Vacation is GOOD! #5

At Palermo Castle, southern Albania

At Palermo Castle, southern Albania

Our last top in Albania was Saranda, located about an hour north of Greece (and 45 minutes across the Ionian Sea from Corfu by hydrofoil, and south of Himare, where we’d spent a couple of nights. We were looking forward to a relatively easy driving day. Google maps told us it was about an hour to our destination, although our experience told us it would be double that, especially since we’d continue along mountain ranges and the commensurate switchback turns in the road (and beautiful vistas to the sea and distant beaches).

We enjoyed a couple of pit stops along the way. At Palermo Castle, we almost didn’t get to go inside. We trekked the quarter mile up to the entrance only to find the big steel doors locked shut and no one around. Given that we had nearly run into a huge spider and her web on the path up, and had to bat away additional ones as we proceeded, we were not thrilled with this end to the adventure. Fortunately, the displeasure didn’t last long – the gatekeeper, his dog, and a young man with his son headed up the path just as we started to venture back down. The young man was Albanian, on holiday from his job in Boston as a physical therapist, visiting his family. It was his second time to the castle so he gave us a personal tour, and we shared with us personal stories about the challenges of growing up and living in Albania.

Another stop was at Qepari Beach, where we admired a lovely stone hotel complex in front of a gorgeous little bay and crystal clear water beach. One of the owners came out to talk with us, and we discovered that he had spent time working in restaurants in London to raise money for the place, and how they built the complex one story a year as they had funds (currently 3 stories, possible 4 in the future).

THE highlight of our stay in Saranda was Hotel Harmony, and mainly the amazing food. The owner loves to cook. We’d read the raves on the internet and had been curious about whether they were to be believed. The answer: an unequivocal YES! My favorite? The eggplant appetizer – thin slices rolled up with prosciutto ham and cheese,  fried tempura style and served atop a rich tomato sauce. Makes my mouth water just thinking about it! It was the perfect place to have our 23rd wedding anniversary dinner, no doubt about it.

We also enjoyed a couple of relaxing trips to Ksamil beach, a visit to Butrint, a UNESCO World Heritage site that was truly amazing for its history, and evenings on our hotel patio, watching the setting sun turn the sky the colors of the rainbow over the northern most Greek Islands.

Qepari Albania - between Himare and Sarande

Qepari Albania – between Himare and Sarande

At Hotel Harmony enjoying the chef's delectable creation

At Hotel Harmony enjoying the chef’s delectable creation

At Ksamil Beach, near Saranda, Albania and across the Ionian Sea from Corfu, Greece

At Ksamil Beach, near Saranda, Albania and across the Ionian Sea from Corfu, Greece

For what came before:

Kotor, Montenegro

Shkodra, Albania

Kruja, Albani

Himare, Albania 

[For photo highlights of our holiday, visit Jim and Vicki’s Travel Adventures Shutterfly site.]

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