In September 2020, we finally made our way back to an airport and started traveling again. We looked for a country where Americans were invited at the time and… the options were few. We settled on North Macedonia, one of Central Europe’s landlocked nations. The silver lining of these times is that places we’d never had on our radar suddenly appear on our radar.
After a little over one week in North Macedonia, we weren’t ready for our trip to be over. The children were having a wonderful time, we were having a wonderful time… why not extend our trip? Itching to see another country, we spontaneously decided to cross the border in Albania. Admittedly, I was a little nervous because I’d done no research at all (was it safe? what was it like?) but surprises are some of the best parts of life and Albania was one of our favorite surprises.
The Albanian people were so kind and welcoming. The food was so delicious. The waters were so blue. The land was so diverse. No drive, however short, was complete without getting stopped in the road by some type of animal herd (usually sheep or goats). Albania was everything we were hoping for and more!
First stop: Sarandë
The weather was warm enough to wade in the serene + clear waters. We could see the Greek island of Corfu from a distance and there were no crowds to speak of: plus a dinner for the whole group of us was less than $10USD. The coastal area of Ksamil (just south of Sarandë) was so picturesque and the water views from Lekuresi Castle were phenomenal, but our real highlight was Monastery Beach. Spending an afternoon lounging in the waters of this tiny, tucked away beach is all you can ever dream of.
A little further north, we stopped in a heavily Greek-influnced seaside town of Himara (Himare). It rained during most of our stop here but we loved the food and enjoyed the seaside walk. Our home was up the mountain and had fantastic views of the shore.
Another highlight of our visit to Albania was the small town of Berat, known as the “town of 1,000 windows.” The tiny town is a Unesco World Heritage Site and there’s a giant castle overlooking the entire town with a river running straight through the middle of the town, so obviously it, too, is pretty picturesque. Again, the people of Berat were so kind, so it really made our time in this town memorable.
We finally made it to the capital city of Albania: Tirana. Tirana is a much more bustling city than the rest of the places we’d stayed but it was vibrant and full of life – even in late 2020 when much of the world remained closed. We loved getting a tour of the city from locals because we learned so much about the country’s (very recent) past that we had not learned in school. There were plenty of sites to see around town but the restaurants and fancy cocktail bars seemed to be the heart of the city and there were plenty all around.
After spending our very last day exploring the hillside village of Krujë, our time in Albania had come to an end. The diverse and stunningly beautiful country was 1,000 times better than we’d ever hoped, so we’re very excited to one day spend more time in this hidden gem.