Butrint and Exploring Ksamil.

Our first day in Albania had been pretty amazing, so we were looking forward to what today would bring. After all the raki last night I was worried we’d be a bit hungover but after a bit of breakfast we were ready to go!

Today we were heading to Butrint, an ancient Greek, then Roman City located close to the reek border. It was first inhabited between the 10th and 8th centuries BC, so it’s pretty damn old! It’s also a UNESCO world heritage sight and national park.

As we were staying in Ksamil we decided to take the bus down to the entrance, they’re every hour and cost around a Euro. It was a leisurely 30 minutes to get there along a road filled with stunning scenery as we wound our way along hills with amazing views of the sea.

Arriving at butrint we were amazed at the beauty of the place. There’s a cute little wooden ferry taking you across the river which we had to try, and from here we explored a small fortress and took in the views. You can see for miles and there are lots of little hilltop churches and villages across the flood plains.

The entrance fee is around £4.50 and there’s a map at the beginning which I took a photo of to give us a clue of what we were looking at. We started off by walking along the river, spotting a watch tower in a beautiful wild flower meadow.

We doubled back and followed the path through the woods and it suddenly opened out to huge remains of old buildings. It was partially flooded which gave it an even more interesting vibe. Butrint was abandoned after an earthquake flooded much of the City and destroyed it.

The amphitheatre was particularly impressive and there was hardly anyone else there, so it felt like we had the place to ourselves to climb and clamber around. There were even little european pond turtles in the water. Butrint is known for it’s biodiversity and you can see all sorts of animals such as grey wolves, sea turtles, dolphins, salamander, jackals and golden eagles in the area if you’re lucky.

Butrint is amazing to just wander around if you have the full day, the Baptisterium was cool with all it’s pillars and is famous for it’s mosaic floor, unfortunately it’s kept submerged under water and mud for much of the year to keep it intact as it dates from the 6th century.

The great basilica was one of my favourite spots as it was really maintained with it’s beautiful archways, we felt like such explorers with all the ruins, and you get more and more views of the surrounding area as you walk around the island. we passed the Lion’s gateway before starting the ascent up to the Venetian castle and Sanctuary of Asclepius.

There’s an interesting museum up here and again, awesome views of the coastline and we watched eagles soaring high up in the distance. The castle is well maintained and you can get a drink and some food at the Dea Art Bar. The weather was really good which was a bonus for us. After the castle we had wandered for a good few hours. So we were ready to head back to Ksamil.

The bus dropped us off on the main road, and from here it was a short walk past a lot of half finished resort hotels. It seemed like there had been a real boom of tourism at one point but it’s a shame it’s a bit run down as when we got to the beaches they were amazing.

The sand was bright white and the water crystal clear, we took our shoes off and had a little paddle around. Then stopped and looked out at the little islands dotted around the bay. I’d definitely like to go back in peak season as the beaches weren’t very well maintained and nowhere looked open.

We had this problem as we looked for somewhere to eat, in the end we bought a typical mediterranean dinner of cheese, olives, bread and wine. We took this back to our hotel and sat on the balcony, watching the sun slowly set over the Ionian sea.

The next day we took the bus back to Sarande, and had a little wander around the shops to spend our last Albanian Lek before we took the ferry back to Corfu. I would definitely recommend staying a few days here over Summer. It was so cheap and there are a lot of things to do and see, I can’t wait to explore more of Albania one day!

Albania and the climb to Gjirokaster.

We took the ferry from Corfu over to Sarande in Albania. Albania isn’t high on a lot of people’s lists but it’s starting to make waves as an alternative to the ever popular Croatia.

Sarande is part of the Albanian Riviera along the Ionian sea, and known for white stretches of beach and turquoise waters.

I was excited to see these beaches for myself and experience a new country however on arrival it started to rain! We visited in late march so knew the weather may be against us, so after a little wander around Sarande we stopped and had brunch along the promenade.

Sarande is a small town, the beach is rocky and there’s only a few things to do, such as the old synagogue ruins, the promenade and Lekuresi castle on the hill overlooking the town, though it’s been turned into restaurant now.

Because of the rain and lack of sights we had to think outside of the box, and decided to visit Gjirokaster.

Gjirokaster old town is a UNESCO world heritage sight, dates back to 1336 as part of the Byzantine empire and has a magnificent fortress overlooking the town.

We walked over to the bus station in Sarande and bought a ticket from the office there before being pointed in the right direction to the bus. Buses leave every 30 minutes to an hour and it cost around €3.50.

The bus journey was amazing as we climbed up into the mountains and were rewarded with amazing views of the countryside. We crossed raging rivers and through beautiful flat plains as we approached Gjirokaster. Surrounded on both sides by looming mountains.

The bus took around an hour and 15 mins and drops you off at the main road, so we started our walk with our backpacks in the drizzly rain. It gave the whole place a mysterious vibe with the low clouds.

The first 10-15 minutes aren’t so impressive, but you soon find yourself on windy cobbled streets with beautiful stone buildings lining the road.

We reached the fortress and loved the views over the old town rooftops. The fortress itself costs £1.50 per ticket and houses some interesting statues, a tank and an old plane. A lot of it is in ruin but the main building is still impressive.

After wandering around the fortress and the old town a little more we checked out some cute historical buildings as we descended back down to the main town.

We got some amazing cake and traditional byrek from a little bakery to dry off and recharge. Byrek is a flaky pastry filled with cheese or meat. Even with all the walking Mum was having a great time exploring with me!

We took the bus back with no issues, and arrived back in Sarande in the early evening. We decided to walk along the main road and take a bus to Ksamil, where we would be staying. Unfortunately the bus didn’t turn up, I’m not sure if we got our timings wrong or if it just didn’t run in that hour.

Instead we stopped at a restaurant and had an amazing Albanian red wine and looked out over the bay. We took a taxi to our hotel, which took about 25 minutes and I think we were the only ones staying there! Two older Albanian men greeted us and proceeded to give us a lot of home brewed raki.

Needless to say we got a little tipsy from this, it was a funny experience as neither men spoke much English and we spoke no Albanian. They then drove us to a little kebab place where we ate tasty Greek salad and chips. Funnily enough we were soon sound asleep back at the hotel and looking forward to the next adventure!

Dubrovnik and the long walk

The following day we had plans to see as much of Dubrovnik as possible, so our first port of call was the cable car, it’s located just outside the city walls it costs £9 one way and £15 return, we opted for one way as we fancied hiking back down.  After travelling up and above the old city we had climbed around 412 metres to the top of mount srd and the views were actually incredible, it was a beautiful sunny morning with hazy scenery in the distance. 

We loved it up there and spent a good amount of time looking out over the Adriatic and spotting little islands in the distance. The views behind us over misty mountains was really cool too, showing you the contrasting geography of this part of the world.

There’s a huge cross up there, which you can see from the old town, it was destroyed in the 90s war but has since been rebuilt, it is also home to fort imperijal, built in the 1800s during the Napoleonic wars, it now houses a museum dedicated to the siege of Dubrovnik, a dark part of Croatia’s history during their war of independence when Serbian/Montenegro forces invaded and attempted to annex southern Croatia. It wouldn’t be our last history lesson on the 90s balkan wars. 

We walked around the fort and found the small track leading back down, it’s a nice walk and it was still cool early in the morning rather than blazing sun. With butterflies fluttering around us and a lizard scuttling about it was nature at it’s best. The path zig zags all the way down eventually descending into a wooded area before you emerge on the ourskirts of the old city. On the way down there were 12 plinths mounted at the end of each zig and zag. Though we weren’t sure about their significance other than religious depictions on them. 

Outside of the walls of Dubrovnik was just as quaint as inside with a proper Mediterranean feel to the place. I’ve always wanted to come to Dubrovnik since I was a teenager and it wasn’t letting me down so far! 

We thought as long as we continue downhill we would hit the coast and we were right! We came out into a little cove with a jetty and the clearest water I have ever seen, far cleaner and clearer than SE Asia. It was full of fish too so we sat and dangled our legs over the end of the jetty and watched all the different fish go about their business, even a few crabs were doing a bit of seaweed farming. 

One reason Dubrovnik has gained in popularity is Game of Thrones, the hit Tv show has filmed a lot of scenes here over the years and you can even do a guided tour! As luck would have it we found out that our little cove was one of the places a scene had been shot! 

You could see why, and another filming location was above us Lovrijenac fortress is situated on a rocky outcrop and was used for shots of the red keep. 

We walked up to the keep and paid to go inside, you can get a multi ticket for Dubrovnik walls and the keep for around £17, or if you’re there for longer they do a Dubrovnik tour card. Dubrovnik Card

The keep itself doesn’t have much in it but it’s white walls and little nooks and crannies are great for exploring. We climbed to the top of the fortress for more views of Dubrovnik and it’s walls and out to sea. 

It’s definitely worth the short walk over especially with the bonus of the little cove. We left the keep and retraced our steps this time heading back behind the walls and into the city. Using our ticket we climbed up onto the ramparts and began the full circle of the walls of Dubrovnik. 

We could see back over to the cove and keep and over the whole of the red tiled roofs. 

It’s super pretty and luckily wasn’t too busy, I can imagine the whole place is a nightmare at the height of summer. 

There was some great scenery to look at as we took a leisurely pace around. Stopping for pistachio ice cream and a rest halfway along.  

We were pretty high at times and could see schools of fish glittering in the early afternoon sun. With little fishing boats moored up right beneath the walls. 

You can really see just how clear the water is here. 

We made it all the way round the walls and decided to grab some lunch.  We just got some bread, cheese, and meat with some soft drinks. The cheese was delicious while we planned our next move, we decided to do a boat trip but to save money we jumped on one of the many glass bottom boat trips advertised by the marina. 

We got one and set off leaving the pier behind us the boat followed the walls around, giving us a different perspective of Dubrovnik. 

We then looped round and some how got in a race with another boat towards the big island just off the coast. Lokrum island is a popular day trip and you can take a ferry over from Dubrovnik. 

We could see flashes of marine life as we went in and out of deeper and shallower water. 

The boat then went along the side of Lokrum island, investigating caves and little inlets along the way. Once round the island we went along the coast back towards Dubrovnik, going past more fortifications and some nice looking beaches that we took note of for later. 

The whole trip was around 45 minutes and cost 10Euro. Definitely worth it especially as we were only here for the day.

From the Marina we decided to head to one of the nearby beaches, so exiting the city once again we took a quick 5 minute stroll to the pebbly beach just south of the walls. 

We took a dip in the sea which was still pretty cold but a nice cold refreshment after trekking about for hours.  Then Sarah did some pebble and shell collecting as I lazed and read a book on kindle app. It started to cool down as evening began so we packed up our stuff and went back to the city. It was nice to have another couple of hours on the beach as we would be heading inland to Bosnia the next day. 

We took a long walk round to the hotel passing some random statues and buildings along the way before settling down for half an hour to decide where to eat. I used foursquare and it recommended a place called Barba.

It’s a trendy little place on the east side of the city just up from the main thoroughfare. We ordered an octopus burger and a shrimp salad to share. The salad was good and tasted fresh but the burger was to die for! Really meaty with a slight seaside taste to it, I think we could have both eaten one each. 

The cool thing about the place is the pens with which you can design a wooden fork to go on the wall there. This was my Wales/home town inspired masterpiece. 

While we were messing about with these the waitress brought us over a complementary oyster each! I think it was the nicest oyster I’ve had, though I still think they just taste of the sea. 

We had a couple more beers in a nearby irish pub that seemed to be the only place really open, but they were pretty pricey. After that we found a little place doing crepes! So we got dessert and demolished them before we got to the hotel. Once tucked up in bed we made our plans for the next day….our only obligation was a bus at 4pm for Mostar in Bosnia.