Seabourn Cruise Day 4 – Butrint, Albania via Corfu
Today is probably the most curious of my adventures with Seabourn. As a first-time cruise passenger and feeling somewhat overwhelmed when I looked at the shore trips, I asked the staff at Seabourn to select for me. So it is that while we are anchored in Corfu, Greece, I am going to Butrint, Albania via hydrofoil. It’s an early start – we need to be on shore at 8.15, so I skip the stretch class and instead enjoy a relaxed breakfast in my cabin.
Having initially hated the idea of not having my passport, now I’m unnerved by having it returned to me as I leave the ship. One of the best things about this Seabourn cruise is that all the country entries and exits are managed centrally by the ship before we go on shore. No waiting in queue to be checked and yet, the opportunity to visit a fistful of different destinations in a week. While we are still part of the EU I suspect I don’t quite appreciate how helpful this is, European travel for a Brit is relatively plain sailing most of the time. But, of course, Albania isn’t a destination for the Odyssey and nor is it in the EU. Needless to say it isn’t entirely smooth.
We get going eventually and it’s a 30-minute hop by hydrofoil to Saranda where we pick up a coach to take us to Butrint.
It’s clear pretty quickly that this will be a fascinating trip. Even on the coach we are stunned by the landscape – rolling green hills edging their way down to a salt lake on one side and to the sea on the other side. They fish and farm for mussels in the lake – it all looks very peaceful and rural.
Butrint itself has all the feel of a newly discovered UNESCO site, though of course it’s been around for a lot longer. Tourism in Albania is quite new, introduced after a government restructure following civil unrest in 1997. I feel immensely privileged – as if I’ve been given a key to a secret world. It’s not the first time, one of the joys of small ship cruises is that we can visit places which are not mainstream cruise destinations and yet have all the benefits of Seabourn Odyssey waiting for us when we’ve finished exploring for the day.
Some of the group of 15 have been to Butrint before. Those of us who have not elect to take the guided tour of this ancient walled port city set in a National Park which dates back through three major civilisations (Ancient Greek, Roman and Venetian) and survived a major earthquake in the 3rd century AD before it was largely destroyed by a second earthquake in the middle ages.
What’s striking, particularly after our trip to Olympia, is how tranquil this place is. Apart from having to switch off my phone (the roaming agreement here is expensive), there’s also no worry about someone photobombing my shot. While there are other visitors it can’t be more than a handful of people. Walking around for a couple of hours, there’s a curious sense of timelessness.
Nothing is fully restored and you are at one point in a Greek Acropolis dating back to the 8th century BC, the next in a Venetian Tower built in the 15th and 16th century and then in the Thermae, Roman Baths from the 2nd century AD.
It’s the first time on the trip I wish I had done a little more homework because, despite our very able guide (and the help of Seabourn’s Conversationalist Peter Damisch, there seems to be a lot to cover. I can’t quite join up the dots here – it’s an unfinished story for me.
Apart from the ancient remains – the stunning mosaic floored 6th-century baptistery (covered from September onward), the ancient Theatre dating back to the 3rd century and the reconstructed Venetian castle of the 14th century, it’s a site with a wealth of flora and fauna.
Our guide explains that the excavation has been balanced with a desire to maintain the eco-system that has developed over the centuries.
So, areas which might be drained are left underwater, providing a home to a turn of turtles and temples remain overgrown with only a couple of workmen yielding scythes to keep the masonry clear of shrubbery.
The result is tranquil, charming and unspoilt. The National Park has around types of plants, 246 species of birds, 105 species of fish and 39 species of mammals. It would be easy to spend a day here looking at the wildlife.
Returning by coach to Saranda, we take lunch at a local restaurant. The food is simple, country fare; fresh fruit and vegetables, cured meats, cheeses and rice dishes. There’s just time for a brief walk along the beach before we take the hydrofoil back to Corfu and return to the ship.
Perhaps my only disappointment on the entire Seabourn Cruise is that I’ve now run out of time to look around Corfu itself. There is the offer of a short driving tour, but somehow on a brilliantly sunny day, with the promise of the hot tub and a glass of champagne on board, it doesn’t seem that appealing.
Sail Away today is a Caviar Party on the Seabourn Odyssey. The main deck is bustling with passengers and we are served champagne, blinis and a variety of caviar based canapes as we pull away from Corfu. It’s a friendly affair – many of the passengers (myself included) have made friends with each other and by this stage, sail-away is an opportunity to share the day’s adventures.
There’s been a mountain biking trip for the more robust and a 4×4 self-drive tour of the island. I’m happy enough that my trip to Butrint was the best option for me, though actually, I’d like to have done several of the shore trips on offer for this particular day. And, in my own mind, I’m resolving to come back to Corfu to spend a little more time exploring. Cruising does provide the opportunity to get a taste of new places and I’ve added a few to my own wish-list now.
I don’t feel like an old-hand yet, but I am definitely getting into the swing of things.
After dinner, I wander around a little but am quite happy to retire to my suite and sit on the balcony listening to the sea and watching the stars at night.
It’s the end of day four and I am wondering how time seems to have gone by so quickly. I’m really enjoying this trip and already wondering how I can get to travel this way again!
If you are thinking of going on a luxury cruise, or of travelling with Seabourn, why not pin this post for later
Disclosure: I travelled as a guest of Seabourn Cruises – for more information check their website