Albania

When we first looked at a map of the Balkans, figuring out how to plot our way across the land, we naturally glanced over Albania fairly quickly. The only things that came to mind in visiting the southernmost reach of the Balkans, was civil war, overbearing communism, rampant crime, Mother Teresa, John Belushi and Regis Philbin – in no particular order. Nonetheless, none of the above endeared us in the slightest to the country. That was, until I figured I had an extra week to spare – and threw it in Google to see what came up.

Naturally, I was surprised to see coastlines to rival the French Riviera, talk of pasta better than your Italian grandmother’s – and a community as welcoming and warm as what you would expect from a place of such close ties with Mother Teresa. Well, shit a brick, I thought – might as well give communism a go.

Not quite Nice or Cannes, but close enough

Needless to say, Albania is well and truly free from the shackles of post-war communism (though those shackles took 47 years to break), and the country has thrived in the aftermath. There are still glaring flaws in the infrastructure, and country development and several awkward questions lingering from the civil war, sure, but let’s take it for what it is for this article: a destination you absolutely should go and travel.

Though all the roads will take about 47 times as long as Google maps will tell you when plotting your journey from A to B, the beaches are stunning, the mountains are lush, and the food is absolutely superb. If I could choose one place to go back to in the world – Albania is top of the list.

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Ignore the raging river of mud, the Accursed Mountains are incredible.