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In Praise Of… Visiting Albania in April

Discover the hidden gems of Albania in April through a first-person account, exploring Gjirokaster, the Blue Eye, and Butrint before the tourist rush.

This first person account about visiting Albania in April is written by Magic Towns’ Editor-At-Large.

With Albania distinctly on the map for tourists worldwide (I’ve seen several Albanians roll their eyes as they mention the upcoming tourist invasion in the summer), it’s time to re-evaluate the beauty of Prill – April -, a shoulder month that’s far enough away from winter to offer pleasant temperatures and blooming nature, while giving you the feel the country is yours and yours alone to enjoy. In this post, I’m calling out a few spots in the south of Albania in April that are absolutely worth visiting at this time of the year – before everyone else does the same. We’ll cover Gijrokaster, the Blue Eye and Butrint, with plenty of photos to guide you. Enjoy!

Visiting Gijrokaster in April

Gjirokaster, that UNESCO World Heritage beauty of an old town, is breathtaking year-round. However, as teeth-chattering locals are wont to remind you, winters are cold and humid, while cobblestones made sleek by rain are a reminder to take a life insurance policy before visiting. Come April, Gjirokaster is incredibly pleasant to visit. The walled, miniature gardens which are the town’s hallmark are blooming, while the streets and alleyways aren’t thronged with tourists yet. More importantly still, you’re unlikely to experience the nightmare of being stuck in a car on the sloped, narrow streets with throngs of other visitors, plus the locals, driving all around you.

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The castle and the old mansions are a joy to visit in what feels like a private tour, and you might get just lucky enough that the evening is warm and you can dine outside. If we had to suggest a couple of spots, we’d pick Hotel Gjirokastra, a renovated small hamlet in the top part of the old town with several independent units, and Odaja for dinner over the pretty shopping street Rruga Gjin Bue Shpata (they have a private dining room and if you ask nicely, you might get to eat in there on the plush sofas). Note that we do not get paid by businesses to issue recommendations.

Private Tour Of The Blue Eye?

That’s what it feels like. You’ll appreciate the wisdom of visiting the Blue Eye (Syri i Kaltër) in April when you get to skip the first, enormous, empty car park and drive right up to the entrance of the Blue Eye. You’ll need to leave the car there – thankfully – and fork over 50 leka or 50 euro cents per person (though, for small groups, the exact amount seems to vary based on the custodian’s mood), then make your way through a pleasant 2km walk to the site itself.

The natural spring of azure and clear waters, surrounded by purple-flowering Judas trees (clock’s ticking for this beautiful colour that will fade in just a couple of weeks) feels otherworldly. Frankly speaking, having to elbow your way to the Blue Eye in the peak season, under the baking heat, with the noise of hawkers and merrymakers as soundtrack, can rob the experience of much (all?) of its pleasure.

There’s no better time than April to walk the whole way around the Blue Eye and its attending artificial lake all the way back to the starting point. The trail after the Blue Eye itself is the best bit, and you likely won’t cross paths with more than a couple of people as you get to look at some of the least Instagrammed views of the water. Your biggest worry will be not to get your shoes muddy on the last stretch.

The Beauty Of Butrint In April

Without traffic and throngs of people, it is a breeze to drive down to Butrint right after the Blue Eye (honourable mention for the stunning road leading down to Saranda via Mesopotam, where you’ll be surrounded by water canals on both sides, and for getting a quick bite at Ksamil with just a family or two sharing the beach with you – just be mindful that most restaurants at Ksamil will be closed in April and those that remain open aren’t the best).

As a Venetian myself, I can absolutely see why my ancestors chose Butrint as a site to build two castles, other than its strategic location facing Corfu – also a Venetian holding at the time. The lake, or lagoon, of Butrint is an incredibly scenic site, pinched at its westernmost end by the two forts, with a quaint, rather rickety car ferry shuttling back and forth the two piers. If you’re driving, it is recommended shelling out the 700 leka for the 2-minute ride across, and drive all the way back around the Butrint lake with its glorious views. It will take you a well-spent 20 minutes extra.

South Albania In April: Possibly The Best April Weekend Of Your Life

It’s a stretch to cover Gjirokaster, the Blue Eye and Butrint in one day, but it’s entirely feasible as a weekend break if, like most of our readership, you’re an expat in Tirana or Vlora. If you’re flying into Tirana as a tourist, it will take you a couple of hours to get to Gjirokaster, and every site mentioned here is about an hour’s drive from there.

Frankly speaking, Gjirokaster old town and its dwindling supply of Ottoman houses, when considering how many stunning sites are within reach, make me think there are few better property investments in Albania, if one takes the long view. Property investor or not, you’ll feel thankful you’ve invested a weekend of your life visiting the south of Albania in April, when everyone else was not.

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