In 1984, when Albania was an isolated communist state in the same mould as today’s North Korea, a Mercedes in a convoy carrying a visiting German official overheated on Mt Llogara, overlooking a bay on Albania’s rugged Ionian coastline.
Emerging from his car, Franz Josef Strauss, then minister-president of Bavaria and one of the rare Western officials to step foot inside Enver Hoxha’s Albania, was struck by what he saw. “Virgin California,” he remarked.
Three decades later, Albania’s Bay of Porto Palermo, its castle and its deep blue waters are one of the country’s top tourist attractions, featured on European newspaper and Internet lists of places to visit for those with a taste of adventure.
Once host to military vessels and submarines, Porto Palermo was closed to the public under communist dictator Hoxha. It opened a couple of years after communism ended in 1991 and Albania began its white-knuckle ride to capitalism.
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