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Destination: Albania

Albania is a bit of a mystery. Holidaymakers in this region are too busy hopping around the Greek Islands or exploring the history-riddled former Yugoslavia to consider Albania and its…., well, exactly. Nobody knows much about this country. Yes, there are lots of Mercedes and donkeys. But there’s so much more to discover in Albania, including impressive mountain ranges, stunning beaches and a slower, more traditional way of life.

Travelling in Albania is surprisingly easy, although it’s best not to plan far ahead. There are many more accommodation options than advertised online and while the mini buses, known as furgons, can get you most places you’ll need to go, the schedules can be difficult to determine in advance. If all else fails, ask a local. Everyone in Albania seems to know someone with a taxi, restaurant or guesthouse and is eager to call them on your behalf. 

Vlora:

Vlora is cosmopolitan coastal city, with more year-round atmosphere than Saranda.

What to do:

If you can be tempted from the beach, walk along the palm-tree lined Boulevard Ismail Qemali and climb to Kuzum Baba (visitvlora.com/city/kuzum-baba-kuz-baba-vlore) for the best (and free) view over the city. The National Museum of Independence ( 355 332 9419) was the headquarters of Albania's first government.

Where to stay:

Hotel Martini ( 355 6920 38877) is centrally located on one of the busiest roads in the city, plus it’s better priced than the waterfront hostels

Going out:

Most cafes in Albania have a mostly male clientele and rarely serve food, so Pasticeri Kafe Izraelite ( 355 6840 67229) is a welcome change. The cakes and Israeli-inspired desserts are worthy of more than one visit. Irish Time ( 355 6968 33785) and Club Pizeri Itarus ( 355692676430) are popular watering holes in the evening.

Shkodra:

Shkodra is an interesting mix of traditional ways of life and modern influences. One minute you’ll be walking along a rubbish-lined gravel road and pass a family sitting with a goat in a donkey-led wagon. The next you’ll be sipping coffee in a cafe while jazz music plays in the background.

What to do:

Get a taxi to take you to Mes Bridge, which was built almost 250 years ago during the Ottoman Empire. Keep your taxi driver for the trip to Rozafa Castle (albaniantourism.com/shkoder/about-shkodra). Visit in the late afternoon to admire the view over Lake Shkodra and watch the sunset.  If you can brave the seemingly lawless Albanian roads, hire a bike and ride out to Lake Shkodra (albaniantourism.com/lake-shkodra). The mountain village of Theth in the Albanian Alps is about three hours away by bus and a trip there is best organised from Shkodra.

Where to stay:

Florian’s Guesthouse ( 355 6823 35921) is a short taxi ride from the centre, but worth it for the garden-sourced vegetarian dinner and homemade wine. You’ll see a different side of the city on a walk around the neighbourhood where people will come out of their houses to say hello.

Going out:

Arti'Zanave ( 355 6737 66211) is one of the best places in Shkodra for traditional Albanian food. Another popular haunt is Bar San Francisco ( 355 6655 52552), which has a more international flavour.


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Destination: Albania
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