This is probably the only time you will ever come here. You only have to do this once. You never have to do this again.
This is what I thought to myself just before I dived into to the turquoise, yet freezing, waters of the Blue Eye, a natural spring in southern Albania. The water looked so beautiful. So inviting.
I opened my eyes under the water, taking in the vibrant colours around me, and then pushed up to the surface.
“This isn’t so bad,” I called out to the guys I met in Sarande who I’d come here with. I floated on my back, allowing myself to be pushed around by the current.
“Can you get my camera out and take a photo?”
It was this sentence that made me realise I was struggling to talk. My heart felt a little funny. My head was hurting. I couldn’t form my words properly.
Holy mother of …..
This water is cold!!!!
I’m never one to swear much, but even I was impressed with the vocabulary of curse words that ran through my head while I tried to smile for the camera. The water was so cold I felt it inside more than out. I was chilled to the bone.
I forced my legs to take me out of the water and immediately felt better, relishing the warmth of the sun.
The Blue Eye (Syri i Kalter in Albania) is one of the many incredible sights I’ve seen in Albania that I knew nothing about. Judging by the busload of Vietnamese tourists at the edge of the water when I arrived, my ignorance is as much my fault as it is Albania’s, which has yet to work out how to market itself to touristsn.
It would be so easy to drive right by the turn off and not at all be enticed to find out what lies beyond the rusty arched sign reading “Welcome to Blue Eye”.
For the more informed, The Blue Eye is a must-see attraction in this part of the country, which is little more than an hour’s drive from the Greek border. The Blue Eye is a spring that’s at least 50m deep. That’s as far as divers have explored, but it may extend further. The actual opening to the spring is quite small compared to its depth, but still wide enough for the more adventurous visitors to jump off the side of a viewing platform into the water.
My fear of heights meant jumping off the platform was never going to happen, but I think my entry to the water was still impressive. I’m usually very slow to enter the water, even when the temperature is quite warm. I shuffle in, gasping every time the water moves up and inch and very rarely put my head under. But this time I strode confidently into the water (repeating my “you never have to do this again” mantra) and dived in without another thought.
During the communist reign, the public couldn’t visit the area. It could only be visited by the communist elite. Now there are some restaurants, cafes and accommodation not far from the water, but the services are very much to Albanian standards. The public toilet near the car park was absolutely disgusting, which is common in Albania, but given several busloads of foreign tourists visit here every day, you would think there would be better facilities.
The water is a striking deep blue, which is how it’s got its name. The depth of the spring makes it look darker in the centre, giving the impression of the centre of an eye. Further along from the hole, the water is a lighter colour, but just as stunning. A sign by the water said the temperature was 10C. I’m not sure how accurate that is, but I think it was the coldest water I have ever been in. Judging by how quickly the guys who jumped in swam out, I wasn’t the only one to find it chilly.
Not a lot of people swim (only one other guy went in while we were there), and I can’t really blame them. The water looks so beautiful, but it is so bloody cold.
If you go
The Blue Eye is about 15km from Sarande. The site is about 2km along a gravel road from the main road to Gjirokaster.
It is possible to get their on public transport. From Sarande, catch the bus to Gjirokaster, or visa versa, and ask the driver to drop you at Syri i Kalter. You will have to walk the 2km to the Blue Eye. Getting a bus back can be trickier. You can stand on the road and see if you can flag down a bus, or you will have to hitchhike.
Entry to the Blue Eye is 50LEK per person.