The secret (and cheaper) alternative to Greece and Italy
Then there are the earlier empires. Albania came under the influence of ancient Rome and Greece. South Butrint (the ancient Buthrotum) and Apollonia (near west Fier) tell this old story in temples, statues and pillars, while Durres diverts some of its three-star heaviness into a 200 year amphitheater of enduring majesty.
The tale also goes back further, to the mists of 500 BC, when the area was Illyria. The ingenuity of this pre-Roman civilization is still visible in the surviving walls of Lissos (modern Lezhe, in the far north, near the Montenegrin border), where diagonal cuts in the stone were designed to help the buildings to resist earthquakes.
Even the capital adds a chapter or two to this splendid thread. Tirana is largely an Ottoman creation, founded in 1614. But it offers impressive insights into the enormous National History Museum, as well as restaurants and bars galore in the Blloku district which, off limits to ordinary citizens the time of Hoxha, has been recovered and reborn. since 1992.
“We are seeing increased interest in the Balkans, Albania being no exception,” says Andrea Godfrey, Albania expert at regional specialists Regent Holidays. “What we are noticing is that an increasing number of people are looking for a private driver and guide to help them go deep into the country, passing through Butrint, the coastal road and the Llogara pass. Most of our clients are looking to discover every corner of Albania, but with a few days of R&R included, for which we always suggest Ksamil.”