Albania, here we come!! To give you some info on this incredible country, no one says it better than fellow California travel blogger Allison on her blog – Eternal Arrival:
“For too long, Albania has been ignored as a tourist destination. I get it. The country has had to bounce back from a lot. For years, Albania was under one of the most repressive communist totalitarian regimes in history – even North Korea has more trade partners and diplomacy than Albania did thirty years ago. It emerged from the shackles of totalitarianism in 1991 with basically no GDP and virtually no economy. A countrywide pyramid scheme in which Albanians lost a total of 1.2 billion dollars (a fortune, considering how Albanians had only had six years of free market in order to actually obtain money to invest) in 1997 sent the country into chaos.”
“But things are way, way different now, and while the country still has far to come to catch up with its neighbors in Europe, it’s making great strides towards lasting progress. Albania is a country with an unfathomably long history, almost 5,000 years, with influence from Greeks, Illyrians, Romans, Venetians, Byzantines, and Ottomans. To sum up Albania as just what’s happened in the last century is myopic. Yes, Albania has suffered, but it’s bouncing back with incredible fortitude and rightfully emerging as a tourist destination.”
To us, Albania has a unique charm because of it’s checkered past — and after traveling through the very touristy areas of western Europe, this little hidden country was a breath of fresh air offering some true local culture and untouched atmospheres. The remnants of war and dictatorship are still quite visible, making it a special place to visit.
To get a real feel of the area, we rented bikes to go exploring. But this time we mixed it up a bit!
Being a predominantly Muslim country, this capital city of Tirana was full of beautiful mosques. However, it is also the birthplace of Mother Theresa, and churches were just as common to see.
One of our favorite parts of the city was the local farmers markets, selling fresh, local produce, fish, chicken, eggs, nuts… everything you could want stall after stall next to each other.
Buying blackberries from a street vendor
Walking down the street we encountered some characters. For the equivalent of $1, you could pay this “street doctor” for a checkup. You stand on the scale, he looks down at the reading, and gives you a thumbs up or down indicating your level of health. Luckily after spending the last month in Montenegro on the mediterranean diet, we came in right on par for his records!
Albania has one of the coolest flags – a vibrant red flag with two black eagles protecting the country.
After a few nights in Tirana, we made our way through the mountains to the southern tip of the country. This is when we started to recognize what a gem we had stumbled across.
Absolutely stunning scenery driving along the backroads of the Albanian Alps! Albania has it’s own Alpine mountain range, similar to Switzerland, Germany and Italy — except these mountains hug the entire ocean coast, and fall beautifully into the gorgeous coastal beaches.
On our way through the mountains we stopped to buy some tea and honey from a local couple.
But while soaking up the incredible beauty of these coastal Alps, we also had to keep careful watch for the animals. Cows, sheep and goats would frequently pop out of no where in the middle of the road, causing us to halt on the breaks and patiently wait for them to decide where they’d like to go.
Wild horses and baby horses… ❤
Skinniest goat we’ve ever seen! ||
Then, after traversing the Alps for 3 hours, we finally made it down to the beaches in Southern Albania – now known as the Albanian Riviera. Bordering Greece and across from Italy, Albania’s beaches are some of the most lovely we’ve been to but even better because they were so much less crowded! (For now).
After almost 8 hours of driving down the coast, we finally arrived at our hotel in Sarande. It was right on the beach with a roof top lounge and restaurant, where we spent most of our time when not at the beach!
Teal launched her first big business promotion during this week and found the expansive views and new “office” space the perfect setting for manifesting abundance and success! (Yes they even had working wifi on the roof! Dream come true for a digital nomad)
Our morning breakfast spot at the rooftop restaurant of our hotel. Across the ocean you can see the Greek island of Corfu. So close to Greece we could almost swim out and touch it!
We quickly became accustomed to Albanian breakfasts – which were the healthiest we’d had to date on this trip: consisting of fresh brewed coffee, sliced cucumbers, tomatoes, feta cheese, scrambled eggs and olive oil. A great way to start the mornings.
Lunch usually consisted of a local grilled fish and vegetables.
After a few days we became recognized by the locals… who all just started referring to us as “California”.
Crystal clear warm waters, FREE beach palapa chairs and tents, and fun locals to get to play volley ball with on the shore.
One particular local we met – Dimitri – was a 6o year old local police officer in the area and after joining his group playing volleyball, welcomed us in as if we were visiting him like long lost friends.
He brought us to meet his family and other friends, gave us local “Raki” (Albanian moonshine) and we all danced into the sunsets, enjoying this magical moment in time.
With these epic sunsets, dramatic mountainous backdrops, and the warmest locals welcoming us in, we felt like we had the world in our hands, hearts and souls ❤
And of course… we can’t forget to mention the food!
This whole spread only cost us about $40 – complete with a bottle of homemade red wine from the local family vineyards. Such a delicious combination of Greek mediterranean, Italian pastas, and local seafood. Our favorite combination — all on a budget. Yes please!
We couldn’t agree more!
View from the town we stayed at for a week in Sarande, at the very southern tip of Albania.
After an absolutely remarkable week staying in Albania, it was time to make our way back into the Schengen zone to finish up our time in Europe. Since we were far away from Italy, we knew the best way to get across the ocean would be on an overnight car ferry crossing the Adriatic Sea.
Bring on the next adventure! Going to sleep in Albania, waking up in Italy!
Southern Italy, here we come!