Elizabeth Gowing has been living in Tirana for more than five years. She moved there because of her partner’s job and now runs a monthly environmental networking group, and supports volunteers in reading programmes with the Roma community. Having learned the language, she also works as a translator.
Where is the first place you always bring people to when they visit?
One of the abiding images of Albania is of the over 70,000 pillbox “bunkers” built during the communist regime as part of the paranoid dictatorship’s defences against foreign invasion. Since the bunkers were designed to survive a direct grenade, they are very hard to destroy and remain studded over the landscape. The psychological and political legacy of that communist regime is still evident in Albania so when people come to visit, if they haven’t already noticed bunkers in the surrounding hills on their journey into town, we go to the “Corner of the Dictatorships” on the main boulevard, where a bunker is preserved so you can go inside. Not an upbeat start to an itinerary, perhaps, but it’s good to appreciate how far Albania has come since the dictatorship ended in 1991.
Where do you recommend for a great meal that gives a flavour of Tirana?
Located in Tirana’s photogenic Lake Park, Mullixhiu is a creative, delicious, stylish restaurant offering reworkings of traditional dishes. Savouring their pumpkin, persimmon and sundried tomato salad, for example, helps you rethink the preconceptions of Albania; this is a country whose identity and cuisine lies somewhere between the Mediterranean and the former Ottoman Empire.