Albania has great food in welcoming restaurants. 

On June 26, after arriving in Sarandë, we took a short walk from the White Residence Apartments to grab lunch at Beer House, a German restaurant filled with Germans ready to watch their soccer team play in UEFA EURO 2016, the European Football Championship. Sunday dinner was fresh, simple, delicious and included lamb. We got our first taste of baked feta cheese, and became hooked. 

Fish Taverna Poseidon called to us as we walked along the shoreline in town and stopped to admire the marina on Monday afternoon. 

The boy, the two men and I grabbed an open air table, sheltered from the hot sun and next to the aquarium-clear water. 

The boy got muscles, I choose sardines, our friend opted for octopus and my love was served sea bass, all perfectly and honestly cooked. 

A few days later, we had dinner here again with our girlfriend, so she wouldn't miss out. 

On Tuesday, June 28, we had the only meal we considered mediocre, at least by Albanian standards. The octopus was grilled a moment too long, the mussels were overpowered by marina sauce and the seafood risotto was blah. I had red mullet. It was fine. 

The view of the wind-whipped beach was, however, lovely.

That night, we savored one of the best meals ever, not just in Albania, but the world. We celebrated our girlfriend's birthday in the city center, on Sarandë's seafront, at Bar & Restaurant Centrali, which was recommended by Nurellari Winery Cellar. Of course, we drank their Pulsi Beratit 2015, happiness in a bottle. Actually, we drank two bottles. 


Our waiter recommended the lightly grilled white cheese—feta made by his family—covered in his family's honey. The Kondi family rakia, fermented from his mother's grapes, was a delicious high-end grappa, not the jet fuel of previous nights. The head-on prawns were local, as was the swordfish. And the mussels were permitted to be the star of the boy's dish. 

Back in the main section of Sarandë on the 29th, lunch al fresco with a sea view seemed like just the thing. It wasn't planning, but perhaps inevitability, that brought us back to Centrali for a romantic lunch for two.

The waiter brought an amuse-bouche, a traditional savory pastry topped with a modern twist: truffle shavings. Of course we had feta cheese with honey. My love had risotto with prawns, I went for grilled squid. For dessert, a Spumante float—sparkling wine with lemon gelato.


Did we drink more Nurellari wine? Of course!

Our last meal in Sarandë took place on Thursday, June 30, at Sarandina Serbian Grill, a nice walk from the White Residence Apartment. We enjoyed fish soup and baked feta cheese. Our request for fish and chips yielded a tasty whole fish. 

The restaurant played "White Christmas" while we enjoyed our last sunset over the Ionian Sea.

Check out my reviews on Trip Advisor

Estimates by Albanians of the travel time from Tirana to Sarandë ranged from four to eight hours. It took us about five-and-a-half on Sunday, June 27, to arrive in town.

After a bit of unplanned sightseeing, we called wonderful Samir, the property manager at White Apartments, and found our lodgings by navigating to the Santa Quaranta resort and driving just past this landmark.

Santa Quaranta Beach was a short walk from our abode, so on our first day in Sarandë, the five of us swam in the crystal-clear Ionian Sea, which is part of the Mediterranean Sea and bounded by Albania, the west coast of Greece and southern Italy. 

The beach is painfully rocky. People released puffs of air as they hobbled in and out of the surf. My husband and I eyed the swim deck across the bay, wondering whether it was worth paying however many Lek to protect our tender soles, but chose to rely on our New Jersey toughness.

Walking along the Ionian Sea in the center of Sarandë on Monday afternoon, we watched tan people bask on public beaches. Sun-browned children played, wild and carefree.

On Tuesday, June 28, a the sea became tempestuous and best enjoyed from the shore, although our young traveling companion did give swimming a try. Resort workers scurried to collect umbrellas and beach chairs as the churning sea tried to claim the beach. 

The water was calm on Wednesday, but filled with flotsam and jetsam, mostly plastic packaging, which felt creepy as it brushed against our skin. The 10-year-old and I made a sport of collecting as much of the debris as we could catch. 

Music thumped across the cove from the swim deck. At last, a night club that is open during the day. 


Travel Tip: Heading to the Ionian Sea? Bring surf shoes. On day four of our stay, with my girlfriend at my side, I bought a pair from a street vendor, but sadly never got a chance to use them.

AuthorVeronika Roo

There were two entries on my Albania Bucket List: take the made-in-Austria (my peeps!!!) cable car up Mount Dajti and taste wine at Nurellari Winery Cellar in Berat. 

We took the Dajti Ekspres Cable Car on Saturday, June 25. 

The comfortable ride over the ridge, up and up and up was lovely. Tirana stretched out before us with a sprawl fueled by a building boom. (There seems to be a problem with finishing many of these projects, including the uniquely shaped concrete high rise in the middle of town.)

At the top, we took in the view, then headed behind the gondola and hotel facility. 

"Want to shoot?" A man, one of many with guns, called us to his a table. For a price, my husband, friend, his son and I gave it a try. Aiming has never been one of my talents. Even with repeated instructions from the nice man—who has been to Boston—I didn't hit any of the targets.

We wandered up a path and watched some thirsty-looking horses take tourists on short rides. Also for rent were a fleet of sketchy-looking all-terrain vehicles. 

The path led to what must have once been a grand building. From the relief sculptures of a boy on one side and a girl on the other, we theorized this may have been a camp for the children of communist big-wigs.

We took a closer look and realized there were people living here. Squatters? A child appeared on a balcony, so I waved and we turned tail.

The next attraction was a super-fun playground, with swings and a couple spin-spin-spin devices. The boy, his father and I tried one out and all pulled at the wheel in the middle. With a little inertia, the world became a blur. It took a few minutes before I regained my equilibrium enough to navigate the balance beam. 

Although breakfast at the Cocoon Hotel made me question whether I'd need to eat again, at 12:01 PM, the beer o'clock alarm went off, so we headed to the Ballkoni i Dajtit (Balcony of Dajti). 

My "I'll just have soup" idea was soon drowned out by piles of food.

Olives that we surmised were local, given the groves we saw from the cable-car, salads, cheeses, lamb, chicken, potatoes. Let's just say, thanks to this feeding frenzy, we forgot to have dinner.

Before heading back down to the city, we stopped for beverages in the somewhat strange rotating cafe at the top of the Dajti Tower Belvedere Hotel.  

A bonus? Up in the mountain, we escaped the 99°F heat of the city.

Check out my reviews on Trip Advisor.

AuthorVeronika Roo