by Andy Khong
Nestled in the heart of the Balkans, Albania is a captivating country with a history as rich and diverse as its landscapes. From ancient civilizations to modern-day wonders, this often-overlooked destination is a treasure trove of history and culture waiting to be explored.
Skanderbeg Square, Tirana.
A Tapestry of Ancient History:
Albania’s history stretches back millennia, leaving a legacy of ancient civilizations that have shaped the country’s identity. The Illyrians, a proud and mysterious people, once inhabited these lands and laid the foundation for the region’s cultural heritage. Traces of their existence can still be found in archaeological sites scattered across the country.
One such place that whispers stories of the past is the UNESCO-listed Butrint National Park. Situated in the south of Albania, Butrint showcases an array of ruins, including a well-preserved Roman theatre, ancient temples, and a Byzantine basilica. Wander through the remnants of this once-great city and let your imagination transport you back in time.
Roman Theatre, Butrint National Park.
Touristy Wonders of Albania:
While Albania remains relatively undiscovered by the masses, there are a few touristy spots that have garnered attention for their remarkable beauty. The Albanian Riviera, stretching along the south-western coast, boasts pristine beaches, crystal-clear waters, and charming coastal villages. Explore the idyllic town of Saranda, known for its laid-back ambiance and breathtaking sunsets, or head to Ksamil, a cluster of small islands with powdery white beaches and turquoise waters.
Berat – The City of a Thousand Windows.
Inland, the historic town of Berat stands as a living museum with its well-preserved Ottoman architecture and medieval citadel. The city’s white-washed houses, nestled on the slopes of a hill, have earned Berat the nickname “The City of a Thousand Windows.”
Venturing north, the ancient city of Shkodër awaits with its historic significance and proximity to the picturesque Shkodër Lake, the largest in the Balkans. Shkodër is a gateway to the Albanian Alps, where hikers and nature enthusiasts can explore the beauty of Valbona Valley National Park and Theth National Park.
Valbona Valley National Park.
The Puzzling Bomb Shelters:
One curious feature you’ll encounter while exploring Albania is the presence of numerous bomb shelters scattered throughout the country. During the rule of Enver Hoxha, Albania’s former communist leader, the government constructed an extensive network of bunkers to protect the population from potential attacks. At the height of Hoxha’s regime, there were approximately 173,000 bunkers across Albania, making them an integral part of the nation’s history.
Today, many of these bunkers remain as eerie remnants of the past, dotting the landscape and serving as a poignant reminder of Albania’s tumultuous history. Some of the larger bunkers have been repurposed as cafes, museums, or art installations, while others stand abandoned, inviting curiosity and reflection.
Small underground bunker.
A Warm Welcome and Delightful Cuisine:
The real charm of Albania lies in its people and their warm hospitality. As you travel through this hospitable nation, you’ll be met with open arms, invited into homes, and treated like family. The locals’ genuine curiosity and eagerness to share their culture will make your journey all the more memorable.
And speaking of culture, Albanian cuisine is a delightful surprise for food enthusiasts. Savour a variety of dishes influenced by Mediterranean and Balkan flavours, including fresh seafood, succulent grilled meats, and an array of mouth-watering pastries. The locals take pride in their culinary traditions, and every meal is an opportunity to savour the true taste of Albania. Be sure to try specialties such as “byrek” (a savoury pastry filled with meat, cheese, or vegetables) and “tavë kosi” (baked lamb with yogurt), accompanied by a glass of Rakia, the traditional fruit brandy.
Byrek, savoury pastry filled with meat, cheese, or vegetables.
Tavë Kosi, baked lamb with yogurt.
An Undiscovered Gem Awaits:
As you consider your next travel destination, don’t overlook Albania. This Balkan beauty offers a tapestry of history, picturesque landscapes, and genuine hospitality that will leave an indelible mark on your heart. Wander through ancient ruins, bask in the splendour of the Albanian Riviera, and uncover the mysteries of the country’s past through its unique bunkers.
Albania’s allure lies not only in its unspoiled nature but also in its warmth and authenticity. Embrace the spirit of adventure, and let Albania surprise and captivate you like no other destination can. The time is now; the hidden gem of the Balkans awaits your discovery!
Albania Guide: https://www.youngpioneertours.com/albania-guide/
YPT’s Communist Albania Tour 2023: https://www.youngpioneertours.com/tour/communist-albania-tour/