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Off the Radar in Albania

[ 5 ] February 21, 2010 |

Albania, it’s not exactly a place that pops up on most people’s European travel radars. It doesn’t have any well known monuments or world renown festivals to give it claim to fame. To many people Albania is simply “Now where is that again?’

When I was looking into doing a tour of Europe for my first overseas trip in 2008 I saw that I could go through Albania on route to Croatia from Greece. When I saw that itinerary I knew that I simply must do that tour! I didn’t know anything about Albania but the idea that this was a European country that I had scarcely ever heard of appealed to the curious person in me.


Albanian Hills

Albanian Hills


The view approaching the Albania border was a stark contrast from the beautiful mountains we were descending in Preveza north-east Greece.  It was like as though as we approached the border a curtain was drawn. The landscape dramatically changed from the soft green of the Preveza mountains to the dry, arid, golden taupe of the Albanian Hills.

Waiting at the Greek-Albanian border had me completely dripping in sweat. The weather was sweltering hot and being stuck at a notoriously dodgy border had me sitting nervously in my seat hoping that we wouldn’t be stuck there for much longer.  We had been made aware that it is not un- common for the customs officers to ask for bribes in order to let people through. What ever the case there was no way a bribe was going to get paid, if the tour started paying bribes now they would have to pay every time a tour group were to go through and that would certainly not be ideal.  After what seemed like hours (but in reality was probably only 45 minutes) we finally cleared the border, stamps in our passports and no bribes payed!


Albania Roadside

Derelict buildings a common site along Albania’s roadside


After having spend the past few weeks travelling around Western Europe with an Autogrill restaurant seemingly strategically placed every time I was hungry and rich Italians driving past in their Ferraris, travelling through desolate and isolated Albania was a strange experience.  Chain roadhouses are non existent, in fact anything resembling some kind of road stop or petrol station was extremely rare. We were much more luckily to come across one of the many large bunkers a reminder of Albania’s violent past.


Albanian Bunker

One of many large bunkers

Hungry from the stress of the border crossing, eventually we stopped at a restaurant that seemed to be in the middle of nowhere.  It was midday and there was not a sole in sight.  I wondered, out in the middle of nowhere who would possibly come here. Judging by the looks on the few locals faces they were just as bewildered by our presence.

The family that owned the restaurant spoke no English what’s so ever and the menus were written entirely in Albanian.  How on earth were we going to order!? For those who were game enough to pick something at random (none of whom were me) some fared well with an incredibly distasteful spaghetti and others not so well with some sort of meat that for all any of us knew could have been donkey! I personally was quite content with starving and waited till we arrived at the hotel in the capital Tirana before sampling the local cuisine.  Unfortunately for me the food wasn’t that much of an improvement, lets just say I don’t think Albanian cuisine is going to be the next big food craze to sweep the world.


Albania Pill Box Bunker

Pill Box Bunker


Travelling through Albania what was apparent was that I was in a country still recovering from the wounds of communist rule and the multiple wars that wreaked havoc over the last century.  The cities and towns are dominated by cold, heartless, architecture a lingering ghost of the countries suppressive communist past.  Buildings are left abandoned and unfinished for years, a scar of the financial hardships of Europe’s poorest country. The countryside and cities are dotted with pill box bunkers, seemingly indestructible structures, a symbol of the people’s strength who survived genocide and multiple wars. There are in fact more bunkers throughout Albania then there were able men to fight in the wars.lll


Tirana Sunrise

Sunrise over the capital Tirana.


Despite the hardships of the past, this is a country that promises to rise up and show the world that it too can be a great European destination. Albanian Tourism are working hard to reshape the image of this country lost off the radar by re-branding it ‘The New Mediterranean Love’. If their website is anything to go by this country is so much more than its communist past, its arid bunker scattered hills and its bad food.  This is a country rich in history dating back to both the Roman and Greek Empires and rich in culture deeply rooted in religion and art. To top it off Albania is set along the beautiful Adriatic Sea with beautiful beaches yet to be discovered by tourists.


Tirana Sunset

Stunning sunset over Tirana.


Albania is a country that had me completely intrigued. I merely scratched the surface when I visited, only travelling through and not really travelling in. It is definitely a place I want to go back and explore in more depth.  If you have never considered going to Albania, consider it now! Get in before this country is really discovered and spoiled by the commercialism of tourism. I certainly can’t wait to go back and really discover everything this country has to offer.


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Category: Europe

About onurwaytravel: Colin has been travelling the world with his young family for the past 2 and half years. He runs a couple of websites all revolve around travel, family travel and digital nomadism. His websites include,, and now View author profile.

Comments (5)

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  1. Stephanie

    Love this! Every since I visited Montenegro, Bosnia and Serbia a couple years ago I’ve wanted to go back and see Albania. What tour group did you use?
    .-= Stephanie´s last blog ..Friday Postcards: Kyoto and Tokyo, Japan =-.

  2. Sasha says:

    Contiki! Who would of thought they would actually steer off the beaten track…although i definitely wouldn’t go with them again! I would probably go with Intrepid they have some really good Albania tours that include the Albanian Riviera which looks so nice!!! I think i’m going to have to do that whole corner of Eastern Europe next time i’m in Europe I so wanna actually see Montenegro and Bosnia beyond just a toilet stop. My only memory and pic i have of going through Bosnia was stopping at some supermarket where they had some kind of sweets called ‘Negro’ lol.

  3. Stanley says:

    Very nice article! I have been there twice and always had a very good time. The landscape is just amazing, the food very delicious and people friendly and welcoming.

    Can only recommend it to everybody. Don’t be afraid, you ll have a good time there.

    .-= Stanley´s last blog ..Rock climbing in Albania =-.

  4. Sasha says:

    Thanks Stanley! I certainly can’t wait to go back, test out those beaches and give the food a chance to redeem itself after that not so delicious experience.

  5. Elena says:

    You definitely have to try the real Albanian food :)
    This is one of the things I love the most about Albania. If you are looking for good itinerary ideas,give a look at the They have great experience and specialize in off-the-beaten path type of traveling. Hoping you would enjoy your second experience with Albania.

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