Flag of Albania
When people talk about going to Europe, their first mention is the usual England, France, or Spain. For the "been there, done that" crowd, how about heading to Albania?
Albania? Who travels to Albania? Anyone who wants to try something totally different than the usual European Tour, that's who.
This Eastern European country is really known for bird watching; where you can see everything from eagles to herons, and even Dalmatian Pelicans.
History buffs will appreciate the 2500 year old ancient city of Butrint, and the archaeological sites of Apollonia. While Berati was once an Ottoman city.
There's even a castle to get excited about. Rozafa Castle has a centuries old military history. The capital city of Tirana is known for its religious art and its cultural scene.
Tirana always seems to have something going on, mostly what could be considered the "finer things in life", like the Opera, Ballet, or Classical music concerts.
The outdoorsy type should jump at the chance to go whitewater rafting along the Osumi River, or hike the Albanian Alps. Biking through the Gramoz Mountains might be a bit grueling, but so worth it when you see the vistas from the high vantage points.
It won't be too hot to do it, since Albania enjoys a Mediterranean climate with warm, dry summers. It can, however, get downright cold and snowy in the mountain regions.
This might be why Turkish coffee is so popular here--designed to keep you warm at night. It does have a Balkan spin on it though, the grinds and sugar are brewed together.
Other Albanian delights include Koran, a trout dish; and Kurkurec, which is like Albanian haggis--sheep innards cooked in..well, nevermind.
Think about shopping at the bazaar in Kruja instead, full of felt makers and rug weavers.
Getting around in Albania isn't all that easy, but worth the time and effort. There are no domestic flights between towns, and the rail network might be slow--but it'll give you the chance to see the countryside. A ferry links Komani to Fierza, and taxis can take you around in the bigger cities.
For most foreign nationals you don't need a visa to visit Albania, just a passport and return ticket to somewhere. Medical insurance is recommended since only basic services are available throughout the country. Avoid eating dairy products and drinking bottled water should help keep you healthy.
It isn't a big deal if you don't speak Albanian (the official language), as Greek and Italian are widely spoken. As is French and English--so you'll do just fine in a land that is just off the usual "European Tour".