After travelling in Europe for 7 months, one gets a bit unimpressed by another castle, another church and another old town. The interest in quaint cities full of coffee shops lining pretty streets is no longer there.
So by the time we hit Albania, we were enthused to race down to that gorgeous cheap Adriatic beach that we’d heard about. We were ready to put our backpack down and practice the sweet art of doing nothing.
We travelled on an uncomfortable local bus from the fortress town of Ulcinj, Montenegro to the border town Shkoder. There is an inexpensive taxi available, but we chose the budget travellers option.
Shkoder is one of the oldest cities in Europe, so we were eager to explore. And, with accommodation at only $30 a night and dinner for $5, we were ready for slow travel in Albania. But, the description in The Lonely Planet of a lake with spectacular limestone peaks was the real motivation for the trip. We could not wait to get on the all-day boat trip cruising past old villages.
Better than Norway?
We had just been to Norway a month ago. Cruising the fjords was one of the Top 10 highlights of seven months in Europe. But, Lake Koman blew Norway away! Comparable? Yes. Similar? Yes. Equal in beauty? Yes! But, for now, Lake Koman wins our heart. Mostly due to the lack of tourists. But, also due to the opportunity to sit down and admire the view while sharing some life stories with very friendly locals and repatriated Albanians coming home to tour their own country. Slow travel at its best.
We met many friendly locals in our first two days in Albania, more than we’d met in 7 months in Western Europe. We’re not saying Western Europe is unfriendly, they are probably just too busy.
In contrast, Albanians are receiving foreign visitors with excitement. They are experiencing the growth of their country and happily sharing their culture with tourists. They are also curious and excited by the Western World and want to meet Westerners and learn about Western Life.
Albania has fast become a hot spot for backpackers. It is a budget-friendly place for backpackers, and it’s also a safe place to travel.
There are many diverse attractions such as mountain hikes, beautiful beaches, delicious food, historic buildings and old towns. There are many friendly locals interested in meeting travellers. Not just to sell you things, but to welcome you to their country. They want to make sure you love their country as much as they do.
This newly opened country is quickly emerging as a European hotspot for culture, nature, beaches and city life.
Costs in Albania
To our delight, the Dollar stretched further in Albania. Cruises that cost 50 Dollars in Norway cost a mere 10 Dollars in Albania.
We ate like royalty with delicious Italian seafood pasta that cost 15 dollars in Italy costing 3 dollars in Albania. And, with Albania being just across the sea from Italy, there is Italian influence in the food especially in the seaside towns, which the Italians have already discovered. The food is comparable in taste, and we even found places that were better. Also, the heavenly sweet treats for next to nothing ensured we were always content.
And to top things off into the ecstatic stratosphere, we had a glass of beer for a buck! Yes, beer for one dollar.
But most important was feeling welcomed into a country by a people full of hope for the future and an eagerness to show their hospitality to the world.
The E.U. has invested and donated substantial funds to upgrade roads, sewerage and for the beautification of town squares.
We hope mass tourism which will then surely come won’t change this.
But for now, Albania is an adventure for the intrepid traveller and a European highlight for a growing number of travellers.
Much like the recommendations for Myanmar & Cuba who are now open to the world of mass tourism, go now! Hurry if you want the raw & authentic experience.
Our Albania highlights –
Gjirokaster – this awesome fortress town is up in the mountains. There is a character filled ancient old town imposed by a majestic fortress.
Berat – a UNESCO world heritage site is a quaint town with its white Ottoman houses and is a pleasurable stop for a few days. Hiking up to and exploring the Berat fortress is one of the highlights amongst days of exploring the villages, churches and the riverside.
Albanian Riviera – to date most tourists coming to Albania are coming for the stunning beaches, cheap accommodation and delicious food. They are not wrong, it is a spectacular coastline. However, overdevelopment and crowding are starting to occur on some beaches.
Ksamil – this small seaside village in the Albanian Riviera is peaceful and secluded. In low season it’s slow and laidback.
Butrint – these ruins are extensive and extraordinary. They are not well known, which is very surprising. Therefore, during the low season, we were the only tourists there.
Shkoder – Our No. 1 highlight in Albania. Don’t miss the all-day cruise on the Koman Ferry on the stunning Komani Lake.
Editor’s Note – With raw, authentic travel comes bad roads, uncomfortable buses (it’s like the world has sent all their leftover and old no longer used buses here) and lack of timetables.
If you just go with the flow, not expecting the orderliness, comfort, structure of Western Europe you will have a fun and stress-free adventure! The people are eager to talk to talk to you though they do not know much English.
Many travellers (on blogs we’d read 6-12 months earlier) claimed they had a difficult time with transport, communication issues and substandard accommodation. We, however, did not find this.
Development is speeding along rapidly, and by the time you go you will likely find that road construction is complete, new buses have arrived, and it’s now a comfortable place to travel.
Nevertheless, we here at Travel Bugs World adored the raw authenticity of it! But mostly, we loved the off the beaten track adventure!