Huge mountains overflowing with incredible landscapes, interesting historical cities, a capital full of atmosphere in every corner and beaches that the typical Caribbean destinations would already like for itself… Albania is a jewel yet to be polished, a diamond in the rough, and although few are still those who venture to get lost in its convoluted roads in search of what makes it special, we wanted to reveal all its charms.
If you’ve barely heard of this enigmatic country in the Balkans, don’t worry: it’s quite common. For 41 years Albania was under the oppressive regime of the dictator Enver Hoxha, who forbade anyone to enter or leave his territory. Once it opened up to the world in 1991, it took a long time to recover, although its name is beginning to ring out more and more loudly on the lists of undiscovered and underrated destinations.
Now you get used to the idea that the easiest way to get around the country is to rent a car. You’ll have the absolute freedom to stop wherever and whenever you want, and in Albania, you will want to do this all the time. And enjoy the views that will appear before you on the other side of the window, enjoy the essence of a land that still maintains much of its virgin landscape, and enjoy the pleasure of travelling at your own pace, as and when you like. This is how you will connect, rest assured, with this beautiful country.
The Route by Car
Is usual to start by exploring the capital, a frequent point of entry to the country: Tirana. Its ramshackle streets full of buildings reminiscent of its communist past will not leave you indifferent: on every corner, in every detail, you will see something that will catch your eye.
But so will the traces of his years under the Ottoman rule: the minaret of the former Et’hem Bey Mosque, whose construction was completed in 1823, stands out next to the huge Skanderberg Square, dedicated to the great national hero. There you can observe and enjoy the scenes that will take place before you: the tyrants are constantly crossing this vast space, either with shopping bags hanging from their arms, walking in a relaxed way or riding their bikes.
Presiding over the square is the National Historical Museum, with its impressive mosaic that is already an emblem of the country and, of course, a sculpture of the honoured guest: Skanderberg himself.
These are only some proposals for your stay in Tirana: climbing to the top of its Clock Tower, visiting its old bunkers from the communist era reconverted into museums – Hoxha built them all over the country for fear of an enemy attack -, going into its churches and synagogues or admiring the Pyramid building, built to house a museum about the great dictator and used after the arrival of democracy in 1991 as a congress hall: today abandoned.
On top of that, in Blloku life flows between nouvelle cuisine restaurants, galleries and bars. It does so during the day, but much more so at night, which are usually a lot of fun.
Get into nature
The time has come to put on your trekking boots and go, with open arms, to breathe the fresh air in one of the most impressive landscapes of Albania. Get ready to contemplate the green of its mountains, to talk to the locals, to learn about their deep-rooted traditions, to disconnect from the hustle and bustle of everyday life and feel a pure nature.
One of the best-known routes is the one that joins, in a 15-kilometre walk, Valbona with Theth. Nature in all its splendour will overwhelm you from the first moment, so take advantage, that not every day you can enjoy a show like this.
Kruja, the origin of the national hero
We told you about him a little further up: Skanderberg, appreciated by all Albanians, was one of the great historical figures of Albania and, look where he was born in this small village anchored in the mountains. The reason for his heroism was his courage in standing up to the Turks, whom he fought with his army to the death.
Getting to Kruja by car will not be too much trouble from Tirana: just an hour’s drive – as long as the traffic is not too bad, which is rarely the case in this country – will leave you at the foot of his castle, where a beautiful oriental bazaar is set up – where, by the way, you can get all those traditional souvenirs you like, as it is undoubtedly the best market in the whole country – and a fairytale citadel.
A little higher up, where its old castle stands, you will find a panoramic view of the most beautiful town. Also up there, in a part that has been renovated, is the Skanderberg Museum, where you can learn and discover everything about this character if you have perhaps been left wanting more.
Berat is one of the highlights of Albania. This beautiful fairytale city was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2008. You should have no doubts about including this stop in your route around Albania. It’s a must.
And you will do so because as soon as you set foot in Berat, you will be overwhelmed with its Ottoman-style houses scattered on the mountainside. With their white facades, their countless windows and their cobbled streets through which you will want to wander aimlessly until you say enough is enough.
Founded by the Illyrians in the 4th century B.C., the experience of visiting Berat becomes amazing when the clouds that usually cover the top of Mount Tomorri dissolve and you can see the snow crowning its peak. Simply spectacular.
The city of stone: Girokastra
Even in this city in the heart of the country, you will need to pull on your buttocks and legs: walk and unwind your steep slopes so they will demand it of you.
With breathtaking views of the Drina Valley, Girokastra, also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, has two major attractions: on the one hand, its castle, which has crowned the city since the 13th century; and on the other, its old bazaar, made up of intricate streets with cobbled floors on which up to 600 beautiful monumental houses from the Ottoman era stand.
To fully enjoy the city of Girokastra must be walked, felt and lived without haste, as its legacy is very important for Albanian culture and history. Incidentally, the fact that it has remained intact over the years is precise because Enver Hoxha was born there and he made sure that during the dictatorship it did not come to any harm.
To replenish, you can visit one of the numerous small family restaurants where you can try local delicacies at a very competitive price.
Wow! What beaches!
After and so many intrepid adventures It’s time to rest!
Please, when you visit Albania, don’t forget to put a swimsuit and a towel in your suitcase because the Adriatic and the Ionian are waiting to wonder. And yes, Albania is bathed by both seas, hence those turquoise blue waters that you would think were it not for the fact that you can see them with your own eyes.
it’s usually typical to start with the northern beaches (Adriatic Sea), which leave behind places as appealing as the port city of Dürres, and later, the Ionian area. And when we say Ionian, we mean Vlorë and its lost coves, an excursion to the Karaburun Peninsula, a beachfront cabin at Gjipe Beach, a dip in any of the waters that bathe Himarë, a day in the sun at Jale Beach or an incursion to the area of Ksamil worth a visit.
Another World Heritage Site by UNESCO in this area is the Archaeological Complex of Butrinto, some Roman-Hellenic-Byzantine-Italian ruins.
Because of all this, we believe that it is always a good time to visit Albania, but above all, from spring to early autumn.