Saranda is a very important tourist location for Albania, since foreigners and Albanians alike flock there each summer. The reason is clear, Saranda is one of few Mediterranean beach towns where you can still get a hotel room for as little as 25-40 Euros a night (or even less during the off-season). The scene is lively with plenty of ocean-side bars and clubs, yet you can also find refinement in the many restaurants which abound with local produce and freshly-caught seafood.
Saranda has grown rapidly in the past decade; skeletal high-rises crowd around its horseshoe shape and hundreds more are being built in the outlying region. Saranda is bustling in summer – buses are crowded with people carrying swimming gear and the weather means it’s almost obligatory to go for a swim. A daily stream of Corfu holidaymakers take the 45-minute ferry trip to Albania.
Twenty-two kilometres east of Saranda, the Blue Eye Spring is a hypnotic pool of deep-blue water surrounded by electric-blue edges like the iris of an eye. Bring your swimming gear and a towel, as it’s a great spot for a dive into the cold water on a summer’s day. It feeds the Bistrica River and its depth is unknown. It’s a pleasant spot; blue dragonflies dash around the water, and the surrounding shady oak trees make a pleasant picnic spot, though it’s often crowded in the summer months. There’s a restaurant and cabins nearby. If you don’t mind a 2km walk, any bus travelling between Saranda and Gjirokastra can drop you off at the spring’s turn-off.
The town’s name comes from Ayii Saranda, an early monastery dedicated to 40 saints; its bombed remains (including some preserved frescos) are still high on the hill above the town. The town was called Porto Edda for a period in the 1940s, after Mussolini’s daughter.