When I was a teenager Albania was regular subject of jokes as the poorest and most isolated country in Europe. Hidden behind ranges of mountains in a remote corner of the Balkans, it is still overlooked by most people due to the old stereotypes.
I never even considered Albania as a holiday destination until 2009 but I have wanted to return ever since. We spent a month in Shqiperia, as the locals call their land. There was direct train connection between Budapest and the Montenegrin capital, Podgorica, at the time (unfortunately, it is cancelled for the moment). I was very busy before the trip so I had no time to learn Albanian words and phrases. I just printed out two pages of the most practical vocabulary and tried to memorise it during the 18-hour railway trip.
A trip to Albania is rewarding in many ways but if I had to mention one thing it would be the people. I could expand my knowledge of the language in the taxi that took us across the border and within two weeks I was able to make basic conversation with the locals. In remote Permet, one taxi driver invited us to his home to meet his family after a day trip in the mountains. In a village near Korca, I got hopelessly drunk with some young lads, who seemed to understand my Hungarian jokes by the end of the night.
Apart from these social encounters, the highlights of the journey included the two historical towns, Berat and Gjirokastra. They somehow managed to survive the decades of Communist rule (they say the Albanian dictator, Hoxha, was born in the latter) and today we can get lost in medieval Ottoman streets.
Then there is the sea. The colour of the water is just as mesmerising as in Greece or Croatia but you can have a whole beach for yourself even in the high season. Of course, this is changing fast so don’t hesitate too long.
We used local transport and ate at average Albanian eateries and restaurants. We loved the fresh salads and grills. I think you can get the best coffee and pizza in Albania outside Italy. The prices are very friendly, which makes Albania not only inexpensive but also a great value for your money.
One more important note: we never had any safety issues. I’m pretty sure Albania is one of the safest countries on the whole continent so the only drawback could be the lack of proper roads in some remote areas.