Destination Discovery: The “Blue Eye” and Sarandë (Saranda), Albania

by Janis on July 15, 2010

Saranda, AlbaniaOvercoming its closed past: Sarandë, Albania   

Although it has beautiful Mediterranean beaches and sunny weather, Albania was an isolated and closed communist country from post World War II until 1990 after the fall of communism. With a Stalinist-type dictatorship, the country disassociated itself from neighboring nations and even other communist countries.  Albanians suffered from violence and anarchy in the late 1990s but the country is now more open for tourism.

Sarandë (pronounced and sometimes spelled Sa-ran-da) is a small town on the Gulf of Sarandë, situated between the mountains and the Ionian Sea, only two nautical miles from Corfu, Greece.

The National Park of Blue Eye

Visiting Saranda on a cruise ship, our tour included an hour-long trip to the National Park of Blue Eye.

Along the drive, we saw small pillboxes (military bunkers) everywhere – a remnant of the communist era.

You can still see many pillboxes (military bunkers) throughout Albania – a remnant of the communist era.

There were 20,000 of them in a country that is smaller in size than Rhode Island, according to our guide. The countryside is very rural, with our bus sharing the road with a flock of sheep and goats.

Blue Eye National Park has 18 natural springs, and was previously blocked to most visitors as it was the private retreat of the top communist leaders of Albania.   

Blue Eye National Park of Albania

The “Blue Eye” National Park of Albania was previously a private retreat for communist party leaders.

The “Blue Eye” spring that looks like a human eye due to the deep blue color of water in the center with light blue at the sides.  It is thought to be a geological phenomenon of tectonic origin.  Shallow, clear water suddenly becomes very deep, bright blue in color, bubbling upward with a strong pressure that keeps divers from reaching its floor.  When visitors throw a stone into the “eye”, it disappears, then comes bubbling back upward.

Saranda, the honeymoon capital of Albania   

waterfront hotels in Saranda, Albania

Saranda offers attractive waterfront hotels.

Back in Saranda, we enjoyed strolling along the waterfront and having a beer in one of the beachfront restaurants. The waterfront offers nice-looking hotels, and is reported to be Albanian’s number one honeymoon destination.   

Not the place for tourist shopping   

The only “tourist shop” in Saranda, Albania

We managed to find a few postcards, stamps and a post office, but this is not a shopping destination.

Getting to Saranda

We visited Saranda on the maiden call for Holland America Line aboard the ms Prinsendam in 2007. See our post detailing our visit here. No port calls are presently scheduled for Holland America through 2011. Being close to the Greek island of Corfu, you can take ferry or catamaran service from there to Saranda for a visit.

Learn More About Albania with these Books

Modern Albania: From Dictatorship to Democracy in Europe

History of Albania
Albania (Bradt Travel Guides)

We enjoy discovering new places with interesting history, even those not completely ready for tourists.

What’s your favorite destination discovery? 

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