Albania is a small country – about the size of Belgium – in the western Balkans, with an incredible wealth of landscapes, colors, and atmospheres. Due to its location on the Adriatic Sea, it has a partly Mediterranean climate, of course not without the accompanying kitchen of honest, sun-ripened vegetables, lots of fruit, and fish directly from the sea. Agrofarms – such as Uka, Huqi, Mrizi i Zanave – are great places to get to know this kitchen, but also the simplest hostels in the mountains bring meals to the table that you will remember for a long time to come.
Coast and mountains
The Albanian Alps and also the mountainous area at Peshkopi and Korçë are a dream for adventurous hikers, while the Vjosë valley at Përmet is a mystical green oasis where you can wander in wonder for days. Along the 372 km long coast you will find dozens of sandy and gravel beaches, sheltered bays and dramatic cliffs rising from the sea, but also bird-rich wetlands such as the virgin Divjakë-Karavasta laguna, impressive old forests such as the Llogara pass on the Albanian Riviera and a treasure of pre-Christian monuments. The historic sites of Apollonia, Byllis, and Butrint are among the largest ‘candy stores’ in the world for historians and archaeologists.
If you want to get to know the Albanian routines and everyday life at your leisure, then Shkodër, Peshkopi, Pogradec, Korçë and Vlorë are ideal places, with their markets, car-free boulevards, coffee houses, churches, temples, mosques, and museums full of local color. Korçë is called ‘The Little Paris’ of Albania because of the traces of a brief French past, and the Museum of Medieval Art offers the absolute top when it comes to icons. However, the crown jewels of the urban beauty are Berat and Gjirokastër, both included on the UNESCO list of cultural heritage because of their unique Ottoman architecture. And the capital city of Tirana? Beautiful is different, tourists sometimes say, but Tirana is certainly interesting. It tingles and rustles from innovation and culture. The Blloku district can be an unforgettable surprise for culinary fans and spoiled merry- seekers.
Albania is becoming increasingly popular with outdoor fans and for good reason. For cyclists and motorcyclists, there are countless sensational quiet, winding mountain routes, for example, the SH22 in the north, the SH72 near Berat or the magnificent SH75 between Korçë and Përmet. In Dardhë and Pukë you will find ski slopes and other winter sports facilities, the Osum River at Çorovodë is fantastic for rafting, you can rent horses and mules everywhere to go up into the mountains, paragliding is done for example from Mount Dajt at Tirana or the Llogara- only at the start of the Albanian Riviera and you can dive on the island of Sazan off the coast of Vlorë, to name a few possibilities. Walking is still the most popular, in the mountain areas and the Vjosë valley, but also along the ancient Roman trade-route Via Egnatia that starts in Durrës and goes all the way to Istanbul (formerly Byzantium and Constantinople).
The Albanian population could be a reason in itself for visiting Albania. Where can you find so much kindness, so much openness, and open-mindedness? People in the less touristy parts of the country are particularly fond of foreign guests. For them, the incoming Germans, Dutch, and Polish tourist represent a world of abundance and freedom from which they may continue to dream forever. Perhaps it is strange that they do not look at you with envy. On the contrary. Out of hospitality, people would give up their bed to you and share their last crumb with you. Do you need anything, are you in need? They will always help you.
Hospitality is one of the core values of Albanian culture. A tradition too, rooted in the Kanun, a collection of legal texts from the Middle Ages. Some remote villages are still strongly dependent on this Kanun and the patriarchal organization described herein. Hospitality is important, the woman has little to say especially in the northern part of Albania, and the honor of the family is so sacred that it must be defended with life if necessary. Other local customs find expression in colorful local clothing, their own folk music and dances, and in food. For example, Korçë has its ‘lakror me saç’, a dough product that is baked with hot vegetables and herbs in piping hot coals, and Gjirokastër is proud of its ‘oshaf’, a refined dessert made of goat milk and figs.
Albania is one of the oldest civilizations in Europe. The first inhabitants settled around 1200 in the area by the sea, mostly at the mouths of rivers and on the tops of hills and mountains. Among the most prominent tribes were the Illyrians. They built houses, operated their own coins, traded and were notorious for their raids on the sea. They dominated the country for over a thousand years but became around 150 BC. overrun by the Romans, just like so many other smaller nations at the time. When Roman rule ended after more than five centuries, Albania became a province of the Byzantine Empire.
Even afterward, the area remained the focus of struggle and occupation. Ostrogoths, Visigoths, Bulgarians, Normans, Venetians, Angevin, they all wanted a foothold in the strategically so conveniently located land by the sea. It was the son of a wealthy tribal chief, Skanderbeg, who resisted the Ottomans in the area now called Albania at the end of the 15th century. Although the battle was eventually lost, Skanderbeg had brought together a people of rival lords and princes, thereby laying the foundation for an Albanian identity. He became the father of the country.
Around 1500 the Ottomans succeeded in adding the whole of Albania to the colossal area around the Mediterranean and Adriatic Sea that they had made their Empire. They ruled for more than four centuries, left many buildings and customs, and established Islam, which is the most important religion in Albania together with Orthodox Christianity.
Albanian freedom, obtained in 1912, lasted only a short while. The country was attacked and attacked from various sides. During and between the world wars it was mainly the Italians who left their mark, as you can see in the so-called fascist architecture of a number of buildings in the center of the capital. The Italians were chased away by the Germans in 1943.
It was the Albanian partisans who in turn drove the Germans out of the country in 1944. Enver Hoxha had emerged from their midst as a leader. He founded a regime based on Soviet example: progress through collectivity. Initially, Albania seemed to be flourishing under nationalist morality and an iron discipline. But the ideals turned into a ruthless power policy. The communist terror regime, which lasted until 1991, has cost tens of thousands of Albanians their lives and tens of thousands of others spiritually maimed forever. You can still see the traces of it.
The economy of Albania is promising but does not get off the ground for everyone with a population of just under three million people. In addition to a small group of rich Albanians, there is a large group that barely keeps its head above water. Many young people are fleeing the country hoping to help their families and build a life for themselves. The economic but also the intellectual flight could be called the great drama of current Albania.
Tourism is the hope of the country, and expectations are high. TravellingAlbania hopes to contribute, not only to the fame of Albania as a land of nature, history, and beautiful beaches but also to improving the lives of ordinary Albanians.
See also the article: 75 reasons to visit Albania.