Albania is the secret Mediterranean. Closed off for decades following its Communist years, it has escaped the mass development of other chunks of the Med, so Albania's beaches remain largely resort-free. Times are a-changing, however. You will now find decent accommodation in most towns. You'll also find some fascinating sites: castles dot the countryside, old bunkers lay on the beaches and lakes beckon to watersports' lovers (try Lake Shkodër, in the country's north-west, or Lake Ohrid, shared with Macedonia). Also, some pretty untramelled paths wind across the country, 70% of which is mountainous, so hikers will be spoiled for choice. Capital Tirana is a fun find too: visit the interesting museums then head to a cafe in the buzzing Blloku district for a strong dark coffee and a chance to people-watch in this resurging nation.
Albania has a Mediterranean climate with hot summers, mild winters in coastal regions, but cold winters including snow in the mountains. Spring and autumn are best for sightseeing and walking.
Albania's roads are in very poor condition. Buses and minibuses (furgons) are cheap and plentiful. Minibuses will only usually run once they are full.
There are three train lines, but the trains are so excruciatingly slow that most people don’t use them. There are plenty of taxis in the towns.
There are a growing number of hotels of all standards, although only a handful of deluxe ones. The price is not necessarily an indicator of standard. Check whether breakfast is included.
Albanian cuisine is generally very good, with a mix of Balkan, Turkish and Mediterranean influences. Everything is seasonal and organic, so is full of flavour. Lamb and fish are very good, and seafood is excellent along the coast. Vegetarians will fare well, especially in the autumn when there is a huge range of produce.
Albanian wine is very good and excellent value. Raki is widely drunk, as well as other local liqueurs and brandies. Italian and Greek beers are more widely available than local brands.
There is a huge coffee culture, with Turkish coffee drunk at home (and always offered to visitors) and Italian coffees in restaurants.
Albania is a very safe country for visitors; the biggest hazard is probably the appalling driving. However, there are some desperately poor people so don’t flaunt your possessions and take the usual commonsense precautions against petty theft and muggings.
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