While travelers have been visiting the Albanian Riviera since antiquity, the region is, with reason, often described as up-and-coming. Long overlooked because of Albania's political isolation from the rest of Europe, this 80-kilometer (50-mile) stretch of the northern Ionian Sea has seaside towns and stunning blue waters that visitors are now rediscovering. Strange concrete pillboxes are still visible, but other vestiges of the Communist era are thankfully fading away. The southern anchor of this coast is Sarandë, whose ancient inhabitants were said to be the descendants of the ancient Greek hero Achilles.
Today, the city has become a proverbial boomtown, with the population tripling in summer. Less than 10 miles from the popular Greek tourist island of Corfu, Sarandë now sees plenty of day-trippers coming over on the short ferry ride. With a smooth horseshoe curve to its waterfront, and with fine palm-lined promenades upon which young honeymooners stroll, one wonders: What took so long?
Like a mini San Francisco, the city is built around a series of stairs that lead from the top of the hill, dominated by a castle, down to the seafront. Its easy access to the sea helps explain the city’s reputation for serving excellent, fresh seafood. Sarandë is also a convenient base from which to visit a plethora of ancient ruins and UNESCO World Heritage Sites.