Albania is slowly but surely creeping back onto the tourist scene and about time too! There is a great deal to see and do here without the suffocating crowds of the neighboring South European countries. Think unspoilt beaches on the Ionian Coast, UNESCO listed Butrint, ancient Berat and capital city Tirana which is emerging from years of troubles.
Explore the Ruins of Butrint
In ancient times, what is now Albania is where the Greeks and Romans went when they wanted to get away from it all. Of course, they also took a lot of it with them - huge villas, amphitheatres and temples are scattered throughout the Albanian coast, and most of them have been carefully preserved and opened up to the public. The best place to see them is in Butrint which was once a Roman vacation city and is now a UNESCO world heritage site. Subject to intense modern archaeological exploration, these ruins are a window into what the idle rich used to do with their time - mostly, drink, eat and enjoy the view, which you can do while visiting the ruins they left behind.
Discover ancient Berat
Albania has two UNESCO recognised sites and (along with Butrint) Berat and Gjirokastra were added in 2005. Berat was established with a fortified acropolis in the 6th century BC although extensive archaeological research suggests that settlements may have existed here since 4000. Today the city of Berat is nestled within 7 hills and is split in two by the River Osum. Today travellers can explore the various religious buildings, archaeological remains and important monuments. Wonder the architectural excellence of Berat Castle and walls and the traditional Albanian quarters such as Kala, Gorica and Mangalem.
Get to know the capital city Tirana
The capital of Albania, Tirana was established in 1614, where the founding lord constructed a bakery, a mosque and a Turkish bath! Today the city has shaken off the Communist past to emerge as a lively city with good bars, restaurants and shops. The downside is that the traffic can be hectic and there is still not much English spoken. I visited a few years ago on a day trip from Corfu and it was a charming place. Visit the Et'hem Bey Mosque which was built in 1821, learn the local history at the National Historic Museum which was sadly looted extensively in the 1990s and browse the ancient artefacts at the National Archaeological Museum. Enjoy a traditional coffee on Murat Toptani Street, live it large at the casinos and bars at the Taiwan Complex and take the cable car up Mount Dajti where you can admire the views atop the mountain or hike and trek the local area. There is also horse riding, skiing and climbing activities on offer here.
Hit the Beach at The Albanian Riviera
Because of its light population, Soviet government and minimal development, Albania has some of the most natural, undeveloped beaches in all of the Mediterranean. Left out of the Industrial Revolution almost entirely, Albanian beaches are largely devoid of pollution or development, with only a few houses built well above the waterline on most of the coast. As such, Albanian beaches offer some of the best opportunities for swimming, sunbathing and snorkelling in the Mediterranean. The best beaches are located on the Albanian Riviera, which stretches from Vlore to Sarande along the Ionian Sea. Sarande beach is a popular spot for good amenities and clear waters.
Eco-Tourism in the Alps and Osum
The lack of modern industrial development in Albania has been a boon to scientists, hikers and nature-lovers. Wanting to capitalize on the now rare and valuable forest land and mountains which fill the countryside, Albania has converted vast tracks of its old-growth forest into state-protected parks, offering some of the biggest and most wild wilderness in all of Europe. Known both for its sheer mountains and extensive network of deep, mountain-fed streams, Albania is a haven for hikers, off-road cyclists, boaters and nature lovers. The steep Albanian mountains and their swift rivers also make white-water rafting fun and challenging for all skill classes. The Osum Canyon is the most popular place for rafting With bus, boat and helicopter tours for the less athletically inclined, Albania offers a deep and diverse array of natural splendour for visitors.
Go Skiing in the Albanian Alps
During the Soviet era, Albania was a popular skiing destination for those in the Eastern Bloc. With an intense variety of slopes located in the Albanian Alps, Albania was seen as the "Switzerland of the East," since it offered such a diversity in slope type, style and availability. Due to the high altitude of many of its peaks, skiing is available almost all-year round, although it is at its best in January and February when the peaks are coated in a fine powder. The lack of pollution and industrial development assists in making this winter-wonderland something not to be missed. The thrill and excitement of skiing old-fashioned slopes, which have not been handcrafted or hand-packed like modern ones, also enables skiers to challenge themselves.
Take an Agri-Tourism tour in Moscopole
Many people have never been to a farm but Moscopole in southeast Albania, meanwhile, continues to do things the old fashioned way, from animal based shallow ploughing to hand churning and hand crafting of many foods. This enables you to taste how food tasted before the industrial revolution as well as see (or even assist in) traditional farming techniques. Many farming villages (mostly located in and around Moscopole) are now set up for tourism and look forward to visitors, inviting them to sample the local wines, beers, vodkas and breads, as well as local delicacies. This enables visitors to not only have a unique experience, but to encounter the unique local culture and cuisine in a friendly, safe environment with eager, welcoming locals.
Albania is one of our recommended 10 Exciting Travel Destinations to Explore in 2013 so get in quick!