5 reasons why you should visit Albania in 2020
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Taking a wild guess, I’d say that Albania is probably not on your list of places to visit this year. In all honestly, it wasn’t on my list either, but I already can’t wait to go back.
I went for three days in November last year to earn those all-important British Airways Tier Points. For £209 return, I had the choice between Helsinki (HEL), Tirana (TIA) and Sofia (SOF) — none of which I had been to before. I’d heard good things about Tirana and Albania in general, so that’s where I decided to go — and I was pleasantly surprised to say the least.
1. It’s cheap
When I say cheap, I mean really cheap. The cheapest beer I could find was £1.40 for a stein — which is about a litre. Considering there are approximately 1.75 pints in a litre, that’s the equivalent of 80p a pint. Eating out in general was also unbelievably low cost. Without talking too much about the food, one morning I had a huge two-course breakfast and two coffees and my total was £5.
And this was my dessert — traditional Albanian pancakes with cheese and some kind of fig jam.
Stopping for a coffee is equally as cheap. Two coffees and a bottle of water came to a grand total of less than £2.
As per usual, alcohol was the most expensive thing we bought, but even then, spirits and a mixer and cocktails were only around £7 in bars in the more upscale Blloku area of the city.
For a trip of three days I spent about £100. That included every meal out, alcohol as well as taxis to and from the airport. That said, I didn’t hold back and could probably have done the whole thing for under £50 if I’d been more frugal.
2. Beautiful beaches
In the south, close to the Greek border, there are some beautiful coastal resorts including Sarandë and Ksamil. In the north, less than an hour from the capital of Tirana, is Durrës, a small port city with plenty of beaches.
Ksamil is absolutely stunning. Its beaches boast crystal clear water which you’d be forgiven for thinking was the Caribbean. The sand was so fine and soft and the sunsets, well, I’ll let the picture do the talking.
3. It’s relatively undiscovered
The lack of tourists in the city is one of the things that stood out to me the most. I can’t recall recognising French, Spanish or Greek — or any other language being spoken in the street. And as a linguist, these are the kinds of things I notice when I go to new places. I’m certainly nowhere close to being fluent in Albanian, but it has quite a recognisable ring to it and it’s definitely the main language I heard being spoken during my stay.
The lack of tourists in Tirana at the end of November probably makes sense. But, I would expect that to be an entirely different story in the southwestern beach towns in the middle of the summer season. The photo below is of a very empty Skanderbeg Square — a stark difference to many other European main squares, which are often overcrowded with tourists.
4. Amazing bars and restaurants
I ate in all kinds of restaurants in Tirana to try and get an insight into real Albanian cuisine and culture. The first night we ate at a very simple brasserie called Kernace Zgare Fatosi — not too far from Sanderbeg Square. Its on-street seating area gave the place a very sophisticated feel and was very busy with locals who had stopped by for a beer and a bite to eat on the way home from work.
The menu was mainly grilled meat, which seemed to be the staple pretty much everywhere we went. We ordered a few different things from the menu and everything was truly delicious. When it came time to pay, we were astonished at the price: two stein beers each and so much food and the total came to around £12.
On the opposite end of the scale, we had dinner one night in Restorant Piceri Era in Blloku. For starters, we ordered a selection — and what a selection it was. The waiter attempted to explain as best he could what each thing was, but it got a little lost in translation. That being said, every thing we ate was mouth-watering delicious.
For the main course, our trusty waiter recommended the traditional Albanian stew — ferges. It tasted more like a hotpot, or a shepherd’s pie without the potato and it was quite tasty. I only wish I’d known the other main ingredient was fermented milk.
There were many bars dotted around the city, but mainly in the Blloku area. One in particular, Radio Bar, had a great selection of gins — including my favourite, Nordés, from Galicia in Spain.
Oh, and Western fast-food chains — not a thing here. It was nice to know that this KFC is the only fast-food place in the city, and you won’t so much as glimpse a McDonald’s anywhere in the country.
You can expect to find equally good cuisine further south, too. This is the quirky outdoor area of the Guvat Restaurant in Ksamil.
As this is quite a touristy area, in the height of summer prices are higher. At Guvat, a three-course meal with cocktails and wine for two cost around £70.
During my trip at the end of November, the mercury hovered around 18 to 20 degrees Celsius during the day for the three days — significantly warmer than the U.K. Temperatures deeper into the winter tend to drop a little more to around the low teens, but it stays dry and sunny for the most part. Thanks to the Mediterranean climate, Albania’s summers tend to be long, dry and hot with temperatures up into the 30s.
I really don’t have anything bad to say about my time in Albania. Even the airport lounge was decent. If you’re looking for somewhere new with cheap, great food and beautiful beaches then cancel that trip to Marbella and get yourself to Albania. Trust me — you will not be disappointed.
Featured image by Ashleigh Smith