Albania is still a land of adventure. It only really opened up to tourism in the 1990s. Due to a lack of economic and political development, it suffers from four main evils: roads in poor condition, poorly developed heritage, random housing conditions, and lack of environmental management. In some areas, tourist activity is now very strong, but remains focused on low-cost, attracting visitors from the Balkans (mainly Kosovo) and Western Europe at group rates. The most frequented region, the "Albanian Riviera", alone has most of these pitfalls: concreting the coasts, discharging waste water into the sea, dangerous roads, unattractive hotels, etc. That being said, the country retains a real authenticity and some beautiful assets.
A summary of wealth :
On an area no larger than that of Brittany, Albania has a mosaic of peoples and languages, mountains, lakes and two seas, large cities and very remote regions, religions that coexist harmoniously, beautiful Mediterranean landscapes.
A hospitable country
Conviviality, solidarity, generosity: these are Albania's real pluses. The Balkan tradition of hospitality towards foreigners has resisted well here, at the price, certainly, of certain archaisms (machismo, homophobia, a sense of honour taken to the extreme...). There is still a sincere curiosity towards the tourist, as long as he shows a minimum respect for local customs. Finally, the use of foreign languages is widespread, particularly Italian, Greek and English. Generally speaking, we always manage to make ourselves understood.
A cheap destination
Albania is one of the poorest countries in Europe. As a result, holidays are not expensive. For a Western budget, local daily life is quite cheap, although fuel and accommodation prices in Tirana and the Albanian Riviera tend to be in line with European levels.
Albania is a country of mountains (three quarters of the territory), lakes and rivers. Its fauna and flora are very rich. There are still wolves, bears and eagles. Even serious treks and whitewater sports are easily possible. The country has preserved natural parks where it is possible to walk without meeting a living soul. The coastline (472 km) offers a wide variety of landscapes: long beaches and wetlands on the Ionian coast (in the north), small coves and mountains plunging into the sea on the Adriatic coast (in the south). Finally, the climate is marked by summers that are always hot and sunny.
A rich architectural heritage
While many religious buildings were destroyed during the communist period, Albania still retains a number of monuments inherited from the Greeks, Romans, Byzantines and Ottomans. Byzantine churches and mosques coexist there. During the off-season, visiting the most important sites (Butrint, Gjirokastra and Berat) can even give the feeling of being one of those pioneering travellers of the 19th century.
© Dominique Auzias & Jean-Paul Labourdette