If you’re considering a Mediterranean holiday, don’t overlook the relatively undiscovered, culturally rich, naturally stunning Albania, northwest of Greece and west of North Macedonia. As one of few remaining hidden gems in Europe, it pays to visit now before the secret is out. Storybook villages with friendly local people, dramatic ocean views, a vibrant capital city - Albania has all the makings of the next must-see European destination. Here’s why we love it.
Captivating Rural Culture
While the larger cities of Albania, like the capital of Tirana, are morphing into more sophisticated versions of themselves, the countryside still reveals the true character of the region. As soon as you leave city limits, you’re greeted with tranquil landscapes, herds of sheep and cows grazing and hospitable hamlets, where many townsfolk have turned their homes into guest pensions. Depending on the area of Albania you visit, you’ll meet people from the country’s two main cultural groups: the Ghegs and Tosks, each with a strong national identity and native culture.
Speaking of Tirana, this lively Balkan capital is home to numerous museums and art galleries that will take up the better part of your day. If you’re an art lover, don’t miss Bunk’Art on the outskirts of the city - an old underground bunker from the Communist era that has been renovated into a gorgeous art museum. Through the artworks displayed here, one gets an Albania history lesson, from Italian occupation through Communism. Other favorites in Tirana include BunkArt2 and the National History Museum, the largest museum in the country.
For those who can’t get enough sun-dappled Mediterranean goodness, there are the bountiful beaches of Albania. Along the Albanian Riviera, you’ll find secret coves of clear, turquoise water lapping up against white-sand beaches. Perhaps the most popular are Ksamil, Dhermi and Borsh beaches, but truly any stretch of sand between Ksamil and Vlora is gorgeous. Best part? There are virtually no crowds, unlike many beach resort areas in Europe.
Numerous UNESCO World Heritage Sites
Check a few more of these culturally significant areas off your list. Albania’s rich history lends itself to several UNESCO World Heritage sites, including the towns of Berat and Gjirokastra, where you’ll see beautiful examples of Ottoman-era houses. Archaeology buffs should make their way to Butrint, an ancient Greek and later Roman city, as well as Apollonia.
Fresh, Delicious Cuisine
In a largely rural country, where nearly everyone grows their own food, it’s no surprise that the Albanian cuisine relies heavily on locally sourced ingredients. From the seafood to the street food, the choices here give any farm-to-table restaurant elsewhere a run for its money. Indulge in byrek, pita, yogurt sauce, olives and cheese. For one of the most traditional Albanian tastes, try ferges, a dish that consists of tomato sauce, cottage cheese, green peppers and garlic and is referred to as a “summer stew” because the locals like to eat it cold.
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