Marjela is an excellent guide who I thoroughly recommend. She is obviously very bright, very friendly and patient, and is very knowledgable and rightly passionate about her country. Our time was short, we knew little about Albania and wanted to make the most of what little time we had. Marjela more than exceeded our expectations.
We were staying in Corfu and booked a Finikas Lines ferry trip through a travel agent in Gouvia for myself and my 17 year old daughter - which proved to be a great fit. Marjela became a great role model for my daughter.
I have long been fascinated by Albania since the Hoxha era - I was (ignorantly) a little nervous of traveling there, but realised after a little research that this is actually one of the safest places you can visit!
I was aware that Sarande itself is not a great place to spend a full day in itself and we didn't want to herded around in a coach for an overlong hot tramp around Butrint so I looked for a guide. Marjela offered honest advice about what we could achieve in a day and we agreed a plan. I had initially wanted to spend some time in Gjirokaster, but she advised against this given the time available (it; would have meant spending too much time in the car)
I have to say my expectations about the our were exceeded! Unfortunately we were brought over on a later slow ferry rather than the fast ferry we were promised by Finikas, knocking 2 hours off our stay in Albania. This was no fault of Marjela's but she quickly adapted to the situation.
After meeting us, we were presented with some Albanian pastries from the bakery (really appreciated and a lovely touch) and immediately whisked off to Lëkurësi Castle in car (VW Passat) driven by Aldo. This place has a fascinating history and has breathtaking views over towards Ksamil, Sarande, Corfu and the Ionian Sea.
Next we went to Blue Eye, which was really, really busy. It's beautiful, but slow to get to given the amount of traffic on narrow dirt roads leading to the site.
Given the time we lost on the ferry trip over, we only had time for a whistle stop tour of Butrint which actually suited us as it was rather hot.
Then we went to Ksamil, a modern resort, for lunch in a good beachside restaurant with a very pleasant view of the beach. Very cheap compared to Corfu.
Marjela was very accomodating in my request to stop top pick up some Albanian wine on the way back to Sarande and we had just enough time at the end to stop for a drink in a beachside bar before getting the ferry back at 4.15.
I'm not sure I would spend a two week holiday in the area but I would definitely recommend a visit to what is an up and coming area of an up and coming country. Albanian people on the whole seem to very friendly (except for one or two when they are sitting behind a car steering wheel!) and thankfully quite a few local people speak english. My trip has encouraged me to someday go back to Albania and spend a longer period exploring other parts of the country.
My only suggestion to Marjela - perhaps you could make an option of eating traditional Albanian food? It's far from a criticism, the lunch option we had was good - but it's the sort of food you get in Corfu or in fact anywhere in the Mediterranean. However, I will leave this to the expert.