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Albania

For as far back as anyone can remember Albania has been overlooked by tourists in favour of its more straightforwardly appealing neighbours. But today, this handsome land’s sultry climate, unspoilt beaches, breathtaking mountains and riveting history are enticing adventurous travellers to give it a second look. 

Situated in southeast Europe, at the geographic crossroads of history’s mightiest empires, the architecture and culture of Albania bear witness to almost 3,000 years of history. From Roman amphitheatres to Byzantine monasteries, Ottoman-era forts and looming Soviet hulks, Albania today presents travellers with a peerless opportunity to delve into past glories and reflect on tragic historic missteps side by side. 

Small wonder noted Romantic poet Lord Byron was moved to write, “Land of Albania, let me bend mine eyes on thee,” for the country boasts a startling array of dramatic and rugged scenery. Its coastline straddles both the Ionian and Adriatic seas and is studded with glittering beaches and secluded coves. The underexplored interior can vary anywhere between heart-stoppingly beautiful snow-capped summits, to the lush valleys of Valbona via craggy and photogenic karst limestone peaks.

If cities are more your speed, Albania’s capital Tirana is as noisy and bustling a place as you could hope to wind up in, with a boisterous bar scene and an ever-evolving retail community that’s changed beyond recognition since the country emerged from its communist slump. Optimistic, pastel-coloured architecture, delicate minarets and brash Soviet murals compete for the keen-eyed travellers’ camera lens. 

Fans of hearty meals rejoice – the Albanian diet is meat-heavy with a robust tradition of fermentation and what outsiders might call a ‘nose-to-tail’ ethos. Their national dish is tavë kosi, a superficially simple baked lamb and rice affair with garlic sauce on the side, but everybody has their own take on how to prepare it. For best results, enjoy with raki, a potent home-brewed grape brandy, followed up with baklava or the country’s famously sweet fresh cherries. 

So next time you’re planning a European getaway, look past the well-trodden roads of Albania’s more famous neighbours. Because here, off the beaten track, you’ll find the most unexpected treasures.

 

 

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