In the late 19th century, when the city was the capital of the sandjak of Ergiri in the Yanya vilayet, it became a center of resistance to Turkish rule. The Assembly of Gjirokastra, a key event in the history of the Albanian liberation movement, was held there in 1880.

Highlights of the tour

  • Llogora National Park
  • Albanian Riviera
  • Saranda City Center.
  • Lekures Castle
  • Three Islands in Ksamil.
  • Butrint Archaeological Park.
  • Blue Eye Spring.
  • Gjirokastra Old Quarter.
  • Gjirokastra Castle.


Meet and greet with the group at hotel lobby and start our trip to Saranda,about 300 km from Tirana. On the way we stop for a break in the National Park of LLogara, a wonderful view, from where you can see one of the most beautiful parts of the Albanian Riviera. After the break, we continue our trip to Saranda, where we will visit the town and the promenade. Then we will move to Ksamil where we will enjoy a fantastic view of the Three Islands. After lunch,we will visit the ancient National Park of Butrint, visited by thousands of tourists every year, where we can see The Amphitheater, The Ancient Museum, The Baptistery, The Old Temples etc. Then we move to the hotel to enjoy the dinner from a wonderful view of Saranda by Night. The next day we continue our trip to visit the Blue Eye, one of the most beautiful natural springs of Albania. After having a break, we will continue to Gjirokastra, The Stone City, where we will visit the center of the city and the old bazaar. After lunch we finish this amazing tour and we take the road to Tirana.

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