Alluring Albania: 7 Reasons to Visit

Alluring Albania: 7 Reasons to Visit

Since stepping out from behind the Iron Curtain, Albania has gone from closed-off Communist country to hidden gem of the travel industry. It’s no surprise that publications like Harper’s Bazaar, the Financial Times, and National Geographic (to name a few) have listed it as one of their top places to visit. With beautiful sandy beaches, sweeping mountain views, rich history, and warm hospitality, it’s easy to fall in love with the enchanting Land of Eagles.

Experience Albania in 2020!Albania is truly a treasure to experience, and now is the time to visit! Explore this beautiful Balkan country on our NEW small group tour, Albania: Beyond the Guidebook.

Here are some of the things that make Albania so alluring!

1. Hospitality is a way of life

Cobo Winery in Berat, Albania

A centuries old tradition, Albanians take hospitality seriously.

Albanians are overwhelmingly warm and friendly, their hospitality legendary. For hundreds of years, they’ve operated on the principal of besa (“pledge of honor”) when it comes to taking care of others. As a result, Albanians take hospitality and kindness seriously, and they’re renowned for it. Stories abound of Albanian families taking in and caring for refugees, harboring Jews during the Holocaust, or Muslims fundraising to help rebuild a Christian church. No matter where you go in Albania, you can be sure a warm welcome awaits.

2. Exquisite cuisine

Albanian cuisine: diverse and delicious. Photo: Europa Travel

Albanian cuisine: diverse and delicious.
Photo: Europa Travel

Inspired by the Ottoman Empire and the Mediterranean climate, Albanian cuisine features a lot of fresh produce and meat, especially lamb and fish. Phyllo dough is a common feature in many dishes, sweet and savory alike. Make sure to sample a slice of byrek, a flaky and savory cheese-filled pastry, or sticky-sweet Baklava. Other traditional favorites are tavë kosim (a quiche-like dish made with eggs, lamb, and yogurt) or qofte, grilled meatballs. Albanian wines are quite good too, thanks to the rich soil where several species of indigenous grapes grow. Of course, part of the charm of Albanian cuisine is the people you share it with; be prepared to share stories with strangers over coffee or glasses of raki, a strong and fiery Albanian brandy made from grapes or plums.

3. Tirana – character & color

Colorful buildings in Tirana. Photo: Victor Bloomfield

Colorful buildings in Tirana.
Photo: Victor Bloomfield

With the collapse of the Communism, Albania said goodbye to Soviet gray and welcomed color in almost every shade imaginable, especially in the vibrant city of Tirana. Walking through the streets is a feast for the eyes, with buildings splashed in swirling hues and geometric patterns. Tirana may not be known for sophistication, but what it lacks in elegance, it makes up for in charm and energy. Award-winning restaurants, avant-garde museums, funky boutiques, and cultural landmarks showcase a city that is teeming with life and character.

4. Bunkers, bunkers everywhere

Remnants of a Soviet past, bunkers dot the Albanian landscape.Photo: Paul Schwartz

Remnants of a Soviet past, bunkers dot the Albanian landscape.
Photo: Paul Schwartz

It’s difficult to ignore Albania’s Communist history when it’s in plain sight. More than 173,000 nuclear fallout shelters left over from the Soviet era pepper the Albanian landscape. Never used and falling apart, many Albanians came to resent them as painful reminders of the Soviet regime’s poor spending. These days, they’re finding new life as pop-up shops, cafes, and even tiny hotels! Perhaps the most famous bunker is the one built for socialist dictator Enver Hoxha in Tirana. With over 100 rooms spread across five stories underground, the shelter was intended to protect Albania’s leadership from nuclear war. Now, it’s open to the public as Bunk’Art – part history museum, part art installation.

5. Mediterranean paradise

Albanian Riviera. Photo: Albanian National Tourism Agency/Europa Travel

Soak up the sun in the Albanian Riviera.
Photo: Albanian National Tourism Agency/Europa Travel

A trip to Albania isn’t complete without a stop at one of the pristine beaches along the Albanian Riviera. Sparkling turquoise waters rival other Mediterranean beaches, providing an incredible backdrop for sightseeing and soaking up the sun. Step back in time at the ruins of the ancient Greco-Roman city Butrint, a UNESCO World Heritage site, or explore the shore in the lively port town of Saranda, which enjoys over 300 days of sun. Now is the time to visit – many of the beaches are still under the radar when compared to other Balkan countries, like Croatia.

6. Lake Ohrid

Lake Ohrid from Albania. Photo: Joanna Millick

Charming villages, warm hospitality, and spectacular views at Lake Ohrid.
Photo: Joanna Millick

The Albanian Riviera isn’t the only place for great beaches! UNESCO-listed Lake Ohrid, straddling the border between Albania and North Macedonia, is a must see for the abundance of natural beauty and scenic views of the mountains. One of the deepest and oldest freshwater lakes in the world, Lake Ohrid is home to over 200 endemic species, including the Koran whitefish, a popular delicacy in the region. Dip your toes into its cool waters, dine on fresh-caught fish, and savor sunset over the lake. While there, make sure to stop at Tushemisht, a quaint village of Venice-like freshwater canals, or Pogradec, the location of ancient Illyrian ruins.

7. Mountain marvels

Valbone Valley in Albanian Alps. Photo: Mike Belton & Karen McGrath

Views and hiking abound in Albania’s mountains.
Photo: Mike Belton & Karen McGrath

Experience a slower pace of life and warm hospitality in the fresh mountain air while exploring Mother Nature’s bounty. Dominating almost 70% of the country, Albania is home to an incredible number of mountain ranges, which provided a strong deterrent against invaders for centuries, and helped isolate the country during the Soviet era. The mountains in Albania are still relatively unexplored in most places, and the infrastructure is a work in progress. But for those willing to make the long bus ride into places like Valbona Valley National Park, they are in for a treat: sweeping vistas, dramatic peaks, and miles of untouched nature in every direction waiting to be discovered.

Travel to Albania with MIR

MIR has over two decades of Balkans travel experience, with on-the-ground support and guides and tour managers that clients rave about. Our full service dedication, commitment to quality, and destination expertise have twice earned us a place on National Geographic Adventure’s list of “Best Adventure Travel Companies on Earth.”

It’s easy to visit Albania on one of our group tours or incorporate it into a private independent trip. MIR specializes in personalized, private journeys, and we’d love to take your ideas and weave them into a trip tailored especially for you.

Dive deep and discover all that Albania has to offer on our NEW small group tour, Albania: Beyond the Guidebook.

Here are four other ways to explore Albania with MIR:

Chat with a MIR destination specialist about traveling to Albania by phone (800-424-7289) or email today. 

(Top photo:  A sweeping view of the River Osum from Berat, Albania. Photo: Peter Guttman) 

PUBLISHED: November 20, 2019

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