Denying that the country has problems would be wrong, but the traveller will find more good surprises than bad ones.
It can only surprise by the warm welcome reserved for visitors.
It is rich in culture, history, gastronomy and magnificent landscapes. But in order to harvest of all this, one should not demand that everything will be easy, Albania is being explored in small steps.
There are two types of accommodation available here: luxury accommodation or youth hostels, which are not always at the top. The infrastructure in the attractive areas is well done, but in the others there is still some work to be done. But this is not the most important thing, the Albanians are waiting for you outside, curious and affable.
Albania is one of those countries that you have to tame little by little, to deserve. It should not be judged quickly. It is true that the Albanians are not as smiling and dazzling in their approach as they are in the countries that are used to tourists. But once contact has been established, the ice has been broken, the Albanians are very friendly.
Beneath the superficial coldness of the Albanians lies a trove of kindness
The Albanians are marked by history, poverty, a mad dictatorship. The women show frozen, tired, sometimes distrustful faces. But if you make the effort to give them a smile, to say a few words, what generosity!
Take a few minutes to admire the hand-knitted socks and hats they sell on the market. Ask a few questions, to take an interest in them and you will be thanked a hundredfold.
Well then, why don’t we go to Albania?
The country’s reputation is disastrous. There are many reasons for that. Albania has been for almost 40 years locked up by the insane regime of dictator Enver Hoxha. The traces are still visible: collapsed “monuments”, abandoned buildings and faltering economic development.
The country suffers from water and electricity supply problems. Health care is still very poor and public institutions (education, health, justice…) are subject to major political crises.
The country is suffocating under stereotypes: the Albanian mafia, famous in cinema, is frightening. This celebrity is not overused (alas) but it is the Albanian citizens who are the privileged victims.
A distinction must be made between Albanians in Albania and expatriates
The Albanians massively left the country under the dictatorship and it continues. They are among the first asylum seekers in Europe in 2017. Not all studies are unanimous about but all experts agree on a point: there are more Albanians outside the country than inside. There are large minorities in Greece, Kosovo, Italy, Serbia, Northern Macedonia and Montenegro. It is these minorities that we hear about most often on the news.
A deeply rooted and very conservative culture
The structure of Albanian identity and culture does not always lend itself to change. The code of honour, the Kanun
, is still present in the countryside. It could be compared to other countries that are now resolutely modern and have come a long way to free themselves from retrograde and violent traditions. An example? In Sicily, until recently (1970), love kidnapping
, this charming tradition, was widely practiced. The suitor did not have much to do. It was enough to kidnap the beloved woman, rape her in a quiet corner and then propose marriage. Once her virginity was lost and thus her honor, the young lady and especially her family could only accept.
Sicily has come a long way since then, Albania can do as well.
In Albania (as elsewhere), don’t do anything stupid!
You have to be respectful of traditions and pay attention to relations between men and women. Here we don’t joke about honour and insults. But these are cases that mostly affect Albanians. The foreigner is unlikely to have such problems. Beware, however, of amorous or sexual liaisons, tradition is on the watch!
In Albania, there are still unbreakable traditions but the visitor is not there to change them, right? To love Albania, you should not judge it. It is perfect, the traveller is not a teacher.
So why visit Albania then?
The people, the culture and the adventure. Albania invites the traveller off the beaten track!
Albania is not the place where you are going to be stripped or cut into pieces on a dark street corner. Of course, it is always better not to do anything stupid, but this rule applies to the whole world. The traveller who is prepared for the worst will be desappointed and surprised by the welcome he will receive.
The country is betting heavily on tourism, a vector of change and economic improvement
The inhabitants will do their utmost to ensure that the stay goes well. Hospitality is a tradition and in Albania, as you have understood, they don’t joke about it.
Albania’s strong point for an adventurous heart is that it is not at all touristy. The country is becoming more and more popular, so it’s the perfect time to go there for a visit.
To seduce the curious, Albania has some great assets
The Adriatic coastline competes largely with Greece or Croatia. There are fine sandy beaches, clear waters, and quiets creeks, such as in Ksamil or Drimades.
There are picturesque, authentic villages also. Tortuous alleys, old churches and a good climate.
The national parks are wild, wooded, crossed by clear rivers and prestigious lakes. It is a real paradise for hiking. The wilderness enthusiasts will be rewarded for their efforts, a real bird reserve, the Karavasta lagoon is a must in the country.
Discovering Albanian history and culture
The culture also deserves to be studied, the territory abounds in archaeological sites, fortified towns, ancient villages.
Contemporary history is, of course, worth looking at. The Leaf Museum exhibits
about the terrible years of repression takes the visitor on an incredible dive into obscurantism. If you are not claustrophobic, the 3-star bunker of the mad dictator can also be visited.