Quite possibly Albania is the most underestimated country in Europe and we’ll tell you why. Because it has been run by a Communist dictatorship for more than 40 years, development has been really slow but the potential for tourism is huge! You just have to give it a chance and wait to see what it has in store.
Montenegro, Greece to the south, Kosovo to the north-east, the Rupublic of Macedonia to the east and then there is the sea. To the south-west is the Ionian Sea and to the west, the Adriatic. With its craggy coves, pebbled peninsulas and sandy beaches, Albania’s coastline looks just like any other picturesque landscape on a Mediterranean postcard.
Two steps in the capital
Tirana, the Albanian capital, has seen its fair share of demonstrations and protests, which eventually saw the collapse of the Communist regime. Today Tirana is just as buzzing as any capital, as any emerging metropolis. In the last decade the city’s population has almost doubled due to a growing work force. With it, arts and cultural programs have also exploded.
The Old Town is easy to navigate on foot but hard to navigate without a map. The narrow alleys and streets will have you turned around in no time (but that adds to the fun!). Sights to see include the National Museum of History, the National Art Gallery, the Fortress of Justinian, the stunning 18th century Et’hem Bey Mosque and Tirana University.
Like Istanbul, Tirana is struck by contrasting cultures living side by side in one city. While half of Tirana holds on to Western Europe, the other half looks to its ancient roots from the Middle East and its ties to Russia. Just take a look at the buildings and architecture: some Soviet-styled, others are left over from Roman and Ottoman times.
Between coast and cultural heritage
Summer travel? All roads lead to the Albanian coastline: quiet coves, unspoilt beaches (a cliché that actually rings true here). Saranda, Vlora, Himara… these are just the start of the best coastal towns to visit. Add to the mix a great Mediterranean climate and you’ve got the right mix for a perfect holiday in Albania.
Let’s talk heritage. Albania has three UNESCO World Heritage sights: Gjirokastra (with 23 museums!), Berat (with 2000 years of history) and the Greco-Roman ruins at Butrint.
Scattered throughout Albania are somewhere near 750,000 bunkers, most of which were built during the Communist regime of Enver Hoxha to protect the Albanian people from enemy attacks. Today many have been transformed into public spaces like shops, galleries, warehouses, even public toilets.
Travelling to Albania
From the UK, it’s easiest to reach Albania via London. Austrian Airlines, Turkish Airlines, British Airways and Adria Airways all offer cheap flights to Tirana. While it may cost more to reach the Balkans than say, Spain, you’ll certainly find prices a lot more affordable once you arrive.
By Katie | May 16, 2012