Albania is a pleasant Mediterranean surprise with lots to offer

Fontaine Family Foray in Europe – Installment #6

While it may not have been on my top three priority list for my European vacation, after having visited Albania, I am now a believer. Our cruise ship the MCS Poesia made a one day stop to Albanian city of Saranda which is located on the south eastern coast of the Adriatic sea directly across from Corfu, Greece.

Our cruise ship the MCS Poesia is in the Sarande Harbour. Guests needed to come and go by tender.

Unlike Mykonos, Greece, which I had heard so many good things about, Sarande was an unknown to our family. Yet from the moment we touch down at the waterfront, we made an instant connection to this beautiful port city.

It is surrounded by a beautiful deep blue bay, which on the day we arrived was sunny, warm and packed with locals and tourists on the narrow and rocky beaches. The small city of 20,000 people has a number and low-cost hotels and condominiums which dot the waterfront and make their way up the hillsides.

Many of the ocean view apartments in this shot can be purchased for less than $100,000 CAD.

I’m not sure why I loved Albania so much, but perhaps it was the surprise of arriving in this city and discovering a place that has yet to be completely impacted by foreign tourists. However, this is likely to change soon as the cruise ships have discovered this coastal town and the influx of thousands of people each day is bound to make it lose its charm at some point.

In 1991 I did visit Corfu, Greece, which is visible from Sarande on a clear day. However, my recollection was it was overrun by tourists from Great Britain and nowhere near as appealing as Albania in terms of its topography. In fact, I recall during my visit to Corfu the locals telling me to avoid Albania as a tourist destination as it was “scary”.

A long and beautiful boardwalk made of some attractive stones awaits you upon your arrival on shore.

Our visit included a nice pizza and Greek salad lunch along the waterfront. The prices were so low, it was hard to believe they were for real. The handwritten receipt was put on our table and the entire meal for our family including a half-litre of Heineken beer – was less than 20 Euros. In London, the pizza alone would have cost the same!

Unlike the many other tourist towns we visited, the abject poverty and homelessness were on full display. It was sad to see young school-age children [and there were hundreds of them] with their hands out asking for spare change in order to survive…all in the shadow of our luxury cruise ship filled with all-you-can-eat buffets and unlimited drinks.

I’m not sure of the origin of those begging for change, but based on what I’ve heard and read, they were likely Syrian refugees. Many of them are women, sitting in the hot sun with their newborn infants, hoping and praying they will collect enough spare change to feed their family for yet another day.

The boardwalk is drenched in many tropical palms more often found in much warmer climates.

Sarande is located on the Albanian Riviera and is only reachable by cruise ship or vehicle. There is no major airport to be found nearby, which probably explains why it remains so cost-competitive compared to other Mediterranean jurisdictions.

It also lacks a cruise ship terminal, which results in you having to take a small tender boat to shore. While the wild and rocky five-minute commute to shore was “fun”, I have a feeling a more permanent port would be more appealing to tourists.

Sarande has a temperate year-round climate with over 300 days of sunshine per year. The summers are typically hot and sunny with the winters a tad cooler and wetter. By comparison to Vancouver, this place is truly tropical.

The boardwalk is full of low-cost pubs and restaurants that cost a fraction of what you’d find in other major European centers.

There are massive palms trees everywhere and it does feel like you are in Hawaii, not in a place that can get the occasional snow during the winter.

Better yet, the real estate is a veritable bargain when compared to back home. A luxurious penthouse with stunning water views will set you back around $50,000 Euros…the equivalent of $75,000 CAD. But as I indicated, the real hitch is trying to get here on the weekend from Vancouver.

If you want to stay in a nice waterfront European city at a low-cost, Sarande is definitely a place you want to mark on your travel itinerary.