Before You Travel to Albania You Should Know This

of Michael Gimm Holdensen
8 minutes reading time

When you come to Albania, you will experience a country with a completely unsurpassed nature. From the beautiful coastline with the fantastic beaches along the Ionian Sea in the south, to rivers and mountains that take your breath away in the North.

There are great opportunities here for fishing, cultivating the land, keeping cattle, extracting raw materials and producing energy. Still, the country is one of the poorest in Europe and most people I know could not dream of going here as a tourist. But why?

Read on and learn more about the Albanians in my brief review of what I believe is a completely overlooked paradise. Or at least an overlooked country that could be a paradise and probably will be within the next 20 years.

Albaniens flag

The Albanian flag has its two eagles from the Byzantine period and the color of the flag of the hero Skanderbeg, who raised it at his castle in Krujë.

Facts about Albania

Albania is located in the western part of the Balkans and borders Greece to the south, North Macedonia and Kosovo to the east and northeast, and Montenegro to the north. If you cross the Adriatic Sea from Albania's easternmost coast, you hit the heel of Italy's boot.

Albania has a beautiful nature, with many mountains, beautiful beaches and is generally very lush. The highest mountain is Korab at 2,764 meters above sea level. It is on the border with North Macedonia and one of several national parks.

Albanian cuisine is heavily inspired by Greek and Italian cuisine, but also has its own specialities. Wine production is (2022) not yet something they focus on as much, as most grapes are used to produce Raki. 

Traveling in Albania is cheap! You can easily get 2-3 times more for your savings here, compared to other destinations in Southern Europe. The national parks are free, whereas in Croatia, for example, it easily costs DKK 800 for a family, for a one-day visit.

  • Population: 2.8 million.
  • Drinking water: Can be drunk from the tap in most places, but ask the locals.
  • Currency: LEK. 1000 LEK corresponds to DKK 60. / 8.4 Euros.
  • Size: The country is 28,703 km2, where Denmark is 42,933 km2.
  • The capital of Albania is called Tiranë or Tirana.

The ancestors of the Albanians from Illyria

The Albanians descend from the Illyrians - who around the Bronze Age - year 2000 BCE. migrated from Central Europe to Albania. They were distributed in North and South Albania based on their dialects Geg and Tosk.

To this day it is the same distribution, with Geg spoken in the northern part and Tosk in the southern. However, Albanians understand each other without problems.

Geg is also used in Serbia, Montenegro, Kosovo and North Macedonia. Tosk is more influenced by the Greek and Italian languages. Both dialects are strongly influenced by changing rulers in the country.

Until 1908, there was no official writing system, as a number of systems from other European countries were used. But from 1908, Albania switched to the Latin alphabet, which we also use in Denmark.

Tiranë Nationalmuseum

The many wars that shaped the country

For many years, Albania was a country that looked after itself as it was difficult to get to due to the landscape. But from the time around the Roman Empire onwards it changed.

In the 2nd century BCE the country was conquered by the Romans and from the end of the 4th century possibly they were under Byzantine rule. After that, they went back and forth between the Visigoths, the Huns, the Bulgarians and the Slavs until the 16th century, when they were conquered by the Ottoman forces.

In the time leading up to the Ottoman Empire, Albania was strongly influenced by Western and predominantly Christian culture, but when the Ottoman forces took over the country, Albania was completely cut off from the West.

From the 15th century and 400 years onwards, Albania was subject to the Ottomans and thus a Muslim rule. Which has been a contributing factor to the fact that they, as the only country in the Balkans, and for that matter in Europe, are distinctly Muslim.

Republic according to the Western model

It was only at the end of the 19th century that Albania broke with the Ottomans and turned against the old alliances in Europe.

In 1912, Albania was declared independent, but already the following year the dominant European powers (Austria-Hungary, Germany, France, Italy, England, Germany and Russia) installed a regent to lead the country as a monarchy.

Albania was ruled as a Monarchy through the two world wars and just managed to fall victim to Mussolini's fascist invasion of the country in April 1939.

After the war, Albania became part of the communist bloc, along with the rest of Yugoslavia. It lasted until 1987, when Albania, inspired by the West, gradually transitioned to a democratic form of government and is today a Republic.

The current constitution in Albania is from 1998 (Denmark's is from 1849 and the USA's from 1776) and the Albanian Republic is governed by one president and one prime minister, as well as a composition of a number of political parties.

The Prime Minister's name is (2022) Edi Rama and is the person in Albanian history who, with 3 electoral terms, has been in office the longest.

Bunkart 2 Tirana

Albania under Enver Hoxha

Albania has had several important figures 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-renowned Albanian nun from recent times. The man, Enver Hoxha, on the other hand, is known for a bit of everything.

Hoxha, born in Gjirokastër, was a communist leader in Albania from 1941-1985. He is known for a number of different achievements. Judge for yourself whether they are good or bad.

  • Industrialization of Albania after the country had been neglected under Ottoman rule.
  • Inclusion of land from rich landowners in order to make the country self-sufficient in food.
  • Electrification of the entire country.
  • All faiths 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, as well as surveillance on a very large scale.
  • The construction of 173,000 bunkers across the country from the 1960s-1980s, because Hoxha was afraid of being invaded by everything from Greece and Yugoslavia to old allies in the Soviet Union.

After Hoxha's death, state properties were returned to the people, but on a first-come, first-served basis. Something that has led to many disputes between the Albanians in the following years.

When you visit Albania's capital, Tiranë, go to BunkArt1 and BunkArt2 which is primarily about the communist era. They are worth a visit.

Kirke i Tirana

Both churches and mosques were really beautiful. The ones we saw looked very different from the ones we know from Denmark.

Religion

Albania does not have one official religion, such as Poland have, but between 60% and 80% are muslims depending on which source you ask. About 20% are Catholic and Orthodox.

During our journey through Albania, religion was not prominent and apart from the characteristic mass heard from the loudspeakers of the mosques, it was not something we thought about.

The women did not wear headscarves to the same extent as we have experienced in other European countries - such as Germany and Berlin and we saw no clothes, hats or the like.

Albanians generally seem to have a fairly relaxed relationship with their religion and to respect each other's differences.

The infrastructure and Albania in 2022

During our journey through Albania, we experienced that the infrastructure was at a level that you would not accept in Denmark or other rich countries, but still we thought it was acceptable as a tourist. 

We came to Albania, directly from Greece and did not find that it was more difficult to get here. In some areas, Albania was even better.

A few times on the trip we heard from the locals that getting a piece of work done by an Albanian was not always so reliable. What I remember best is this explanation: “The Albanians take 3 times as long to do a piece of work as a team from Greece. They must constantly take breaks, smoke and drink coffee”.

Of course, I don't know if it fits, but there really ARE many coffee shops and there are far between the nice houses and gardens.

Roads and Police

The roads in general were in reasonable condition. Especially the big roads were good to drive on and most mountain roads were also ok. It was most often in the smaller towns that the roads were potholed or sewer covers had collapsed.

The police were very visible - also much more so than in Greece, and we saw that the drivers drove nicer. MUCH nicer than in Greece.

Internet and mobile coverage in Albania

Our phones with a subscription to Lebara had virtually no coverage in any part of the country. So we bought a Vodafone sim card and installed in ours mobile WIFI router, after which we had no problems.

Along with coffee shops, gas stations and car washes (small private car washes), Vodafone is everywhere.

In general, Wi-Fi security is not given much importance in Albania and 80% of the Wi-Fi codes we entered on the trip, at cafes, accommodation etc. had the code 1-8 (12345678).

Varying toilet conditions

All the places we stayed had toilets. But as in Greece, you must not put the paper you have wiped your bottom with in the toilet. It must be in a bucket next to the toilet.

We also experienced individual "guest toilets at petrol stations and the like. where the toilet was a hole in the ground, with a slab you could stand on. In addition, a water hose to rinse with...

Shkodër søen

A beautiful lake in the city of Shkodër, located half in Albania and half in Montenegro. To the right of the picture you can spot a lot of rubbish that someone has chosen to dump. Too bad.

Waste sorting or lack thereof

If you ask me, clearly the biggest problem was WASTE. Albanians are totally indifferent when it comes to garbage and throw it all over the place. Everywhere you go there is paper, cans, bottles and other things on the side of the road.

They have no waste sorting and there are very few bins in the street scene. Perhaps this is also why people do not bother to take their waste with them.

We saw several examples of young people just throwing their paper from a chip bag, baker's bag or similar. after they had eaten the contents.

Thermiske bade i Bënjës

Llixhat e Bënjës or the Thermal Baths, is one of many examples of fantastic (free) nature experiences in Albania. Doesn't that cost money in 10 years?

One of the popular countries to travel to 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 adjusting. They want to be a country where tourists are much more likely to want to travel to.

All along the coast large hotels are being built and you can see that there are people with money who are betting heavily on Albania becoming the next Croatia.

I think that in 10-20 years, Albania will be as well visited as many areas in Croatia are today. So if you want to experience the authentic and real Albania before it all becomes as commercial as Croatia, go here now.

It's also now it's cheap! You can easily travel around the country for 5 weeks and stay in nice hotels for the same price as 10 days at Lake Garda (on a campsite).

If you are more curious about Albania and would like a few tips on what to experience, read ours Albania travel guide where I review the best places we have been.

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4 comments

Gert Hvarregaard 16 March 2023 - 21:35

Hello
Thank you very much for the description.
Do you know if it will be ok to travel two adults and two "children" aged 14 and 19.
Will it work here in 2023 without prior reservation by car around for 2-3 weeks?

Reply
Michael Gimm Holdensen 16 March 2023 - 21:47

Hi Gert
Bon appetite.
I don't see why it shouldn't be possible 🙂

Regarding reservation, I have no idea and it depends on a number of things I think. Are you traveling in July or outside the high season. Are you picky or can you spend the night anywhere 🙂
And do you panic if you can't find anything or do you just take it as it comes.

Albania is not yet as visited as other places - far from it. But the Albanians themselves also take summer holidays and travel around the country.

Sorry I can't give a better answer but I just don't know 🙂

Good luck with that.
Mvh Michael

Reply
Jan Dutchman 28 May 2023 - 17:54

We are currently in Albania for the first, but not the last time.
We were very excited to see what it's like here. It's a lovely country with amazingly nice people who want the very best for us. The prices are very low, the beaches are very nice and clean, in general it's pretty clean everywhere.

Reply
Michael Gimm Holdensen 29 May 2023 - 04:27

Hi Jan, I couldn't agree more! It was also an overall positive experience that took us by surprise. We will definitely go back again sometime.
Have a great trip 🙂

Mvh Michael

Reply

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