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BETA: Albania


Due to it being closed to outsiders until the latter half of the 20th century, Albania has remained a quasi-enigma of Europe. But since its reopening to the rest of the world people have slowly started to realize that this small, stunning country has plenty to offer travelers of every type. With gorgeous mountain scenery, crumbling castles, a boisterous capital city and absolutely dreamy beaches, Albania is the perfect spot to combine outdoor adventure with cultural immersion. Below you will find all the necessary facts about the country, as well as some interesting stats and of course, all the best adventures to be had.

| Fast Facts

\\ The country is officially known as the Republic of Albania.

\\ It is located in Southeastern Europe, on the Adriatic and the Ionian Sea, which sit within the Mediterranean Sea. Albania shares land borders with Montenegro to the northwest, Kosovo to the northeast, North Macedonia to the east, and Greece to the south. It also has maritime borders with Greece, Montenegro and Italy to the west.

\\ The capital, and largest city, is Tirana - population: 557,422. Note: Tirana is among the wettest and sunniest cities in Europe, with 2,544 hours of sun per year.

\\ Albania has been inhabited by numerous civilizations throughout its history. These include the Illyrians, Thracians, Ancient Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Venetians and Ottomans. After the defeat of the Ottomans in the Balkan Wars, the modern nation-state of Albania declared independence in 1912. But in the 20th century, the Kingdom of Albania was invaded by Italy. They helped form Greater Albania, which eventually became a protectorate of Nazi Germany.

\\ Dictator Enver Hoxha formed the People's Socialist Republic of Albania after World War II. His form of communism (see more below) became known as Hoxhaism. The Revolutions of 1991 concluded the fall of communism in Albania and eventually the establishment of the current Republic of Albania.

\\ The highest mountain in the country, Mount Korab, is not entirely Albanian. In fact, it is shared with neighboring North Macedonia (where it is also the country’s highest peak). Mount Korab sits at 2,764 meters high (or roughly 9,068 feet). Also, the country itself is 70% mountains.

All facts from here.


| Fun Facts

\\ There are over 173,000 bunkers scattered throughout the country (some say up to 750,000). These bunkers were built by the former dictator, Enver Hoxha, as defensive structures in case of invasion by enemy governments which, at that time, were pretty much any other country. They were designed to withstand atomic and chemical attacks and sometimes built underground. Though they were never used, today you can still spot them throughout the country (and even in the capital of Tirana).

\\ Albanians don’t call their country Albania. Instead, they use the name for the nation in their mother tongue: Shqiperi. This roughly translates to “The Land of Eagles” hence the eagle insignia on the flag.

\\ There were only 7,000 cars (for a population of 3 million) in 1991. This was during the time of communist rule, so private car ownership was banned. Therefore, only high-ranking government officials were allowed to own their own car. The rest of the population used bikes or horse-drawn carriages(!). Today almost everyone owns a car - with many of them being Mercedes.

\\ There are no McDonalds in the country. While you can find McDonald’s in almost every other country in the world, you will not see one in the entire country of Albania. But if you are worried about not finding any fast food in the country there is no need: while there are no McDonald’s, there are Domino’s Pizza and KFC. Note: nearby Montenegro is also one of the few countries without McDonald’s.

\\ Albania was the first country to be declared an atheist state in 1967 under the rule of Dictator Enver Hoxha. This was all due to Hoxha’s obsession with his own very strict line of communism which he took to the extreme and radicalized with time. Hoxha’s form was so strict that it even broke ties with other Communist superpowers, like the USSR, China and Yugoslavia (Hoxha thought they were not communist enough). As part of his move to take the country to the next level of communism, he abolished all religions and destroyed several religious buildings. Sadly, today very few historic religious buildings exist in the country.

\\ Albania has some of the least developed Riviera's on the entire European continent. The country has some truly stunning beaches along its coast, which extends from Ksamil in the south to Vlore in the north with various coastal towns in between. Unlike the French Riviera, which is not only expensive but also quite glamorous, the Albanian Riviera is definitely more no-frills (and adventurous :).

\\ In the evenings, the locals really like to go out for a walk. Known as xhiro, this activity is an official evening walk where every resident comes out to stretch their legs and catch up with their neighbors. In many towns, the roads actually close to cars for certain hours. Apartment blocks empty and everyone gathers at various places, walking and talking until nightfall.

\\ You are likely to notice a large number of scarecrows in various (sometimes odd) places throughout the country. This is due to the fact that Albanians believe that a scarecrow placed on a home or other building while it is under construction will ward off envy from the neighbors. Sometimes you’ll also see a teddy bear serving the same purpose. The oddest part though, is that the scarecrow or the teddy bear will be impaled on a rod or hung by a rope like a noose. Some say that these talismans will bring good luck.

\\ The heroine of Albania is Anjezë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu, better known as Mother Teresa. Born in Skopje, which is now a part of Macedonia, Mother Teresa is one of the most beloved religious figures of the 20th century. She is also the only Albanian to win a Nobel Prize.

Fun facts from here and here.

| Adventures

Although Albania is a relatively small country, its location is top-notch. Nestled on the shores of the Adriatic and Ionian Seas; Albania is crossed by several different mountain ranges, such as the Albanian Alps, the Pindus Mountains, and the Skanderbeg Mountains. Additionally, you’ll also find extraordinary lakes, wild rivers, expansive wetlands, and forested valleys - all just waiting to be explored.

National Parks

There are 15 national parks spread throughout the country, each offering its own adventures. Below are a couple of the best ones: