Now is the time to visit Albania
Albania it is a country as unknown as authentic, so ignored even in the tourist circuits as surprising. Isolated for decades by a strong and surreal communist dictatorship and following a brutal economic crisis that led to the Albanian diaspora throughout the world, it is evolving by leaps and bounds. An ancient culture, uncontaminated natural spaces, practically virgin beaches, delicious cuisine and the warmth of its inhabitants make Albania a guaranteed success. The closest of the exotic countries, one of the last unknown countries in Europe, can become One of the emerging destinations of the coming years.
Albania, the last virgin destination of Europe © Alamy
A RICH HISTORY
The history of Albania is millenary and, at the same time, it is still very much alive since the conflict in Kosovo is still latent. The Tirana National History Museum, whose facade covers a fantastic mosaic, chronologically chronicles the domain of ilirios, greeks, romans, byzantines, fascists, communists… His collection includes many of the country's archeological treasures and is a magnificent introduction to the suffering but rich Albanian history that nothing has to envy to that of many other European nations.
The small Balkan country is also characterized by the peaceful coexistence of four religions. In Albania, a constitutionally secular state that allows all beliefs, coexist without problems or tensions a tolerant Islamic doctrine by the influence of the Byzantine Empire, the Catholic, the Orthodox by the influence of Greece and the bektasí, a current that mixes elements of Sufi Islam, Christianity and Judaism. All religions are discreetly professed in a harmony that will surprise us, beyond what we have been able to read that occurs in other countries in the area.
Tirana National History Museum © Alamy Stock Photo
Albania currently has two UNESCO World Heritage Sites, both cultural. The first is Butrinto, a city in the south of the country, near the border with Greece and which was successively colonized by Greeks, Romans, Byzantines and Venetians and which, after being abandoned in the Middle Ages, is today a first level archeological site with representative ruins of the different occupations.
The historical centers of Berat and Gjirokastra They are also a World Heritage Site and a must see. Located in the south of the country, in the valley of Drinos river, the historic Gjirokastra is one of the few examples of Ottoman city in good condition. Structured around its 12th century citadel, its Turkish houses (kulles) coexist with other typically Balkan back palaces. A mosque, several churches, its imposing castle and the disturbing Cold War tunnel unknown to Albanians until 1990 complete the visit to a charming city.
Meanwhile, Berat, just an hour and a half from Tirana, is considered the oldest city in Albania, since it dates from the 6th century B.C. Crossed by the Osum River and known as “the city of a thousand windows” it has up to three old towns: the Muslim Mangalem, Gorica and Kalaja, inside the medieval fortress located on the highest hill in the city.
Shköder © Alamy
ARCHAEOLOGICAL REMAINS, MEDIEVAL CASTLES AND COMMUNIST DRESSES
Albania is a country with numerous archeological parks and castles fruit of the different invading civilizations. Among the first stand out the Apollonia and the Durrës Roman amphitheater, both just over an hour by road from Tirana. Among the castles, the one of Rozafa stands out, offering stunning views of the northern city of Shköder, surrounded by the lake of the same name, the largest of the Balkans, while that of Gjirokastra is one of the largest castles in the Balkans and is famous for having been used as a prison for the dissidents of the communist regime. Its views over the valley of the Drinos River are fantastic and an American fighter killed in World War II adds a curious element to your visit.
Bunkers are everywhere © Alamy
The communist vestiges of the regime of Enver Hoxha They are an inevitable part of the Albanian landscape. And Albania was for many years, along with North Korea, one of the most brutal communist dictatorships in the world, an isolated nation where it was practically impossible to leave for Albanians and enter for foreigners. The rest of the planet only knew "its truth" through Radio Tirana, its broadcaster. Today there are still many traces of that dark past. Among them, near two hundred thousand bunkers as a result of the psychosis of his tyrannical dictator before any possible outside invasion and that we will find ourselves continuously as part of the landscape as well as numerous buildings of communist air and some disturbing tunnels built during the cold war.
Valbona Valley © Alamy
NATURE AND PURE BEACHES
The orography of Albania, similar in size to Catalonia, is fundamentally mountainous, up to a 70% of the territory is occupied by mountain ranges, mountains and mountains with an average altitude close to one thousand meters. Among the best nature destinations are the valleys of Thethi and Valbona in the north, difficult to access but deserved reward, and its rivers and lakes around which an incipient active tourism industry is beginning to develop. Among them stand out the Shköder lake, shared with Montenegro and that of Ohrid, a spectacular place that shares a border with Macedonia.
Thethi Valley © Alamy
The Albanian "Riviera" is another of the great attractions of the country. The coast of Albania comprises 360 kilometers spread between two seas. While the north, from the border with Montenegro to the bay of Vlorë, is bathed by the Adriatic and gathers noteworthy enclaves, are more crowded and contaminated so the true jewel of the Albanian coast is its southern coast, that of the Ionian Sea, between Vlorë and Greece, known as the Albanian Riviera. Despite being more rugged, beautiful coves and uncontaminated beaches are hidden among its cliffs like Jal, Borsch and Bunec They are still almost a secret.
The Albanian Riviera, in the Ionian Sea © Alamy
DELICIOUS GASTRONOMY AND RICO FOLCLORE
Albania offers a first division cuisine due to the influence of different civilizations and conquerors. Natural fusion and variety characterize a cuisine that mixes Turkish, Greek, Balkan and Italian influences. The raw materials, of land and sea, are fresh and of great quality and together with the usual presence of aromatic herbs allow to elaborate Stews, stews and baked or grilled meats that will make us suck our fingers while we give lunch or dinner with wines of the country more than acceptable.
Albanian music and folklore will not leave us indifferent either. Albania is one of the Balkan countries with a richer popular culture and its songs, poetry and colorful clothes turn local festivals into an authentic enjoyment of indigenous traditions. In traditional Albanian music, the single voice songs in the north while in the south choral music is typical, a cappella or accompanied by various instruments, either bagpipes or some typical Albanian instruments such as lahuta or the çifteli.
Gastronomy specializing in roasted and stewed meats © Alamy
AMBILITY ALBANESA AND THE ENVIRONMENT OF TIRANA
It is difficult to find in Europe a more cordial, hospitable and open people like the Albanian. Its history and the fact that an important part of Albanians live outside the country have reinforced their feeling of welcome and kindness and make them want the visitor to take the best possible opinion of their country. The communication is really simple since although we will not understand anything from Albanian, a large part of the population speaks Italian, young people defend themselves usually in english and even some talk about Spanish, learned to a large extent watching series and soap operas on television.
By the way, if you have heard of Albania in the wake of mafias, drugs, prostitution and organized crime do not fear, you will not see any trace of it. The so-called Albanian-Kosovar mafia must operate outside its borders or be very discreet because traveling around the country it is really difficult to feel its presence just as there is no picaresque with foreign tourists, something worth assessing today.
Ambience in Tirana © Alamy
To check the Albanian character, you just have to get carried away by the Tirana environment. Although in the rest of the country the nightlife is rather scarce, in the capital the thing changes and we will find a atmosphere that invites to socialize, especially on weekends and in summer. Its best cafes, restaurants, terraces and elegant pubs are concentrated in the blloku neighborhood and they allow you to have a wonderful dinner for a very contained price, try the local coffee or beer (Korça or Tirana) or dare with him raki, the strong national alcoholic beverage. If we want to spend the night, its fun nightclubs and clubs (though smoking is still allowed in the premises) will delight nightlife as the friendly character of Albanians will allow us to meet people easily.
The good atmosphere in Albania is spread © Alamy
NOW IS THE TIME TO VISIT ALBANIA
Spending a vacation in Albania is much cheaper than doing it in Spain, even adding transportation. Most connections are via Italy, from several Italian cities you can connect with low-cost companies that they fly to Tirana, at the moment the only airport in the country. Once there we will realize that the prices are really affordable. We can go to high quality hotels and have lunch or dinner in the best restaurants, so in Spain it would cost us to do it in medium-class accommodations and places. The same goes for trips within the country, where if you do not want to travel in the usual vans or buses You can always rent a car or hire it with a driver but carefully as many Albanians still drive "that way."
The best time to discover Albania is now, better in the coming months than in a few years. It is always better to visit a country when it is not yet a massive destination, just at the moment when tourist infrastructures allow you to enjoy comfort but without the hordes of tourists invading it. The Albanian authorities have not yet opted for a determined promotion of its many tourist attractions so Albania is still a relatively unknown, uncontaminated, authentic country and that, without a doubt, will make us want to return at the end of our first visit.
Berat © Alamy