Imagine standing with your feet in fine sand in the turquoise sea with no one around except you and a few other people – that’s the scenery here. Just the day before, you drove along dangerous serpentine roads; you wandered through deep gorges and feasted your eyes on gorgeous views that almost seemed surreal. Sigh.
Just take me back to the memory of this glorious past July when I agreed, spontaneously, to drive through Eastern Europe and in the end I lost my heart while traveling in Albania. Albania – You read correctly. Before my departure I was met with questioning looks and repeated questions. “Is it safe? Why do you want to go there specifically? ”
Quite simply – because Albania can be this beautiful, wild and still unspoiled Mediterranean gem.
Albania was the penultimate stop on a little road trip. For ten days we travelled to Croatia through Montenegro and Albania by boat and bus, finally landing in Corfu.
For a while now, the Balkans have ceased to be a very well kept secret. However, when it comes to Albania, things are different. Since 1990, the country with less than three million inhabitants, has been slowly awakening from its slumber. It spent a long time under the dictatorship of the communist leader, Enver Hoxha, in the utmost isolation from the rest of Europe. Albania’s communist past is still noticeable today, especially in the urban landscape of the capital Tirana. The wide streets and large-scale parade squares in the center recall Stalin’s superb architecture in East Berlin.
Capital scintillation in Tirana
Tirana is not an obvious beauty which, in any case, was my first impression. However, it is the rapidly beating heart of the country: street vendors, honking cars and brightly painted facades defy the gray yesteryear. Young people sit in hip cafes in the neighborhood of Blloku. The diverse cultural history of the country is reflected, partly, in Ottoman and Italian architecture; the air shimmers. It is a city on the way – there is a lot of construction and at the same time degenerated old buildings and monuments remain like skeletons from the past.
Two days have well been sufficient to obtain an image of the capital and to dangle above it all in the soul of the wonderful Backpacker Hostel. Anyone who wants to escape the heat and dust of the streets, fleeing to here provides an oasis. Without having reserved, we spent our first night on the sun beds in the courtyard because all the beds were full. Helpfulness and relaxation – an impression which, in the course of the journey, will only be confirmed again.
Starting in the mountains!
While in Tirana we heard about the mountain village of Berat, located in the Albanian back country, and made an impromptu decision to select Berat as our next stop. Those willing to take the time, can go from one place to another with the use of an excellent public transportation system. I like this kind of travel because the roads are also a part of the adventure; You can marvel at the passing scenery from the bus window. Albania has much to offer because of its wild beauty. Narrow mountain roads and great distances beckon from the promising and sparkling coast.
White houses nestled in the hills on the path up to the old castle grab our attention as we arrive in Berat. It is also called “The city of a thousand windows.” While climbing through narrow alleyways and peeking through open gates in small courtyards or on the Flanier promenade, you see boys running laps while the elderly sit in the park next door bent over chessboards. Berat, for me, definitely meant slowing down.
There are a few restaurants and a handful of bars. In the evenings young people meet in small groups on the bridge over the Osumi. Instead of going out, one should simply grab a cold bottle of beer, sit under the fruit trees at the picturesque Berat Backpackers Hostel and marvel at the sweeping views of the mountains. Last summer, the hostel organized day trips to a waterfall. After a winding drive further into the back country and a short hike, you will be rewarded with ice-cold water, rocks to jump and Raki.
Sparkling sea and solitude
To catch a return flight from Corfu, you have to start heading towards Saranda at some point; the ferry to Greece departs from there. We opted for another stop on the Albanian coast. The sea is a sparkling turquoise and sometimes the beaches are almost deserted.
If you pay attention on the road, listen to people, and keep your eyes open, then you may end up like us: in an old school olive grove with rooms you can rent for very little money. Outside the door, a swing, on which one can glimpse the lights of Corfu teetering under the starry sky in the distance.
Albania has become a country I am longing for. We might even drive back this year.
All of these pictures are courtesy of wanderlust-Kai of atlasofthings.com.