Arriving in Albania, you will be received by amazing Albania people and discover a country with unparalleled natural beauty. From the beautiful coastline with stunning beaches along the Ionian Sea in the south to the breathtaking rivers and mountains in the north.
There are excellent fishing, farming, cattle raising, raw material extraction and energy production opportunities. Yet the country is one of the poorest in Europe, and most people I know wouldn’t dream of being a tourist here. But why?
Read on to find out more about the Albania people in my brief look at what I believe is a missed paradise. Or at least an overlooked country that could be a paradise and probably will be within the next 20 years.
Facts about Albania
Albania is located in the western Balkans, bordering Greece to the south, northern Macedonia and Kosovo to the east and northeast, and Montenegro to the north. Crossing the Adriatic Sea from Albania’s easternmost coast, you hit the boot heel of Italy.
Albania has beautiful nature, many mountains, and beautiful beaches, and it is generally very green. The highest mountain is Korab, at 2,764 metres above sea level. It borders northern Macedonia, where one of several national parks is located.
Albania food is inspired by Greek and Italian cuisine but also has its own specialities. Wine production is in 2022, not a big thing, as most grapes are used to produce Raki.
It’s cheap to travel around Albania! You can easily get 2-3 times more bang for your buck here than other Southern Europe destinations. The national parks are free, whereas in Croatia, for example, it easily costs around 100 Euro for a family, for just a day’s visit.
- Population: 2,8 million.
- Drinking water: tap water is drinkable in most places, but ask the locals.
- Currency: LEK. 1,000 LEK is equivalent to 8.4 Euro.
- Size: The country is 28,703 km2, compared to Denmark at 42,933 km2.
- The capital of Albania is Tiranë or Tirana.
Albania people – Ancestors from Illyria
The Albania people are descended from the Illyrians – who migrated from Central Europe to Albania around the Bronze Age – 2000 BCE. They settled in Northern and Southern Albania according to Geg and Tosk dialects.
Today the distribution is the same, with Geg spoken in the north and Tosk in the south. However, the Albania people understand each other.
Geg is also used in Serbia, Montenegro, Kosovo and northern Macedonia. Tosk is more influenced by the Greek and Italian languages. Both dialects are strongly influenced by changing empires.
Until 1908, there was no official writing system, as several systems from other European countries were used. But from 1908, Albania switched to the Latin alphabet, which we also use in Denmark.
Wars shaped the country
Albania was a country that was minding its own business for many years as it was challenging to navigate because of the terrain. But from the time of the Roman Empire onwards, things changed.
The Romans conquered the country in the 2nd century BC, and from the end of the 4th century AD, they were under Byzantine rule. After that, Albania were occupied by the Visigoths, the Huns, the Bulgars and the Slavs until the 1500s, when the Ottoman forces conquered them.
Until the Ottoman Empire, the Albania people were strongly influenced by Western and predominantly Christian culture. When the Ottoman forces took power in the country, Albania was completely cut off from the West.
From the 15th century onwards, the Albania people were subject to Ottoman rule and thus to Muslim rule. This has been a contributing factor to the fact that it is the only country in the Balkans, and indeed in Europe, that is predominantly Muslim.
Western model Republic
It was only at the end of the 19th century that Albania broke with the Ottomans and turned toward the old alliances in Europe.
In 1912, Albania was declared independent, but the following year the dominant European powers (Austria-Hungary, Germany, France, Italy and Russia) appointed a regent to run the country as a monarchy.
The Albania people were ruled as a monarchy throughout the two world wars and suffered Mussolini’s fascist invasion of the country in April 1939.
After the war, Albania became part of the communist block in what was known as Yugoslavia. It lasted until 1987 when, inspired by the West, Albania gradually moved to a democratic system of government and is today a republic.
The current constitution of Albania dates back to 1998 (that of Denmark dates back to 1849 and that of the United States to 1776). The Albanian Republic is governed by one President and one Prime Minister and a composition of several political parties.
The Prime Minister (2022) is Edi Rama, the longest-serving person in Albanian history with three terms in office.
Albania during Enver Hoxha
Albania has had several important individuals throughout history, for better or for worse. Skanderbeg is one of the heroes of the early battles against the Ottomans.
Mother Teresa is a world-famous Albanian nun of recent times.
Enver Hoxha, on the other hand, is known for a bit of everything.
Hoxha, born in Gjirokastër, was the Communist leader in Albania from 1941-1985. He is known for a variety of achievements. Decide for yourself whether they are good or bad.
- Industrialisation of Albania after the country had been neglected for a long time under Ottoman rule.
- Seizing land from rich landowners to make the country self-sufficient food-wise.
- Electrification of the entire country.
- All religions were banned (although Hoxha came from a Muslim family).
- Imprisonment, deportation and execution for those who did not want the country to be a socialist collective, and surveillance on a massive scale.
- The construction of 173,000 bunkers across the country from the 1960s-1980s was because Hoxha was afraid of being invaded by everyone from Greece and Yugoslavia to old Soviet allies.
After Hoxha’s death, state property was returned to the Albania people on a first-come, first-served basis. Something that has led to many disputes between Albanians in the years that followed.
During our trip through Albania, religion was not prominent and apart from the characteristic mass you hear from the mosques’ loudspeakers, it was not something we paid much attention to.
Women did not wear headscarves to the extent we have experienced in other European countries – such as Germany and Berlin.
The Albania people generally seem to have a rather casual relationship with their religion and respect each other’s differences.
Infrastructure and Albania in 2022
During our journey through Albania, we found that the infrastructure was at a level that would not be accepted in Denmark or other rich countries, yet we found it acceptable as a tourist.
We arrived in Albania directly from Greece and did not find it any more difficult to get around. In some areas, Albania was even better.
On our trip, we heard from the locals that getting a job done by an Albanian was not always so reliable. What I remember best is this explanation: ‘Albania people take three times as long to do a job as a team from Greece. They have to take many breaks, smoke and drink coffee all the time”.
Of course, I don’t know if this is true, but there ARE many coffee shops, and you don’t see that many nice houses and gardens around.
Roads and Police presence
The roads, in general, were in a reasonable condition. Especially the bigger roads and most of the mountain roads. Most in the smaller towns, the streets were holed, or sewer covers had collapsed.
The police were visible much more visible than in Greece, and we found that Albanian drivers had better discipline. MUCH better than in Greece.
Internet and mobile coverage in Albania
Our phones with Lebara subscriptions had virtually no coverage in any part of the country. So we bought a Vodafone sim card and installed it on our mobile WIFI router, after which we had no problems.
Along with coffee shops, gas stations and small private car washes, Vodafone is everywhere.
In general, wifi security is not given much importance in Albania, and 80% of the wifi codes we entered on the trip, in cafes, accommodation etc., had the code 1-8 (12345678).
Varying toilet conditions
All the places we stayed had toilets. But as in Greece, you are not allowed to put the paper you wiped your behind with in the toilet. You have to put it in a bucket next to the toilet.
We also saw a few “guest” toilets at gas stations, where the toilet was a hole in the ground, with a plate you could stand on. In addition, a water hose to flush with…
Recycling is not something Albania people care much about
If you ask me, the biggest problem was WASTE. The Albania people don’t seem to give a sh.. when it comes to waste, they throw it all over the place. Paper, cans, bottles, and other stuff are everywhere on the side of the road.
They have no waste sorting, and very few bins are in the streets. Maybe that’s why Albania people don’t want to take their rubbish with them.
We saw several examples of young Albania people just throwing their paper from a bag of chips, bakery bag or similar after eating the contents.
A popular travel destination in 10-20 years
Albania is still a young democracy and is very far from our standards in the West. But it is clear to see that they are adapting. They want to be a country where tourists enjoy travelling to.
Big hotels are being built along the coast, and you can see that investors are betting big that Albania will be the next Croatia.
I believe that in 10-20 years, Albania will be just as favoured as many areas of Croatia are today. So if you want to experience authentic Albania before it becomes as commercial as Croatia, you’d better go there now.
In terms of prices, Albania is very cheap! You can easily travel around the country for five weeks and stay in superior hotels for the equivalent of 10 days on Lake Garda (at a campsite).
If you are curious about what to see in Albania, then take a look at our Albania Itenarary with our 16 best experiences.