10 Surprising Facts That Will Make You Plan a Trip to Albania Now!
Albania might be one of Europe’s best-kept secrets, but it certainly has the potential to be your next vacation destination. In the last decade, it has become increasingly popular with adventure seekers, foodies interested in unique traditional cuisine, and history buffs looking for rich cultural heritage. If it is on your bucket list, here are 10 cool facts that will make you plan a trip to Albania.
- With an area of roughly 11,100 square miles, Albania is slightly larger than Massachusetts. 70% of its territory is covered by mountains, but it also has an extensive coastline on both the Adriatic and the Ionian Seas, so you will not have to travel far to enjoy varied landscapes and views.
- Albania is actually the medieval Latin name of the country, but the natives call their homeland ‘Shqiperi’ and their language ‘shqip’.
- The country’s population is 3 million, but it is estimated that at least twice as many Albanians live all over Europe and North America.
- Like in other countries on the Balkans, Albanians nod when they mean “no” and shake their heads when they mean “yes”. So, in order to avoid confusion, keep in mind that in Albania ‘yes’ means ‘no’ and ‘no’ means ‘yes’.
- In the 1970s and 80s, under the Communist dictator Enver Hoxha, more than 750,000 bunkers of different shapes and sizes were built across Albania to protect the country from an invasion (which never happened). They were later abandoned and fell into disrepair, but some are still used today as tool-sheds, cafes, and even museums.
- The English poet Lord Byron visited Albania in 1809 as part of his grand Mediterranean tour – a journey which inspired his famous poem ‘Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage’.
- Albania is one of the few European countries without a McDonald’s (or a Burger King for that matter). Do not fret; traditional Albanian cuisine is delicious – diverse yet simple, combining Mediterranean, Balkan, and Ottoman influences. Locally produced meat, seafood (along the coast), and vegetables are the staple, along with a great variety of cheeses, freshly-baked breads, and olives.
- The most popular Albanian is probably Mother Teresa – a nun and a Nobel Peace Prize winner who was actually born in present-day Macedonia which in turn was back then part of the Ottoman Empire (yes, the Balkans can be confusing like that). Other famous people of Albanian descent include actors Jim and John Belushi and Eliza Dushku.
- The history of these lands goes back at least 4 millennia to the ancient Illyrians who were in turn followed by the Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, and Ottomans, to name just a few. The UNESCO-protected Butrint with its superbly preserved Hellenistic ruins is Albania’s most visited site, followed by Berat and Gjirokastra with their authentic architecture and historic citadels.
- Magnificent opportunities for adventure activities like river rafting, canyoning, hiking, sea kayaking, and cycling abound in Albania. No wonder the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA) has named it one of its Top Adventure Travel Destinations for 2017. Did you know that you can hike parts of the ancient Roman road Via Egnatia which once crossed the entire Balkan Peninsula and connected Rome and Constantinople?!
To the American traveler, Albania is probably one of the least-known European countries, but on my recent visit I noticed quite a few Italians, Austrian, Swiss, and Czechs exploring the coast by car or even motorbike and lately the country seems to be making lists as a top destination to visit – from National Geographic to the New York Times.
For sure, Albania is not (yet) a destination for a seamless and luxurious vacation, but if you are looking for unique travel experiences and raw, pure, eye-opening exploration, you will fall in love with it as I did. Ready to plan a trip to Albania? We are here to help!
Read more about Albania in my Fast & Furious Western Balkans Trip post!