Hiking to Ksamil and Butrint

On paper it's a 3 and a half hour hike from Sarande to smaller, even more touristy town of Ksamil. I decided to make a day of it and visit all the beaches along the way. There are so many beautiful ones, and at this time of year, absolutely nobody on them. So in the end, this took more than eight hours (here's the GPS trace) and was exhausting, but worth it.

It's possible to follow the coast for a large part of the way. Sometimes it's interrupted by hotels, but when nobody is around I scrambled over rocks, hopped a few fences, and proceeded on. It was also necessary to plough up a few uneven brushy hillsides in order to reach a trail I was sure would be there..

Did I mention there are a lot of beaches on the way? Some are attached to hotels and bars, but all is quiet at this time of year. Others are coves with little trails or steps down to. And others aren't really accessible at all, except with some rock scrambling.

Part of the way to Ksamil is the village of Manastir, so named for the Monestary on the hill (I presume). To walk through the grounds (it's empty, I think) is a small detour, but a worthwhile one. I lost the trail I was trying to follow from openstreetmap, but there were other trails or easy terrain down the far side of the hill.

It was getting late and I was running out of steam, so for the last stretch I skipped a few beaches and rejoined the road. There is a dirt track running along by the coast through an olive grove in the immediate approach to Ksamil. Ksamil itself has many beaches, and I managed to catch the sunset.

I stayed in 'Apartment Skrapalli', one of a set of small studio-style rooms with kitchenettes. It wasn't fancy, but it was €13 per night, had everything for cooking (including a drip coffee machine and a toastie maker!) and the hosts, an elderly couple who don't speak english, were charming and plied me constantly with homegrown lettuce, lemons, fruit juice (no thanks to raki) and coffee.

The next day I let my feet recover, and just wandered around the Ksamil coastline. There are many separate beaches, and it's possible to go directly from one to the next all the way around, with occasional rock climbing or fence-hopping (GPS trace of the first half, the rest I did in the evening without runkeeper on). Probably only an option in the off-season, realistically. It was wonderfully deserted. There's a bit of a headland that sticks out, with the main road through town going on the inside of it. Following the outer edge is a lovely foot/cycle path.

I hiked on to Butrint (GPS trace). The most straightforward route is to follow the road. You could take the very long, very scenic route around the coast and I'm certain find some lovely beaches, but I didn't do that. It's so worth going though. Under normal circumstances, the ancient city is 700lek to enter. Unbeknownst to me, I had headed there on the first or second day of lockdown, so historical sites had been closed. Fortunately someone who worked at the hotel just before the ancient city saw me passing, and told me about a secret hole in the fence up past his beehives. Having walked all that way I was hardly going to just turn back, and I'm so glad I snuck in. The ruins are beautiful, overgrown with grasses and mosses and wildflowers, embedded in the sides of hills, sitting in ponds of cloudy water, and lining the coast with stunning views. There's a castle - with a museum, cafe and giftshop - at the top of the hill, which I couldn't go inside. But there's plenty more to walk around.

There seemed to be some kind of on-demand bridge ferry service operating to take people across the channel where the lake flows into the sea. On the other side of there is a Venetian Triangle Castle. It wasn't clear how or for whom this ferry was operating though. I saw some people who looked like tourists drive up to the old men hanging around there, and come back. Someone else on a scooter was able to cross. I was too shy to find out more, and a bit worried about getting stuck on the wrong side.

Instead I walked to the end of the track that led in the direction of Ali Pasha Castle. The Castle is on a little island that you can only get to by boat.

I would have liked to explore this little peninsula more, but running out of energy and daylight, I headed back the way I came to Ksamil.

The next day I wanted to explore the area more and take the bus back to Sarande, but during my little outing full scale lockdown was introduced. The local buses were definitely not running. Aching from a lot of walking, I headed more or less directly back to Sarande (GPS trace), though I did stop at a couple of beaches I missed on the way out. One of these was at the Kep Merli Marine Villas, an under-construction cluster of super fancy houses with pools and a glorious beach. I snooped around a bit before getting politely (and confusedly) chased off by some staff who couldn't understand how I'd got into the premises - I had scrambled up the hillside behind Gjiri i Hart√ęs, following a non-trail, then over some rocks for a while, before joining up with a construction-related mud road that wasn't on the map. That eventually joined with a small trail that was on the map, down to the private beach. From there, up some beautiful stone steps to the paths between the fancy villas...

Instead of following the coast the whole way I took the road inland for a while, which runs alongside the lake. I detoured back down to the beach by the river, and followed it the whole way almost back to my flat, but Hotel Visad blocked the final part of the route and sent me back up to the road.

I took many more photos than those in this post.

Update: I went again to Ksamil in July, catching the early morning bus out and an early afternoon one back. The beaches started to get busy around 9am, everything was open, and it was like a different place. I did manage to find a quieter spot, and swam out to one of the farther islands. Sitting in a little stony cove there for half an hour, I could imagine, almost, that there was nobody else around.

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