Your perfect holiday idea might be just a lazy afternoon at a secluded, pristine beach. It might feature a romantic stroll on a narrow, limestone-paved road around white-washed picturesque villages. It might include an adrenaline-filled hike with breath-taking views of untouched sceneries. In any – or all – of those cases, you should consider Albania summer as your next holiday goal.
History fanatics, sports enthusiasts and nature lovers with big appetites for local specialties – hungry for both good food and extraordinary experience – can find their haven in Southeastern Europe, yet away from popular trails leading to Greece or Croatia. Albania is a hidden gem that lures knowledgeable visitors with its raw beauty and authentic, cross-cultural character – both of which will carry you against the current of globalization and mass tourism towards a very unique experience.
An offbeat alternative to Europe’s touristy destinations like Mallorca or Corfu, the Albanian Riviera can boast clear blue waters and long stretches of golden sands and rocks – away from your usual beach-oriented crowds. Immerse yourself in the small resort-like feel of towns like Dhërmi and Sarandë or opt for Borsh and Bunec to enjoy a relaxing experience with only the soothing sound of waves breaking the silence. Watch the sunset over an intimate scenery of an isolated bay or enjoy a night out at the lively marina clubs and restaurants – the choice is yours, but the Albanian seaside offers a myriad of possibilities.
It is a fact known to few travelers, but Albania has a uniquely rich and diverse cultural history. The country, isolated throughout the 20th century, only recently began to gain international recognition for the wealth of its heritage (e.g. by having three of its locations UNESCO-listed in 1992 and 2005).
The archaeological site of Butrint is a great example of that cultural diversity. Originally a Greek settlement, it became a Roman city that developed under the Byzantine Empire and fell shortly after the period of Venetian rule. Visiting the Butrint ruins takes you on a journey across the centuries of the early Albanian history. Each time period and cultural influence is reflected in the city’s unique development and architecture. It is a feast for the eyes and for the mind – it can be fully enjoyed away from the flash of tourist cameras associated with so many ancient historical attractions in Europe.
Head to Berat or Gjirokastër – the two towns that bear the outstanding testimony to diversity of societies in Albania. Wander around the cobbled streets and admire the original 17th century Ottoman houses. Finally, climb the fortress or castle for breath-taking panorama views of settlements built against scenic mountainous backdrops.
For a country with a relatively small land area, Albania boasts a wide variety of landscapes, ranging from craggy coastlines in the South, to ultra-prominent peaks of the Albanian Alps in the North. Increasingly appreciated by nature lovers, many natural landmarks are still raw, unspoiled and, undeniably, best to visit at that stage. Rafting, rock climbing and hiking are only few activities from a long list of possibilities you can engage in while vacationing outdoors in Albania. Fancy a refreshing dip into a natural water spring? Be sure to check out Blue Eye, a stunning fifty-meter-deep pool of clear blue water in a nature reserve that is only a short distance away from the sea resort of Sarandë.
Given the location and the incredible multicultural heritage of Albania, it is only natural that the country’s national cuisine is influenced by Balkan, Greek, Italian, and even Turkish cooking. Try the splendid seafood and fish served in sea resorts and small beach towns. When visiting inland towns, choose family-owned restaurants and home-stays to discover the true taste of local specialties: gjellë, flia or byrek. For a more upscale and international experience, head to the country’s capital – Tirana – where you can enjoy gourmet dishes with sublime local and imported ingredient combinations. Don’t forget to try the famous Albanian white cheese and have a glass of boza! Bon appetite!
Albania is a perfect pick for a budget-conscious traveler given the abundance of hostels and campsites, together with very attractive pricing of food and entertainment. However, there is a range of more comfortable housing options for those traveling with thicker wallets. Hotels and serviced apartments with stunning seaside views are becoming increasingly available and easy to book online. Moreover, private guided tours of historical locations as well as nature explorer treks are becoming popular among independent travelers and small groups. Regardless of your initial investment in the Albanian adventure, it’s bound to produce good returns and, more importantly, make your time and research effort worth it.
Hardly an obvious holiday destination, Albania can cater to a range of preferences for tourists seeking alternatives to crowded (and frequently pricey) European destinations. It won’t be long until the country joins the club of popular tourist holiday targets because of its unique natural beauty and cultural authenticity. If you have a chance, visit Albania before the experience evolves to fit into the mainstream demand.