In this small Mediterranean country, virgin nature and cultural mysteries combine to create a unique sense of place. From the snow-capped mountains in the winter to the fields covered in spring by red poppies, Albania’s landscape is ever-changing with the seasons, offering visitors the opportunity to enjoy a warm summer beach holiday or a mountain trek in the crisp and cool air of the fall. In Albania, visitors are welcomed as guests as part of the country’s rich cultural traditions and heritage. The warm hospitality of Albanians, known worldwide makes every traveler feel at home. Here is a short glimpse of Albania – a land that truly deserves to be loved.
Tirana: The heart and capital of Albania, Tirana with its clubs, pubs, cafes, and taverns is worth to discover, both day and night. One can begin by visiting the museums and key spots such as Sheshi Skënderbej, home to the Mosque of Et’hem Bey and the 35m high Kulla e Sahatit (the Watch Tower), built in 1822 with a San Marco style cupola. The monumental Tomb of Kapllan Pasha and the Ura e Tabakëve are other interesting place to visit. As a capital, Tirana has the country’s finest museums, theatres, and galleries representing the national arts.
Gjirokastra: Stated as a ‘Museum City’ by the Albanian state in 1961 and proclaimed as a world heritage in 2005, Gjirokastra is the main city of the southern part of the country. The city impresses its visitors with a variety of architecture, surprising images of Drinos valley, and the spectacular crown ridge of calcareous Bureto and Lunxhëria.
Berat: Registered as a world heritage in 2005 and ratified in 2008 by UNESCO, Berati is the city filled with traces of the Illyrian, Byzantine and Ottoman periods, in the form of old churches with wonderful wall paintings, icons and wood engraving.
Valbona Valley National park: This park is considered as one of the most beautiful parks in Albania. Located 25 km from Bajram Curri, the park features impressive scenery comprised of high alpine ridges and the Valbona Valley. Diverse plants and animal species invite recreation, sightseeing, and scientific study. Alongside the valley there are several villages which provides accommodations in traditional houses.
National Park of Lura: This park is situated on the eastern slope of the majestic Kunora e Lurës (Crown of Lura). With ancient stands of pine and no fewer than fourteen picturesque glacial lakes, natural beauty is everywhere. In summer and winter alike, recreational opportunities abound for outdoor enthusiasts.
Biza: Located in the district of Tirana, in the commune of Shën Gjergj, Biza is rich with forests, especially oak and beech. You can find wildlife in the form of brown bear, wolf, fox, and more. The area is characterized by significant snow fall during the cold season but also provides favorable natural conditions for tourists during the warm season.
The Fir of Hotova National park: This park is located in the region of Frashëri. The ‘Hotova Fir’ is a significant regional species that graces the countryside throughout the park. Nature lovers flock here and appreciate the many recreational and camping opportunities.
Divjaka Pine National park: This park is located in Karavasta lagoon and has been protected since 1994 by the Ramsar International Convention. Recognized for its ecological treasures, the park offers some truly unique spectacles. It is home to many diverse and beautiful plant and animal species, including rare birds like the endangered Crispy Pelican.
Gashi river valley: This area is located in the district of Tropoja and includes the area on the northeastern edge of Albania, the highest point of the border between Albania, Kosovo and Montenegro. Gashi River Valley is well known for its natural beauty, with a narrow range of enlargements creating attractive features. In one of its segments, the valley narrows down, taking the form of a narrow canyon. Slopes of the valley are lined with oak forests, especially coniferous and beech. This area is also home to wildlife such as brown bears, chamois, wolfs, squirrels, and mountain eagles.
Approximately two-thirds of Albania’s geography is either hilly or mountainous. These elevations offer myriad outdoor recreation possibilities, including everything from paddling sports to paragliding. These areas also host a variety of tourism ventures, including eco and agritourism.
Cultural experiences also abound in the mountains. For instance, the Tomorri Mountain hosts the Baba Tomorri, Abaz Aliu celebration, a festival featuring aspects of Albanian and Bektashi cultural traditions.
Along with mountains, the countryside of Albania is also dotted with a great variety of caves, some of which are easily accessible. The best caves exist in the regions of Shkodra and Tirana. Shkodra district in itself has more than thirty large caves, the largest of which Pellumbas or Back Cave. The Tirana district caves include, Vali ( Biza ), Shpella e Mirë ( Good Cave ) in Brair and more.
The Albanian coast begins in the northwest at the Buna River delta, which marks the Albania-Montenegro border, and extends southward until it reaches Cape Stillo at the Albanian-Greek border. Including various lagoons and harbors, the coast stretches for a total of 450 km and touches two seas: the Ionian in the south and the Adriatic in the north. Along its length, the coastline is dotted with beaches ranging from large and sandy to hidden and private. Beautiful rocky coastlines comprise portions of this landscape as well. The coastline of Albania is particularly picturesque because of its relative lack of development. This unspoiled coast has been preserved as a natural beauty and is ripe with outdoor recreation possibilities.
Rivers and Lakes
Although relatively small, Albania is home to a large number of lakes. Shkodra, the largest lake in the Balkans, is located along Albania and Montenegro’s shared border. The beautiful shore consists of marshes in the north and rocky shores in the south, with two notable beaches located at Shiroka and Zogaj.
Ohrid, the deepest lake in the Balkans, is one of the most beautiful tectonic lakes and is located on the shared border between Albania and Macedonia. It is 695 m above sea level and accordingly remains cool even in the warmest summers. At an estimated four million years old, it is also one of the oldest lakes in the world. It too boasts a tremendous variety of fish, some of which are unique to Ohrid. Notable among them is the Belushka Salmon, delicious and highly prized, and Koran, famous and exclusive to this lake.
Prespa, the highest in the Balkans, measuring 285 km, straddles the borders of Albania, Macedonia, and Greece. Significantly smaller at 44 km², Prespas lake enjoys beautiful and clear water. The surrounding region offers myriad opportunities for recreation, including sightseeing, wildlife observation, eco-tourism, and water sports.
The Albanian countryside is rich with springs, rivers, and streams. There are an estimated 200 springs, each of which bursts forth with over 200 liters of water per second. Some springs have been noted for their medicinal or curative powers and have thus been the site of spas since antiquity. These spas are located throughout the country, but several noteworthy ones exist in Leskoviku (Vronomero) Dibra, Elbasani, Bënja, and Fushë-Kruja (Bilaj).
Four springs which are remarkable for their natural beauty are the Blue Eye in Saranda, Cold Water in Tepelena, Viroi in Gjirokastra, and Syrii Sheganit at Shkodra Lake.
There are about 18,000 km of road in Albania of which 7,450 km are considered to be ‘main roads.’ Travelling can be done by taxis which are recognizable by their yellow color, and mostly have a taxi meter. Fares are generally predetermined based on the distance traveled, but can sometimes be negotiated in advance. Busses are also available throughout major cities, but they do not always run according to regular schedules. Many travelers looking for public transport prefer to use privately owned vans, which function as an alternate system of bus routes and operate almost entirely without schedules or set fares. Although there is also an option of using the train network, they are generally slower than the other means.
ISO polyphony Albanian
Albanian Folk Iso-polyphony is proclaimed ‘masterpiece of the oral heritage of humanity’ protected by UNESCO. The date November 25, 2005 is a historic day for not only Albanian cultural heritage but also for Albania itself. On this day ‘Albanian folk iso-polyphony’ was added to the list of ‘Masterpieces of the oral heritage of humanity’ protected by UNESCO , a fact that was heralded in the all world media by Dr. Koichiro Matscura, General Director of UNESCO, the UNESCO headquarters in Paris.