Beat the crowds: Albania
It's not easy to get off the beaten track in Europe, but there are still hidden gems to be found if you know where to look. Albania is one such example. The Balkan nation may be small in size, but its jaw-dropping terrain encompasses everything from golden sandy beaches to towering, snow-capped mountains.
If you're looking for a city break and don't fancy tourist-heavy locations like Venice, Prague and Budapest, head for Tirana. Along with the rest of the country, the Albanian capital was almost completely isolated from the West until the early 1990s, but having emerged from behind the Iron Curtain, it now offers a tantalising combination of old world charm and cosmopolitan ambience. It's not unusual to see luxury cars driving along unpaved roads, while gleaming skyscrapers tower above tiny, winding alleys dotted with cafes and bars.
Like the sound of Albania? Read the Citybond team's guide on why you should go, and what to do when you get there.
Planning your trip
As with the rest of the Mediterranean, Albania’s peak tourist season falls across the warmer (low to mid-20C) summer months. Expect resorts to be busiest - and prices highest - in July and August. You'll get plenty of bang for your buck here, with rates for accommodation and entertainment among the lowest in Europe - expect to pay around £35 per night for a three-star hotel in Tirana. Albania's currency is the lek, and 140 lek is around £1. British Airways and low-cost carrier Wizz Air fly direct from Gatwick and Luton respectively. You won't need a visa to enter, provided you stay for less than 90 days, which is enough time to uncover its beauty.
What to do
Albania may have seen significant economic growth since the fall of the Iron Curtain, but Tirana is mostly unaffected by the sort of tourism development seen in most European capitals. Visitors can get cultural at numerous galleries - our favourites include the vast National Art Gallery and FAB Gallery, part of the University of Arts of Tirana. When night falls wash down all that culture with a beer or two at one of the city's many bars, the best of which can be found in Blloku, an area once home to the country's communist bigwigs. Take a break from city life by visiting the village of Dhërmi, home to the beautiful yet rarely busy Drymades beach. If mountain life's more your thing, and you're here in season, don't miss the Bigëll/Dardhë ski resort, which boasts 2km of slopes.
What to see
From its soaring peaks to its sun-drenched beaches, Albania is a feast for the eyes. Architecture lovers should take in Tirana's countless gaudily coloured old buildings, repainted as part of an initiative from artist-turned-mayor Edi Rama. And don't miss the city's most famous landmark, the striking and currently derelict Pyramid of Tirana, built to honour tyrannical former ruler Enver Hoxha. For spectacular mountain scenery and the country's best hiking, explore the evocatively named Accursed Mountains, otherwise known as the Albanian Alps. And head south of the capital to visit Berat, the so-called ‘Town of a Thousand Windows’, with its picturesque Ottoman houses clinging to the hillside.
Where to stay
In Albania, you can enjoy luxury and stunning locations at a fraction of the cost of a room in most Mediterranean cities and resorts. For boutique charm in the heart of Tirana, look no further than the Xheko Imperial, decked out with vintage wooden furniture and spectacular floral arrangements. The view from the rooftop restaurant is one of the best in the capital. Soak up the old world charm at Berat's beautiful Hotel Osumi, within a stone courtyard in the heart of the ancient city. Fancy a little pampering? Book a stay at the five-star Hotel Villa Pascucci in the historic port city of Durrës, with its elegant outdoor pool, upscale spa and wellness centre.
What to eat
Typically Mediterranean, Albanian cuisine is heavy on seafood, olive oil, and seasonal fruit and veg. Best of all, it's cheap. Expect to pay no more than 1,250 lek (£9) for a three-course meal at a mid-range restaurant. Must-try foods include fëgesë, a dish of peppers, tomatoes, cottage cheese and spices typically eaten with crusty bread. Arguably, the most famous dish in Albania, and the Balkans as a whole, is byrek. This tasty, salty filo pie features a variety of fillings, such as feta and spinach, and can be found everywhere from pastry shops to roadside trucks.
Wherever you plan on heading to this year it’s good to know that Citybond Suretravel is committed to providing you with the highest level of protection to ensure you are safe and secure 24 hours a day when away.
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