Albania’s first hundred years proved rocky (quick recap: two world wars, a Communist dictator, civil unrest).
But this November, as the country celebrates a century of independence from the Ottoman Empire, the now-stable Balkan country is primed for its global tourism debut.
Across the Strait of Otranto east of Italy’s boot heal, Albania offers a rewind of the classic Mediterranean holiday.
The Ionian Sea laps at its sun-baked southern coast, where rolling hills covered in olive groves meet a “crystal clear” sea, says Dorina Zhupa, who lives in the cosmopolitan capital, Tirana, and recommends tiny beaches Pasqyrat and Livadhi.
Beyond the coast is a landscape rich in history, including the city of Butrint, a World Heritage site that Roman poet Virgil called a “Troy in miniature.”
Hikers retreat north to the Prokletije (a.k.a. “Accursed”) Mountains, the highest section of the Dinaric Alps for secluded trails in Thethi National Park.
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Thethi village testifies to a rough-and-tumble past — its stone tower was once a refuge from blood feuders — but these days its rustic guesthouses exude the famous Albanian hospitality.
This article, written by Whit Richardson, is featured in the brand-spanking-new issue of National Geographic Traveler, on newsstands now.