Albanian landscape near Butrint

Albanian landscape near Butrint

Caroline Shearing steps back in time on a day trip to Albania, and finds a warm welcome, sublime seafood and Butrint, one of Europe’s most important archaeological sites.

Sunlight glinted off the water as pleasure boats bobbed in the bay and the carefree squeals of children launching into the sea from a nearby jetty carried on the breeze. “English?” A trio of waiters descended on our waterside table to top up glasses of the quaffable local wine and delight in our satisfaction with the grilled sea bass (sublime), selected on arrival from a bed of ice displaying that day’s catch. So far, so perfect day in the Med.

Except that as this lazy summer scene was playing out a lone man beaded in sweat was battling to contain a fire at a nearby property with little more than a dribbling hosepipe. The unfolding drama went largely ignored as plumes of acrid brown smoke poured forth. Indeed, as the air and throats thickened, the only crowd to congregate was a dozen plastic bottles and a clutch of bloated carrier bags at the water’s edge. Eventually, no sirens blaring, a fire engine trundled into view to extinguish the blaze.

Welcome to the seaside town of Saranda and the contradiction that is Albania.

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