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Exploring Albania
November 28, 2016, 10:24 am
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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. 

Berat: 

Registered as a world heritage in 2005 and ratified in 2008 by UNESCO, Berat 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.

Mountains:

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. They also host a variety of tourism ventures, including eco and agritourism.

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.

Coastline:

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.

Valbona Valley National park: 

Considered as one of the most beautiful parks in Albania, Valbona Valley National park, located 25 km from Bajram Curri, 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.

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.

Kalaja:

The Kala neighborhood inside the castle's walls still lives and breathes; if you walk around this busy, ancient neighborhood for long enough you will invariably stumble into someone's courtyard thinking it is a church or ruin. In spring and summer, the fragrance of camomile is in the air and wildflowers burst from every gap between the stones, giving the entire sight a magical feel. The highest point is occupied by the Inner Fortress, where ruined stairs lead to a Tolkienesque water reservoir. The Kala quarter's biggest church, Church of the Dormition of St. Mary, is the site of the Onufri Museum.

Gjirokastra Castle:

Gjirokastra's eerie hilltop castle is one of the biggest in the Balkans and is definitely worth the steep walk up from the Old Town. The castle remains somewhat infamous due to its use as a prison under the communists. Inside there is an eerie collection of armory, tow good museums, a recovered US Air Force jet shot down during the communist era, and a hilariously hard-to-use audio tour that is included in your entry fee. The views across the valley are simply stunning.

Cold War Tunnel:

Gjirokastra's most interesting sight in no way relates to its traditional architecture, but instead to its far more modern kind: this is a giant bunker built deep under the castle for use by the local authorities during the full-scale invasion Hoxha was so paranoid about. Built in secret during the 1960s, it has 80 rooms and its existence remained unknown to locals until the 1990s. Personal guided tours run from the tourist information booth on the main square all day.

Ardenica Monastery:

This rarely visited yet magnificent little monastery is remotely located on a hilltop between the towns of Lushjë and Fier. If you have your own transport it is well worth dropping by to see the fantastic interiors of the 18th century Church of St Mary: the iconostasis dominates the nave, but equally impressive is the golden pulpit, which positively heaves with adornments, not to mention the frescoes of the Zografi brothers that can be seen on display upstairs.

National Historical Museum:

The largest museum in Albania holds many of the country's archaeological treasures and a replica of Skanderbeg's massive sword. The excellent collection is almost entirely signed in English and takes you chronologically from ancient Illyria to the postcommunist era. One of the major highlights of the museum is a terrific exhibition of icons by Onufri, a renowned 16th-century Albanian master of colour.

A disturbing and very important gallery devoted to those who suffered persecution under the communist regime is the most recent addition to the collection.

Cuisine:

Albanian cuisine is influenced by many styles of cooking such as Greek, Italian and Turkish. The main meal is lunch, which usually consists of gjellë (stew), the main dish of slowly cooked meat with various vegetables, and a salad of fresh vegetables.

In high elevation localities, smoked meat and pickled preserves are common. Animal organs are also used in dishes, which are considered a delicacy. Dairy products are an integral part of the cuisine usually accompanied with the ever present bread. Seafood specialties are also common in the coastal cities.

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