When we traveled to Albania, we knew nothing about the country on the Mediterranean. We only knew what it wasn’t. Albania had never been part of Yugoslavia, but had been ruled by the communist dictator Enver Hoxha. Albania is not an EU country, although it is surrounded by other EU countries. Albania is not a religious state. Albania is not Italy, Serbia, Turkey or Greece, although these countries once influenced or dominated the entire region. Apart from Mother Teresa, we did not know of any famous person that Albania had generated in sports, art, music or literature.

We had no ideas or expectations of the country. It didn’t take a day for it to win us over.

People Dancing in Tirana

We drive along an empty highway through the border mountains from Kosovo to Tirana. Off the highway, we see withered fields or farms hidden behind fences. The land becomes flatter, the traffic heavier – we are approaching the capital. Endless construction sites, the roads torn up, mountains of sand and huge machines. Blue signs remind us that the EU is paying for and promoting the projects. Tirana’s metamorphosis from a gray communist bunker to an artful, brightly colored city is far from complete.

Skanderberg Square is bursting with national self-confidence. The opera house, the national library, the national museum. The town hall, an eminent mosque, a cathedral, a war bunker full of art and newly built skyscrapers. Not far away is the Albanian parliament. And then, at the edge of the large, wide square: the statue of the national hero Skanderberg on horseback.

Carousel on the Sheshi Skënderbej in Tirana
Church in Tirana
Old Man at Sheshi Skënderbej in Tirana
Sheshi Skënderbej

Albania’s landscape in midsummer is mostly barren and yellow. The ground is stony and there is always a mountain on the horizon. Now and again, grotesque fairytale castles stand directly on the main roads. These are event locations that can be hired for weddings. A reminiscence of Central European architecture and clichés.

A family-run winery, a Tuscan idyll. Almost ripe fruit hangs from the vines. We eat olives and fresh sheep’s cheese while tasting the heavy, red wine that they produce in the country. It is Albania’s soul – it has a past and certainly a future. It tastes different, cannot be categorized, has different nuances and shades. A rich, interesting wine. A deep soul that can hardly be described.

Chris' Tip

If you really want to try completely different wines, then we recommend the Çobo Winery near Berat. All the wines we tried had something special and tasted excellent. Basically, the wines are reminiscent of Italian wines. You should definitely try the Albanian grape variety Shesh i Zi.

The wine tasting is definitely worth it, you get a short tour of the winery and can then try different wines and a raki. Small snacks are also served. A real experience!

Sparse Landscape in Albania
Wine Tasting at Çobo Winery in Albania
Wine Tasting at Çobo Winery in Albania

Berat – the city of a thousand windows. Cross the bridge once and it becomes clear where the town’s nickname comes from. A mountain slope with house after house built on its side, some of which can only be reached via narrow alleyways. A small market by the river – a handful of men offer a small amount of fruit. In the park next door, men play checkers. Apart from a few teenagers, we mainly see men. The wives are probably preparing dinner at home. Albania – that is also traditional family life.

We find a cozy spot for a coffee in the pedestrian zone. Teenagers stroll past us in groups – groups of girls, groups of boys. Sometimes couples touching hands inconspicuously, giggling, looking sheepishly to the side. After a while, they pass us again, this time coming from the left. The pedestrian zone is not particularly long and there doesn’t seem to be much to do in Berat unless you are a tourist admiring the thousands of windows. The young people walk from the beginning to the end of the pedestrian zone, then turn back. Back and forth until they have told each other everything or dinner calls.

Berat in Albania - The Town of a Thousand Windows
Berat in Albania - The Town of a Thousand Windows
Berat in Albania - The Town of a Thousand Windows
Old Men Playing Cards in Berat, Albania
Berat in Albania - The Town of a Thousand Windows
Berat in Albania - The Town of a Thousand Windows

The Blue Eye promises lonely cooling. An oasis in the middle of the barren landscape. Indeed: green bushes and trees surround the bubbling spring to which a dusty track leads. As we pass a checkpoint and are asked to pay the entrance fee, we suspect that it might not be as lonely as we had hoped. The water is crystal clear, sapphire blue. What pictures don’t show: Hordes of people looking to cool off cavorting in and around the water.

So we drive on and arrive at a lake in the late afternoon. The last day visitors are just leaving, leaving us and a hungry dog behind. The next morning, we realize that we have spent the night just a stone’s throw away from the historic Butrint Park. We cross the lake on a tiny, outdated car ferry and we’re there. A small amphitheater, busts of Roman rulers, crumbling colonnades. The branches of pine trees stretch a roof all over it.

Blue Eye Albania
Oil Production in Albania
Parku Kombëtar i Butrintit
Parku Kombëtar i Butrintit
Burning Forests in Albania

Europe is on fire this summer. Italy, Greece and Spain are in the news. But it is also burning in Albania. Again and again we see how fire consumes the barren trees.

We drive north along the coast. There are vacation resorts full of Italian tourists. They come by ferry and crowd the beaches. Cheap beer, sun, fried fish and chips. Children drenched in suntan lotion. Swimming tires, melting ice cream, beach promenades and as many cars as people. But we also find stony tracks leading off the main roads. Every now and then we see foreigners in their converted vans. After Corona, they are everywhere. We find a quiet spot on a steep cliff. There is a small restaurant down by the water and a nice beach. Less than a hundred kilometers away, on the other side of the sea, lies the Italian province of Puglia. There, the sun sinks as a glowing red ball. It is our last night in Albania. It will give us a sky full of stars.

At the Beach in Albania
At the Beach in Albania
At the Beach in Albania

In the morning, we are invited to an Albanian breakfast: a strong mocha and a raki. The ultimate pick-me-up on an empty stomach. On the way home, we have lunch in Durrës. Here, too, a large amphitheater bears witness to the former presence of the Romans. So much culture, so much history in this country.

Albania has given us a lot. Its people, its traditions, its laughter and its food. Its landscape, which seems so barren, and its warmth, which is all the more loving for it. It hurts to leave this country.

Info about our trip