In the day’s early hours, Sea Cloud sailed northward through the channel between Greek Corfu and the mainland; we arrived at Saranda, our first visit in Albania. After an early breakfast and clearance into the country, guests disembarked to meet our excellent local guides, Loretta and Afrodita. We boarded our coaches and left the crowded resort town for the beautiful archaeological park of Butrint to the south.
We enjoyed a guided walking tour of a site that reveals the many layers of local history: Greek, Roman, early Christian and Byzantine, Ottoman, Venetian, and Albanian. One of the most impressive ruins was the Greek theater, built into the side of a hill using large blocks of limestone. It was later remodeled by the Romans using their signature fired brickwork, and is now surrounded by small ponds inhabited by turtles. Butrint remains largely unexcavated, and much of the site has been reclaimed by encroaching forests and a rising water table. All of this results in numerous views and vignettes of great charm. Our group proceeded past an octagonal early Christian baptistry, a Roman nymphaeum, the large basilica, and the impressive defensive walls that drew comparisons to those of Troy in Virgil’s Aeneid. Most of the group ascended to the Venetian fortress that crowns the site. As we were departing, many other visitors were just arriving, validating our choice of an early visit.
Returning to the town of Saranda, our coaches climbed the hill to reach Lekursi Castle; we enjoyed stunning views of Corfu, the Ionian coastline, and inland agricultural regions. At the castle restaurant we tasted Albanian products, our “first lunch,” and were charmed by the ancient and plaintive music of a celebrated Albanian flute player in traditional garb.
Back aboard Sea Cloud, we enjoyed “second lunch” as Captain John sailed from the pier using sails and wind power. From Saranda, we sailed north under engine power along a coastline dominated by the massive Dinaric Alps. In the midafternoon, historian David Brotherson presented “Sing O Muse: Greek Mythology & Homeric World.
In the evening, the ship’s hotel delighted guests with a seated dinner on the lido deck as we departed the Ionian to enter the Adriatic Sea.