Posted by Hatka Hatnaa Posted on 6:34:00 AM
The Situation on the Ground: For decades, Albania was among southeastern Europe’s least
visited—and least accessible—countries. A virtual fortress under the isolationist tactics of communist dictator Enver Hoxha (who spent four decades building over 700,000 needless, and largely useless, defensive bunkers across the country), Albania collapsed into chaos after Hoxha’s death in 1985 and the subsequent fall of the U.S.S.R.
Today, however, Albania is no less safe than its more well-trodden Adriatic counterparts. A burgeoning tourist industry—centered around its meticulously preserved UNESCO-listed Ottoman towns, including Berat and Gjirokastra, and the stretch of land now known somewhat archly as the Albanian Riviera—now brings in almost 3.5 million tourists a year.While Adriatic beaches in nearby Italy and Croatia have largely been transformed into crowded, hypermodern resort complexes, Albania’s coastal beaches, dotted with ruined Greco-Roman amphitheaters and whitewashed, icon-filled Orthodox churches, are among the few in Europe where it’s possible to stretch out on the shoreline, even during high season. South of Vlorë, the somewhat concrete-feeling coastal hub, ethnically Greek villages like Dhërmi, Vuno, and Himarë—with terrace cafés, waterside squid-hawking fishmongers, and narrow pedestrianized pathways—are inundated with family-run B&Bs that go for as little as $25 a night. Travelers from outside the Balkans are still rare but vigorously welcomed. Don’t be surprised if your B&B host insists on taking you on a dizzying motorcycle tour along the coastline or challenges you to a staggering rakia-drinking competition.