Albania is a peaceful and hospitable country, perhaps the best kept secret in the Balkans. It is a country that has not yet become a tourist destination, or at least is still resisting it, and is interesting from a historical, natural and anthropological point of view. Europe’s lesser-known Mediterranean is in Albania. Its coastline is less exploited than others in Spain, Italy or Greece, which serves as an extra incentive to choose it.
Beaches of Dürres
HISTORY OF ALBANIA
The history of Albania is the history of Europe, still represented today in archaeological, historical and cultural evidence from Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Slavic, Venetian and Ottoman times. After World War II, Albania experienced one of the most difficult periods of international isolation under communism. After the fall of the regime, a period of opening up to Europe began, which sought in two directions to welcome Albania into a common Europe.
WHAT TO SEE IN ALBANIA
Those who do not know Albania are amazed when they see the wide range of activities to do, and those who come back find reasons to discover villages, mountain routes or to meet the local people.
Surprising World Heritage Sites in Albania : The museum city of Gjirokastra , the dazzling Berat , the Albanian folk isopolyphony – Unesco Intangible Heritage – or the Butrint National Park with its olive tree landscape, among the Greek, Roman and medieval ruins of the city of Butrint.
Theatre of the ruins of Butrint
Other places in Albania are almost unknown, but on arrival they come as a surprise. The Onufri Museum, inside the Orthodox Cathedral of the Dormition or Transitus of the Virgin, has icons by the most famous 16th-century painter, Onufri, who borrowed from the Italian Renaissance and applied his style to Byzantine religious painting. The centuries during which the Turks inhabited Albania left their artistic influence with frescoes such as those in the Et’hem Beu Mosque. The tour of art and culture continues in places like the Museum of Medieval Art in Korca, whose collection of more than 6,000 icons and liturgical objects is one of the most important in the country. The Marubi National Photographic Library provides an anthropological insight into 20th century Albania, while the National Gallery of Arts in Tirana is another focal point of artistic culture.
The Churches and Monasteries of Albania invite you to a historically themed tour. Through them one discovers the Balkan crossroads where various civilisations and religions have coexisted, from Byzantine Orthodoxy to Ottoman Islam. Communism with its ban on religion did not destroy at least the architectural works. The Church of Leusa (St. Mary) is considered one of the most spectacular churches, opposite the Labova Church of the Cross, one of the oldest in Albania, next to the Cathedral of St. Mary of Voskopoja (whose icons are by the 18th century painter Kostandin Ieromonaku), the Orthodox monastery of Ardenica (13th century) where Albania’s national hero Scanderbeg married Andronika Arianita, and the Church of Theth (rebuilt in the 1990s after its destruction during the communist period) form a varied ensemble of religious architecture.
Church of Theth
The many castles and fortresses present in the physiognomy of Albania are undoubtedly the evidence of more warlike times in the Balkans. Since the Hellenistic period, there have been clashes in Albania that led to the creation of defensive constructions. The Romans, in their expansion towards the Middle East, also made use of the construction of fortified citadels, and by the Middle Ages the proliferation of castles was much greater. In Albania, it is said that every town has its own castle. The must-sees are Rozafa Castle, Berat Citadel, Porto Palermo Castle, Gjirokastra Citadel and Elbasan Castle, although the lesser known and less visited ones offer pleasant experiences as they merge with nature or small villages.
Interior of Gjirokastra Castle
Albania’s cities are steeped in history, but they also offer contact with their people, who are good hosts when it comes to showcasing the benefits of Albanian tourism. Urban centres concentrate heritage in the form of churches, monuments, churches or mosques, and at the same time serve as an option for accommodation during the trip.
Berat , called the city of a thousand windows because of its hillside houses, is an example of historic architecture in this region of the Balkans.
Berat, the beautiful city of Albania
Another UNESCO World Heritage Site is Gjirokaster, which also has a nickname, “The Stone Town” because of its Ottoman-style tower houses
Korca, a former centre for the dissemination of culture and art, was the seat of the first Albanian school, on the site where today we find the National Museum of Education
On the shores of the lake that shares a border with Montenegro, the town of Shkoder was the most important town in Albania before Tirana became the capital. Ideal for exploring the Albanian Alps that rise inland.
The coastal city of Durres has a wide variety of influences from its contact with the sea. One of the predominant styles is the rationalist style of the years of peace between the two world wars, when it was under Italian control.
WHAT TO DO IN ALBANIA
Albania has something for everyone. Families looking for a relaxing beach holiday can enjoy the Albanian Riviera with hotels and resorts suitable for children. The more active can choose what to do with hiking, skiing,
Two thirds of Albania’s geography is mountainous, which explains the greenery that characterises the country. The mountains, lakes and beaches are undoubtedly one of the attractions for travellers looking to get in touch with nature.
The Blue Eye -“Syri i kaltër”
The Albanian Alps with the Valbona National Park are a true paradise of biodiversity. When the plants of the Saxifragaceae family bloom, the Albanian mountainsides mutate their colour to vivid hues. Deep in the forests, brown bears have their refuge, while trout swim up the rivers that rush down in torrents and waterfalls. On the journey we can discover idyllic places such as Blue Eye Spring , Hotova Fir National Park, Karavasta Lagoon, waterfalls such as Theth ( Grunas ) or canyons such as Osum .
archaeology can be another motivation for travelling to Albania. The historical regions of Illyria, Epirus and Macedonia had part of their domains on today’s borders. Sites of Greek-Hellenic or Roman culture show the importance of the territory. The Via Egnatia connected the two imperial capitals, Rome and Constantinople, with cities along the way such as Butrintus. The Archaeological Parks of Apollonia (Illyrian city founded at the beginning of the 7th century BC by the Greek colonies), or remains such as the Amphitheatre of Durres, the Tombs of Selca (IV – III BC) or the archaeological site of Amantia with its temples, the theatre and the amphitheatre stand out.
Theatre of Butrint- Photo: Aleksandar Todorovic/Shutterstock
The arrival of the new times is inevitable, but fortunately Albania has preserved its traditions in villages whose typical architecture provides the perfect backdrop for photography. Berat and Gjirokastra are undoubtedly the best known, but in the bazaar of Kruja you can see their traditional houses. On the outskirts of Shkoder a well-deserved stop at the Mesi bridge reminds us of the attempts to shorten distances in a land of significant geographical features. And in Permeti we can enjoy a gastronomic immersion through its typical dishes, where there is no lack of fruity liquors called “gliko”.
Blue Eye of Theth
Albania’s coastline, divided into the Adriatic and Ionian coasts, has beaches with crystal-clear waters along 427km of coastline. Beaches such as the Dhermi beaches south of Vlora, Saranda beach off the Greek island of Corfu, Himara , Borsh or the beaches of Ksamili near the National Archaeological Park of Butrinti, attract tourism in the months of June to October, with a lengthening summer.
In winter, the mountainous hinterland acts as a magnet for snow sports, which take place in its ski resorts. In spring and autumn, other sports enthusiasts enjoy Albania’s mountainous terrain for trekking, climbing and mountaineering. In summer there are also those who opt for the coolness of the inland, and those who opt for the Mediterranean Albania for kayaking.
Picture of rafting in the Osumi Canyon – ©Trip&Travel Blog/Flickr
Albanian cuisine is the result of the fusion of many peoples who have left their legacy. Mediterranean influences can be perceived in its dishes and recipes, but also Greek, Turkish and Italian contributions. Albanian wines are no lesser known. The good climate and soil conditions favour the cultivation of vines that produce wine that can be tasted on a visit to wineries in towns like Roshnik. Tirana is also home to a proliferation of gastronomic experiences, with tours to sample some of Albania’s delicacies.
Tirana Airport is the gateway to Tirana. Although it is true that flights from Spain are not frequent, we can arrive via stopovers or via airports in neighbouring countries such as Macedonia , Serbia, Kosovo, Montenegro or Greece, being an invitation to combine several destinations. Also from the Hellenic country or from the south of Italy, there are ferry routes that disembark in Albanian ports.
In Albania Tourism we have a vocation and a task to welcome you to Albania, and to help you in the preparation of your holiday trip. We can help you with the preparation, giving advice, but also helping you with agencies and tour operators specialised in Albania, whose knowledge of the country is essential to design a customised circuit that will take you to the most famous places as well as to the most unknown and authentic corners of the country.