Stepping into the natural beauty, simple villages, and Ottoman architecture of Albania, you’d think you stepped into a time capsule of life before globalization. In many ways, you have. The country’s turbulent—if not tragic—history has kept its borders sealed, secreting the treasures of this Balkan gem from the roving eyes of the tourism industry.
Over two decades have passed since Albania was freed from one of the most brutal Stalinist regimes of the Soviet Empire, and only now does it seem to be truly back on its feet. Those who choose to travel now stand to experience one of the last outposts of homegrown Europe, a rare treat for those on the hunt for authenticity.
While national museums are a standard stop on most city tours, Albania’s National History Museum in the capital city of Tirana is an absolute must for those who want to understand the peculiarities of the country they are about to meet. Ker & Downey ensures that all of our guests tour museums with the foremost experts on the featured subject matter, so that history comes to life as you walk through time. Explore it all, from Albania’s ancient history, to a grim recounting of the country’s time under Soviet rule.
For proof that Tirana is evolving quickly, go from history to the cutting edge at the Tirana Express. This constantly-changing series of art and music showcases the contemporary heartbeat of a city finally discovering itself.
In Berat, the “town of the thousand windows” you can catch a glimpse of Ottoman country life. Upon first glance you may think you are looking at the Italian coast, or one of the Greek isles. As soon as your eyes focus, you realize that the houses dotting the hillside are distinctly Eastern, wonderfully preserved examples of what the Balkans would look like had religions and cultures peacefully comingled over time. Berat and nearby Gjirokastra contain both Byzantine churches and Ottoman mosques, a castle with origins in the fourth century, and a bazaar that still carries on.
Add in the country’s rugged mountains, undiscovered stretches of coastline, and ever-helpful locals, and it’s safe to say that Albania won’t be considered one of travel’s new frontiers for very long.