Until a few years ago, if we were presented at the travel agency asking for a brochure on Albania, nothing could be found. If the question “Where are you going this year on holiday?” You answered “in Albania” you were considered crazy if you did not add a good explanation.
Despite an indisputable beauty, the country has remained out of the classic tour of mass tourism. Fortunately, one might say, since this allowed him to remain a rare and intact jewel, at least in the European context. Lonely Planet this year has included Tirana among the destinations not to be missed, calling it “one of the most vibrant capitals in Europe”. The New York Times, anticipating the times, considered it an unavoidable goal as early as 2014.
While remaining a niche, however, to talk about something has moved. And in recent summer seasons there has been an increase in tourists who have tiled their Instagram or Facebook profiles with photos of the Land of Eagles. Joking, but not too much, on social networks Albania was defined as the hipster destination of 2018. Not only that, it began to be recommended as a holiday destination for magazines and more mainstream travel sites. Result? From 2012 to 2017, the number of foreigners has risen from 3.2 million to 5.1 million, including national tourism, which is substantial and is also formed by Albanians living abroad and returning to their homeland, from all the parts of the world, helping to increase the positive data on tourism.
Being snubbed by organized tours, it has remained an unknown and wild destination, something quite rare in the Mediterranean. This has allowed us to keep very low prices and offer excellent value for money for hotels, restaurants and places of tourist interest. The advantage for us Italians is further, because Albania is very close. Flights from several airlines depart daily from a dozen Italian cities to Tirana, which can be reached in less than an hour. In the north of the country, among other things, this year Kukës airport is back in operation and another airport is already under construction, in the south, in the city of Vlora, which will become the most modern in Albania. From Brescia the most convenient airports to reach Tirana are those of Bergamo and Verona, both have direct daily flights at low prices and with good last minute offers with Ernest and Blu Panorama. And for those who want to take the car with them, low cost ferries leave from Puglia and the Marche; although moving around by taxi is everywhere very cheap. The linguistic factor is also on the tourists’ side: most Albanians communicate in at least one foreign language. Among the younger generations, everyone speaks English and very many Italian as their language, especially the people who watched TV during the regime and listened to the music of the Bel Paese.
In addition to the language, even sitting at the table will not make Italian tourists feel nostalgic. Coffee and wine are excellent. At the moment the Albanian wine sector is reduced, with only 30 wineries, but it is estimated that the number will increase. Coffee is widely consumed and exists in Italian and Turkish variants, the result of the country’s multicultural history.
Food is everywhere cheap, even in the capital, where next to chic restaurants you can eat street food at the stalls for very few leke. The cuisine is very similar to the Mediterranean, and Italian in particular, with many vegetarian proposals such as fërgesë, peppers with ricotta, or speca të mbushur, sweet peppers stuffed (usually rice or ricotta). Other typical dishes are the byrek (or burek), a savory pie of phyllo stuffed with meat and onions or even with vegetables (the street food par excellence) or the japrak, the rolls of vine leaves. At the end of the meal, but also at other times of the day, and especially at parties and weddings, we drink the raki, the Albanian white grappa. Similar to the Greek ouzo, it is consumed with the sound of toast: «Gezuar!».
The Albanians then have a veneration for tourists who are considered everywhere a great resource, a consequence, this, of isolation during the dictatorship. For the Albanians, bujaria, hospitality, is sacred and makes the stranger always feel at home.
The Land of the Eagles is the perfect destination for all types of tourists. For the adventurous, who loves walking and exploring, there are trekking routes of all levels. You can walk in the Teth Natural Park on the Albanian Alps, or face the 193-kilometer circuit of the Balkan Peaks. The two Albanian peaks of the chain are called Bjeshket and Namuna and are also called “Mountains cursed” because of their harsh nature and insurmountable appearance. Or finally, you can reach Saranda by walking along the mountain chain of Çika, parallel to the Ionian coast, in the Llogara National Park.
For those who love history and architecture there is no lack of UNESCO heritage sites such as Argirocastro, Butrint and Berat, but also the primeval forests of beech trees. Tirana is a city of cultural interest with museums and buildings that refer to its communist past. But above all it is perfect for vacationers who dream of the sea, with long and sandy shorelines and clear and clean waters. The beaches of Valona, Saranda and Ksamil are called the Salento of Albania with the plus of being little beaten and therefore very quiet.
The cultural melting pot of Albanian society makes it a country suspended between East and West and gives it a cosmopolitan and international look that invites young travelers above all. It attracts them to discover the pristine shores and to dance on its beaches. An example of this is the Kala Festival, the first international event of this kind that took place this summer in June. The review of electromusic in Dhërmi, in the Gulf of Grama, was included among the eight unmissable festivals in 2018 according to RedBull. A week of international electronic music that has welcomed bands like Phonica, Stamp the Wax, Feelings and Savage, as well as Moodymann, Depth Charge, Hot Chip and Maurice Fulton.
Returning to the capital, Tirana offers its visitors some museums of its history and its communist past and then churches, mosques and markets. With its 811.649 inhabitants Tirana is an economic metropolis, hospitable and with a lively nightlife, but it is also an open construction site, in the literal sense of the term. The urban appearance is changing, modernizing and improving the image with openings of new premises, cultural events and a renewal of infrastructure, including streets. But the Blloku district is the most characteristic corner of the capital. The block, this is the translation into Italian, is a district that attracts more young people. Once it was the district that housed the residences of the communist hierarchy during the regime, then converted into clubs, restaurants and nightclubs. One way, this, to exorcise the years of deprivation imposed by the dictatorship ended in 1992. Among the most popular places it is worth mentioning Radio Tirana, among the trendiest with live music, vintage and eclectic decor with bright colors and potted plants ; Charl’s Bistro, which features 60s-70s and 80s music every evening; the Hemingway Bar, famous for rum and jazz music; Tirana Rock Cafe, where the most famous Albanian rock bands perform; the Discobox, located inside the Academy of Arts, where electronic music resounds until the early hours of the morning (and the entrance fee is 500 leke – less than 4 euros – with drink).
In short, there are many reasons to visit Albania and it is easy to imagine that the flow of tourism will continue to grow in the coming years. If you want to get a better idea of what the country offers, you can visit the official website of tourism, particularly active and updated, or take a look at the many blogs of travelers both Italian and foreign.