Saranda Albania: Even Better than Expected

In this guest post, Warren R. Johnson shares his experiences in Saranda, Albania. Here is his story…

I first ran across Saranda, Albania several years ago on YouTube. I saw a video of the city and thought, “Oh, that looks like a nice place,” and didn’t give it another thought.

But as algorithms work, YouTube kept sending me more Saranda videos and I kept watching them. Soon I was hooked. I had to see this place.

Arriving in Saranda

In no time, I found myself on a small bus ascending mountains and cascading one of them straight down to the shore of the Adriatic Sea.  I had arrived in Saranda (officially Sarandë). I looked out at the Bay and then turned around. There was the view I had seen so often on YouTube: the panoply of white towers encircling the Bay.

As soon as I settled in, I headed straight to the water’s edge. I looked out upon the Bay, with a view to the Greek Island of Corfu. Then, I turned around and was struck with the view of the picturesque buildings climbing up the mountainside. This was no video. It was the real thing. I had arrived in Saranda.

Saranda Albania PromenadeI started to walk the promenade (boulevard to some). The central portion at the head of the Bay is paved with elongated tiles and runs for almost one kilometer. This is Saranda’s main focal point. Its flat, smooth walkway makes for easy walking in an otherwise vertical city. People walk this promenade day and night, not only for exercise but also to encounter their friends. The view in all directions is stunning, even more so at night with all the twinkling lights popping out around this crescent.

Five roads curve horizontally around the mountainside echoing the shape of the Bay. There is only one real vertical road crossing the five. Otherwise, access is by climbing several series of marble steps. Fortunately, not being one of the faint of heart, I climbed up and up with the reward of a magnificent view out to sea each time I turned around. I think I have climbed all of these stairways to become acquainted with the five roads.

Where is Saranda

Saranda sits in Southeastern Europe lying along the Adriatic Sea close to the border with Greece. It has been dubbed the Albanian Riveria. Situated at the eastern end of the Mediterranean, it is the unofficial tourist capital of Albania. Saranda is considered to be part of the larger Mediterranean Riviera.

What’s in a name? Greece considers its waters to be the Ionian Sea, including those around Corfu, while Albania lays claim to be alongside the Adriatic Sea. Saranda lies directly on the coast and climbs up the mountains. It is a beach town as well as a port for ferries and cruise ships.

Saranda is served by two international airports. The first is in Tirana, the nation’s capital. Reaching Saranda requires a five-to-six-hour bus ride. The second is in Corfu, with a thirty-to-fifty-minute ferry ride. The ferry port is right at the edge of the city center.

Viewing the Temperature Gauge

Mango Beach Saranda AlbaniaOne of the reasons for Saranda’s popularity is its weather. Saranda has a Mediterranean climate and claims to have 300 sunny days each year. In essence, the summers are hot and dry, while the winters are cold and wet.

The winter season lasts for seven months starting in late September, while the summer season lasts five months starting in late April. The wettest month is November, bringing five inches of rain. July sees the least amount of rain, averaging 0.04 inches. Consequently, winter brings higher humidity and wind than summer, but neither is excessive.

Mean temperatures in Saranda range from º5C (º41F) to º33.5C(º92.3F). These low and high figures generally occur in January and July-August. I should point out that these statistics are from pre-Covid days, a demarcation we seem to have developed. Bear in mind that the world’s weather seems to be changing, so these figures are probably fluid.

Shopping and Eating in Saranda

Shopping in Saranda follows the usual European model. I find that I have to shop in multiple stores to find what I want. There are no large department-type stores. There are four large grocery stores and many smaller convenience stores that specialize in one product or stock smaller quantities of multiple products. I need to go to a grocery store or visit one or more of the street vendors every other day. I can carry only so much each trip.

Supposedly, Saranda has more restaurants per capita than any other European country. This is hard to prove but might be realistic. Certainly, there is a large quantity of places to eat from traditional restaurants to sidewalk stands. In addition to Albanian restaurants, there are ethnic restaurants representing numerous countries. What there isn’t is any international fast-food establishments.

The New Cobblestones

Saranda Albania Sidewalk DesignI find an amazing civic project taking place in the central and western areas of the city. Sidewalks, and eventually streets, are being replaced with a new form of cobblestone. These 2-inch square stones, at 4-inch height, are being meticulously installed by hand in a decorative pattern.

Teams of four men throughout are hand-setting each of the stones. First, a sand base is laid and then curvature-shaped pipes of various sizes are laid to specification. A tan stone is placed within the outline of these curvatures and the areas between the pipes are filled in with white stones. Lastly, all the stones are cemented together.

This pattern is not just limited to the sidewalks. The streets will have the same stone pattern. To allow for easy accessibility, there will be no curbs. A shallow drain allowing for rain runoff separates the street from the sidewalk. This massive project must be very expensive, but the final result will put the city on the map, bringing a beauty unparalleled with other cities.

Another massive project underway is the construction of more apartment buildings and hotels. Although there are more such accommodations than there are permanent residents in Saranda, the need for expanding the lodging facilities is to meet the continually growing summer tourist demands. The winter season is fraught with multiple construction sites all around the city. It is a noisy time of year.

During the summer months, Saranda is overflowing with tourists. Accommodations need to be reserved well in advance. It would be unwise to think of driving in the city during this season because of the heavy congestion. Even the locals park their cars outside the city for their own travels during the summer. There is just nowhere to park.

An Expat Haven

Saranda MarinaA large international gathering of expats have chosen Saranda for temporary or permanent living. The weather and the lower cost of living here have induced these expatriates to leave their homes and journey to Saranda. It is not possible to calculate the number of expats here, as they come and go.

The United States played a supportive role in the Balkans War of the 1990s and Albania is especially thankful for their involvement. Consequently, Albania offers all Americans the opportunity to enter and remain for twelve months visa-free. At the end of the twelve months, or any time short of that, Americans must leave the country for three months before entering again. All other countries are granted the normative three months of visa-free entry.

Albania is open to hosting tourists, retirees, and other nomads. They have yet to offer a digital nomad visa, but you can work online for yourself or an international company. You may not be employed in Albania under normal conditions. Nonresidents do not need to pay any taxes, though it’s best to consult a tax attorney to clarify this. Albania is not in the Schengen Zone nor the European Union, though they are working toward joining both.

Final Thoughts

Despite the large amounts of tourists and heavy traffic during the summer months, Saranda lives up to the hype. It’s an excellent destination for a vacation or permanent move. The temperate climate and the beautiful scenery make it a must-visit. It was even better than I expected.

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I am a freelance writer and publisher. I have published print and e-books and have written for magazines and newsletters in the fields of travel, history, religion, and music. I am a former bookdealer and classical musician. I have many years of education and traditional employment in multiple fields. I have traveled extensively – 47 US states, Canada, Mexico, Panamá, Ecuador, and Europe.

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