Albania is an Adriatic revelation, and also an active case study in regeneration through tourism as it gently greets more and more visitors. Why gently? Because Albania swapped dictatorship for democracy only thirty years ago, and has kept its beauties hidden under a bushel ever since. With elevated expanses like the Accursed Mountains, a blessing rather than a curse for those on Albania hiking tours, or UNESCO wonders such as the town of Berat or Butrint National Park, Albania is emerging modestly yet magnificently.
Protected landscapes are a feature of all our Albania tours and, with fifteen national parks in a country not much bigger than Wales, you will see that Albanians are proud stewards of their natural heritage. Long may this pride reign as it continues to reveal its coasts and canyons, lakes and lowlands as well as, on our Albania cycling holidays for example, its friendly neighbour of North Macedonia.
Where to go
Whether you embark on a self-guided or small group guided walking holiday of the Albanian Alps, as they are better known to visitors, the country’s arresting topography brings daily highs. Valbona Pass in the eponymous national park is one such high, with panoramic views over Theth and Valbona Valleys, where you can follow ancient trails with a pack horse to carry your bags. Another is a hike through the forests and canyons of Blue Eye National Park, to explore its myriad natural springs, blue and bottomless by all accounts.
Albania’s capital city is a meze of Ottoman architecture with minarets and mosques, mixed with Italian and Soviet influences. It is now catching up with other chic European capitals, the Blloku district, for example, having swapped its politburo presence for that of boutique and cafe life. Explore the city’s complex journey to a modern metropolis by visiting the National History Museum, House of Leaves and unforgettable Bunk Art.
Albania’s southern slopes
One of the best ways to explore Albania’s less elevated but equally dramatic gorges and valleys is on a walking holiday through the south’s small towns and villages. Trek through the likes of the Lengarica Canyon that provides a natural artery between villages, or traverse Ottoman constructions that connect historic Hoshteve with the neighbouring villages Nderan and Zhej. Peppered with traditional homestays and small hotels, these hidden valleys of Albania’s south hide nothing in terms of hospitality, welcoming walkers with open arms.
Peaks of the Balkans
The hard won peaceful relationships between Balkan countries should be celebrated by visiting hikers and cyclists alike. The Peaks of the Balkans is a long-distance hiking trail traversing the Western Balkans, on a circuit that encompasses the heritage highlights (and highlands) of Albania, Kosovo and Montenegro. Depending on the heights that you want to hit, there are options to ascend Mt. Trekufiri, Hajla, Taljanka and Arapi, all promising the most peaceful panoramas.
Things to do
- Drink their wine and practise saying gëzuar, or ‘cheers’ in Albanian, because you won’t fail to marvel at the country’s ancient viticulture traditions. The most well known wine regions of Albania are the elevated vineyards in the Albanian Alps, sun-drenched coastal plains around Durrës and the hills overlooking the UNESCO city of Berat.
- Similarly, Albania’s food is an important source of pride for local people who are striving to protect its culinary cultural heritage. With recipes influenced by Turkish, Greek and even Italian traditions, as well as its mountain landscapes, tuck into mountain lamb-filled tava e kosit after a day on the hills, or enjoy some qofte meatballs with your Albanian aperitif after a long hot cycle.
- Add wild swimming into your natural adventure, with plunges possible in Lengarica Canyon, Xhema’s Lake in Valbona Valley and the glacial lakes along the Peaks of the Balkans trail. You will start swimmingly by making the historic town of Shkoder, on Lake Skadar, your jumping off point for an Albania hiking tour, with plenty of swimming points to enjoy on its vast waterfront. And for littoral lovers, our coastal trails of Albania walking holiday has no shortage of swimming treats.
Responsible travel tips
- Read up on Albania’s national parks to gain perspective on just how widespread its natural wonders are. Protecting their extraordinary landscapes is clearly important to this small country, with a big heart for heritage. Our walking holiday along the trails of the Albanian Alps leads you into both Valbona and Theth National parks and our coastal walking trails holiday dips in and out of Llogara National Park.
- Remember that Albania is still relatively shy when it comes to visitors and celebrating rural, natural traditions is what it’s all about. Our guided walking holidays give superb insight into the unique lifestyles of the Albanian Malësori or highlanders, for example, who still follow a traditional code of conduct called the Kanun of Lekë Dukagjini, with honour and hospitality at its core.
- In order to sustain rural and coastal tourism in Albania and as well as eating and drinking local produce, leave space in your bags for artisan gifts. These include traditional qeleshe felt hats, hand woven qylym rugs, or some handcrafted olive wooden spoons and other kitchen treats.
- Litter and recycling is an issue in Albania, and so don’t add to the problem by bringing lots of packaging with you or buying single use plastic while you are there. As they are hoping to join the EU in the near future, issues like litter and waste will have to be resolved by local authorities as soon as possible, along with other pressing issues of corruption and human rights.