posted by Lidia Hejja

The Republic of Albania is a country in Southeast Europe, bordered by Montenegro to the north-west, Kosovo to the northeast, the Republic of Macedonia to the east, and Greece to the south and south-east. It has a coast on the Adriatic Sea to the west and on the Ionian Sea to the south-west. It is less than 72 km (45 mi) from Italy, across the Strait of Otranto which connects the Adriatic Sea to the Ionian Sea.

The present territory of Albania was part of the Roman provinces of Dalmatia, Macedonia and Moesia Superior. After the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in Europe following the Balkan Wars, Albania declared independence in 1912 and was recognised the following year. The Kingdom of Albania was invaded by Italy in 1939, which formed Greater Albania, before becoming a Nazi German protectorate in 1943. The following year, a socialist People’s Republic was established under the leadership of Enver Hoxha and the Party of Labour. Albania experienced widespread social and political transformations in the communist era, as well as isolation from much of the international community. In 1991, the Socialist Republic was dissolved and the Republic of Albania was established.

Location: shares land borders with Greece, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and with Adriatic and Ionian coastlines

Capital: Tirana

Climate:  Mediterranean

Population: 3,002,859 (2012)

Ethnic Make-up: Albania recognises three national minorities, Greeks, Macedonians and Montenegrins, and two cultural minorities, Aromanians and Romani people.

Government: Republic of Albania

 

Albania has a Mediterranean climate, with hot, dry summers and cool, wet winters in the lowlands. In the highlands, snow can fall from November until March; mountain towns are very cold at this time of year. Dependent on the time of year and regions of the country to be visited, and also on the activities planned. For outdoor activities in the mountains, good waterproofs and warm layers should be carried at all times of year. On the coast in summer, long trousers and a light jacket will often be required in the evenings.

The official language is Albanian. Greek is widely spoken in the south of the country, and some state schools there use Greek as the medium of education. Many Albanians speak Italian; some also know French or English.

Albania is an extremely secular society. The traditional breakdown is 70% Muslim, 20% Orthodox (the autocephalous Albanian church) and 10% Catholic, but at best these figures indicate nothing more than nominal attachment to each faith.

Although a small country, Albania is distinguished for its rich biological diversity. Over a third of the territory of Albania – about 10,000 square kilometres (3,861 square miles);– is forested and the country is very rich in flora. About 3,000 different species of plants grow in Albania, many of which are used for medicinal purposes. Coastal regions and lowlands have typical Mediterranean macchia vegetation, whereas oak forests and vegetation are found on higher elevations. Vast forests of black pine, beech and fir are found on higher mountains and alpine grasslands grow at elevations above 1800 meters.

Some of the most significant bird species found in the country include the golden eagle – known as the national symbol of Albania – vulture species, capercaillie and numerous waterfowl. The Albanian forests still maintain significant communities of large mammals such as the brown bear, gray wolf, chamois and wild boar. The north and eastern mountains of the country are home to the last remaining Balkan lynx – a critically endangered population of the Eurasian lynx.

Albanian cuisine is Mediterranean, influenced by Greek, Italian and Turkish cooking. Albanian cuisine is characterized by the use of Mediterranean herbs such as oregano, mint, basil, rosemary and more in cooking meat and fish, but also chilli pepper and garlic. Vegetables are used in almost every dish. The main meal of the Albanians is lunch, which usually consists of gjellë (stew), the main dish of slowly cooked meat with various vegetables, and a salad of fresh vegetables, such as tomatoes, cucumbers, green peppers, and olives. The salad is dressed with salt, olive oil, vinegar or lemon juice.

In high elevation localities, smoked meat and pickled preserves are common. Animal organs are also used in dishes such as intestines and the head among other parts, which are considered a delicacy. Dairy products are integral part of the cuisine usually accompanied with ever present bread and alcoholic beverages such as Raki. Seafood specialities are also common in the coastal cities such as Durrës, Vlorë, Shkodër, Lezhë and Sarandë. 

Normal Albanian etiquette is for people to shake hands the first time they see each other every day, and then again when they part. Between friends, a kiss on both cheeks is exchanged by men as well as women. The usual way to indicate ‘yes’ is by moving the head horizontally from side to side. ‘No’ is usually signalled by a slight raising of the eyebrows, sometimes accompanied by a gentle click of the tongue.

Albanians usually remove their shoes inside their homes or other people’s houses. If you are visiting an Albanian home, you will be offered a pair of slippers or plastic sandals to wear while you are indoors. Smoking is widespread, and it is very unusual to find a non-smoking section in a restaurant, never mind a bar. However, smoking is not allowed on public transport, and this ban is almost always respected. On long journeys, the bus or minibus will stop for a cigarette break from time to time.

Homosexuality is taboo, although not illegal. Public displays of affection by gay couples are likely to be greeted with some hostility. The extensive antidiscrimination legislation became law in 2010 but did not extend to legalising same-sex marriage. Gay and lesbian life in Albania is alive and well but is not yet organised into clubs or organisations. The alternative music and party scene in Tirana are queer-friendly, but most contacts are made on the internet. As with elsewhere in the Balkans, discretion is generally the way to go for gay travellers.

Tourism in Albania is characterised by archaeological heritage from Illyrian, Greek, Roman and Ottoman times, unspoilt beaches, mountainous topography, delicious traditional Albanian cuisine, Cold War era artefacts, unique traditions and hospitality, low prices, and the wild and peculiar atmosphere of the countryside. Although still underdeveloped, Albania is set to prime its debut on the world scene as it celebrates a century of independence.

Recently, Albania has been officially dubbed as “Go Your Own Way”. Previously, it was dubbed as “A New Mediterranean Love” and “Europe’s Last Secret”.

Tourism is hampered by local management issues such as poor road and public utility infrastructure, unregulated waste disposal, illegal construction and hunting, uncertain land ownership, and an unqualified hospitality sector. These are due to Albania’s long isolation but are being dealt with and improvement is being seen constantly. Most main and coastal roads, some mountainous ones, and water supply and treatment facilities have been recently reconstructed mainly through IPA pre-accession funds to the European Union. The private sector and foreign donors are heavily investing in accommodation and renovations at historical sites, while seasonal charter flights and all year round cruises are making their presence known in Tirana Airport and Albania’s main sea ports. Others are expressing interest or investing in building tourist resorts, yacht marinas, or in the attractive real estate market.

People

Informal economy: According to the data published by the local authorities in tourist areas, more than 40% of the firms operating in the tourism sector (including bars, restaurants and hotels) are not recorded and do not have a license. This means that the main problem is the registration and licensing under relevant legislation.

Cultural

CulturalAlbania’s cultural heritage consists of relics of the Illyrians, Greeks, Romans, and the later periods of the Byzantine and Ottoman empires. Over the centuries, the country has been a cultural melting pot, a confluence of east and west. However, one of the most significant cultural issues identified is the preservation and protection of cultural heritage in Albania. According to a local newspaper, unique medieval castles are being turned into resorts with tennis courts to attract more tourists to Albania. With poverty widespread in the country, most Albanians have bigger problems to think about, and the political leadership seems unwilling to act.  Considering the poverty, it makes perfect sense that people in tourism destinations would rather put new and cheap metal roofs on their houses than restore the slate roofs using traditional and costly artisan methods.

Albania’s cultural heritage consists of relics of the Illyrians, Greeks, Romans, and the later periods of the Byzantine and Ottoman empires. Over the centuries, the country has been a cultural melting pot, a confluence of east and west. However, one of the most significant cultural issues identified is the preservation and protection of cultural heritage in Albania. According to a local newspaper, unique medieval castles are being turned into resorts with tennis courts to attract more tourists to Albania. With poverty widespread in the country, most Albanians have bigger problems to think about, and the political leadership seems unwilling to act.  Considering the poverty, it makes perfect sense that people in tourism destinations would rather put new and cheap metal roofs on their houses than restore the slate roofs using traditional and costly artisan methods.

Animals

There are a huge number of bears, maybe as many as 80, in cages throughout Albania being used to attract people onto business premises. Only a small percentage of people in Albania are aware that the brown bear is protected by law and that the keeping of brown bears by private owners is forbidden. There is still illegal activity and trading of bears in the mountains between Montenegro, Albania and Serbia and bears are still appearing, put on display in restaurants to attract customers, though it is diffcult to understand how viewing a malnourished, unhappy, neurotic bear in a cage would be an entertaining part of any customer experience.

Environmental

Air pollution is a major environmental issue in the bigger cities of Albania, especially the capital, Tirana. The sharp increase in air pollution in bigger cities resulted from a sharp increase in cars’ ownership and decrease of urban greenery.

Water pollution is caused by disposal of trash, and discharge of untreated wastewater and sewage. Two rivers which pass through the capital, Tirana, are two of the most polluted rivers in Albania. Lana and Tirana River are clean at their source, but once they enter Tirana, their water is several times more polluted than allowed standards.Industrial pollution of rivers has been observed in the rivers Shkumbini, Fani, Gjanika and Semani, where toxic organic compounds and metals from mining and industrial activity are heavily affecting these rivers.

The waste management system is composed by a weak collection systems in cities and very little collection systems in rural areas. The Albania’s collection coverage is around to 77%. Recycling is done by private companies, which employ poor people to collect plastic, metallic, glass and paper waste which is processed or packed and then sold to other countries. The rest is mostly landfilled. Awareness on waste recycling is low. Littering and dumping trash remains a serious problem for Albania.

Illegal logging is the main threat to Albanian forests.The other threat comes from forest fires which in the last years have intensified. 

Contrary to general perception, Albania is a very safe country with warm and helping people as reflected in the traditional Albanian expression Buke, Kripe e Zemer (Bread, Salt and Heart). To better enjoy ones’ stay and for useful information, first-time travellers to Albania are strongly encouraged to consult online/print publications, travel forums and blogs on specific tips and itinerary, or can simply book a tour with a local tour operator.

A few words to learn before you go:

Good morning.            Mirë-mëngjes.

Hello,Hi,                      Mirëdita.

Good evening.             Mirë-mbrëma.

Good finding you.       Mirë se iu gjej.

How are you doing?    Si po ia kaloni?

How are you?              Si jeni?

Well. Fine.                   Mirë.

I am pleased meeting you.       Jam i kënaqur që iu takova.

Thank you.                  Faleminderit.

Goodbye.                     Mirë u pafshim.

Have a good day.         Ditën e mirë.

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