Likes & Dislikes

Opinions

“Albania is one of the most interesting countries I’ve ever visited. Not just a unique experience, but a real adventure, which you don’t necessarily expect when traveling in Europe. We spent a week there and had plenty of both pleasant and unpleasant experiences. This is an exciting country. One of the most exciting things for us was that among our many friends who travel, none had ever been there. Albania was a real travel ‘scalp’ for us.” (P.J., 2019)

North Albania - drm phoro

We were there for a week and had no security issues. The people were friendly and helpful. (F, 2018)

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,, Travelling in Albania is an unbelievably unique experience. You’re struck by this sense that you’ve gone somewhere outside Europe.

There are signs in many places saying the tap water isn’t drinkable, and that it’s even sensible to use mineral water when brushing your teeth. We had no bad experiences in this regard; we only drank mineral water when we were thirsty, but we brushed our teeth with tap water and asked for ice cubes for our drinks and had no problems.

For me, the most beautiful destination was the city of Berat. It’s called the ‘city of windows’ because of the many little white houses built on a hillside, which is a very picturesque sight. This is one city it’s absolutely worth seeking out, and after a delicious lunch or coffee, you can take a walk up through the little lanes and alleyways until you reach the top, where you get a great view back down over the whole city.

Albania has several indisputable advantages, and one of them is price: you can eat well and still spend very little. There often isn’t much choice, but what they do provide is extremely tasty. It’s interesting to see how popular the ‘fast food’ buffets are, where you can generally get a hamburger, pizza, fries, or perhaps sometimes pasta.

Driving in Albania is often a worry. Drivers are aggressive and rarely give right of way, so it’s best to drive cautiously if you either reach Albania by car or rent one when you arrive (which, by the way, I do recommend, as the country is full of sights which it would be a shame to miss).

It’s also common for pedestrians to run across the road unexpectedly, and there are lots of dogs by the roadside, as well as the odd cow or goat to slow the traffic.
In many places there isn’t a designated bus stop – people simply wait by the edge of the main street, and the bus simply stops in the middle of the road to let them board. (Fanny, 2017)

North Albania - beach


The country is so varied, from mountain hiking trails to shoreline cliffs and sandy beaches, and from white-water rafting to visiting historic sights, everyone can find some way to relax and unwind – all within a remarkably short distance of one another. The price-value ratio, when compared to other Mediterranean destinations, is unbeatable. You can eat and drink well and cheaply, and the hospitality of Albanians are boundless. The level of public safety, meanwhile, is better than in many other European countries. (No, you won’t be shot, kidnapped or robbed), and they take particular care of guests. (ba, 2018).

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Likes: Albania’s southern coastline, with its lovely traditional hamlets, cobblestoned streets, and small Orthodox churches, has plenty of beautiful beaches lapped by pristine waters, rivaling nearby Greece for half the price. And if you get your fill of coastal bays, you can head for the natural springs near Saranda or the lake shores near the Macedonian border –

Albania has plenty of surprises. To name all of the beautiful beaches would be impossible so I won't try, much. (Alan Durant, 2020)

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,, Albania is somewhat crazy disorganized, and a bit mad in parts. A bit mucky and occasionally weird. But, it’s friendly, interesting, beautiful, cheap, and fun. Since it is so cheap, Albania is great for backpackers or even for people who want to stop somewhere for a few weeks/months. If you’re looking to cut back on spending for a bit, or if you’re an American and need to escape the Schengen for visa reasons (Albania is not part of the EU or the Schengen zone), Albania is the place to go. (Alan Durant, 2020)




Albania - North Albania - village church prm photo



Practicals

Transport

It isn’t so difficult to drive in Albania. Most main roads are in good condition, though you’ll often have to slow down on account of the many bends and, in some places, heavy traffic. At least half of private cars in this country are old Mercedes. Be aware – Albanians think nothing of overtaking around blind bends, and it’s quite common to see cars simply parked in the middle of the road.” (B.D., 2019)

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We encountered the following on the road in Albania: cow, donkey, goats, Albanian peasant, sheep, three ducks, another goat, a spotty pig, and plenty of locals and tourists. Most roads are very winding, even by the coast – I don’t think there’s a single two-kilometer stretch of straight road in the whole country. On average, I’d say it’s possible to make about 70km in an hour and a half.”


At the border they took everything out of the car, put it up on a ramp, examined all gaps in the bodywork and under the hood, and had sniffer dogs go over everything. After this half-hour procedure we got the car back, and I asked whether we could expect the same the next time we came. To this the border guard growled something like “you are ok.” All the same, the country is so breathtakingly wild and beautiful that I didn’t mind the welcome: I don’t know whether such an untouched gem exists anywhere else in Europe.

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The roads are pretty good these days, but the locals still pay no attention to the rules. Once you get used to the rhythm, though, driving here isn’t so hard – all the same, cows/goats/sheep might wander into the road at any time, and at roundabouts priority goes to the speediest. They don’t drive so fast in the cities, and we never had any close calls with traffic, but you do have to be careful.

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I have never come across a people who take such loving, heartfelt care of their cars as the Albanians. They may once have diligently tended their mountain flocks, but it’s quite clear that these have been replaced in their affection by Mercedes-Benz

Apart from a couple of Smart cars and new Minis, we hardly saw any small cars. There were plenty of Hummers and Porsches, though, and the rarest sorts of luxury western automobiles, but it’s clear that in Albania, no brand is challenging Mercedes for the throne. Of ten passing cars, it was quite common that six would be Mercedes, and almost never fewer than three.

This many cars requires a lot of gas, but the major international gas station franchises have so far barely set foot in Albania, which means gas stations are totally unique.

The record we counted was eleven gas stations in under ten kilometers. Given that Albanian roads have not kept pace with the increase in the number of cars, it’s quite common to come across a beautifully paved new highway stretching off into the distance, but with as few services as there is trash.

The Albanian did not spend a fortune on an expensive Mercedes just to have it covered in shameful roadside dust, so one of the most often sighted local businesses in the country is Lavazh, the carwash company. We dare even to begin to guess how many of these there might be nationwide. What’s more, they’re all open, and at any given moment each is in the process of washing some luxury western car. (2019)

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One of the least pleasant things about Albania is the general standard of driving. Compared to the Albanians, the Neapolitans drive like angels. Whether the traffic light is red or green seems to make little difference here, everyone just drives on regardless, and the maniac drivers make crossing at the zebra a terrifying experience.

In Albania I started thinking of the highway code, safety first, and all the rules I learned in school about care on the roads. None of that matters in Albania, where a toot of the horn means “I’m coming through” and indicators are a totally superfluous extra used only to perplex and confuse anyone following you. The lines painted down the middle of the road have no particular meaning, and often the traffic cop just adds to the chaos. I became totally habituated to people overtaking me around blind bends, and it wasn’t at all uncommon to see five makeshift lanes in a three-lane highway. The funniest overtaking maneuver we saw (trying to overtake from the inside lane of a four-lane highway by going left, into oncoming traffic, then finding a car coming the other way and avoiding it by going still further left, into the outer lane going the wrong way) seems to have surprised only us.

After half an hour my boyfriend took a deep breath and decided to look on the whole thing as a giant dodgem track, and soon he wasn’t just managing, he was enjoying himself. Pedestrians are no better – they simply cross the road where and whenever they please. Clambering over highway crash barriers with baggage, for instance, is nothing unusual. One thing I never learned to accept was the habit (it happened frequently) of indicating their intention to cross the road by simply pushing a baby carriage out into oncoming traffic. I mean, come on! (2016)”

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Roads in Albania have a tendency to become, without any warning, dirt tracks filled with rubble or, in the worst case, garbage. Street signs sometimes indicate that a city is to the right, when it’s actually to the left. Getting onto or off the so-called ‘highways’ is generally just a matter of driving down a dirt track until you come to a gap in the crash barrier, then waiting for a gap to appear and driving straight on. Though gas stations have signs up advertising all the cards they accept, in fact there’s no terminal, and the attendant just sticks the cash in his pocket. (2018)”

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On highways (simple roads, by international standards) don’t be surprised if, for instance, you come across somebody sitting on the crash barrier selling rabbits. He sits there holding out his long-eared merchandise towards the inside lane of traffic, and some even stop to take a closer look. You’ll probably see an old man cycling up the shoulder towards oncoming traffic or an old lady in the process of lifting her bicycle over the dividing barrier. Start from the premise that in Albania, everything is possible, and so is its opposite! You may well come across unique, home-made vehicles of a sort you’d only expect to find in Asia, and these shouldn’t surprise you either – it may be their only option, and at least they aren’t deprived of private transportation. (2017)”

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The driving: Car ownership was limited in the past and when cars became more affordable they were generally things like Lada’s Old style Skoda’s and so on. In other words, cars that physically couldn’t be made to go very fast. These days with more modern more powerful cars, people still tend to put the pedal to the metal resulting in some of the worse fastest, and most terrifying drivers anywhere. Add to that the tank assault course nature of many of the countryside roads you can see why driving there might make your hair turn grey, presuming you survive.

Crossing the road should also be approached with great trepidation and lightning reflexes. There is a traffic light tax, (no you don’t have to pay something every time you stop at the lights), which is interesting as they seem to be treated more as advisory than anything else.
In 1995 the residents of Shkodra staged a protest. The reason? Shkodra has no traffic lights.

Albanian buses (called fourgons) have no timetable, they depart when they are good and ready – or full. The public transportation in Albania is terrible or interestingly quirky depending on how you feel if you’ve missed the last bus, and how you feel about being jammed in a peasant's armpit if you didn’t. There is no “system”. Yes, there are buses, that take you places, but don’t expect there to be any order or structure to anything. There are no timetables, there is no air conditioning.

The best way to take buses is by asking locals. We went into shops and asked anyone we could when the next bus was coming and where to wait for it. There is usually a bar or something to sit in nearby, stay alert for the bus arriving.

Always ask for the time of the last one back, if you want to go back, and get to the good and early.  (Alan Durant, 2020)



Albania - Secondary road - t.p. photo

Food

,, Things not to say. “Albanian food is just like Greek food.” Although my favourite “Greek” restaurant is run by Albanians. There are however significant differences. Being next to Greece you’ll see similar dishes with a delicious twist. It’s customary in the mountain towns to order many dishes Spanish tapas-style with a mix of grilled veggies, cheeses, and wine. Try the mussels when near the sea, no really, try the mussels, especially in the south of the country. Whatever you do, learn to relax. The food will arrive, really, the food will arrive, honestly, it will eventually arrive.

Leave the evening free, start at say 9 pm, and aim to finish about midnight if you’re in a rush. Make sure to get the wine in as early as you can, you’ll be fine. When you finish waiting for the bill, have some more wine, wait for the bill, it will come, it will. The average English person takes between fifteen and twenty minutes to eat a meal. Americans can be a matter of just a few minutes. In Albania really relax, it's better for your digestion. Maybe a waiter will come maybe not, but they will come, did I mention that they will come.

Always order a starter. In fact, Albanian food is often a lot of little dishes. Don’t stress waiting for the bill either, it will come, honest. If you don’t care about your digestion, conversation, or having an extra glass of wine, go and ask for it, they will give it to you, eventually
. (Alan Durant, 2020)

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A large proportion of the Albanian population has lived – at least for a time – in Western Europe, which is a blessing for tourists who visit the country. Firstly because most people have at minimum some basic command of a foreign language, and by some mix of English, German and Italian it’s always possible to order dinner and inquire who precisely has the keys to the old church. There are also many whose knowledge of foreign languages is much more advanced, and even at remote rural gas stations, we found employees who gave us directions in faultless English.

What’s more, those Albanians who go abroad as guest workers, then start a business back home with the money they have saved, do a lot to improve the standard of the hospitality sector in Albania. Someone who has amassed a little capital by washing dishes in an Athenian restaurant or a coffee shop in Rome while observing how such an establishment works is not going to forget these lessons after setting up independently. The level of service in Albanian hotels and restaurants is therefore surprisingly high and in restaurants above the lowest price bracket, the food is also very good.

Best of all, everything costs a fraction of what tourists are accustomed to paying in all the neighboring countries on the Adriatic. Outside of Tirana we ate in the sort of restaurants frequented by the local elite, and never succeeded in spending more than €25 for the both of us. Even the most exclusive restaurants at coastal resorts are only marginally more expensive. (2016)”

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The food is very, very good – salads are fresh, tomatoes are blood-red, or even a shade deeper, like claret, and the sour cream here is delicious. They only use the young animals for meat, and even now I get a shiver of delight when I think of that heavenly, grilled goat-kid we ate together. In the tourist restaurants, however, I don’t think they really care. They just give you something made with meat from an older animal. Don’t get me wrong, though, it still tastes great! The fish and seafood would also be high on my list, but my absolute favorite is tave dheu (a sort of stew, mixed with cottage cheese in a ceramic bowl).

After all, I’ve said this might sound a little strange, but it’s true: the range of options is quite small. Everywhere offers the same fifteen or so dishes, which is no problem if you live in the country and go to restaurants occasionally as a treat, but if you’re a tourist and there’s no variety, it can get a bit tiresome. One thing in which they are without a doubt world champion in, however, is baked goods: some pastry shops were so good that at the end of the trip we went back to that town just for them. But imagine – no cocktails! Anywhere! Of course, they’re not quite an indispensable part of life, but at the same time, we were spending a good week or so by the seaside! (2018)”

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Since many Albanians went to work in Italy, we decided to go to an Italian restaurant, figuring that they’d be masters of that cuisine. The restaurant – which seems, based on the price, to cater mainly to rich locals, served excellent, fresh seafood, but our two-course dinner took over two hours to serve. Still, the gorgeous sunset meant we didn’t really mind.

The Albanians are, as a rule, extremely trustworthy, and you needn’t worry about overcharging. It was particularly charming when we asked for coffee in a restaurant, but they didn’t have any. “Not to worry,” said the waiter, “we’ll figure something out.” He went to the café across the street, and brought the coffees over from there, together with the bill. He didn’t ask for anything extra for his trouble.

Cafés, by the way, are at the center of local life – almost everyone goes in for a black coffee at least once a day. The country’s Italian connections mean that the coffee is excellent, but if you want food with it then you’ll have to bring it yourself from the bakery or patisserie – they almost never serve any in cafés. (2019)”

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As well as modern restaurants, there are also places that combine the present with the distant past (ancient or medieval). In many instances, they finance the preservation of national heritage sites by leasing the property to a restaurant, on condition that the restauranteur undertakes responsibility for the upkeep of the monument and its surroundings, under the supervision of the national heritage authority.

In a restaurant, the waiter generally places all the dishes in the center of the table and diners eat from each according to their taste and capacity. In more tourist-focused restaurants, of course, its also possible to find individual portions – they don’t expect visitors to understand Albania’s particular dining customs.

As in the rest of the world, so in Albania – if you want to really experience the local food, try to eat in places where locals eat. The best are those little eateries and grills where the décor is simple, there’s no waiter, and you’re likely to be served by the proprietor or a family member. In a place like that, you’re sure to get the real local fare, and the prices will be far lower than in tourist restaurants.

Burek is the Albanian fast food of choice, and depending on which filling you choose, it is likely to cost you between 30-100 leks. You can find burek vendors on practically every street corner, and they are served with fillings of meat, cabbage, beans, spinach, cottage cheese, or tomato. Qofte (pronounced tyofte), is also very popular and widely available. This is a ground meat dish, similar to the Serbian cevapcici or Romanian mititei, and makes an inexpensive lunch. (2017)


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In many restaurants, they cook meat and vegetables over an open fire. Albanians generally consider meat tastier when it’s still on the bone, and can be eaten with a combination of fork and fingers. The Albanians have a saying – “hold meat and women in your hands, and use a fork to bail hay.” So we generally ate meat with our hands and saved the fork for vegetables and salads. They always cover the tables with paper tablecloths, so nobody minds if you “pig out” and things get a bit messy – at the end of the meal the waiter just crumples the paper up and tosses it in the trash. They provide lemon slices as a side to almost every dish, which is particularly good with fish dishes and soups: in the summer heat it adds a refreshing zest, and at the end of the meal it also comes in handy, as you can use it to clean your hands. It’s particularly good at getting rid of any fatty residue. All this means that you don’t need to get up from the table until you’ve drunk that essential espresso at the end of your meal.


 

Albania - byrek - ai. photo

Albania - Berat - lunch with view - Shish kebab, stewed veal with vegetables and cheese salad, plus local cognac - s.i. photo

Shopping

If you see something marked at ten times its actual price in the market: There was a financial reform in Albania in 1965, which aimed to counteract inflation by simply dropping one zero from all prices. This was known as the new lek. The vast majority of the population, however (even young people) continue to calculate prices in old leks, so if something costs 100 leks they’ll say 1000 leks, but nobody is confused about the actual price. So at the market you might see tomatoes listed at 400 leks, but the actual price is 40 lek/kg, or about $0.35. This, by the way, is genuinely the price when they’re in season. (2017)”

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What’s worth buying?

In terms of groceries, olives and olive oil, fig jam and Skënderbeu cognac. Then there are the usual souvenirs: t-shirts and baseball caps or footballs emblazoned with the country’s national emblem, the black, double-headed eagle on a red background, are available in any gift shop, and in Krujë you can also find hand-made items, such as silver jewelry, utensils made of olive wood , and pretty scarves and tablecloths. A little goat or sheep cheese might also fit into your suitcase.

Albania - souvenir shop - k.t.g photo

Albania - Gjirokater - souvenir street - pb

Albania - beach vendor with donkey - pb

Fun

,, Albania is really cheap, especially if you avoid the tourist traps. Like many places Albania has, it’s own national drink. Truth is you find variants of this all over the Balkans.
Raki however is considered the national drink. Approach with utmost caution and as they say, stay away from naked flames after drinking. Raki made out in the villages is equal to about three normal drinks. The Albanian version is quite unique, just like all the other versions. Its made from grapes and is incredibly strong. You’ll find it in most bars but be sure to pay attention to its source. If it comes out of a re-purposed plastic bottle or plain glass jug, you’re likely getting a home-brew. It will put hair on your chest (as the saying goes!), which might be fine for a chap but is perhaps not so becoming on a woman. (Alan Durant, 2020)

Public safety

In most parts of the country – particularly at the coast and in the cities – the public safety situation is basically fine, at least during the day. Organized, recurrent scams targeting tourists are not a common occurrence, though they do exist.

In the northern Albanian city of Tropoja there was an instance of deliberately provoked conflict, in which the perpetrators demanded immediate, on-the-spot ‘compensation’.

In Durrës, meanwhile, passports and valuables have been stolen from holidaymakers in the beachfront area, and there have been repeated instances of jewelry being torn from people in the streets of Tirana.

The crimes cited here all occurred during the summer holiday season, so particular vigilance is required if visiting during that time. Likewise, travelers should keep an eye on their surroundings while out sightseeing, and be wary of anyone approaching on a bicycle or motorbike.

Despite the efforts of successive Albanian governments to improve public order and safety, organized crime does maintain a significant presence in the country. There are also a large number of illegal firearms in the hands of the population, including criminals, and gun battles between gangs can result in civilian casualties. For that reason, it is still not recommended to walk the streets of Tirana after dark, nor to hang about in the streets of provincial cities, or wander into dubious bars or clubs. (2019)

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,, Albania is a very safe country to travel in! If the locals seem a little standoffish it’s probably just because they can’t understand why you might want to come to a place they are trying to get away from. After all, we all know the streets of London are paved with gold. When you get to know them they couldn’t be nicer and more welcoming.

Albania is safe. You’re unlikely to have your stuff nicked be cheated or get beaten up. Just use a little common sense. It's better to use the local currency though as you can lose out paying in Euros with the exchange rate. (Alan Durant, 2020)


Albania - cemetery - rest in peace - fica photo

Others

1. ,, In Albania it’s relatively hard to find people who speak English. As a visitor, it makes it difficult to communicate. If struggling takes a chance and rely on the kindness of strangers.

2. Several times during my trip to Albania, the power went out in restaurants and in the apartment. Sometimes it would last a few seconds, and sometimes for several minutes. No one seemed to make a big deal about it. Its gives you a good opportunity to tell ghost stories or play dark hide and seek.

3. ,, Although the beaches are often extremely nice there can often be a lot of rubbish, litter, and garbage lying about, in the streets as well. Though there are many none touristy beaches that are better. (
Alan Durant, 2020)

Albania - Qerett - g.m. photo

Background

Albania - national flag - double-headed eagle - s.i. photo

Destination in brief

Albania in brief 
  • Albania located on the Adriatic coast of the Balkan peninsula. Neighbors: Montenegro, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Greece), across from the “heel of the Italian boot" (Puglia)  

  • Size: 28,748 km²  (11,100 mi²)

    Capital city: Tirana, Language: Albanian (no close linguistic relatives), written in the Latin alphabet

    Population: 2.8 million (2020) - 38%-60% (numbers vary) of the population is identifying as culturally Muslim today.

    Religion: 80% of the population is Muslim (religion is separated from the public sphere, and citizens show strong support for secularism), 16% Christians

  • The official currency is Lek (ALL)

  • Albania is the fourth poorest country of Europe (after Moldova, Ukraine and Kosovo), but has made remarkable economic progress over the past three decades, after terrible communist (Stalinist) rule (1945-1991)   

  • Average monthly net salary: 343 USD (2019)

  • Albania is a safe country for tourists, no terror threats

  • No notable health hazards 

  • Domestic tourism is increasing rapidly (almost 6 million in 2018), most visitors come for beach vacations on the Adriatic and the Ionian coasts, combined with visits to historical sights

  • July-August is the peak tourist season, but the best times to visit are April-June or September-October

  • Albania is a very cheap tourist destination, especially compared to Croatia or Greece     

  • Things to note: Nodding means “no", while shaking the head means “yes” in Albania (like in Bulgaria)  

Most important sights: 
  • Tirana, the capital city

  • Three UNESCO World Heritage sites: the archeological site of Butrint, Gijokastra museum city, Berat Kruja (a crucial city in the Albanian history, plus the oldest bazaar) 

  • Some lovely beaches (Himara, Dhermi, Ksamil, Borshi, Lukova

  • Divjakë-Karavasta National Park 

  • The Blue Eye water spring

Some lakes: Lake Shkodër, Lake Ohrid, Lake Prespa, Butrint Lake 

The city of Sarandë

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,, Albania isn’t called Albania, instead, the name for the nation in its mother tongue is Shqipëri. It’s wise to have a drink before trying to pronounce it, you might hurt yourself. Better still get a mother to say it for you.

Albanian is a language not closely related to others and hard to learn, a point of pride for many Albanians. It's broken up into many dialects to add to your incomprehension. (Alan Durant, 2020)



Geography

,, Though small, Albania boasts more than 3,250 species of plants, which accounts for 30 percent of all flora in Europe. The best place to see the country’s colorful stock is its national parks, of which there is a number. You might even see eagles, the national bird.
Llogara is best for vibrant flora and fauna. (Alan Durant, 2020)

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Qafa e Llogarasë means The Llogara Pass. Qafë can mean either ‘pass’ or ‘neck’ because Albanians picture their mountain ranges – which cover practically the the whole country – as reclining giants, which can be crossed most easily at the the lowest point, the neck. The Llogara pass, however, is special, because on one side is a mountain range and on the other a sheer cliff above the sea below. Anyone who loves to admire nature, and who plans to visit Southern Albania, should definitely take the Riviera Route, which runs along the Llogara pass. The pass can be reached from sea level, and when you reach the top you can admire the meeting point of the Adriatic and Ionian seas from a vantage point of 1027m. This is the highest point on the coast road between Vlora and Saranda. The Llogara Pass lies in the center of the Çika mountain range, which in turn is part of the Llogara National Park. The highest point on this range is 2044m high, and can be seen just a little to the south of the Llogara Pass. This mountain range runs right down Albania’s Ionian coastline, as far as Albania’s most southerly city, Saranda.

 

Albania - Berat area - Ura E Kasabashit - s.g. photo

Albania - Gramsh - Holta Canyon - s.g. photo

Albania - Elbasan - Mirake - great hiking trails - s.g. photo

Albania - Grama Bay - m.b. photo

History

,, Albanian Land of – let me think…? OK we know a bit more than that, but most people have very little idea, and often what they do know tends to be negative. A place most people would struggle to find on a map and, until relativity recently, hard to get into and even harder to leave.

Albanians, well the men at least, traditionally have a taste for tall conical hats, impressive waxed .moustaches, long rifles, and stern expressions. Byron, apart from being mad bad and dangerous to know, liked Albania. During his visit in 1809 he wrote, Albanians have the most “magnificent” dresses in the world and told of his horse-riding in the country. Not sure if he was wearing a dress at the time. Being Byron it’s not impossible.

“Land of Albania. Let me bend mine eyes on thee, thou rugged nurse of savage men,” he wrote in “Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage”.

The only idea I had about Albania before visiting was their tendency to feud. In northern and central Albania, an ancient code of conduct known as the kanun still exists. It can lead to blood feuds spanning generations, entire families taking turns to kill each other. Even Albania’s last king, Zog, had to evade 55 assassination attempts, on occasion returning fire with the would-be assassin’s.

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Quirks Enver Hoxha, the somewhat paranoid Stalinists ex-leader of Albania, had over 750,000 defensive bunkers built out across the land, much to the joy of rough sleepers. You can play spot the bunker as you hurtle down the pothole-filled roads. There are two main types just to make the game more interesting. As Hoxa managed to piss just about everybody off I suppose they made some sense, at least for a paranoid dictator.  (Alan Durant, 2020)

Albania - Communist-era bunker in the middle of the farmland - d.p. photo

Nowadays

,, As you travel about you’re likely to notice a large number of scarecrows in odd places. Albanians believe that a scarecrow placed on a home or other building while it’s under construction will ward off envy from the neighbors. The scarecrow will be impaled on a rod or hung by a rope-like a noose to bring good luck. Presumably not for the scarecrow. (Alan Durant, 2020)

Albania - street milieu beyond the tourist areas - b.k. photo

People

,, Albanians are not the dour drab people you might have envisaged. In the evenings, the locals like to stroll. It's not just a walk. Known as xhiro, it’s sort of an official evening walk where every resident comes out to stretch their legs and catch up with their neighbors. In many towns, the roads close to cars for certain hours! Gives you a chance to meet people as well.

Albanians do have their idiosyncrasy’s. Albanians will shake their heads when agreeing with you and nod when not. The understandable confusion this can give rise to can lead to moments of hilarity, the making of new friends, sometimes in strange places, and garner the occasional slap.

The majority of Albanians are Muslim. (About 70%) but don’t worry you can still get a beer. In general, things are pretty relaxed
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Albanians have no concept of personal space. You will probably be jostled, squeezed, bumped, and bored. The idea of queuing in an orderly manner is completely lost on them. When you go into a shop, everyone runs in and races to the counter to be served. To make sure that no one can get in front of them, they make sure there is no space between them and the person in front of them.

People will stop their cars in the middle of the street and go into a shop. OK, this happens in Greece as well. You can end up sitting on a bus for a while until the car driver returns. If it’s not too hot this is fine but otherwise can be a pain. Sometimes the bus driver will go into the shop to get the person in question. This resolves the problem, sometimes with, sometimes without, shouting.  (Alan Durant, 2020)

Albania - a honourable knight - s.g. photo

Tourist etiquette

1. ,, Fear not intrepid traveler, if you refrain from stealing an Albanian’s mustache wax, maligning his wife’s fidelity, or suggesting his daughter's mustache is more impressive than his, your average Albanian is friendly." (Alan Durant, 2020)

Attractions

The Krujë Bazaar

The Pazari i Derexhikut, or old bazaar of Krujë is an institution that almost disappeared in the early years of the twentieth century but returned to life under the communist government. In its heyday it comprised over 150 shops, selling everything necessary for the town. Now there are 60 shops, filled exclusively with tourist items.

The town of Krujë is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Albania, with its cobbled streets leading up towards the castle on the hill. The bazaar has a real eastern flavor, with an eclectic mix of the old and the new. Unlike elsewhere, however, the vendors here are both helpful and polite – they’re happy to make conversation and don’t simply attempt to sell you their products at the highest possible price.

 

Albania - Kruje Bazaar - c.l. photo

Butrint

A Unesco World Heritage site -  offers archaeological sites that date back to the Romans.

Berat

The Albanian town of Berat, once a frontier town of the Byzantine Empire, boasts a UNESCO-prescribed Old Town and was rated as one of the most beautiful places in Europe.

Albania - Berat - m.b. photo

Ksamil

,, Ksamil village is a group of 3 islands that lie about 15 km south of Sarande. It tends to heave with tourists during the season so it depends if you like being cheek by jowl with other tourists. I suppose it depends on the tourists. It is a really nice place though with clear blue waters and white sand. All the usual cliche’s.

The main beach in Ksamil is very pretty and super crowded. Meaning, if you don’t get there early, there will be no more sun chairs available, but then too much sunbathing is bad for you. The good news? You can travel by small boat to the small nearby islands for a different scene. For a mere 500 LEK roundtrip ($4) you can hop on a small motorboat and get dropped off at the island of your choice. You must arrange with the driver on a pickup time to take you back unless you fancy spending some time doing a Robinson Crusoe. Bear in mind that these islands do not have restaurants bars or shops so go equipped. (Alan Durant, 2020)


Albania - Ksamil - beach - s.k. photo

Albania - Ksamil - s.r. photo (in early season)

Blue Eye

,, If you’re not such a beachy person but still like nature you might fancy Syris Kalter or the “Blue Eye” as it is known locally. It’s a natural phenomenon located about 20km east of Sarande. It forms a blue portal-like hole and is supplied by an underwater natural spring. The depth of the Blue Eye remains a mystery, but there are documented reports of divers reaching around 50 meters in depth. Take care though, it’s absolutely freezing just leaping in is not recommended if you want to keep your heart running in its normal fashion. If you do risk going in it’s a good idea to count your bits when you get out in case something has fallen off. (Alan Durant, 2020)


Saranda (Sarandë)

Albania - Saranda - evening - e.b. photo

Beaches

Albania - Mirror (Pasqyrat) beach between Saranda and Ksamil - m.b. photo

Albania - Gjipe Beach - m.b. photo

Albania - Gijokastra - s.g. photo

Gijokastra

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