Wanting to see a different side of Europe, we decided to go for a few days to Albania. Albania is in the heart of the Mediterranean and on the coast of the Adriatic and Ionian Seas. The coast line of Albania is very interesting historically as it has a long history of Greeks, Illyrian and Roman settlements. Albania is in south east Europe, bordered by Greece, Montenegro, Macedonia and Kosovo.
Albania which has not yet been explored by a lot of people is slowly creeping into the tourism scene. UNESCO declared Burint ,which was a Roman vacation city as a world heritage site. UNESCO also declared Berat and Gjirokastra world heritage sites as well in 2005. There were lot of other interesting things we had read about Albania and as a short vacation it seemed just perfect.
We landed into Tirana and decided that this would be our base. The first day, we decided to explore the capital a bit. We took a local map and started by exploring the ancient Et’hem Bey Mosque which was built in 1821.It is located in the heart of the city and was not difficult to find. The mosque is adorned with motifs that are very rarely seen in Islamic art. The frescoes outside and in the portico depict waterfalls, trees and bridges, which are very unusual. We then went to see the National Historic Museum which was sadly looted in the 1990’s.After a quick tour there we went on to see the National Archaeological Museum. After walking around a bit, we stopped off for a traditional coffee at Murat Toptani Street. The locals told us that we should take the cable car up to Mount Dajti. There were lovely forests and restaurants around. The view from Mount Dajti was very beautiful .We wanted to visit the Dajti National Park, as it was relaxing way of spending time “above the city.”The tour started with a winding walk through the oak forest into the Cherry Pass, which runs between the two peaks of Dajti. The trail continued further towards the glorious views of the western lowlands and the Adriatic Coast. We finally reached the peak of Tujani, which is the highest point and from there we could see the beautiful panoramic view of Lake Bovilla which is locked between the mountains. We ended up having dinner at a traditional rustic restaurant and took the cable car back down to Tirana. It was indeed a lovely day!
The next day we decided to visit the world heritage site of ancient Butrint which is located in southwest Albania on a small peninsula jutting into the Mediterranean Sea across the island of Corfu. Butrint is a unique blend of greek and roman architecture. The walk through the ruins of the ancient city took up almost most of the day. Only when visiting the ruins one gets to imagine the number of different forms the town took and the different fortunes of its various generations. It is one of the most remarkable archaeological sites. Walking the entire site was a long and tiring but a very enriching experience. We also visited the museum of Burint.
The next day since we were close to Sarande, we decided to have some fun and explore the beaches of Albania. A lot of the beaches are untouched and undeveloped and most natural due to the scanty population. Some of the best beaches of Albania are located from Vlore to Sarande along the Ionian Sea coast. The waters of Ksmail beach were clean and the amenities on the beach were good! The nice thing about the entire day was that there were not too many people around we got to spend a fabulous day at the beach. We also hiked up to the small village of Pilur which is on a little mountain. The villages are full of fig trees and grapes.
After a relaxing day on the beach, we needed a bit of hard core outdoor action. The canyon of river Osumi is one of the most spectacular natural attractions that Albania has to offer. We had arrived at the perfect season of spring to go rafting where the snow had just begun melting and the rains made it possible to navigate the raft through the entire length of the canyon. Because of this phenomenon, a number of high waterfalls make rafting for people a dream like place! We had a professional guide with more than a decade of professional river experience. Our technical briefing started at 10:30 and by 12:00 we had hit the waters. It was awesome. I had indescribable moments rafting and we went through 8 waterfalls, ancient places like the cathedral and the eye of the canyon .The entire group broke for lunch between the canyons and the blue waterfalls at three and headed back to Tirana by 7 in the evening. It was day full of adrenalin and I was totally exhausted at the end of it. We had a lot of fun!
The rafting experience left us wanting to do something a bit less action packed and we decided to go and visit the World Heritage Site of Gjirokastra. We got to explore the Gjirokastra city and its beautiful architecture which is a blend of ottoman traditions and local craftsman. We visited the castle and the Ethnographic museum. The tour lasted almost the entire day. It was very relaxed as we just walked around and saw the ancient ruins and spent time clicking pictures and enjoying a nice cold beer at short intervals!
The rural side of Albania appealed to our senses and we went to visit the Alpine region or rather the Western Alps. We went to this place called Razem. It was so unique and beautiful and the air was clean and fresh .We got to literally live in midst of legends like Homer and come right back to present day, all at once! The mountainous journey started at the city of Shkodra and leads to Razma. Razma is this city located amidst pine and birch forests and there were plenty of meadows and pastures for grazing cattle. We did a little bit of hiking in the surrounding mountains .The feel of clean mountain air was absolutely refreshing for the body, mind and soul!
We then went onto the city of Boga, as we wanted to see the Caves of Puci. They are the most attractive and situated 1,087 meters above sea level. The caves are 5 kms long and rich in stalactites, stalagmites, and wall veils. These caves have many levels and out of them 5 are in the centre itself. We walked through the galleries that connected with other caves. The flora and fauna of the mountain areas of Albania are very rich. They have a wide variety of exotic flowers and rivers of the mountains are home to lovely fish like Trout.
Albania is a small but wonderful country to visit for a short holiday. The people are friendly, though most of them do not speak English. Getting around can be a bit hectic but majority of the time its fine. The people are laid back and enjoy a good laugh. The beaches of Albania in my opinion are the best as they are untouched and the water is pristine and clear. Being in the Mediterranean, Albania has lovely fruit and vegetable and the sea food is fresh and tasty. The six days we spent in Albania was wonderful and I would recommend it for a lovely get away.