I knew nothing about this fascinating country so set out to discover Albania in travel guides, reading blogs, Pinterest: to find there’s not an abundance of information. I hope these tips help others, as it is a really beautiful, unspoilt country.
3 THINGS YOU REALLY CANNOT MISS:
THE BLLOJK | or The Block, in Tirana is a newly established vibrant area of bars and restaurants. Former Communist dictator Enver Hoxha and government officials used to live here, and at that time the public could not enter. Also check out: derelict Pyramid of Tirana, designed by the daughter and son-in-law of Hoxha and local favourite Era for dinner.
VLORE TO SARANDE | this drive is spectacular, right along the beautiful Mediterranean coastline and, just near Dukat, the highlight of climbing through Llogara National Park before winding down a jaw-dropping mega road to Dhermi (if traveling North to South).
DRYMADES BEACH | for me this epitomises Albania: SO much beauty and a little rugged, with barely any development and just a tinge of tourism on the periphery. Enjoy it while it lasts! Also check out: Dhermi beach to the south.
3 THINGS WORTH A SNOOP:
TIRANA | we nearly missed the capital entirely, as I wasn’t keen to see a big city. However, Tirana is brilliant! My favourite thing is the coloured buildings credited to painter-turned-mayor Edi Rama. It’s an easy city to explore on foot with so much more green space than I had expected. Also check out: the hard-to-miss coffee culture, and great local lunch spots like Zagaro Korkare.
SARANDE | this town was a necessity as the ferry leaves for Corfu, but I’m glad we chose to stay a night. The promenade boasts lovely views and cafes. Also check out: Hotel Royal Sarande was great; Mare Nostrum for dinner; Bar Restaurant Limani for drinks (there’s an outdoor movie screen, but it wasn’t showing in June).
BUNKERS | Hoxha and Albania have complex biographies – and the 700,000+ concrete bunkers he built are the prime example! Look out for them dotted across the countryside: they had little military value, and the cost of constructing them was a drain on Albania’s resources.
3 THINGS TO STEER CLEAR:
PUBLIC TRANSPORT | catching the bus is so difficult it’s actually comedy! There are few buses, no timetables, no obvious stops, and people can’t agree time of day, or day of week. This page is definitely helpful, but contains public not official information.
TRINITY BAR | in Tirana, I found this too wannabe-European, and much preferred the vibe of the Bllojk. It’s pricey and OK if you want to get a view, however equally good for some pics is the shopping centre across the water-fountain roundabout.
OUT OF SEASON | even late June the beach resorts were very quiet. Which is great for avoiding crowds, but it was so empty in some places that the restaurants shouldn’t have bothered to open. In contrast, come August all of Tirana descends on the beaches to party.
1 THING I WISH I’D DONE:
HIRE A CAR | we couldn’t find a company that would (cost efficiently) allow a car drop from Dubrovnik to Sarande, so next time I would plan a different circular route – there is so much to see, but you’d need to be saint to wait on the bus network.
AND KNOW THIS: Albania had 3 million people but only 3,000 cars at the end of the communist era in 1991, because private cars were illegal – read this brilliant blog for more interesting facts.