ALBANIA HAS IT ALL

FROM THE MALDIVES TO NORWAY’S FJORDS, FROM RIVIERA TO UNESCO SITES, FROM GASTRONOMIC DELIGHTS & WINE CANTEEN’S TO HOSPITABLE PEOPLE WAITING TO WELCOME YOU!

Interview with Poli Loman, founder of the unique travel organization: TravellingAlbania B.V., who will tell us why we should visit Albania and why we should do it now!

Source: Pixabay, photographer: Ervin Gjata

A DREAM COME TRUE

Albania has been my family’s ‘secret’ destination to lovely adventurous and affordable vacations for almost fifteen years. My boys, now 18 and 13 loved discovering the unknown and enjoyed visiting places almost none of their school friends had heard of. The untouched beauty of the Albanian Alps and the marvelous beaches of the south that we had almost to ourselves, the warm and hospitable people were what we returned for, although the standard of tourism was way lower compared to neighbor countries like Italy and Greece.

Anno 2019, the situation has changed. Albania has been discovered by the journalists, the Marco Polo’s of the Balkan, the ‘early adopters’, and they have praised this country’s natural beauty, despite the image of it being a poor ex-communist country. Now it’s time for others to discover it. This is why I started TravellingAlbania.com. I know the country like no other and can offer you the best travel experience, because as it holds for developing countries, what you see is not always what you get.

Personally, I would like my students, my colleagues, my neighbors, my business associates; my town, the whole county of Zuid Holland to experience what Albania has to offer because of the unique travel experience it offers. Why not raise up all the Netherlands and Belgium to visit Albania! One morning I woke up realizing that in my dream I had been showing the highlights of my country to the Royal Family and their girls. We had a lot of fun and I even taught them a bit of Albanian too. They are in for an adventure, and Maxima absolutely loved Albania. ‘We’ll come back soon,’ she said, and I smiled as she waved me goodbye at the airport.

A BEAUTIFUL PEARL, HIDDEN BY ITS COMMUNIST PAST

In the media, Albania is metaphorized as: ‘Europe’s hidden gem’, ‘a beautiful pearl’, ‘Europe’s best-kept secret’. In my opinion, all well deserved. The Dutch, open-minded and adventurous as they are, have already spotted Albania. I believe others who have not heard of the beauty of Albania will love discovering it too because most of the Dutch people prefer sunshine and beautiful beaches to rainy days in their own country. Above all, it’s time to see and experience something unique because they have been several times to Italy, seen France, enjoyed Spain, been to Greece, done Turkey, so Albania is the new destination, that has it all and is awaiting to fascinate them. It’s a unique and authentic country! No country like it. It’s caught between worlds, in every sense imaginable. For all these reasons and for the fact that Albania reached the top 10 Best Value Destinations for 2019 on Lonely Planet competition, it could be wise to put it on your bucket list.

Old bunker from communist times, photographer: Gitte Moller

THE MALDIVES ARE NOW IN KSAMIL

A paradise beach and a mojito are not too far. The Maldives are now in Ksamil, Albania, just 2,5 hours away by plane. Budget airlines have already spotted Albania as a destination of great value and the connection between the two countries has improved. Fly with Transavia from Amsterdam to Tirana, for the best connection to the country. But other airlines like Lufthansa, TUI-fly Austrian airlines, fly there too with just one stop on the way.

Source: Pixabay, photographer: Alket Islami 

NATURE, RIVIERA, MOUNTAINS, VALLEYS

Even the Greek do praise the lovely beautiful beaches Albania has above their own; and the Italians are jealous for places like Ksamil, Dhërmi, Jalë, Himarë, Borsh, real gems of nature; for the breathtaking Albanian Riviera that runs from Vlora to Butrint. Drive this route and keep holding your breath! Mazda published an article about this route last year praising it as one of the beautiful routes of the Balkan. But Albania offers more than just a beautiful Riviera.

Gjipe beach, photographer: Alket Islami
Paragliding at the Albanian sea coast, photographer: Alket Islami
Sarande, source: Pixabay, photographer: Pixabay user, 12019

Ever heard of the accursed mountains of the north that raise fear, impose power and make you shiver? Have you heard of Theth, the beauty of the Valbona valley and the seven Lura lakes? Of the stunning artificial lakes of the north (Vau i Dejes & Fierza) that give you the feeling of Norway’s fjords? All these for a fraction of the costs you would have paid in Switzerland and Norway.

Theth, source: Pixabay, photographer: Peter_h

GETTING TELEPORTED IN THE PAST

In Albania, people get teleported in the past so now and then, especially when visiting the UNESCO cities of Berat and Gjirokaster. You land for example in the Ottoman time perk. Forget Archeon or any other museum. Live it, experience it as you walk in the narrow streets of the stone city. Visit the temple of Butrint, which tells the story of healing and worship in ancient times.

Gjirokaster, source: Pixabay, photographer: Ervin Gjata
Amphitheater Butrint, source: Pixabay, photographer: Robs 123
Berat, photographer: Poli Loman

The turbulent past that Albania has experienced, five hundred years of Ottoman occupation and fifty years of extreme communism with 750 000 bunkers built to protect Albania from invasions, make Albania’s history very interesting.

TIRANA, THE CAPITAL OF ALBANIA

Tirana has turned into a lively and attractive destination. The modern and the communist styles co-exist in peace with the first one gaining more and more terrain. The former Blloku area, where the communist leaders lived in luxury and protected by guards, is now full of restaurants, clubs and vivid of life, open to everyone. To people interested to learn more about the history, Tirana offers a handful of good museums that are worth seeing like: The National Art Gallery, Bunkart 1, (was the underground residence of the Politburo in the event of a chemical attack); Bunkart 2 museum, is a memorial place for all who were persecuted by the system; Shtepia e gjetheve (The house of leaves,- headquarters of the Gestapo service of Albania) and many more. There are free guided tours starting from Skanderbeg square if you would like to discover the city by walking. Have a look at the buildings in Tirana. The center is well built by an Italian architect, but the rest is a product of communistic style; simple, plain, little beauty, built more for survival than domestic pleasure, that even the paint over of prime minister Edi Rama does not make this apartment complexes attractive, at least not to me. But I realize that just for this reason it is attractive to the world that has not seen it.

Tirana, photographer: Poli Loman
Tirana, Bunkart 1, photographer: Poli Loman
Inside the Bunkart 1, photographer: Poli Loman

GREAT FOOD, WINE AND BEER

In Albania, you will have your cake and eat it too. Most people are unaware of how delicious Albanian food is. In my opinion, food is one of the reasons why Albania should be on your bucket list, because the food is fresh, tasty and delicious. The prices are more than fair. Try the following dishes and you will not be disappointed.

grilled fish, photographer: Poli Loman

In the category meat, try Qofte: the fried meatballs are seasoned with oregano and served with salad, bread and raw onions; the city of Korça has its variant called Kërnacka, which is grilled minced meat in finger form. Grilled lamb or pork: You’ll find it everywhere, mostly in the typical grill houses. Order a big plate of mixed grilled meat with a salad and a local beer and enjoy! Tavë Kosi: is one of the most beloved dishes in the country. Lamb is baked in an earthenware dish with eggs and yogurt. The end result is a quiche-like dish, with tender meat and a light, creamy egg topping. From the poultry I would choose Fileto Pule Me Panna Dhe Kerpudha: This is grilled chicken breast with a cream sauce and fresh mushrooms.

In the category fish, try grilled freshly caught Shrimp when you visit the seaside, or grilled Koran from the lake of Ohrid. Grilled Belushka smaller white, rosy trout fish is very delicious too.

In the category vegetables: I suggest Fergese: a thick dip of green and red peppers, tomatoes and onions, cooked down with cottage cheese and spices. Perime Në Skarë: almost all meals go with grilled vegetables. Typically, eggplant, zucchini, tomatoes, onions and peppers are the vegetables of choice, sometimes cheese will be crumbled on top. Speca me Gjizë: Yellow, orange or red peppers are stuffed with rice, cottage cheese and spices, before being baked in the oven, bursting with flavor, and a healthy choice.

Speca me Gjizë, photographer: Flora Xhemani Baba
Speca me oriz, photographer: Flora Xhemani Baba

Byrek is a delicious pie made of filo pastry and a filling of choice. Leeks and cottage cheese, tomatoes and onions, pumpkin (sweet or salty), spinach are the most used fillings. Korça has a traditional version called Lakror me dy pete; which is a thin variant of byrek, baked in a special hot heater called saç. (see picture) Pizza, sometimes even tastier than in Italy itself. Many Albanians learned the secrets form the Italians and came back to open their own restaurants. Pizza, pasta, risotto, taste just as good in Albania etc. From the category of sweets, the most familiar sweet is baklava; a dessert made of filo pastry, walnuts and syrup, (traditionally the New Year’s dessert); Petulla which is fried yeasted dough, is served with sugar or honey. This is the traditional dessert offered to visitors when a child is born. Shëndetlie: This honey walnut cake is a typical Albanian dessert which often is completed by addinga hot syrup seasoned with vanilla and cloves. This dessert is delicious and isn’t too sweet either. But newer desserts like Trilece and Sufle Cokollate which were not known to us during communism, have found their way into the traditional desserts.

Trilece: is a cake made with three different sorts of milk”; milk, cream, and concentrated milk. Calling it “delicious” is not enough. Trilece is a pleasure for the plate and a fresh cake perfect for the warm Albanian days. Sufle Cokollate is the chocolate soufflé you have already tried at home, but with the difference that in Albania it’s full of chocolate with a bit of cake inside, extremely rich and very delicious.

ALBANIA’S WINE

During the communistic time, Albania only produced two wines: red and white. Today, it is seeing a renaissance of its dozen or so native grapes in 30 innovative wineries. The winemakers are digging deep into their native grape stock, with impressive results

The Uka Farm near Tirana airport, a biodynamic vineyard is the only place on Earth where you can drink a glass of chilled ceruja.

The Cobo winery near Berat, tries 100-bottle “micro-fermentations” each year. From a single lonely vine, Çobo has revived Puls i Bardhë, another tree-climbing grape. It pairs well with indigenous Berat olives, which Cobo serves with cellar dégustations. Our Wine and Dine Culinary tour bring you to the best wineries and top culinary places Albania has to offer! If your taste buds are already activated, send us an inquiry mail at info@travellingalbania.com for a tour description.

MUSIC & DANCE

I would characterize Albanians as pleasure-seekers! Their love of music and dance is reflected in the centuries-old traditions of use of special instruments as ‘çiftelia’ and ‘lahuta’ in the north; iso-polyphonic music in the southern region and the serenades of the Korça’s region in the east. Different regions have represented their traditions and spirit in the perfectly crafted traditional costumes and regional intricate folk dances called ‘valle’. These last ones are part of almost every celebration and make sure that every wedding celebration continues until the wee hours of the morning. Our cultural tours bring you to places where you can experience the Albanian music and dance yourself.

 

Boy with çifteli, photographer: Flora Xhemani Baba

 

Museum in Korca, photographer: Poli Loman

VISIT IT NOW!

Albania is transforming rapidly. The serene nature has started suffering from lack of well-thought (urban)plans. How many beaches will be saved from concrete being built without any coordination? How much of the past will be preserved and not destroyed because of urgent economic decisions? As Albania is caught in between worlds, I wonder till when will you see the bunkers, the villagers still using their animals to plow; the shepherds and their sheep that sometimes even block the national roads? The older men sitting on city benches playing checkers and drinking ‘raki’ and older women sitting on the stones in front of their doors, whatsup-ing old style with each-other? Life still has a slower pace in such places, but for how long?

AUTHENTIC ALBANIA, LET ME SHOW IT

In our tours, we have combined different elements of authentic Albania. You can enjoy the food, but then this is directly related to culture, so we tell you a bit more about it. Our professional guides are passionate about their country and love telling jokes too. Cultural tours are one of our favorites, followed by adventure, gastronomy, walking, and cycling tours. I recommend the Highlights of the West Coast tour as a getting to know the place tour.

www.travellingAlbania.com

If you only have one weekend to spend, just to get a taste of Albania, try our Weekend in Tirana tour. We have chosen the best accommodations so that you can enjoy a great private holiday too. As I’m giving this interview, I’m preparing packages for the summer of 2019. You are not too late to decide on Albania as your destination for your summer holidays. Some of you have nothing planned for the May vacation. How about Albania? Let me fix you a great week! See the coupon at the end of the article.

Ohrid lake, photographer: Poli Loman

Are you not bound to school holidays, I recommend visiting Albania in the months of May, June or September because these are the best months to visit. Albania has 300 days of sun anyway, so during these months, it’s warm enough to sunbathe or walk, not too hot, totally not crowded.

Do you think you do not fit in a pre-arranged tour? Do you like arranging it yourself? No problem. Let us know and we will send you a free information package on Albania. If you still need our advice, we are happy to advise you for a small fee. Our knowledge could make the difference between a good and bad experience in Albania. It happens, and not only in Albania. So send us an e-mail at info@travellingalbania.com and tell us what you are looking for, and we will find the right accommodation for you, bring you in contact with the right private guide or mediate for that car you need to hire, but then much cheaper than other agencies. All this will make your holiday arrangements so much smoother and eventually save you a great deal of money.

Are you into supporting sustainable tourism? Please consider our Agritourism tour. By visiting you help the farmers too.

Should you wish to combine the tour with another country and see a bit more of the Balkan? TravellingAlbania.com has tours that combine Albania with Montenegro, Kosovo, Macedonia, and Greece. Even if you are planning for next year, it’s worth orienting in what these Balkan countries have to offer. Join our newsletter’s list and do not miss out on our offers.

Albania has many faces, all authentic, all beautiful. But let me not forget the most important of it all: the Albanian people. They are generous people, easy to become befriended with, trustworthy and hospitable. They welcome and love foreigners that visit their country. Meet some of them and see for yourself. In case you will be considering visiting Albania soon, this voucher can come in handy.

All the photos, besides Pixabay, used in this article are the property of the photographers who took them and may not be used without written permission of the photographers

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