Albania enjoys some of the best views, ruins and beaches, but it is still one of the best secret destinations in Europe without crowds! There are gorgeous Grecian style beaches, historic castles that look like Wales, and wide pedestrian boulevards lined with cafes like Barcelona. All of that is packed into one beautiful, affordable, and totally unexplored place you’ve probably never heard of until now. Albania was even named one of our top 18 trips we recommend for 2018! Here are 11 reasons why you need to visit this European hidden gem (before everyone else does.)
1. It’s a Bargain: The five-star hotels in every region in Albania were under $100 a night. A multi-course feast with wine came to about $10-15 a person in every restaurant. My SIM card for a week of unlimited calls and data was $3. The country is a bargain! On the Albanian Riveria, you are essentially seeing the same scenery as you would in the Positano or the Greek Islands, at a fraction of the cost. Inland, you can experience Norwegian-class hiking and Swiss-inspired Alpine towns without breaking the bank. This is the perfect spot for any budget traveler, backpacker, or someone looking to travel in style without the splurge.
2. It’s Unchanged: Albania’s not on Instagram. Yet. It’s not westernized, and not exactly modernized. There’s no Starbucks, or McDonalds. There’s no reliable public transportation. Best of all, there’s very little tourism. This means you are seeing an authentic country with a rich history, just the way it was.
3. Ancient Villages: Imagine Oia, Le Baux, or the Cotswold before the crowds came. Ancient hilltop villages exist in Albania that are over 1,000 years old. There are no cafes, no shops selling magnets, and no tourists. These villages are real and raw, and you’ll melt over each one. You and you alone!
4. Incredible Nature: I was stunned by the variety of terrain in Albania. Off the coast felt like New Zealand, Norway, and Switzerland rolled into one. There are beaches, mountains, canyons, valleys, rivers, and lakes to wow you. Adventurers will have their pick of things to do: you can cycle, hike, paraglide, and zip-line. This is a great place to have a vacation that is half relaxation, half adventure, without having to drive more than a few hours to achieve both.
5. Pristine Beaches: Corfu is a 30-minute ferry ride across the Ionian Sea. So, you’re sharing the same stretch of beach as the Greek Islands. The Albanian Riviera near Dhermi and Sarande has a stretch of pebbly white beach that is among the loveliest I’ve seen in the Med. The best news? You won’t be paying for sunbeds, booking ahead for cabanas, or ordering overpriced cocktails while you lounge. You’ll probably have the place to yourself.
6. Farm-to-table Dining: If it’s not in season, you won’t find it on a menu in Albania. I could actually taste the freshness and quality of every item on my plate each day. Albania is king of farm-to-table cuisine, because people there all still grow their own food. You’ll eat fruit off the vine, meat from the farm, and homemade everything, everywhere you go. Even the wine! I was served fish, and then shown the boat that caught it earlier that day. I felt like every meal took place at Blue Hill at Stone Barns. And everything is so fresh and free from preservatives and chemicals, after a week of pigging out, I had actually lost a couple pounds.
7. Incredible History: I decided on Albania when I realized where it was on the map. It’s considered part of the Balkans but is bordered by Greece and Montenegro, with Italy just across the Ionian Sea. The land used to be Elyria, which is just as rich with history as its neighbors. You’ll see 5,000-year-old ruins, Ottoman architecture, roads crossed by Alexander the Great, ancient castles, and hilltop villages; Albania has it all. But unlike its neighbors, it’s unspoiled, unrestored, and uncharted.
8. Warm People: Since tourism is new, people embrace and appreciate you being there. In my travels I’ve had encounters with locals who are not happy to have their villages and town overrun with tourists. I’ve sometimes felt unwelcome. This will never be the case in Albania. When locals realize that of everywhere in the world, you’ve chosen to come to their country – they are overwhelmed with pride, and want nothing more than to help you and make your trip wonderful. This is not a dangerous place; the people are kind, friendly, and welcome you with open arms.
9. UNESCO World Heritage Sites: The cities of Berat and Gjrokaster are both UNESCO World Heritage Sites that you’ve never heard of, and will blow you away. They are within a few hours of each other, so you can easily see both and marvel at the fact that no one else is there.
10. No Trip Planning Required: Before most of my trips, I drive myself crazy researching hotels, restaurants, places to see, coffee shops, and boutiques. Sometimes, by the time I get my destination, I’m exhausted from the planning. Then I have to grab a map and learn my way around. Not so in Albania! Thanks to Limitless Albania, for once I put my feet up and let someone else do the work! This country is SO uncharted, I definitely needed a local expert to help me plan the week out. I put my complete trust in Fatmir – from where to eat to where to sleep, and I have never had a less stressful trip.
11. You’ll Be Surprised: When was the last time you went somewhere truly not knowing what to expect? Maybe you’ve never been to Cinque Terre, but you’ve already seen every inch of it captured and hashtagged on Instagram. Experiencing a place for yourself is of course, different, but you already know what it’s going to look like, maybe even what you’re going to eat and where. In Albania, every day will be an adventure. You haven’t seen these vistas pictured, posed, and geotagged. You haven’t heard of these restaurants or hotels (and hopefully you won’t for a very long time). So go explore uncharted territory while you still can!
What surprised you most about our 11 Reasons to Travel to Albania? Comment below!