After our visit to Gjirokastër Jesse and I were on our way to the south of Albania and the resort town of Ksamil. Ksamil is known for its bluer than blue water and nice beaches; and it definitely has those. It has more coves and less long beaches than the town just north of it, Saranda. We had heard the Saranda was more populated and, after driving through Saranda on our way to Ksamil, that was true, but it still had a nice view of the water, that we stopped and snapped a pic.
We originally had six days booked at a guesthouse in Himara, but we wanted to see Ksamil and Butrint so we changed it up and booked four days at a guesthouse in Ksamil with two days in Himara to follow. We have really enjoyed (and I’ve said this in every post so far, so apologies for repeating myself) staying at the guesthouses as every family was so welcoming, cooking us the best breakfast and making us feel at home. Unfortunately, the one we stayed at in Ksamil, while a nice room, was not run by the most friendly family, and there was no breakfast. However we did get to glimpse the sea every morning.
Honestly, the two towns, Ksamil and Saranda, reminded me of visits in the summer to Florida. Saranda is a big town, and Ksamil a small one. I liked the small one better, in both Florida and Albania, but still, it was super touristy, with every inch of beach accounted for; along with loud beach bars serving overpriced food and drinks, and many, may booths selling towels, sandals, water, tchotchkes, soccer balls, and the like. There were also people, lined up every block, holding small pieces of white, lamented paper, with the words “room for rent” in English and Albanian, which was something I have not seen in Florida.
Jesse was still recovering from a bad bout of food poisoning, so when we arrived she rested and I went to explore the beachfront, which was only a short walk from our guesthouse. The weather was a balmy 90+ degrees, but the sun felt good, and there was a slight breeze. There was not much to explore; it was a long, dirt, walking path lined with the aforementioned bars, restaurants and chair and umbrella covered beaches.
There was not even room to walk along the beach as the chairs went right up to the waters’ edge. I was able to find a place to put my feet in, and the water was colder than expected. However the natural beauty of the water, and the small islands, made the pictures turn out way better than the actuality.
Jesse recovered enough that our second to last day in Ksamil we were able to enjoy a trip to the Butrint Archaeological Site, located just south of Ksamil. Butrint is a national park which includes Ksamil, the lake and lagoon of Butrint, and the castle and fortifications and ancient buildings found in the archaeological site. The archaeological site was only a short 10-minute drive away, we entered the grounds for a fee of 1,000 Lek (around $9, per person). It is on a peninsula, with an ancient wall fortification that surrounds it, dating back to the 4th century.
Different civilizations, from the Illyrians to the Greeks and Romans, to the Byzantines and Venetians and finally the Ottomans, all used Butrint as a fortress from which to guard and protect trade in the area. Each civilization added on to the grounds, from building an acropolis, theater and forum, bathhouse and temples, a baptistry and cathedral, to a castle and multiple defensive wall fortifications. The different styles, from the large blocks that fit perfectly together from the original builders with their large, perfectly fit stones, to the roman stones and mortar, to the Byzantine red clay tiles and later Ottoman style, are all on display here.
The waters of the lake and lagoon around Butrint are also beautiful, calm, and peaceful.
The park is very exploreable, with many dirt paths away from the main ones, the ability to climb and explore in detail most of the ancient buildings, and and walking along the outer walls, next to the lagoon was particularly special. The site is so large that it was easy to get away from the tour groups and other visitors, to find our own place of quiet solitude. We sat and looked out at the lake for a while, taking a break from the heat, where we were completely alone. When we left that spot, one of the guards was coming to have his lunch break, and Jesse had said, right before we even saw him, that it would be a perfect spot to enjoy one’s lunch.
After this we explored the castle and grounds, which was much newer than the ancient walls (built the 1800s) and a cannon too!
Inside there is a small museum with some of the ancient statues, pots, coins and other artifacts found at the site.
After exploring for a couple of hours (it was easy and time flew by, we could’ve spent hours more), we made our way across the lagoon to the triangular castle, that we had seen from inside the grounds. The triangular castle, was a smaller fortification built by the Ottomans, and although they don’t really mention visiting it while at the archaeological site, it can be seen from the castle, and a British woman I had met in Gjirokastër had mentioned it and said that it was a cool place to visit, and it was. The pictures through the openings are taken from the tower below.
There is a car (and people) ferry across the small lagoon, and for not very much money we took it across and were able to explore the fort all by ourselves, which was easy to do as it is not very large and provides nice views of the castle, lake, and countryside.
We had been approached when we first parked our car about taking a short boat trip to Ali Pasha’s castle located on the water, about a 15 minute ride from Butrint. We said we wanted to see the archaeological site first, though had heard the boat trip was worth doing as the castle is only accessible by boat. After exploring the triangle castle, we took the fellow up on his offer of boar ride and went down the canal to Ali Pasha’s castle, which was another small fortress right at the end of the land of Lake Butrint. Ali Pasha was an Ottoman ruler of this land, and was quite brutal, but also quite influential in the region, and ruled from 1785-1822. Ali Pasha thought he was so strong that eventually he defied the Sultan, and the Sultan was delivered Ali Pasha’s head in 1822.
His fortress is nothing too special, but is great for pictures and the boat captain waited while we took our pictures. Being on the boat was most special, and feeling the cool breeze and tiny droplets coming off the water helped combat the hot sun above.
We returned to the car after our fun boat ride and later found a place to watch the sunset.
Our last day Jesse rested and I explored where we should have our last dinner (and she was craving a burger, so I also found a burger joint where we later ate lunch). I also stopped by the town’s modern Greek Orthodox Church, the Church of the Resurrection of the Lord, which was painted fresh white with a Spanish tile roof. Inside, the walls were also bright white, with the standard Orthodox altar, and some framed pictures, a silver one of St. George and another of the Annunciation.
We spent our last night in Ksamil eating at one of the many restaurants on the coves, watching the sunset. While the food was subpar (as is typical at resort-type beach restaurants), they view was not, and it was a great way to end our time is Ksamil.
Our next stop? The beach town of Himara with a stop at Borsh Castle on the way!