Albania has been plagued with bad press for years. Having only thrown off its communist colours in the early 90’s, many still see Albania as the self secluding, Stalinist country that it once was. When planning to travel there many friends looked confused: “Albania? Why would you want to go there?” Well, here are my reasons.
Albania is undiscovered. It’s true that the tourism trade has yet to take off in Albania, but that for me adds to the beauty of it. Mcdonalds have yet to make an appearance on every street corner and the gorgeous bays and ports that dot the Mediterranean coast are so far unclogged with cruise ships. There are no tourism companies running air conditioned, leather-seated coaches from town to town, only individually run “furgons” (minibuses) with cracked windscreens and dodgy seats. The hordes of Roman, Greek and Byzantine ruins that Albania hides are unadvertised and mostly unexcavated. There isn’t even a Lonely Planet guide! Albania is yours to explore and make what you will of it.
Albania is a gem. It is full of thriving cities, unheard of archaeological sites, breathtaking scenery, and stunning beaches to rival any in the Mediterranean. The mountain ranges in the North, nicknamed the “Albanian Alps” are a vibrant collaboration of ice-blue glacial rivers, sheer rock faces and tiny secluded mountain villages. The south coast beaches could be from a Greek island if not for the lack of sunbeds and beach bars.
Albania is interesting. With so much history and culture it’s hard to be bored. Over 700,000 concrete bunkers dot the country, built by a paranoid leader for a war that never came, they are a reminder of the communist history of the country. Beautiful mosques and churches are features of even the smallest villages. Even the language is interesting! It has no relation to any other European language, only to ancient Illyrian – the language of a civilization that coincided with the Greeks, but of which we know very little.
Albania is welcoming. Despite the seemingly threatening looking flag, travelling through the country I couldn’t have felt safer. The Albanian people are so happy to meet and talk to foreigners. I get the sense that everyone is aware of how much potential the tourism industry has to make a big difference in Albania. From having an Albanian family “adopt” us on a bus to a camp site taking pity on our washed out tent and putting us up in a gorgeous yurt, we felt thoroughly welcomed.
So forget your misconceptions (they really could have used any nationality as the bad guys in Taken) and give this blossoming country a chance at a new life!