Long left behind as one of the most backward places on the continent, Albania – a beautiful Mediterranean country located just north of Corfu, Greece, and across a narrow strip of the Adriatic Sea from Italy – is emerging as a prime European beach destination. For decades, the country was beleaguered by the harsh communist dictatorship of Enver Hoxha, a paranoid autocrat who ruled the country from 1944 until his death in 1985. Hoxha spent a fortune of his country’s budget preparing for an invasion that never came, enlisting the entire citizenry in a reserve military force, training 12-year-olds to fire rifles and building more than 750,000 concrete bunkers – one for every four Albanians, 24 per square kilometre – all for no apparent reason.
Albania has a remarkable national museum, which houses a cross-section of collections showcasing Albania’s long history, including mosaics and statues from antiquity, items from communist prison camps, a piece of the cord used to pull down a statue of Hoxha and a tribute to the country’s most famous daughter, Mother Teresa.
Ruins of Apollonia
Founded around 600 BC by the Greeks and expanded by the Romans, it was once a prominent Illyrian city – and one of the most important centres in the ancient world. The place rivals other, major archeological sites like those in Turkey and Greece – attractions invariably teeming with tourists.
Looking over the surrounding countryside, on one side, the shimmering line of the Adriatic shore, and on the other, terraced fields, olive groves and a shepherd driving his sheep to greener pastures – the scene marred only by the gaping mouths of four grey, square bunkers, built into the side of a large hill. In a few years, this place will be swamped by visitors.
IF YOU GO
A number of major carriers service Tirana International Airport Mother Teresa, including British Airways, Lufthansa, Austrian Airlines and Turkish Airlines. tirana-airport.com
Where to stay
The Sheraton Tirana Hotel offers solid accommodations, including club-level rooms, business facilities and a fully equipped gym within walking distance of the capital’s main attractions. The hotel also provides some respite from the crowds, set in a green space that overlooks a lake and a national park, right on the edge of Mother Teresa Square. Rooms from €82 ($115); sheratontiranahotel.com
Built into the side of a cliff, Hotel Liro offers amazing views of the Aegean and a small beach, which grows and shrinks with the tide. It also boasts good on-site dining, a seaside pool and concierge services to help arrange activities and tours. From €40 ($56); www.hotel-liro.com