Ancient Ruins of Butrint

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The ancient ruins of Butrint can be found 18km south of Saranda, close to the southern Albanian border with Greece; an hour's hydrofoil ferry ride across the Ionian Sea strait from Corfu, where inexpensive, all-inclusive, guided day trips to Sarande and Butrint can be booked.

Set in a 29sq/km national park and recently designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Butrint ruins cover over 2500 years of history, offering a fascinating insight into the development and eventual abandonment of a fortified trading city, built by the Greeks in 600BC and added to during the following Roman and Ottoman empires. After centuries hidden beneath marshland and forests, the city was re-discovered by archaeologists in 1927.

As a visitor one can explore freely around the remains of a 1500-seater theatre, public baths, a baptistry with priceless mosaics and massive walls and a hill-top acropolis and later castle, now housing a museum of found artefacts. From this vantage point there are panoramic views of the ancient city, its surrounding lake, coastline beyond and distant plains and mountains.

To see most of what the site offers takes at least two hours which can be tiring in the summer heat. Sensible shoes and a hat are advised as is a good supply of drinking water. As the site is marshy, expect mosquitos and use a repellant. Most of the walking is flat apart from the steps to the hilltop.

The day trip from Corfu includes a generous lunch and time to explore Sarande, a coastal town determinedly trying to catch up with other European resorts, after gaining freedom from an oppressive and isolating Communist rule which ended only 20 years ago.

There is already a narrow ribbon of modern development along the sea-front with perfectly good restaurants and small shops, all accepting Euros. But delve further into the town and one quickly confronts the sub-standard housing and poverty from which Albania is still striving to escape.

Travelling by coach between Sarande, Butrint and Blue Eye (a famous natural spring and the third destination included in the day's tour) is a slightly hair-raising experience of amazing coach driving skill on tortuous, steep-sided roads. But this is easily outweighed by the extremely interesting and informative local guide on the coach and wonderful and unusual scenery.

Undertaken somewhat cautiously after reading reports of highway bandits and persistent beggars, this brief visit to Albania and the ruins at Betrint, was an absolute delight.

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