Long Story Short – Albania is The Biggest Secret in European Tourism
For the ever-growing Albanian diaspora, those millions of Albanians around the world who chose to leave the promised land, I understand. The economy in Albania, is terrible. Wages remain comparable to some third world nations – if you can find a job. I’ve seen people living at garbage dumps, and in slum-like shanty-towns. Unemployment is out of control. Corruption is rampant. After living through half a century with one of the world’s most brutal and isolationist dictators (think North Korea, in Europe), only to see society crumble into violent anarchy as recently as the late 1990’s, well, even though there are green-shoots of an optimistic future – I understand why so many Albanians have simply given up waiting for the tide to turn. But, the tourists aren’t going to wait much longer. They’ll come here in droves. Because, Albania is fucking amazing.
You couldn’t pay me to visit Albania. – American friend who has never visited Albania.
Preconceptions of one of Europe’s poorest and most unknown countries, run deep, are inaccurate, and never come from anyone who has actually visited. The truth about Albania? Well, it’s like Italy, with a few more cold showers and power black outs, and far more stolen Mercedes. It’s the French Riviera, at a tenth of the price, with nicer beaches and less attitude. Greece, with far (far) worse roads, but the mini-van’s have high-speed onboard wifi. Of course, Albania is Europe – but it’s Balkans style Europe with warm people, deliciously fresh food, a great flag, and a sense of laissez faire daily freedom that the rest of the continent can only dream about. I’ve been told, Albania has much in common with Spain – back in the 1970’s. And that’s a very good thing.
Sitting in the crystal clear water at Himarë, a small beach-side town on the incomparable Albanian Riviera, the sun shines well into the Spring-time. I looked back towards the land, at a backdrop of spectacular mountains, crumbling ancient hilltop villages, and just a small smattering of low-rise hotels. A man was walking his goat, and dragging some kind of farming tool. It’s absolutely, mind-bendingly, perfect. Up on the boardwalk, I knew I could walk into any restaurant and ask for “whatever is good” – the seafood, lamb, and salads will always be tasty, and accompanied by relentlessly beautiful views, smiles, and a glass of whatever tickles your fancy. Often, Albania just doesn’t seem real.
At a beach-side biker-bar along the Riviera, a German guy (after many friendly glasses of Raki) confusingly tried to convince me that “paintball is the skateboarding of the 1970’s”. After that many Raki’s, neither of us were making a lot of sense. But, we were both members of a small, but growing, band of tourists that made the ironically clever decision to independently vacation here in September. He’d been in Albania just a few hours, before his rent-a-car caught a flat tire on the notoriously shocking Albanian roads. I told him to consider it a rite-of-passage, and a small price to pay, in exchange for the experience of a life-time – being a part of the biggest secret in European tourism. The thing is, there’s not much time left, to see Albania in this “before” state.
click to see an interactive map showing the location of this article
Compared to last year in Albania, tourist numbers seem to have picked up, slightly. At Butrint, an ancient Greek/Roman walled city on the very Southern tip of the nation, I tried to stay ahead of busloads of tourists exploring the ruins. Last year there were almost none, at the very same UNESCO listed abandoned city. Keep in mind, Butrint is built on a scenic peninsular lush with vegetation, complete with stone amphitheater, a dozen or more crumbling columned buildings including mosaic palaces (still being excavated), and is just a short drive from some of the best beaches in Europe.
Cruise ships are increasingly visiting the Riviera in Southern Albania, docking in nearby Sarande, largest city in these parts and reminiscent of a miniature Miami. With more unfinished apartment buildings. Things are changing. It’s just a matter of time before critical mass hits. When you have a billion potential tourists within relatively short flying distance, the time to have Albania to yourself is running out. For now, if you avoid July and August, it will still feel like you have the country to yourself.
Even Pope Francis rolled through Tirana. Maybe he’s heard that in the increasingly cosmopolitan capital city, a half a litre of decent wine at a nice restaurant costs around two Euro’s. These are non-tourist prices, served by wait-staff who are innocently unaware of their future life filled with jaded bitterness, once the inevitable tourist boom begins. There’s even a growing fine-dining scene here in Tirana, it’s not just 35 cent Bureks (spinach pies), and 60 cent Espresso’s. I visited one of the trendiest restaurants in Tirana, Il Gusto, to rub shoulders with corrupt politicians and attractively bored ex-pats being paid in foreign currencies, where a bottle of wine can be had for $380 US dollars. An extensive, multi-course meal worthy of being remembered, including a couple of bottles of decent wine and other more serious spirits, came to 30 Euro’s per person. Don’t expect to be wowed by a selection of international cuisines, do expect to be impressed with Albanian food, at almost every restaurant in the country. It’s incredible. These people know how to eat. And drink.
Despite the ongoing modernisation of Tirana, the capital city remains authentically Albanian. Around the corner from Il Gusto, you could pick up a live chicken from a drunk road-side vendor for about 2 Euro’s, or a pint of local “Tirana” beer for about a buck. The contrasts of the country are represented in full in the microcosm of the city – inbetween the crumbling older houses and communist-era blocks, modern skyscrapers and apartment buildings are shooting up. It’s beginning to look like quite a cool city. There’s grit around every corner, yet the city parks are pristine, and litter – a severe problem for Albania, is starting to disappear. Tirana is evolving, and taking a tilt at being one of the Balkans most exciting cities.
There’s so many places to visit in Albania. Apart from the beaches (including Dhermi, Himare, and Ksamil – just check this link, Andrea has it covered better than anyone else), there’s a suite of UNESCO listed cities (Berat, Gjiorokastra), too many castles to count, mountainous villages where time stopped a long time ago, and always bustling Tirana. However, the problem is, getting around. And that, is a problem.
For the moment, your best bet is to rent a car, make sure the spare tyre is good, and know how to change it. Trains remain mythical, and rumors of official bus stations are spoken about in hushed tones. Buses, or the local mini-vans known as “Furgons”, work fine for hopping from one major town to the next, but you’re going to struggle getting to the hidden gems using public transport. Or any car that doesn’t have four-wheel-drive. You can travel independently in Albania, if you have time, patience, and a genuine sense of adventure.
This is not the Albania of a few years ago. It’s as safe as any European nation is. No longer can you shoot Kalashnikov’s with reckless abandon, pick up a cheap stolen Mercedes, or bribe your way into to a machine-gun factory or abandoned cold-war-era submarine base. Even Europe’s largest Marijuana plantation, in the southern village of Lazarat, has been burned to the ground. Not since Cypress Hill played Amsterdam, has such a green haze been witnessed. Fortunately, you still won’t find a McDonalds, Starbucks, Burger King, KFC, or Pizza Hut, anywhere in Albania – a missing reminder that Albania remains a relatively untouched part of Europe.
Interacting with locals will also remind you, that Albania is not really like anywhere else. In a nation where Islam is officially the predominant religion, the Pope decided it was cool to roll through the capital city in an open-top car, at arms length to the crowd. Fittingly, the Pope-mobile was a customised Mercedes. Waiting for Papa Francesku, I saw a local dragging a large suitcase right through the “do not cross” barrier. The closest Policewoman, at the front line of Papal security – unarmed, with a uniform completed with lipstick and patent-leather high-heels – casually explained that this was indeed the road the Pope was about to drive down, and that perhaps walking onto the street, with a suitcase, was not such a great idea. This, is Albania.
Nobody here is fighting much over religious lines, because as one person tried to explain to me “Feja e Shqiptarit eshte Shqiptaria” – loosely translated as “the religion of Albanians is Albanianism.” This is a very ancient land, from a time well before organised religion. The Romans and Greeks were just a semi-modern footnote. Contemporary Albania is just one big family, Christians, Muslims, and Atheists, and people need to rely upon one another to survive – because, neither god nor the government is doing a very good job of looking after Albania. The great thing is, when you come to visit Albania, you’ll be taken in as a part of the family.
Back to tourism. Things are changing. Slowly, for now. The New York Times recently placed the Albanian Riviera as the fourth best place in the world to visit this year. Word of mouth spreading fast throughout the rest of Europe. Maybe it’s next summer, maybe the one after. But it is coming. The tsunami of tourists. And not just in July and August. The sublime weather lends Albania to a much more extended tourist season. It will happen.
I’m astonished it hasn’t happened already.
For now, Albania is the last continental-European beach paradise.
PS, this was my fifth visit to Albania in the last 18 months. All of my previous articles can be found by clicking this link. Currently, I’m in Pristina – capital city of Kosovo. I’m slowly making my way to Central Asia, to check out the mystical ‘stans. I hear it’s going to be a very cold winter.
147 thoughts on “Long Story Short – Albania is The Biggest Secret in European Tourism”
Wow, I enjoyed reading this so much. I truly hope that the near future strips the Balkans out of the Balkan stereotype.
This is a wonderful article!
I am a teacher of the Albanian language online, and I have many students that are in love with Albania and Albanians!
Thank you for promoting Albania!
You’re welcome, Elson.
Most of the places you promote are Greek, Greeks used to live and thrived there, before communism came and isolated the whole country. It saddens me to see all these Greek places and names and not a single mention to be made, except of Butrinti,Nate. You fall in love with Albania and you think everything is Albanian but you need to see the other side. Currently there is Greek Minority of around 200.000-300.000 Greeks still living under very difficult conditions where the country is their biggest enemy.
Just for your education Nate. Saranda =Agioi Saranta (40 Saints) . Saranta in Greek means 40. And at that city 40 Christians where sacrificed hence the name. Gjirocastre =Argiro castro (silver Castle in Greek). Butrinti =Bouthroto ancient Greek tribe of Chaonians built it. Himare =Himara, Dhermi =Drymades, Vouno in Himare is another Greek place, Vouno in Greek means mountain!!! And so many examples. The names themselves showes what it is. For the Albanians make no sense all these name, they just using the Greek names with a slight change at the end.
Ask your fellow Albanians what is the football city in Fieri is called, I ll tell you is called Apollonia from the ancient Greek God Apollon. And so many examples that show Greeks been there years and years ago and will be there no matter the obstacles from Albanians and the Albanian country.
I know my post will bring a lot of controversies from Albanians but the truth needs to be said, because the truth is written in the lands and monuments and not in the books. Everyone can write a book and say whatever.
I hope you have a historical look next time you visit that country, especially the south of albania or how Greeks call it Voreia Ipeiros. Thanks for the time and I hope you will post my comment
Hahaha, oh look everybody a Greek claiming everything is Greek. Lol. You guys are a joke.
Once upon a time you were not shit, and now you are a tourist trap for fat Americans. Congrats! So now you look to the past for glory because you have no future. Also, big deal if some places in the south of Albania have Greek names, of course they would, they are close to Greece and had a lot of Greek cultural influence. No big surprise and no attempt to cover it up either. Albanians fully acknowledge Greek, Italian, and ottoman influences in our culture. We have a unique lovely blend. Moreover, you have no where near 200,000 to 300,000 people in Albania. Most Greeks left Albania after the fall of communism and the economic collapse back to Greece. Why would they have stayed? Now of course Greece isn’t doing so well economically but has a higher standard of living than Albania. Also, there are about 500,000 Albanians in Greece.
“Greeks still living under very difficult conditions where the country is their biggest enemy.”
Please stop with your lies, there is no discrimination against Greeks in Albania. Albanians are very hospitable people, unfortunately I can’t say the same for Greeks. Also, I could say the Greek government is the Greeks biggest enemy. You guys have the second highest debt to GDP ratio in the world and no way to pay it off and will soon be out of the euro/eu.
Nate don’t listen to this Greek fool. Geeks love to lie about Albanians. They constantly shit on Albanians to make themselves look better and to get people to not to go to Albania. Never trust the Greeks, they are deceptive. Just look at their own history with the fall of Troy. Also, they had thousands of albanian muslims deported to turkey against their will and forcibly assimilated the Albanian orthodox population in Greece to become culturally and linguistically Greek. They will claim to be innocent and masters of the universe, but they are not.
Greek Schovinist propaganda.
Greece did not exist until 1821, and was inhabited by Albanians who faught for a Turkish free State, which was hijacket by the Orthodox church, with orders from Bavaria.
Today’s “Greek” flag is a Bavarian flag with a cross.
Today’s “Greece” has no identity. It’s only identity is Albanian (Lating for Dorian).
That’s why everyone has a hard time telling Albanians and Greeks appart.
Repeating the same lie (Greeks are different and superior from Albanians) with strong conviction and ethnic cleansing Albanians who tell you the truth, will not make your wishful thinking true.
Albanians are the blood that has fueled Ancient Greece and Rome for thousands of years.
Thanks Pawel, glad you enjoyed it. Hopefully the truth will spread far and wide.
Thank you for this article. I’m an Albanian who left Albania in the early 1990-s and have lived here in the USA for over 20 years now. Things have changed so much since I grew up there, that oftentimes I feel like a tourist, that has lived there long long ago, in a different century…However, going back in Albania, It’s always fun, not only for us, ( both myself and my husband are Albanians) , but also for our kids who are born in USA and who want to eventually move back there. Although I was only 21 when I left Albania and and have lived most of my adult life here in USA, I miss Albania and I find it irreplaceable. We came back on September after a 1.5 month vacation in Albania and I find your writing one of the most realistic ones, I’ve read about Albania so far. Thank you!
I am curious how Serbians and Albanians react to Americans.
Albanians act the same to every foreign people who visit Albania.We show our hospitality to everyone!So if Greeks and Serbians are afraid.Please don’t be! Only be exited ;)
I’M greek myself and have visited with my german boyfriend Sarande and Butrint, via dolphin from corfu. I was worried first. At least, you get a lot to hear from this greek-albanian feud. But I hadn’t been disappointed. Great and humble people, nice fish, the architecture and culture in Butrint was great. And in Sarande, the houses weren’t the nicest ones, sorry, but again you had a lot bars and cafes to choose from and a very nice beach and view. I believe there is some potential in this city and around and in a few years there is going to be a huge change. The beginnings can already be seen.
There is no friendlier country on the planet for Americans than Albania.
WHat do you know about that rick?……..
Albanians are friendly to everyone rick!
Albanians love Americans. while i was there, and in Kosovo, i saw many American flags being flown high along their own flags. it was probably the only place i visit where the locals seemed disappointed to find out i was a Canadian, not an American.
I married an American! Me being Albanian :)
What’s this question???
Per sure Albanians have shown many times how much they like Americans and other nationalities.
By the way I do not believe that Albanians and Serbs do not have any problem among each other.
So this is question out of topic.
I have asked many Albanian, and many Serbian friends, this question (I just spent four months in Serbia).
There is no problem, only with the ignorant, and the nationalistic.
Serbians and Albanians have much in common!
Serbs and Albanians do not have problems? Since your posts, you have been aware of the despicable treatment towards Albanians during the recent soccer game. Furthermore, in just 2013 Albanians in Kosovo discovered yet ANOTHER mass grave of 250 innocent Albanian souls from the war. Remember? The war of genocide. Overall, it’s not a harmonious relationship overall.
Nobody needs to forget the past – of course not – that’s how we learn. The facts are, Albanians are guilty of doing bad. Serbians are guilty of doing bad. As are many other nationalities around the world. We can either constantly look for retribution, or revenge, or we can start treating each other like human beings, and friends. We all live on the same planet. When is it time to move forward? How many innocent Albanians were murdered by Albanians over the last fifty years? How many Serbians have been murdered by Albanians? These are things we need to all agree are wrong, no matter who is committing the crime. We also need to disassociate a government from it’s people. As an Australian (for example), I do not want you to judge me by the embarrassing actions of my government, who it can be argued have also committed attempted genocide against Aboriginal people. Am I therefore to blame? Should Aborginals harbour revenge, or should we all treat each other as equals, with repect, and move forward together?
I didn’t say there weren’t any problems. I said the problems exist among the nationalistic and ignorant.
Unfortunately, there remain many nationalistic idiots on both sides of the fence, and idiots are not unique to just Serbia and Albania. Fortunately, the idiots are outnumbered by those with more intelligence. When people stop paying less attention to nationalistic fools who use things like football games to make some kind of point, and look towards the future, the world will be a better place.
Summary: nationalism, sucks. And, this article is about travel to Albania, not about nationalistic fools.
Thank you for those cool-headed words. I am me, moi, myself, and if I’m smart, I’ll be able to dissociate individuals from stereotyping, which, believe it or not, leads to genocide. Sure, there are Albanians who have done negative things, and others who live a calm, within-the-boundaries life. The later don’t make it to the newlines. Why? It’s boring, that’s why. Am I to be represented by the former? Or by the later? I don’t want to, truly, I don’t. Just like I don’t want to mystify Albanians as all calm, loving, peaceful, law-abiding citizens, as it’s not true. We are all different. That is why life is beautiful! I am Albanian, I am a woman, a mother, a worker, a teacher, and lots of other things. All these describe be, but don’t define me. There is no one like me. There will ever be. I have friends who are Albanian, just like I have friends who are Serbian. I know Albanians that I don’t like, some at all! So what?
Excactly. I agree. The similarities between peoples are far greater than the differences. Whether we were born on on side or another of an artificial boundary that appears on a map, shouldn’t be as important as just being a good human being.
we don’t react my friend …. welcome…
Hi Iris – I can confirm, American’s are loved in this part of the world.
(as are all good tourists and good people from other nations)
Hi Iris, I can confirm that American’s are loved in this part of the world (all over the Balkans) – I have travelled with many Americans.
This article is about Albania and Albanians not Serbs Iris
Ani, I think Iris knows that I have also spent a lot of time in Serbia recently. She is most welcome to ask about Serbs on this page.
For Serbians, I don’t know cause I have never met one. But I have been to Kosovo, an Albanian country, and trust me, they adore the American culture and American people. The youth there is so open-minded.
Very simple answer. Albanians are by nature welcoming of foreigners. Typically Albanians have some sort of gratitude towards America and Americans because of the past historical event.. Kosovo
Serbs are also welcoming but not very much towards Americans.. Kosovo
Have you asked yourself this question? As said above, Albanians are the most friendly nation to USA. By the way, I am an Albanian from Kosova. Kosovars even asked USA to become their newest state not long ago.
your curiosity is tendecious and provoking but, I wanted to give you an answer, albanians are incomparable with serbians in all aspects like culture, history, art, language, education, tradition. Just to make you clear that violent people are afraid of themselvs and have insecurity about their past maybe because is not how they pretend that it is. :) so if your intention is in exploring new places and natural great beauties welcome, because we welcome even enemies – its our tradition and culture.
Albanias are the nicest people u can ever meet but they like everyone except Serbans , Albanias hate Serbians
Albania is lovely. Great for meeting people, hiking, cycle touring, beach holidaying and cultural tourism. Everyone should have a look at the national Museum for some great Soviet Art, climb in one of the 700.000 bunkers (was it that many?) and take a day off on the beach in Saranda. So much to see: Shköder! Kükes! Great to have a popular blogger shine a light on Albania.
Been considering to visit for the last two years, thanks to your email will consider strongly next year.
You’ve summed it up so well and amazing photos as always. I visited Albania for the first time this summer and couldn’t agree with you more – its one of the most amazing countries I’ve ever visited. It has everything – beaches, cities, mountains, culture and the people are amazing.
Next time check out Valbona in the Accursed Mountains. More than lives up to its name!
Oh… thanks for the tip Kirsten, always appreciate some new info!
You have to visit Kruja town. It is near Tirana, the capital. It has a beautiful castle. The Old Bazar is very interesting and authentic. The mountain, which is 15 mins away from the town, is very nice too, you can even see the coast. In the castle there are 2 museums, the National Historical Museum which is more about national hero – Skenderbeg and the Ethnographic Museum which is probably the only one of its type in Albania and the region. You’ll have the chance to see the traditional clothes and the way that Albanians used to live.
Btw, Kruja is the first capital city of Albania (back in 1190 until Tirana became the capital) and the home of Skenderbeg. Kruja’s castle was surrounded 4 times from Ottoman empire army and when it fell, Albania fell too (it was the main castle).
Thanks Ornela… I did visit Kruja last year.
Oh, you have to visit Osumi Canyons (its in between Skrapar – where you can find the best raki and Berat) and go rafting too. The canyons are told to be very old. Its amazing!!!
Oh, you have to go to Osumi Canyons (in between Skrapar – where you can find the best raki and Berat) and practice rafting too. The canyons are told to be very old, like more then 2000 years old. The veiw is amazing!!!
Being an Albanian myself, and in addition being a travel enthusiast, loving to explore other cultures and places, and thus to be explored in return, I truly appreciate your article. Considering in your 5 previous trips to Albania you have visited almost all the most well-known and preserved areas, such as cultural and historical cities and sites, just like Kristen, in your next trip to Albania, I would strongly recommend a visit to the Albanian Alps or the Accursed Mountains as they’re locally known. Up North Albania, Kelmend, Lepusha, Theth, Valbona, or the small towns of Puke, Kukes, Diber are just a few names to consider. There are through-hikes into the passages across the mountains, up north, that take you to almost all the places I suggested. But the villages, to which we travel frequently on our regular hikes, are the most exciting, as they are phsically challenging and beautiful (I do earn bragging right, on a funny note :)). We travel regularly to those areas with a hiking group named High Albania Mountain Club. And you are welcomed to join whenever your next trip to Albania is due.
Thank you again for the beautiful read, as I consider you have done justice to it.
I enjoyed reading this article veryyy much. It is amazing. I am Albanian and love my land , but I couldn’t write a better article. Thank you Nate. This is the real Albania.
Cracking photos as usual Nate. I love the policeman and the ‘gypsy’ gents. I am definitely coming on one of your 2015 trips, even if I have to bribe my boss (or lock him in the cellar) to give me the time off…
Its not ‘Gypsy’ Don its Dark because summer here last about 4-5 months and its very hot.Still today people walk with shorts since may!
Cheers Don, look forward to meeting you!
Spent three weeks between Albania and Kosovo this May, was an unreal experience. I met the kindest of people who would take me into their homes for meals, a shot of raki or to show me an all-round unique view of Albanian life. hitchhiking was a breeze with such kind people as well. In a way I want Albania to get more recognition because it deserves and needs it, but at the same time it would kill me for it to become the next Croatia… maybe that’s just my selfish side
Your article is great and photos are phenomenal, really makes me miss my few weeks in Albania. I hope I can return soon before the predicted tourist boom. A lot of the people at Butrint were day-trippers from Corfu/Ioannina, at least when i was there.
Enjoy the ‘Stans, they’re big on my list.
Good job Nate, not because u wrote abt my country, but just because what u wrote is so true.
Thank you for this incredible article Nate, no one else gave such a beautiful description about the unique beauty of my lovely country!
The description is quite interesting and real too, but i think you could have taken even more beatiful photos of Albania.Anyway good job and thank you!!!
I really enjoyed the article.You were the first i agree with what is writen there.Even an Albanian wouldnt describe it so well and in details.Great job!
“For the ever-growing Albanian diaspora, those millions of Albanians around the world who chose to leave the promised land, I understand. The economy in Albania, is terrible. Wages remain comparable to some third world nations – if you can find a job. I’ve seen people living at garbage dumps, and in slum-like shanty-towns. Unemployment is out of control. Corruption is rampant. After living through half a century with one of the world’s most brutal and isolationist dictators (think North Korea, in Europe), only to see society crumble into violent anarchy as recently as the late 1990′s, well, even though there are green-shoots of an optimistic future – I understand why so many Albanians have simply given up waiting for the tide to turn. But, the tourists aren’t going to wait much longer. They’ll come here in droves. Because, Albania is fucking amazing” After this paragraph saying it all, I wonder, where you find this fucking amazing Albania?
I found amazing Albania just next to Macedonia, North of Greece, and South of Montenegro.
It’s been here a long time.
Albania is a beautiful, historic country and I thoroughly enjoyed my long visit there. They do need to work on a reliable infrastructure. Can’t drink the water. Electricity is a bit “iffy.” People are nice. Driving is an adventure. There is so much potential there!
very accurate descriptions. Well informed article.
…amazing article. Love the way you eritr. Just afraid you ket to many people know already. Thank you so much. Hugs . Wisdom buceph@lus
I know, that’s the scary thing – so many people are finding out about Albania. Let’s hope it’s for the best!
People are friendly.
Rules are not too strong.
Emotions are stronger.
Nature and food is good.
Prices are low.
Safety is best and it comes by the people.
If you visit Albania like a tourist you will have a good taste with you even after you leave.
But if come to live or work in Albania I don’t think you want to leave anymore.
Some expatriate says we came crying in Albania and now we leaving crying from here.
Your article is nice and real.
Its worth to try.
Excellent article. I was in Albania earlier this month, third time. I saw a lot more of the country this time and couldn’t believe how beautiful Saranda was. Also, ‘Blue Eye’ in Albania was possibly the most beautiful place I’ve seen in my life.
I hope there is an increase in tourism, and therefore a positive effect on the economy.
Love this post ! I spent a week there this summer with a group of about 10 friends to attend a traditional Albanian wedding. We spent several days in Tirana and a week in the south in a small town in Vuno. It was probably the most authentic vacation I’d spent anywhere in Europe. I asked myself the same question: where are all the tourists? They’re coming…
You missed a lot of places to see in Albania. You didn’t visit Korce(the city where Jim and John Belushi’s family grew up), Fier (Apollonia is Huge), Kruje (Skenderbeau’s castle), Pogradec( the ex dictator’s summer house) Shkoder(its a very old city even Alexander the Great’s mom came here to hide from her horrible husband) and Malesia e Madhe(camping, hiking, pretty much everything nature related)
Hi Jayne – I’ve visited Fier several times, Kruje, Pogradec several times (the photo of the water slide is at Pogradec)…and I’ve travelled to many other places in Albania. Check my link to other Albanian articles, there are many other places mentioned.
I looked at all your articles and sadly you missed the entire Northern Albania.YOU NEED TO VISIT NORTH ALBANIA!!!! I don’t know your religion but you should visit Church of Lac(Its called St. anthony’s and the dictator tried to destroy the church and the history behind it but thankfully he failed). Its over 500 years old and its more of a tourist site than religious. Also the church of St. Euphemia in Kallmet, Lezhe. The church is almost a century year old and it has a little spring inside it(very cool). Oh and the views are amazing because both churches are high up in the mountains. Since your tourist guide is biased and loves south albania, tell him to send you to Vlore to see Zvernec Monastery(its on an island and its beautiful). Ali Pasha bought this castle for his wife. Then it was turned to a monastery then to a military station(you can actually see where they stored their guns) and then it was a place where the persecuted Albanians were deployed and finally now its a museums(sort of)
When you visited Fier, did you smell gas? Yeah thats because stupid selfish lazy Canadian company(Bankers) is literally throwing the useless petroleum on the floor and the smell is horrendous. They created a canal that they fill with unused petroleum.
Hey Jayne… yes, I know, I’ve not seen nearly enough of the North! I will say that I was my own guide, and that I am a huge beach lover – hence my time in the South. But yes, don’t worry, next year I will see the North and do it justice!
The church of Saint Anthony is there because of the cave. I do not know how it ended up that the church is named after Saint Anthony but in the Roman times in the cave that is a bit lower than the church was hidden Saint Blaise ( Shen Vlashi in Albanian there is a village close to Durres with his name) . I know that there is also another Saint Blaise of Armenia but according to the Albanian Priest Shtjefen Gjeçovi there was also the city of Sebaste in Albania ( nowday Lac). Because it is a saint of IV century is worshiped in both the Roman Catholic and the orthodox church.
I am a regular visiter to Kosovo, but am yet to visit Albania. I have been thinking for a long time that Albania has got to be next on the list after hearing such fantastic things from my Kosovar friends…after reading this, I’m off to look at flights! Shume faleminderit!!
I recommend you see Albania, Natalie. (obviously!)
Thanks a lot Nate for this amazing article you wrote about us,Albanians..thank you :)
You haven’t seen Albania if you haven’t seen Vlora my friend! :)
Fortunately, I’ve seen Vlore probably six times now. :)
Puglia, where I’m from in Italy, is just a “swim” away from Albania and I’ve never thought of going there. Clearly I wasn’t thinking it properly because from what you are saying it might be the kind of place I’d love to explore more than the overrated destinations full of tourists. I guess I must make it there sooner rather than later :)
I know it represent a horrible past for the Alabnians, but I like the look of the “Tirana Pyramid”.
Franca! You must visit Albania… it’s really incredible (as you can see). And yes, do it sooner rather than later. As for the Tirana Pyramid – as you know, I’m a fan of this communist-era architecture, and there are a few great examples of art and architecture from this (horrible) era dotted around Albania – including very, very, many concrete bunkers.
Did you say concrete bunkers too? I should REALLY go there, I’m a fan of the communist architecture too.
A LOT of bunkers ;)
What an awesome piece to read! The cultural-historical analysis is impressively accurate too!
Got tears reading your article, Nate…and of course, I had to share it on my fb page . Will be visiting after 10 years! I can’t even imagine the change I will see. Did you like Durres? I grew up there . Thanks for understanding the jist of Albania and Albanians!
Hey Teuta… it makes me happy when I bring people to tears (in a good way!). Enjoy your visit to the homeland. Yes, I’ve travelled through Durres a few times, but to be honest, have not spent enough time checking it out. Next time!
Are u Albanian
A sincere Thank you Nate.It’s a great article about my country.. I suggest you to visit Valbona and Theth next time. You will be amazed. Mountains,nice and friendly people and very good food..
I have been told since the first time I visited (this was the fifth time) to visit Theth! Next time, for sure!
This was one of the best tourist articles i have read for Albania! You described it so well and made it enchantingly beautiful for people to visit. I’m from Kosovo and when i read that you also were In PRISHTINA i was really excited because every Albanian country is aamzing an we are one of the most kindhearted people you’ll ever meet :) If you ever come to Prishtina again i’ll be happy to take you on a trip around Prishtina haha :P
Thanks! I will come to Prishtina again for sure… 2015, as soon as possible!
I love Albania
i love albania too.
hi Nate, great article. Loved every word of it. I see that your now in Prishtina. i am Albanian from prishtina living in Philadelphia, US. Im always trying to promote our fantastic lands. I will be coming to prishtina next week. If your still around I would love to meet you.
Nate, in that case I apologize for my comment emphasizing that it was not my intention to offend anyone or bring politics into this amazing discussion. I am so happy to see that many people here show a great interest in my beautiful motherland. Thanks to you Nate.
No problem at all Ani!
Very nice article!!!
! I’m glad to see such a beautiful article from you!
Albania is a very beautiful land, you can explore it!!!!
Next time you come you should go north and see Thethi (only in the summer though you can’t get there in winter). I have been living in Albania for a few years but have not made it there yet. I am jealous of all my friends who have gone. It looks and sounds amazing. You must get there with a 4 wheel drive vehicle though.
I know!!!! Everyone tells me to see Theth! Next time for sure, Julie.
Hi! it looks like we have visited the Albania in same time while pope was in Tirana i was in Ksamil and visiting Blue eye, Butrint…. it was awesome also you did the same breaks like our bus did while traveling. Im from Kosovo and i filled ashamed for not knowing what a beautiful places we Albanians have and we still dont know how to benefit from them. :( thanks for this awesome blogpost.
Hope you had a great time, Erdis! Yes, it’s funny that so many people who live close to Albania, have no idea what an incredible country Albania is. But don’t worry, the word is now being heard around the world. I hope I can get to explore Kosovo a bit more next year.
This is so true! Albania is specific and you made such a true and a great article with everything very well described! :-)
Nate, you’ve sold Albania to me. I hope that 2015 will see venture out there. Hope you are well.
I’m well Steve, hope you are as well. Maybe we’ll cross paths in Albania, in 2015.
Thank you for making it sound as beautiful as it is. I myself am albanian,currently not living there for the moment , and your article made me miss the warmth of albanian streets in this cold september. :)
Albania looks to be a beautiful country, but what’s the ‘ANAL’ advert all about behind the chicken butcher?
I never noticed that!
thats a trucking company maybe (anal TIR) or a company owned by people whose names start with an and al or a + n albania. Thats another thing here, the names of businesses and the funny english in many cases. They probably never thought of the anal part. Great article btw, thanks
I am from Albania and I really enjoyed your accurate description and the photos..I must say there are included the majority of the best sites and touristic places of Albania but there is something left out : the North of Albania, it’s really interesting and has an authentic culture and habits…I would recommend to visit Shkodra, it’s the cradle of culture, arts, civilization in Albania and has been an important point of reference during every historical period, besides it’s strategical geographic position and rich natural beauties…
Thank you for this great article Nate. I hope many people will read it and hopefully will change their opinion about Albania and Albanians. I feel really sad when we are considered sometimes terrorists just because the majority of my people practice Islam (well actually they just say they do because in real life they eat pork and drink alcohol all day long).
Anyone is welcome to visit Albania. Serbs, Greeks, Americans or Macedonians, you wont find any problems here. Thank you again for this article and hope you visit Albania again, soon.
Serbs, Greeks?? Why you lying mate. Too much hatress in your country.
I really enjoyed this article!!!Feeling gratful for giving the real aspects of things happened here!!Albania is roughly beautiful but its does worth visiting it!!Especially is for people who want to be in touch with nature!!Proud of my country!Looking forward being there!
Thanks you for all the information on the site. Great reading! I saw somewhere that Furgons were recently banned in Albania. Is that true and did you see any sign of this?
Thanks JJJ… hmmm, I’m not so sure about the Furgons – but now that you mention it, I definitely remember seeing way more last year, and can’t recall seeing them this year. Perhaps someone else could confirm?
Here’s the link to the article I saw: http://tcje.org/en/2014/02/24/authorities-struggle-to-tame-albanias-deadly-roads/
Bit of a bummer for those that don’t drive a car!
Wow. You’re right, that makes things a lot harder for those without a car. Still, I understand. Cheers for the link, JJJ.
They still around. Attempts were made to regulate them
Well done mate, you’ve done it justice!
Expat from London, trying hard not cry reading about my land, the land of the Eagle, the land that time forgot!
I’ve been everywhere, nowhere like it. Incidentally, whenever I’m in Spain, somewhere where Spanish people live and come out in the evenings in the bars and streets, having their tapas and their mariscos with some tinto or some cervecas, I always think this is what Albania would be were it not for the mess. Tirana, my town, changes so much that I do not recognise most of it by now (only going every other year), the South is beautiful, the coast is glorious, the food and drink are cheap and great, and the people, well, we have killed each other for literally looking wrong, but never, ever for god! My mum is Albanian orthodox christian, my dad was part sufi part suni, and I just could care less! I am human, European, and Albanian. Oh, and yes, I like the US, it embodies something we appreciate.
Someone please tell Hollywood to leave us the hell alone!
Thank you, Falemnderit, (literal translation; I bow to honour).
Ps: sorry to drone on The North, Shkoder, Rozafat, the Alps, you’ve got to see them, and meet the Highlanders. Oh, and the beaches are not bad either.
Yomadic, I really enjoy your posts on Albania; I am currently living in Albania and have a blog about daily life here. I’d think you’d be interested. I’ll leave the link here for anyone else that might be interested. Your photos btw are breathtaking!
I’m glad there are people like you, Nate, who go to places most people would avoid. Iran, Moldova, Albania and many more, I always get good and reliable first-hand note, and amazing photos, from you. Any plans to visit places like Nagorno-Karabakh, Northern Cyprus, Abkhazia and such?
Albania is a great place to visit….unles you’re black – then they stare and whistle at you like you’re an alien – strange especially considering they have tv with hollywood movies and should be used to seeing all nationalities
Wow Albania looks incredible. I love the photos, and I’m definitely going to visit it asap. I need to go before every one else realizes how beautiful it is!
Nate when you come again in Albania, go spend a few nights in Korca. You would really like it
I’ll have to check out Korca for sure… I do like the beer ;)
looks wonderful must visit meet a lovely Albanian at a community garden and got an eggplant recipe from her
Finally! Thank you for this wonderful article and foto impressions. In July I’ve been in Albania for the first time. My trip was too short, but I’m already addicted and will come back in spring 2015. :) Why did I wait so long…?
Nate, if you only had three days in Albania and were on your way to Montenegro (I know, three days isn’t enough, but it is all we have – at least on this trip), what would you recommend? We are flying into Tirana.
Thanks! Love the blog.
My favourite part are the beaches in the South – I guess it would depend on the weather though. If it was me, I would rent a car, and head down to Ksamil, and Dhermi, also check out Butrint and Gjirokastra. Anywhere down in that part of the world – but perhaps someone else would tell you to see the North, as it’s probably closer to Tirana… (and don’t forget, Tirana is a cool little city as well). Have fun!
Thank you so much Nate; not for the promoting part, but for your appreciation!
I was thinking of going to Serbia next year, was born in Canada but thats where my family if from. I wanted to do a bike trip through all of balkans and was wondering about my safety in Albania if they knew I was serb.
You will never have any problem in Albania. People are friendly and will never do anything against you.
Shit, you have me absolutely DYING to go to Albania, it looks and sounds amazing! But you had me months ago with the tale of the massive weed field, to be honest! :)
A lady after my heart ;)
Great article! The chicken butcher is literally 200 m from my home, and I see this appalling view everyday! But you bring this to fun light as well! Thanks mate!
I had the pleasure of passing through Albania for a few days and I absolutely loved it! Unfortunately, I was only able to visit Tirana while hitchhiking up the Balkan coast but I plan to return to explore the rest of the country the next chance I get. Thanks for highlighting so many cool spots to check out! It’s so underrated, and the people are among some of the nicest I’ve met in Europe!
I just love Albania! Many people I met in the Balkans, especially in Croatia and Montenegro said they skipped Albania going to Greece. For me, Albania was the most interesting and naturally beautiful country I’ve seen in Europe. I love your blog and posts because you visit places like Kirghistan, Albania etc… So far I visited only Turkmenistan out of the stan countries but what an adventure it was! Coming back to the region in the summer. Good luck to you!
We were in Albania in June this year. We hired a car from Hertz in Mother Teresa airport & spent a week driving from Tirana to Vlore. Our first day was spent in Tirana & Durres.. Tirana has really spruced up since we were there in 2011 & is now quite a vibey, cool little city. Durres was okay, but certainly not Albania’s most beautiful beach.
We then visited Berat for a few days, then headed to Gjirokaster. After this we spent a few days around Sarande & visited Butrint & Ksamil. (Took a trip via the ferry and spent a few days on Corfu). Our drive back to Tirana was via Vlore.
You are so so right! Hire car really opens up this country & makes it so special meeting the locals. And yes…. The tourists are a few years away from swarming this stunning country. Get in now!!
Been reading your blog. Great pictures. Well written information. I am moving to Albania to work as a teacher. Know very little about the place or Balkans in general. Your blog was very helpful. I like to travel solo at my own pace. Do not like crowds. Based on your posts, I think I will like Albania. Keep up the good work with your writing!
Thank you Megui. Glad I could help, and enjoy your time in Albania.
I am thinking of going to Albania to see the South, How much should you budget on spending per day roughly?
It all depends where do you want to stay and what do you want to do. If you want to go from one place to another or just station in one place and enjoy your time. You can eat rice & fresh yogurt for 3 euro up in Llogara, if you stop to eat at any of the places on both sides of the road at the National Park of Llogara, and even 5 to 10 of even 15 euro per person, if you go to a fancy restaurant. As per accommodation prices they vary from 10 Euro per night/per person to 50-60 even 70-80 Euro per night per room. It all depends. In Albania you are mostly charged per room/per night rather than per person, unless you want to go adventurous and sleep in a tent, you are charged from 10 to 15 euro per night bed and breakfast or all-inclusive.
In south Albania you can find a hostel in Vuno. I haven’t checked it myself, but some acquaintances of mine were running it last year and I hear it’s pretty decent, although it’s not by the sea. One would have to drive to go to the nearest beach, Jal Beach, though it’s just 10-15 min drive, not too far. Depending at what time you are planing to visit South Albania, if you want to stay at Jal Beach I can recommend a family where I go frequently that also run a restaurant of their own. The men of the family are fisherman and the fish they serve they fish themselves. If you want you can contact me in my e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org and I can help you out with suggestions. Dhermi is also a beach you can spent time, although in July and August it’s too noisy as almost everyone tents to go there, because it’s the first village on the road down south and it has got the most options when it comes to food and accommodation, hence the most expensive as it is the most in demand. It’s one of the noisiest beaches down south as it is the first stop.
From this summer on, I myself will be running a tent camping site down south at Livadh beach, near Himara, a small town between Vlora and Saranda.
Livadh has been frequented during the last couple of summers from campers and camper vans, as it is quite nice, less noisy for campers and spacious and campers camp by the sea. Also all the other hotel accommodations are by the sea in Livadh.
We will be located next to a campervan site called Camping Kranea. Ours will be just tent camping for backpackers mostly, and just any other camping enthusiast. We are still working on getting ready to open soon.
Hope the information is helpful, and in any event please do not hesitate to contact me.
All the best and may you enjoy your time in Albania.
Dude, simply put… You rock! First piece of its kind that does the country justice both in honesty and covering all the bases from tirana to the coast. Even nicer to see it from a foreigner that doesn’t approach it with the usual stereotypes. Nice done! I just became a blog reader thanks to you.
This was such an amazing article Nate! thank you for writing about my country. Not for what you said but because of what words you used that described Albania so clearly! I’m from there myself well, I’m from deqan Kosovo, you should totally visit deqan it’s a beautiful place, there are so many great restaurants, cafes, stores. Trust me, you’ll love deqan. The best part about it are the views, the mountains are so beautiful and not far. I hiked up there everytime I visited kosov you could see all of deqan from up there. Also, another place I recommend is gjakova, it’s one of the seventh largest cities in kosov, I have family there and the place is just welcoming! Its very green and has a lot more stores, cafes, restaurants, and malls there, it’s a great place for shopping and people there are very fashionable! today, Albania and kosov is actually well known and that makes me very happy, here in america where in currently staying Americans talk about Albanians and kosvares a lot and they say very nice things about them! But, anyway thank you again for such an amazing article!!
Very interesting read! I’m very interested in visiting Albania, a country which has so far escaped the onslaught of mass tourism other European countries have experienced over the last decade.
I just have a question regarding car rentals in Albania. How expensive is renting a car? Do you always rent a 4×4? For a first visit to Albania, is there a particular part of the country you would recommend?
All the best,
Hi Rachel – a 4×4 is not necessary. I’ve not rented a car – but I have dealt with “Tirana Rent-a-Car”, and they were good. As for a particular part, I find the south/riviera to be my favourite. Rent a car in Tirana, and drive on down!
i am an albanian and i realy liked everythink you whrited for Albania .It is a very beautiful think to hear such good words abaut Albania …….And everyone is welcomed to visit it becaus Albania is beautifull in every season …..it has a lot of other places you can visit wich are as beautiful as the ones you describe …….enjoy Albania and it’s beautys…..”PEACE”
Love your pictures and the way you write. Planning a 25 days trip to the Balkan in May. Looks like challenging region to travel by public transport.
Hey Dan – not too difficult – between cities there are plenty of buses. Forget trains, and have a great time!
What? I was just in Albania, that country is awful and the people are the not attractive. The food is nasty, they hate the greeks, the serbs, the turks because the albanians are oh so perfect. I love the Balkans but Albania is the only country in the Balkans to avoid. There is no Albanian history anywhere, everything you see in Albania was built by the Byzantines, the Slavs, the Greeks, the Romans, the Turks, anyone except the Albanians.
All you see in Albania are stupid bunkers and Italian tourists with shoe leather skin.
Someone must have paid you to write glowing reviews about Albania.
Hey Henderson, it’s a crime, but no, I wasn’t paid to write the article.
As for the people being awful – I find that in this world, you get back what you give out.
Beautiful pictures, very beautiful. There is no doubt in my mind you are from the USA, though, as you seem eager force US propaganda into this article. It makes me sad to know many people will read your lines as facts, which holds you responsible for spreading unnecessary, political prejudice, especially against socialism. But as much as I have been taught by society to hate Russians all my life (for a reason that left reason and logic about 2 generations ago , so have you been taught to hate “communism” even though you have no idea what it means. It’s very important to do your research thoroughly (which I’m sure, or at least I hope, you do when actually staying in Albania).
Being Western European myself, and an owner of one of the top 3 strongest passports in the World, I have had the incredible luxury to be able to travel all over the World (not nearly enough, it seems) easily, learning respect along the way. I have a long way to go before I find “Nirvana”, but I would hate to find myself in a position where I stamp a former leader as “evil”- especially without any background knowledge on the progress made during this time. I would not utter a negative word about any president of the US of A either, regardless of how I believed I felt. After all, citizens of that country may have voted for that leader themselves.
Having said this, I hope you in time learn respect that stretches beyond the frame of the propaganda that you have been fed all your life (just like I continuously struggle to be rid of mine).
Thank you for the pictures (I’m sure I’ll find out whether there actually are no Albanian women in Albania soon enough)! They really poked my inspiration, and I learned a lot from the comments below.
I’m not American, have never lived in America, and the last time I even visited USA was 18 years ago.
I’ve never been taught to hate Russia, or communism.
I spend 95% of my life in Iran and Eastern Europe, I’m surely more than familiar with propaganda coming from the “West”.
Seems like your own biases and assumptions are much harder to shake than my own.
You should really look into that.
Wow you said it like it is , Well put for the country , people and the economy ,,, and specially the communism, Dictatorship ,,One does not really know unless you have lived that …
Incredibly beautiful photos. I fell in love with this place. Really want to visit Albania. Thanks for sharing!