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The Gem of the Balkans
Albania is fast becoming one of the worlds most remarkable and interesting tourist destinations. Nestled in the heart of the turquoise blue Ionian and Adriatic Seas, Montenegro and Serbia are to the north, Macedonia to the east and Greece to the south. This little Balkan gem is relatively unspoiled by globalisation and plenty of its culture is still firmly intact.
There is an inspiring mixture of civilisations and cultures making this European country truly unique. Albania is composed of two major regions, a mountainous highland region and the most densely populated western coastal lowland region.
Albania boasts stunning beaches, snow peaked mountains, rivers, lakes and forests, historical monuments, ancient settlements and some of the most hospitable people in Europe. Nearly 40% of the country is forested, dominated by oak, elm, pine, beech and birch trees, wild animals such as eagles, wolves, deer and wild boars can be found in the rather inaccessible mountain regions.
The climate is mostly mild and temperate, typically Mediterranean, with lots of sunny weather and rain very unusual in the summer. Most of the annual rainfall occurs in the mountainous regions of the country during late autumn and early spring. Winters are cool, cloudy and wet, and the temperature sometimes drops below freezing at night. Summers are hot, clear and dry, the sea breeze keeps the Ionian coast slighter cooler. The interior of the country is cooler and wetter.
The cuisine of Albania is uniquely influenced by Turkish, Greek and Italian cuisines. The Albanians main meal is lunch which usually consists of gjelle, slowly cooked meat, and a salad of fresh vegetables dressed with olive oil, vinegar and salt. In Dardha you simply must try the famous lakror, a kind of pie baked in a traditional wood fire oven, or the snail and mushroom specialities.
Albania is the birthplace of Mother Theresa and great 15th century hero Skanderbeg, and is known for its isolation and totalitarian Communist government. Even after the Iron Curtain came down, Albania decided to go it alone, until 1992 when the Communist party finally relinquished power and Albania established a multi-party democracy with a coalition government.
Tirana is the capital and also the most important political, economic and culture centre of the country. Located in the centre of the country Tirana has an attractive night life offering a variety of restaurants, cuisines, bars, pubs and night clubs to visitors and locals alike. To the west, the Adriatic Sea and the largest and most popular beach in Albania, the Durrs beach, while to the East, the Dajti Mountain.
Tirana has lots to see in the way of historical buildings such as the Clock tower, the Ethern Beys Mosque, the Cemetery of the Martyrs and Petrela Castle, 18 km from the capital. The Castle is perched on a rocky hill, above the village with the same name and is triangular with two observation towers. The castle offers spectacular views of the Erzen valley, the hills, olive groves, and surrounding mountains.
Outside of the capital Albania is an absolute jewel just waiting to be discovered so come - discover Albania with us?
Kruja is one of the towns with the richest history in Albania and is only 32 km from Tirana. The main attraction is the 14th century castle overlooking the village, located on a hilltop. Leading up to Kruja castle on both sides of the cobbled-stoned alley is Kruja Bazaar which the locals call The Derexhiku Bazaar. This market-street has been running since the times of Skanderbeg in the 15th century, when the shops reached up to the entrance castle. The shops have wooden walls, ceilings and shutters and it is possible to buy various artisan products made of silver, copper, alabaster, as well as articles of embroidery, jewels, filigree and carpets.
The Qaf Shtama National Park is located 25 km to the north-west and the road that leads to the entrance of the park goes through the narrow Vaja Canyon, about 600-700 metres deep, formed by the Droja River that flows at its bottom. The legend goes that after the occupation of Kruja by the Turks, ninety young virgins from the town threw themselves down to the bottom of the canyon in order not to fall into the Turks' hands.
To the east of Tirana lies the Dajti National Park and because of its beautiful and dominant position overlooking the capital is also called Tiranas natural balcony. The vegetation is diverse with beech trees as old as 200 years and fauna include eagle, hawks, wolves and otters. The hunting reserves of Qaf Moll-Denjas and Berzana are situated close to Qaf Molla, among the animals found in the reserve are wild boar, mountain eagles, rock partridges, wild hares, etc.
The Great Tirana Park, located on the hills to the southeast of Tirana includes an artificial lake right in the middle of it. The park is home to many species of trees, decorative shrubs, and wildflowers and is a good place for sunbathing on the lake shore, or many other recreational purposes.
The main city of Southern Albania is Giirokaster and was declared a Museum City in 1961 and a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2005. The city has impressive architecture, the surprising landscape of the Drino Valley and the invincible lime peaks of the Bureto and Lunxheri mountain chains. A beautiful and tough place with an uncompromising spirit, Giirokaster has been the stage of many important events in the history of the country and was the birthplace of renowned Albanian writer Ismail Kadare.
Prmet is located in the southeastern part of Albania and is well known for its hospitality, thrift and its traditionally constructed and decorative houses. Permet is the place of origin of many reputable and historical figures such as the Frasheri Brothers and it is possible to visit their house. Prmet is known for its blacksmith tradition, silver works, the art of embroidery, wood, stone and metal products.
Tepelen was founded on the shores of the Vjosa River, and although its fortress is not as large and majestic as the castles of Berat, Shkoder and Gjirokastr, it has a very special atmosphere. The castle of Tepelene is an early Illyrian settlement and is in a good condition. The castle of Libohova was built by Ali Pasha Tepelena as a present for his sister Shanisha.
The ancient town of Antigonea was founded in 295 B.C. by Pirro, the King of Epirus. The castle is a grand fortress with a fantastic location dominating the whole Drino Valley. Within the castle is the Mosque of Paiazut Khan and to the north is the old market, Castle Market, with 40 shops.
In Central Albania the castle of Berat is one of the most massive historical monuments of the Balkans, a grand fortress that dominates the Osum River. There are fourteen churches inside the castle, which have made this castle very famous. The bridge on the Osum River links the city to the quarter of Goric where here the houses are built with stone slates dating from the 17th century.
The Quarter of Mangalem is located across the river from Goric and is typical 19th century Ottoman style. In the village of Kolonia is the medieval Monastery of Ardenica, a monument of culture having operated as a school and inn. The monastery is surrounded by a high defensive wall and a wooden main gate.
Overlooking the city of Berat, the mountain of Tomorr, has been a National Park since 1966. The holes and caves of this mountain are shrouded in legends and many wild animals such as the grey bear, wolf, fox and wild cat live in the forests.
The canyon of Osum starts in Hambul, stretching for 15 km and continues all the way to the town of OrovodIt. The canyon valleys are particularly beautiful and ideal for rafting. The canyon of Gradec is found near the Cave of Pirogoshi, in the valley of the Osum River. This canyon stretches for 4 km and its sharp-dropping slopes reach up to 40 m, while in the bottom of the river bed it reaches a width of 1.5 m. It is suitable for kayaking.
Kora is the main city in South-eastern Albania. It is an interesting historical city with rich cultural traditions and fascinating buildings from the Ottoman period. The region has been inhabited from ancient times and has played a significant part in the expansion of Byzantine Christianity in Albania. Today Kora represents one of the most delightful and pristine cities in Albania with a unique tradition of its own.
Visit the neighbourhoods between Shn Gjergj and Republika boulevards, with their characteristic cobble-stoned alleys. The city is particularly known for its characteristic songs, otherwise known as "Kora serenades" which are commonly sung to guitar accompaniment. Among the most attractive events in Kora are the Carnival Days. The Carnival festival is one of the biggest of its kind in the country and is usually celebrated right before Easter.
Unique in Europe are the Selca Tombs, five impressive monumental tombs built at the end of the 4th century in the highlands of Mokra 40 km from Pogradec in Lower Selca. Their interior consists of an ante-room and a burial room with a stone bed for the body and shelves for burial equipment. A little further on is a bandstand, thought to have been used for the funeral ceremony.
The Via Egnatia used to be one of the most important routes of the Roman Empire, with two branches, one starting from Durrs and the other from Apollonia on the Adriatic coast. The route then passed through Albania to Lake Ohrid, and further on from Macedonia to Constantinople. This ancient trade and military route meandered parallel with the Shkumbini valley, through Central Albania, and then turned in the vicinity of Bradashesh.
The Elbasan castle dates from the Ottoman period and situated within the castle walls is Sinan Pasha's 16th century Turkish bath. The Meadow of Tears, situated in Kora, on the way to Bilisht, is where people saw off the coaches and carts, men and their animals joining the migration caravans that deprived towns and villages in the area from hundreds and thousands of young men who left their families and country to work elsewhere.
Voskopoja is an important historical and cultural centre, a veritable gem in the crown of the Albanian landscape. The village is situated 20 km from Kora, and believed to have been founded around 1338 and the Ottomans expanded it as a trade centre. It quickly grew and reached unprecedented prosperity after the expansion of the Venetians in the Balkans, at which time it served as a place of intermediary storehouses en route from Venice to Istanbul.
By the mid 1850's it was the second most important town in European Turkey after Istanbul. The first churches were constructed here in the 17th century. The first ever print shop in the Balkans was also built here in 1720 and books in the Greek script were being printed as early as 1760.
Now Voskopoja is living proof of the glamorous history of the region as seen in its numerous religious sites such as the Monastery of Shen Prodhon and the churches of Shen Koll, Shen Mehill and Shen Athanas, and the 400 year-old cobble stoned streets still in use today.
The village of Dardha, founded in the 1600s offers natural landscapes, hotels, restaurants and traditional cuisine. The village has many natural water springs, among which one with the strange name of Uji i Qelbur,(Filthy Water), believed to help cure stomach and kidney conditions. Heavy snows and natural ski tracks make the place suitable for winter sports.
The colourful splendour of its natural landscape, the characteristic houses built in stone, the rich folklore, traditional cuisine, and folk costumes attract numerous local and foreign visitors. The mountainous village of Vithkuq is as old as Voskopoja and is well-known for its old churches and monasteries.
10 km from Korca is the Drenova Fir National Park on the side of the Morava Mountain. Lake Ohrid is 4 million years old and is renowned for its crystal clear blueness with see-through waters up to 22 meters deep. Among the fish here is the Koran, a kind of trout only indigenous to this lake and not found anywhere else in the world. The area is known for the traditional Koran dishes and it is possible to go swimming, water skiing, fishing, and scuba diving on the lake.
The Prespa National Park, situated right on the border with Greece and Macedonia, consists of Lake Prespa Major and Presja Minor, and their water collecting basin. Prespa Major straddles the border between Albania, Macedonia and Greece, whilst Prespa Minor is situated between Albania and Greece.
In the summer it is possible to swim and fauna include pink pelicans, eagles, brown bears and numerous nesting birds. Prespa is the largest national park in the country and rural tourism is developed here with accommodation in the villages of Gorice e Vogel and Gollombo. Visit the church of Saint Marys on the island of Maligrad and the Treni cave.
On the Ionian coast Himara is bordered by the village of Nivica to the south and the Llogara Pass in the north. Above the cave on the Stefaneli hill are the ruins of a medieval settlement from 1431. West to east, the region is bounded by a beautiful blue sea and a coast line dotted with capes and beaches on one side and forbidding mountains such as ika, Veza, and Mesimeri on the other
Potami Beach is beautifully situated between rocks that fall diagonally in the sea. The contrast between the white beach and the clear seawater make for a very panoramic view. Kozmai is located on the ruins of an old church which, according to an old stone inscription, was built on 10 January 1796.
Today Himara is a highly frequented destination for summer holiday travellers. Accommodation is mainly in local family dwellings, as well as in a variety of small hotels. The people of Himara are well known for their traditional hospitality which makes Himara a great all year round destination.
Lkurs Castle, built in the 16th century on the ruins of Lekures village, is located on a strategic hill point overlooking the town of Saranda. Borsh Castle, also known as the Castle of Sopot, was built in the 4th century and was heavily damaged during the barbarian invasion in the 5th and 6th centuries, and rebuilt in the Middle Ages, and Ali Pashas Castle is a small castle located on a lovely peninsula in the small tectonic bay of Porto Palermo. Ali Pasha built the castle in honour of his wife Vasiliqi.
Southeast of Vlora is the Llogar national Park on the border of the Adriatic and Ionian Seas. There is very rich flora and faun with foxes, wild cats, deer etc and this is considered one of Albanias most valuable tourist attractions. A stay in Vlora would not be complete without the unique boat tour to the Sazan Island and the Karaburun Peninsula. This is a one-hour trip and the boats leave from the Port of Vlora, or the smaller harbour in the Plazhi i Ri (New Beach) area.
Sazan Island used to be one of the most important naval bases of the Cold War. Remains and objects from this time can be seen on the island today. Karaburun is the largest peninsula in the country, known not only for its natural attractions, but also for the various archaeological finds. In the northernmost part of the Peninsula, right where the strait divides it from Sazan Island is the well-known cave of legendary sea captain, Haxhi Alia.
Karavasta is the largest lagoon in the area and between the edge of the forest and the sea lays a wide beach. The lagoon connects to the sea by three channels, one of which an artificial canal dug out for fishing purposes. Small islands inhabited by various bird colonies are dispersed in the internal part of the lagoon.
Zvrnec - Narta Lagoon is only a few kilometres to the northwest of Vlora. One can catch the first glimpse of the Lagoon from the hills next to the salt mine and all the way up to Vlora, on the road from Fier. Zvrnec, with its small island, is located 14 km from Vlora, where the Soda Forest ends and the Narta Lagoon begins. The whole landscape is a beautiful natural ensemble, full of contrasts and a harmonious combination of natural beauty and a peace.
The ancient town of Oricum was established by Hellenic settlers in the 7th-8th centuries and there are various archaeological ruins, and streets that can be seen under the water of the lagoon. Today Oricum is an important settlement which is seeing renewed development.
Dhermi is a typical Ionian coast picturesque village dating back to the 7th century and placed on the mountain side and is well known for its lovely beaches, the Gjipe being one of the finest. Located on the hill of St.Todhris Monastery is a cave of the pirates who would use this as a base for themselves and their ships.
About two kilometres from Qeparo is the village of Borsh with the longest beach in the region reached through the olive groves. Borsh castle was built in the 4th century and is worth a visit. Driving from Bunes through orange groves you will come to Lukova where the houses are connected with roads to great and isolated beaches as well as caves. Houses have large courtyards with pergolas and flowers and in the village centre is the Church of St.Thanas
From the Krekza valley, take the narrow road and drive towards Kakome Bay where there is a monastery surrounded by high walls. In its centre is St. Marys church in the form of a cross. With its fine sand and pebble beach, Kakome truly is a paradise worth visiting. From Kakome through the sea, you can get to the two wonderful Krorz beaches. Clean sand, rocky coastlines and creeks make this an ideal resting place.
The Ksamil Islands are located only 7.5 15 ms above sea level and are reached by taking the Saranda-Ksamil road and then sail to the islands. They are small and rocky with typical Mediterranean vegetation and Ksamil village has long been an important centre of family tourism.
The ancient town of Butrint is one of Albanias and the Balkans major archaeological centers and is protected under UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. It is located on the shores of Butrint Lake, south of Saranda on the Greek border and is surrounded by a wall built in the third and fourth centuries.
The quadrangular castle of Butrint of Ali Pasha Tepelena is located on a cape jutting out into the sea and the Monastery of Mesopotam is located to the South of Finiq. In earlier times this was a pagan temple on whose ruins the Church of St. Koll was built.
Albania has several regions where mountain and rural tourism is well-developed. The Western Alps has something unique, you will walk, breathe, sleep and eat amidst the legends from Homer and ending with the modern tales of our days. Beginning at Shkodra the journey to Razma takes you past meadows, amazing alpine pastures and is even possible in winter when the snow is at its highest level. Lura National Park has 14 glacier lakes which are frozen in winter.
The road from Razma goes to Boga, a village surrounded by Alps and the perfect place for mountain climbing, skiing and spelunking. After Boga you will reach the main tourist centre of the area, Thethi, from where you continue to the valley of the Shale River approaching the heart of the Alps.
Vermosh is where you have the chance to live between a mystical atmosphere and the contemporary world where few foreigners venture and the hospitality of the people is second to none. The Valbona River Valley lies in the eastern part of the Albania Alps and is an 8,000 hectare National Park and is one of the most beautiful natural areas in Albania. In the park there are bears, wolves and wild cats, while on the rocks there are herds of wild goats.
After entering the valley, you will pass several picturesque villages. Past Dragobia at the foot of the mountain there is the famous cave where the national hero Bajram Currie was besieged and killed. The city that took his name Valbona is 25 km away and is the most important inhabited centre of the valley. It is full of traditional houses, there is a comfortable and traditional hotel, or maybe stay at a village home for the inhabitants generosity and hospitality are well known.
The area has characteristic regional cooking, with specialities such as mazja, flija, and pitja masterfully prepared in traditional village kitchens. Continue on to the remote village of Rragam surrounded by nature, rare colours and beauty that makes you think a divine hand has made this incredible area. On one side, you see the crystal-clear waters of the Valbona, and on the other the sharp but verdant mountain edges.
The Adriatic coast starts in the delta of Buna River by the city of Shkodra. Once upon a time, this was a Dalmatian coast with deep waters and a number of islands. Now it has shallow waters as a result of the delta of the country's largest rivers. A number of fields exist to the south of Buna. The formation of snaking underwater beds has created a number of bays and lagoons. By the Adriatic coast you will find clean sea waters, high quality service, traditional and modern cuisine, lagoons, lakes and rivers.
The Ionian coast starts in Uji i Ftoht in Vlora and continues with few interruptions all the way to the Cape of Stillo. The coastline is rocky with small bays and pleasant beaches, some with difficult access, making them very private.
Shkodra, one of the most ancient cities in Albania, is the most important urban centre of Northern Albania, renowned in the entire country for its rich cultural traditions. It is one of the largest cities in Albania and is considered as an entry port for the Albania Alps and the beaches of Velipoja on the Adriatic.
Shkodra is known as the city where the first workers' strike took place in 1901 and where the 1st of May was first celebrated in 1905. The first football game ever played in Albania was in Shkodra and the town boasts the first football club in established in 1919. Shkodra also has a rich tradition in music, painting and literature, with a long list of renowned artists and writers.
On a rocky hill to the west of the town is Rozafa Castle, surrounded by the waters of three rivers, Buna, Drini and Kiri. Rozafa is one of the major castles in Albania and the most important tourist attractions in Shkodra. The name Rozafa first appeared in the Middle Ages. The name is linked to the legend 'of the kept promise' which is common in one form or another to all Balkan peoples.
According to the legend, Rozafa, the wife of the youngest of three brothers, accepted to be buried alive in the walls of the castle. The brothers had been building the castle in the day only to find that the walls had collapsed during the night. Within the walls of the castle is also the Rozafa museum that explains the various periods in the life of the castle.
The ruins of this medieval town of Sarda are found on the island of Shurdhahu in the middle of Lake Vau I Dejes. On the island are also the ruins of a castle of the 6th -8th century B.C.
Albania, we can go on and on there is so much to this amazing country. In the Fall there are orchards bursting with ochre, burnt oranges and yellows, while spring sees apple and cherry blossoms carpet the roadsides, these are the best seasons to visit this amazing country.
With both coastal and mountains, as well as cultural experiences Albania is guaranteed to knock your socks off whenever you visit, so come on what are you waiting for, pay a visit and stay awhile, you will not be disappointed.