Insider's Tip: Discover the Gorgeous Balkan Country
Located between the Ionian and Adriatic Sea, Albania has the best conditions for holidaymakers hungry for some sun to score an unforgettable beach holiday.
So why don’t we hear about the holiday destinations in Albania more often? I’ve asked myself the exact same question and went on a search for the most beautiful places in the country. I have found a (still) undiscovered pearl of the Balkans. I often show landscapes and places which fascinated me in my Travel Magazine and lately such places have convinced me that Albania is a great holiday destination.
Albania is a small country on the so-called Balkan Peninsula in south-eastern Europe. Meanwhile, countries such as Greece, Bulgaria and Croatia, which also lie on the Balkan Peninsula, are known to almost every holidaymaker. For a long time, Albania was under the rigorously communist regime of the dictator Enver Hoxas. His death and the subsequent fall of the regime finally allowed the opening of the country that has led an existence completely isolated from the western world. The new found tranquillity did not last long as already in 1997, six years after the first free election, the Albanian Rebellion caused the collapse of the economic and political structures in the country and many Albanians lost all of their assets due to dubious investments. In 1999, Albania was hit by the Kosovo conflict and thousands of Albanians fled the former Serbian territory of Yugoslavia. After the conflict ended 16 years ago, tourism slowly flourished and was recognised as a pillar of the emerging country. Since then, more hotels have been built at the popular swimming spots in the country and the restaurants as well as the locals have adjusted to visits from all around the world. Albania is regarded a safe country and Irish citizens can enter with no problem, provided they have a valid passport, and can move around the country for a maximum of 90 days without a visa. Moreover, Albania is an official candidate country to the European Union since 2014.
How to travel to Albania?
There are several ways of getting to Albania. As per usual, the quickest way is by air. Tirana, the capital city of Albania, has an airport which can be flown to via stopover from Dublin. The flight takes about three hours and prices are comparable with flights to Greece. Talking about Greece: If you’re spending your holiday on the popular Corfu island and are planning a trip to Albania for a few days, you can hop on the daily ferry from Corfu to Saranda and reach the famous swimming spot in about 2 hours. It’s a great opportunity for all of those who want to check out the country for the first time! More connections are possible from the Italian coast. You can travel to Albania from Bari or Brindisi for example.
The most beautiful places in Albania
After a short introduction to the history of the country and an explanation of how to travel to Albania, I’d like to show you why exactly this country is worth your visit. Anyone who’s already swam in the Ionian Sea during a holiday in Greece will know about the beauty of the beaches and the waters, so clear and turquoise-blue that they resemble those of the Caribbean Ocean. You’ll find these amazing beaches and bays in Albania too but these are much more intact and original. On many of those beaches, you’ll quickly get used to having them all to yourself. The coastal section in south-west of the country, also referred to as the Albanian Riviera, is especially popular among tourists looking forward to a swim. The Riviera stretches from Saranda to Vlora, where the Ionian Sea becomes the Adriatic. Ksamil is an especially popular swimming spot, not too far from Saranda. The resort as well as four small islands, beautifully located on the southern coast of Albania, belong to Ksamil.
You should definitely try all kinds of Balkan specialities with a Mediterranean flair, brimming with fresh vegetables, as well as hearty meats and fresh seafood. By the way, the Albanians are very hospitable and open, so you’ll receive a friendly welcome all around the country.
Places to visit on your Trip to Albania
Hiking in Albania
Albania is not only the destination for sun worshippers and beach enthusiasts. Nature lovers and active holidaymakers in particular will not be disappointed. The mountains in the north of the country attract hikers who want to enjoy the undisturbed nature of Albania for example. 15 different national parks attract nature enthusiasts who can look forward to dream-like and diverse landscapes from mountain ranges looming over ancient cities all the way to vast stretches of forests.
Butrint National Park in southern Albania is especially popular. You can marvel at the ancient city of Butrint here, a ruined city that witnessed cultures such as the ancient Romans and Greeks, as well as the Ottomans. The traces of these cultures can still be found in Butrint today. The ruined city, one of the most important sights in Albania, was honoured with a place among the UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
The city of Berat is not less interesting at all and is one of the oldest cities in Albania, giving a really amazing sight with its historic houses. Thanks to the numerous typically Ottoman houses, the city bears the title of The City of a Thousand Windows, and the name becomes clear when you look at the scenery of the once immaculate Muslim quarter of Mangalem. A part of the city very attractive to tourists is the castle district of Berat. The castle towering above the rooftops of the city is a real landmark. Various churches and ruins of mosques can be visited in the castle grounds. If you’re not really interested in that, you can simply enjoy the best view over the city of Berat.
Gjirokastra – City of Stones
Also worth visiting is the city of Gjirokastra, said to be the cultural centre of Albania. ‘The City of Stones’, as Gjirokastra is also known, is characterised above all by its small houses with pyramid-shaped roofs. Beside the castle, there are also old mosques to admire, dating back to the Ottoman period. As you can see, Albania has a lot to offer when it comes to culture. A wander through the cities and small villages will not only lead you past these treasures, but you can also immerse yourself in the numerous markets and street Cafés of the multifaceted culture.
Just off the island of Corfu…
The distance to the Greek island of Corfu, lying just opposite, is so small that you can actually see it from the coast. You’ll be searching for large hotels in vain on the Albanian Riviera, since until now the magnificent panorama of the bays has escaped the large hotel chains. But you’re guaranteed to find a small hotel or guesthouse along the Riviera and the best thing is that most of these are not just lovingly, family owned businesses, but are also more than affordable. The high season in Albania falls on June and July and you have to take more crowded beaches into consideration when visiting at this time.
Albania – more than just worth a trip!
This sums up Albania, which is still regarded an insider’s tip among the visitors who decided to spend a holiday away from the tourist masses there. Nevertheless, or should I say therefore, Albania is becoming more and more popular. Even the Lonely Planet voted Albania the absolute dream destination. So if you’re looking for a holiday away from the well-trodden paths, you should definitely note the Balkans down on your bucket list!
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