Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Five places to discover in Albania in October   
With all of Albania being so much off-the-beaten track, seeing the country’s unknown side is not so much an exotic experience, as the only one that is available to its visitors. Pristine beaches, ancient ruins and cities carved in stone, desolate mountain villages, rough, fragrant cuisine, the psychedelic sounds and sights of Tirana, Saranda and Durres – everything that this Balkan country had to offer is an authentic experience, hardly touched by globalisation.

Long decades of isolation under Enver Hoxha's communist regime were only prolonged by the economic recession after its fall and by the uninterested policy of Western European towards this small and so full of character nation.

And as it often happens, while disadvantageous to some, this turned into a big advantage to others. Although many Albanians would rather have their country developed, Europeanised and well-connected to the world, its modern history of seclusion turned it into the most mystical and challenging destination in contemporary Europe.

Many of the places that are worth visiting in Albania have the additional benefit of containing, in a relatively small space, layers upon layers of the country’s long and varied history – from the time of classical antiquity when these lands were occupied by the Illyrians, to the eras of the Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman Empires and then oppressed by the communist regime. Unveiling these layers one by one is among the most stimulating and satisfying experiences that a visitor to Albania could have. Here, provides you with five destinations from which to begin exploring the mysterious and multi-layered Albania.

The modern city of Saranda and the ancient site of Butrint

Although a modern city, Saranda - one of the most important tourist destinations of the Albanian Riviera, contains remnants of different historical periods that characterise Albania. A walk through the town, with its cake-like layers, with thin strips of road cutting through it, reveals why the town and its vicinity were chosen as sites for many Byzantine monasteries, as – in Morelle Smith’s words, “it feels truly blessed and stirs the heart with wonder.”

A visit to the nearby ancient city of Butrint, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is another way to delve into the past, as the site boasts remains of Illyrian, Greek, Roman and Byzantine civilisations.

Read Morelle Smith’s account of Saranda and Butrint on

The monastery of Mesopotam

Also located near Saranda, this monastery, restored by UNESCO, offers a glimpse into the long and varied history of these lands as well. The Saint Nicholas Church, which can be seen today, was most likely built in the thirteenth century and remodelled in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, while its iconostasis from reworked Roman columns bear traces of almost each and every era of the Balkans’ history.

See Italian photographer Massimiliano Fusari’s magical set of photographs of the Mesopotam Monastery on


“Epidamnus - Dyrrachion - Durrazo - Durres,” as one reader wrote, “is indeed a 2,500-year old treasure trove of Balkan history.” Located on the central Albanian coast, the city of Durres is the country’s most ancient one. Fought over by the Romans, Bulgarians, Venetians, Serbs and Ottomans, and in the twentieth century, by Italy and Germany, the city became Albania’s first national capital in 1913.

One of Durress's main attractions is that it boasts the Balkans’ biggest amphitheatre. There, another mystery awaits amateur archaeologists to untangle it: La bella di Durazzo - a mosaic of a long-faced, solemn woman with hair piled on her head and her face turned slightly away. Archaeologists have been unable to identify who she was since she was unearthed.

Read Morelle Smith’s account of her visit to Durres on


Set hanging off a cliff on the sides of the Drino Valley in southern Albania, one of the city’s most famous sons, Ismail Kadare, wrote about it in his well-known novel Chronicle in Stone. The other infamous man who was born in the city was Albania’s communist dictator Enver Hoxha.

And layers of Albania’s and the region’s Byzantine, Ottoman and Communist history lie atop each other in Gjirokastër too, made concrete by the Byzantine castle, a well-preserved Ottoman town, which is now a UNESCO World Heritage site, a museum of armaments and an ethnographic museum.

Read Bruce Macphail’s account of his visit to Gjirokastër on


This ancient city, now abandoned, is located in the middle of the Mallakastra mountain range in south-western Albania. Founded by the Illyrians, then conquered and eventually abandoned by the Romans in 586AD, now it remains an underdeveloped and little known archaeological site, which impresses not only with the archaeological remains it boasts, but also with the landscape that surrounds it. The former testify, again, of a varied and multi-layered past, with a third-century BC Illyrian theatre and many early Christian churches’ remains set on the backdrop of stunning natural landscapes.

Read Bruce Macphail’s account of his visit to Byllis on

Read more about Albania on




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