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October, 2019

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Our seven-night stay in the “Vila Kalcuni”: Vila Kulcuni on the Albanian Riviera, was designed for chilling, but as well as enjoying the beach, we also wanted to explore the town of Saranda.

There are two small museums and a gallery, all in close proximity, and we found that our 100 Lek ticket/75p provided entrance to all three.

ARCHAEOLOGICAL MUSEUM – having checked the opening times, both online and in our Bradt Guide to Albania, we arrived to find it closed. However, after a beer stop at a harbour front bar, we returned and found it had opened. Unfortunately, the MSC Musica was in port and group 26 had beaten us to it. The museum is literally one room, and we’d read it was built to protect a mosaic which had been discovered as recently as 1960, when the nearby post office was being renovated. The elevated walkway around the mosaic was full and as a guide was holding forth, we bid a hasty retreat. We returned later in the afternoon, but this time, it was full with group 24, so we gave up.

MUSEUM OF TRADITION – this museum was said to be an excellent place to learn about Saranda’s history. At the entrance was a reproduction of an Edward Lear sketch from 1857 showing the town and a comparative photo from the 1930s. By this time, only eight of the 20 original watchtowers had survived (the town was originally fortified by a tall semi-circular wall). The next ground floor room had lots of sepia photographs taken between the war years and household utensils. Up a flight of steps were three more interconnecting rooms. The first had building plans, but it wasn’t clear what they were of, whilst the second had a loom and black and white photos of people in various traditional costumes. The third housed textiles, musical instruments and more recent photographs of the town. None of the exhibits were labelled, even in Albanian, and we learned little from our short visit.

ART GALLERY – this was not mentioned in our 2018 guidebook, so we presumed it was relatively new. We found a large ground floor gallery with two rooms, with the second appearing to have art dedicated to female subjects. There were also a couple of sculptures and on our way round, we found another entrance. At this one it said, ‘no photographs’, but by this time we’d snapped away.

OLD SYNAGOGUE – an early Christian basilica was transformed into a synagogue in the early 5th century. Today there are the ruins and although we’d read there was a multi-coloured floor mosaic with a floral and zoomorphic design (had to Google the latter), it was covered by sand to protect it from the weather. A ‘garden shed’ had pictures of the mosaics, but it was all cordoned off and difficult to get close.

MEMORJE 78 – next to the renovated post office we found a concrete pillbox which was half excavated. I made Roy go down the few steps to get photos through a grill which showed the different types of bunker prevalent during the communist regime.

LEKURESI CASTLE – the castle dominating the town from its hilltop location is either a very stiff walk or a taxi ride away. It provided stunning views of the hills and the bay of Saranda. A large bar/restaurant was closed but advertised evening entertainment. Our hotel receptionist said it was good for the views but didn’t recommend it for eating.

We also enjoyed mooching along the promenade, with the turrets of the watchtowers jutting out in the sea, its series of stone sculptures and souvenir stalls and shops. In the small harbour boats could be hired for the nearby beaches inaccessible by road.

Saranda is not exactly a tourist ‘hot spot’ of culture, but sometimes it is good to get up off the sunbed to explore your surroundings, especially on a rainy day!

Helen Jackson

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