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. 

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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.

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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. 

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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.

Posted
AuthorVeronika Roo
CategoriesTravel

Our Advance Team was at the airport to greet us on Friday, June 24. Having arrived on Monday, and hired a professional tour guide, the travel trio had the lay of the land.

Before we left New Jersey, we already knew, “Folks are friendly, the city feels safe and the food is excellent!” They gave us a heads-up about the heat, about 90-99°F daily, which helped me decide what to pack. (And, I'm proud to report, I wore pretty much everything I schlepped.)

As is often the case with travel, there was a glitch. My husband and I booked an apartment in the same building as our friends. It became unavailable, because the government was replacing utilities. 

 The entrance to our friends' super-cool apartment. 

The entrance to our friends' super-cool apartment. 

Our intrepid friends found us a new place to stay, a two-minute walk from their green high-rise apartment. By their definition, the Cocoon Hotel & Lounge was a three-star option.

The windows behind the mismatched curtains were translucent. 

I opened one to find out why. There wasn’t much of a view. 

There was also a creepy handprint on the wall.

But, the place has potential. A huge deck was getting a finishing touch during our visit. 

The outdoor bar and lounge was also lovely. 

The biggest plus? Breakfast. When the day starts with coffee this good, it becomes easier to throw off the shackles of my own impatience, that Jersey Girl need for speed, and embrace the freedom of being on vacation. 

Service was slow, but the food was tasty. It was food-flavored food. Tomatoes tasting of sunshine. Feta cheese that evokes an image of happy goats bleating as they ruminate on wild herbs. (I passed on the Happy Cow.) 

That first day in Albania, after wrestling the hand-held shower to try to freshen up, and taking a brief nap on the comfortable-enough bed, it was dinner time. My love and I joined our friends for a traditional Albanian dinner at a recommended restaurant, where the power kept going out. 

So, we ate our delicious lamb, spinach pie, big beans, salad, corn bread and some sort of casserole in the dark. Me being me, I had to try the local booze, Rakia, a type of grappa with a flavor best compared to lighter fluid, but, in a good way. 

Cheers!

Posted
AuthorVeronika Roo
CategoriesTravel