We jumped in to the unknown when we visited Albania. Nobody we knew had ever been there, nobody we knew came from there and a fair few people we knew probably did not it actually existed as a place. And so when we stepped off the boat from Corfu and on to Sarande harbour, we stepped forth with a mix of anxiety, trepidation and excitement.
We were well aware beforehand that bus timetables in Albania virtually don’t exist, but stumbled upon a bus that was due to leave for Ksamil, our first stop, by chance and jumped on. We just about had the change in Euros for no banks were open to exchange our money in to lek. However, Euros will do the job if in a pinch so bring plenty as a contingency plan.
We arrived in Ksamil in a dusty plaza with one or two locals hesitantly eyeing us up. We would find out later that most tourists came to Ksamil by tour, so to find two young foreigners with suitcases turning up on the local fare must have been a surprise. We were also suprised, by the beautiful beaches and food. Nobody had told us about this side of Albania.
That side of Albania being communism and poverty. Which there was. On our bus up the coast to Himare, we were counting the bunkers hidden in the countryside; they were numerous enough to house the entire population. We even passed an old submarine hideout, etched out of the cliffs.
In Himare we once more found beaches and food. Albania has some beautifully untouched scenery and certainly has the hidden beauty that so many people are finding out about further up the coast in Croatia.
Once we arrived in Berat, surviving a few attempts at hitch-hiking on the way, we realised how much history there was in this country. Albania has been a focal point of contact between Europe and Asia for millennia, but its recent closed off history has given it a negative portrait.
Perhaps our favourite city in the country was Shkoder. Castles sat upon scaling hills, rivers and lakes, cheap drinks and beautiful plazas. Sounds idyllic. Whilst it was certainly the busiest town we had stayed in, there was something reassuring about the hustle and bustle of this metropolitan city compared to the relative peace and calm down south.
Albania was intoxicating and exhilarating, a cheap hideout in a continent desperately running out of places to call quiet or cheap, situated on the Adriatic coast. It’s a gorgeous country, totally worth a visit. But you need to plan a bit beforehand if not renting a car or not blessed enough to afford private transfer. That’s what this guide is here to help you with. Check out our individual place reviews below: