When most people think of Albania, they probably think of the Liam Neeson film Taken. Hollywood and the media have done a very good job at painting this Western Balkan country as a hotbed of criminality and violence, but is that really the case?
The short answer is no.
Whilst the country struggles internally with organised crime and politics, for those choosing to visit the country, or as I like to call it “the final wild frontier of Europe”, it is a safe, fascinating, and culturally rich gem that is just dying to be explored.
The Land of the Eagles, or Shqiperia in the local language is home to just over three million people. With the vast, vibrant, and colourful metropolis of Tirana in the centre of the country, other towns and small cities fan out around it stretching right to the borders of Montenegro, Kosovo, Macedonia, and Greece. To the west lies the Adriatic Sea and the coast of Italy, and to the south, the Greek island of Corfu sits just a few kilometres across the water.
In terms of its terrain, there is little that this country does not have – vast mountain ranges capped with snow, canyons and rivers that are perfect for rafting, luscious forests and wetlands full of flamingos, rolling plains of fertile farmland, and of course, mile upon mile of unspoilt golden sands and crystal waters. To compliment its diverse and truly breathtaking scenery, you can enjoy hundreds of castles and forts, medieval villages, Roman ruins, natural parks, hiking trails, and mountainous villages where you can pause time and switch off from the stresses of every day life. Albania has it all in just 29,000 square kilometres.
When it comes to the people, you will be hard pressed to find a more welcoming and hospitable bunch. Despite having been cut off from the world by half a century of oppressive communist rule, you wouldn’t know it from the way that visitors are received. Basing their traditions of hospitality on the teachings of the ancient Kanun of Leke Dukgjini (a set of feudal rules and laws, some of which prevail to this day) they are honour bound to treat all guests with the utmost respect and kindness.