From: The Balkanista

The chances are that when you think of perfect summer holiday destinations, Albania is not at the top of the list. I was once guilty of it as well- scouring Europe for the perfect combination of sun, beaches, culture, and fun- but never once did this Balkan country make it onto my shortlist. Well, I am here to tell you that you need to put some serious thought into considering Albania as a destination for your summer holiday.

Having shaken off the shackles of its oppressive communist regime, Albania is brimming with potential. A fascinating mix of cultures and influences, low cost, and utterly beautiful, it is the perfect example of a hidden gem hiding right under our noses.

This country has everything from vast mountain ranges, rolling hills and countryside, and expansive beaches with crystal blue waters and white sands. Great food, nice wine, historical and cultural sites that will take your breath away, and of course, the bustling metropolis of Tirana- whatever kind of holiday you are after, Albania will tick your boxes. If you still need a bit more convincing, read on and see why you need to book your flights to Albania now!

It is off the beaten track

Unlike many other Mediterranean tourist destinations (Malta, Crete, Cyprus, Spain), Albania is yet to be invaded by hoards of hen parties and drunken 18-year-olds in t-shirts with their nicknames emblazoned on the back. If you fit into any of these categories, please stick to your cheap package holidays and leave Albania for the more refined traveller. The great thing about Albania not being over-saturated with tourists is that you won’t have to queue for hours to get into tourist attractions, nor will you have to do battle with German tourists for the perfect spot on the beach. Whilst it does get busier in the summer, it is not over-saturated with the commercialism and tackiness that has befallen so many other destinations. Let’s keep it this way!

It has the best beaches in the whole of Europe

Dear Italy, Croatia and Greece, I am sorry to tell you, but Albania’s Riviera tops any coastline that you have to offer. Whilst this may be a somewhat controversial statement, I stand by it, as will most Albanians. Take a trip to Kasmail, Sarande, Himara, and Dhermi and wonder at the incredibly turquoise waters, the silvery sand, and the breath-taking, mountainous vistas that perfectly frame the coastline. There is something wild and wonderful about the Albanian coast, and I dare you to find something comparable anywhere on the European continent.

The weather is amazing

Albania enjoys the perfect Mediterranean climate with long hot summers and distinct autumn, winter and spring seasons. From May onwards, the temperatures remain consistently over 22 degrees in the daytime, reaching highs of over 35 during July and August. The average temperature only dips below 20 degrees come November time meaning you have ample time to explore the country and bask in its glorious sunshine.

The locals are super friendly.

Albanian people are friendly, curious, welcoming, and polite. Many locals are keen to shake off the unfair negative image that has been propagated about them over the years. They are not all mobsters and gangsters, and I can personally say I have never felt safer than I have in Albania. Be prepared to answer 100 questions about who you are, where you are from, and why you are here- Albanians love foreigners and are flattered that you have chosen to visit the country.

The food is amazing.

If you are on the coast, you will find the most fantastic seafood, all at incredibly low prices. The cuisine has a considerable influence from Italy, and everything from the pizza and pasta is comparable to what you would find there. As you travel further inland, the dishes are more meat-based, but again you can expect only the freshest produce with some of its still twitching on your plate. As far as I have experienced, frozen food doesn’t seem to exist, and everything is fresh, clean, and well prepared. Be sure to try local classics such as tave kose, seafood krudo, patellxhanet mbushur, and the traditional local sausages.

The language is like nothing you have ever heard before.

Albanian or Shqip is one of the oldest living languages and is totally unlike any other European language. It is pretty difficult to get to grips with, but you could try learning a couple of phrases as the locals love it when foreigners try to speak in Albanian. Good day is “miredita” (meer-dee-tah), thankyou is “falimenderit” (fal-eh-min-der-it), goodbye is mire pafshim (meer-ih-pafsh-im), and cheers is “gezuar” (gez-oo-ar). A little effort will go a long way!

You can easily travel to some other cool countries.

Albania makes an excellent base for those wanting to explore other areas of the region. From Pogradec you can hop across the border to Macedonia, from Shkoder, you can travel to Montenegro and Croatia, from the south, you can visit Greece and Corfu; and from the North, why not check out Kosovo and Serbia beyond? You can hire a car or take a bus and be at your destination within a couple of hours. Italy is around 1 hour on a plane; alternatively, you can take a ferry from Durres and be there within a couple of hours.

There is more history than you can shake a stick at

If you are a history buff or a culture vulture- you may need to book an extension to your stay. UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Roman Ruins, Medieval castles, communist bunker museums, and leftover relics from the Ottoman reign- you really have it all. The preserved town of Butrint in the south is worth a visit, as is Berat, and the city of Skodra near the border with Greece. There is not enough space to write here all of the historical sites that you need to check out, but believe me when I say, even if you don’t like history that much, you will find yourself amazed.

It is very religiously tolerant.

Whilst most Albanians will describe themselves as not religious, there are large Muslim, Orthodox, and Catholic (in descending order) communities. I have been asked many times if, due to the high number of identifying Muslims, you have to take specific measures in terms of clothes etc. Very few women cover up, headscarves are rare, and you won’t be expected to adhere to any particular dress code unless you are visiting a religious site such as a mosque. Alcohol is widely available and enjoyed at all times of the day (!), and pork is sold and consumed in most restaurants. Albanians don’t care what religion you are, as long as you are a nice person, which, let us be honest, is the way it should be.

Check out its lakes and natural springs.

As well as its glorious coastline, Albania is home to some beautiful lakes and even natural springs. Lake Komani, Lake Shkodra, Lake Butrint, and Lake Ohrid are all worth a visit for their ethereal turquoise waters and the stunning scenery that surrounds them. Its natural springs, such as Syri I Kalter, and a similar one in Thethi, are perfect for swimming and relaxing. If you are lucky, you can even stumble across some waterfalls for those picture-perfect Instagram moments.