Discovering Albania

 

Ah, Albania! Most people’s knowledge of this marvelous country is either very limited or inaccurate. Albania’s history and size are amazing, but it has been mistreated and misused for too long, having an impact on the way people from other countries perceive it before seeing it for themselves. And things have changed over the years, making it a very attractive destination for tourists.

Scenery from the top of Llogara Mountain.

As with all the countries in the Balkan region, Albania is full of amazing shores, lakes, landscapes, scenery, rivers, and tall snowy mountains. It is called the country of the eagles, but you have to dive deep to find them. 

There are many things to do and see in Albania, but in this article you will learn where to go and what to do from a local and not just another “10 things to do in” type of article like you’d find in the shallow waters of the internet search engines.

1. First things first

From the airport to the capital city takes around 30 minutes, which is why I am giving you some historical facts to read, as you pass by the wide grassy fields, the huge highway that brings you to the city, and the small villages to the sides. 

Albania has a very old history, going back to the times of the first civilizations. 

We were controlled by the Ottoman Empire for 500 years. Skanderbeg is the Albanian national hero who fought against the Ottoman Empire. His statue, in the centre of Tirana, is as big as a 5-floor building. 

Finally, let's talk about communism. For the 50 years before 1990, Albania lived through a communist era, like most of the Balkan countries. There are some very interesting bunkers you should visit from that era. “Bunk’Art” is the most famous one, located in Tirana, in the capital, and it acts as a time machine for people who want to have a glimpse of how it looked at that time.  

Enough with history now! I am pretty sure this is enough for you to be intrigued to know what to visit and what to try in my beloved country, Albania.

2. When The Summer arrives

Jal Beach. This cute dog, lives in a camp there and swims with the customers all day. His name is Otto.

The temperature is around 35 degrees in the summer and the coastal cities expect people from all over the world to create memories on its shores and sand. 

When it comes to summer, it is hard to even know where to start it. Should I start with the beaches, the coastal cities, the nature, the food, the parties, camping, hiking…?

Going to the south from Tirana, you need to drive your own car, because the scenery on the way is amazing. The types of scenery where the waves crash 20 meters beneath your car tires, at the bottom of the cliff where you are driving your car.

Sunset in Jal Beach

During the summer, you will find everyone and everything in the coastal cities in the south. We all gather there, some in hotels, some in camps, and we enjoy the sun and sea. We swim, eat and go party in the sand, where there is only us, the moon, and the night!

You can rent a canoe from your hotel or camp, and set sail to another shore like Gjipe Bay for example, which is just 1 hour by canoe from Jal beach. One of the most interesting things about Gjipe is the experience itself. Its waters are crystal clear and the mountain will shade you when you swim. 

Other destinations to suggest: Himara, Drymades, Borsh, Jal Beach, Vlora City, Saranda City, Ksamil, Dhermi.

3. Tirana

Tirana during winter.

Tirana is the capital city of Albania and, during the winter, people come back from the south and the coastal cities into the traffic jams of Tirana and go back to their routines, drinking coffee, and going to work. One thing about Albanians drinking coffee, is that we spend a lot of time chatting in coffee shops. 

Tirana has a lot to offer, from the old communist architecture, to the technologically advanced engineering. 

Tirana is mostly a city of coffee shops and nightlife. But this doesn’t mean that, as a nature lover, you won't find what you are looking for. “The Lake”, as we locals call it, is the biggest park in Tirana. At “The Lake”, you will find different activities, and whether it’s singing, playing sports, having a BBQ, or just sitting on the grass, then this is the right place for you.

The Lake

If it is nightlife you are after, there is a part of Tirana, very close to the center, which is called “The Block”. Oh, believe me, if you want a night out and alcohol, there is no better place. “The Block” is a place of loud music, expensive cars, clubs, pubs, and bars. And the best thing about it, is that it never sleeps.

Young people drinking and singing at The Lake

Let me take you away from Tirana to explore another part of the country during the winter. Let’s go hiking from Theth to Valbona, a long walk through the mountains and in through wide fields of green, which are totally worth your visit. 

4. Berat and Gjirokastra

The road to the castle of Gjirokastra on the side of the Mountain

Berat and Gjirokastra are the complete opposite of Tirana, as they date back a long time and are protected by UNESCO.

Berat is famous for its windows, which are one on top of the other. Some call it “The City of a Thousand Windows”. Gjirokastra, on the other hand, possesses one of the biggest castles in the Balkans, and the houses are built of stone, some of them dating back to the 15th century.

Gjirokastra

One of the most famous foods in Gjirokastra is Oshaf, a type of desert which is hard to explain as the magic is in its taste.

Oshaf, a traditional desert in Gjirokastra

Once you go to the old bazaar of Gjirokastra, the food will flow from everywhere and you won’t know where to start. You will be living in a completely different period of time!

If snow is what your soul desires, then you need to go to Korca, a city of snow, a festive environment, and warm-hearted people. There you can enjoy Christmas by drinking “Birra Korca” (a famous Albanian beer) and eating “kernacka” (the most famous meatballs in Albania). Korca also hosts a beer festival, which you shouldn’t want to miss if you want to put on some weight by being drunk and dancing with the locals. 

Our traditional food, because of our history, is heavily influenced by dishes from Turkey and Albania, as well as other Balkan countries. 

“Burek”, as we call it in our language, is a traditional food. It is made of pastry, and filled with different ingredients depending on its type. It can be meat, tomatoes and onions, or spinach. You can find it everywhere in Albania, it is very cheap, and you will never forget its taste. 

“Trilece”, is a cake soaked in milk, with caramel on top. It probably won’t stay for long enough on your table to take a photo of it. 

Being a local in Albania, means that sometimes we forget how beautiful it is because the routine of our daily lives takes over. However, coming here with the intention of visiting as many places as you can, is a different thing. You will enjoy a culture and hospitality which is uncommon in the modern world we are living in. Our grandmothers will cook “burek” for you, and welcome you into their homes, making you eat traditional food, and creating a memory which will be with you forever. Albania has everything you need to have an enjoyable trip. It is beautiful, fun, has very tasty food, and is cheap. 

Written by Spiro from Albania