What’s it all about, Albania? A sleeping beauty, once isolated by communist dictatorship, awakened in the 1990’s, now vying for a position in Europe’s competitive tourism market. The good news is, with very few tourists around, you will probably feel like the only adventurer on the road. The infrastructure may still be developing, but the wild natural beauty can be enjoyed mountain biking, rafting, kayaking, backpacking, or simply travelling round in your camper van. The country is full of cultural treasures, the beaches are pristine and uncrowded and all at a bargain price, by European standards anyway.
For history and culture lovers there is heritage from Illyrian, Greek, Roman and Ottoman times with plenty of sites and ruins to visit. In the far south the ancient city of Butrint and further up country, Balkan architecture in the stone city of Gjirokaster. In the central belt, Berat known as the ‘Museum City’, the Apollonia Archaeological Park near Fier, and in the northern city of Shkodër, located on the shores of Lake Skadar at the boarder of Montenegro, you will find a tragic legend mured in the ruins of Rozafa Castle.
Durres is the second largest and biggest port city in Albania and considered the cultural capital with many events and festivals taking place. What to see: the City Walls, Amphitheatre (built in the 2nd Century AD), Roman Thermal Baths, Byzantine Forum and Archaeological Museum. Fast expanding as a beach resort, the newer buildings hide an ancient city beneath. Considered an important tourist hotspot in Albania, Durres is a great combination for holidaymakers to have fun in the sun with cultural stimulation on tap.
Tirana, the capital is located some 35 kilometres inland from Durres. A charming, colourful city, where folk are friendly, if not a little curious towards tourists. Skanderbeg Square forms the centre featuring an impressive equestrian statue representing the Albanian national hero, George Kastrioti Skanderbeg, riding his horse in battle against the Ottoman Empire. Blloku is widely known as the entertainment and shopping district in the city offering lots of boutiques, trendy cafes and bars.
For magnificent views, head into the Dajti Mountain National Park, the ‘natural balcony of Tirana’, and enjoy a wonderful panorama of the lowlands. Another excursion to the small mountain town of Kruje, also known as the ‘Balcony of the Adriatic’, affords spectacular views across the surrounding region and out to sea. Kruja Castle is the focal attraction with the Skanderbeg National Museum within its grounds.
Between Viola and Saranda, the Albanian Riviera is perhaps the Mediterranean’s most remote and least developed stretch of coastline, comparable to its Italian counterpart but much quieter, where the seas are quite empty and the mountainous backdrop hides small, romantic villages, perfect for day trips.
Time to slow down the pace? For a low cost vacation with traditional cuisine, culture and unspoiled beaches, Albania is one of Europe's newest holiday destinations, so why not go now before the rest of the world finds out!