H.E. Ambassador of Albania to the Netherlands Ms. Adia Sakiqi invites you to a virtual trip to Albania, to visit her favourite places and learn more about her breath-taking country.
By Beata Bruggeman-Sękowska
Since you posed me the question of picking the favourite places in Albania, I have to admit that I have given it a lot of thought before I came up with the following list, simply because it is so difficult to choose.
Albania is only a 2 hour flight from the Netherlands and has a lot to offer. Personally, I prefer the pristine beaches of Albanian Southern Coast, others prefer the majestic Alps in the North. Albania easily offers a combination of both mountainous and seaside tourism, separated from each-other by 30 minutes’ drive. In the South of Albania during spring, summer and autumn one can take a delicious lunch under a cool breeze 18 degrees in the mountains of Llogara while finding oneself after a 20 min drive right at wonderful rocky Ionian beaches, deep in the crystal-clear turquoise waters.
And, prices in Albania are so affordable, one can enjoy such spectacular views and get their money’s worth, all at the same time.
My favourite coastal place in Albania is Drymades beach because of the quality of its pebble beach, the profoundness of the sea, the exploration of its rich fauna and the variations of fresh fish and seafood.
One can also enjoy a wonderful sunset (Picture 03 – People at Seaside) with a side of the local wine, and experience the dilemma as the manifold of the views one can enjoy is great: which one do you prefer mountain or sea view, or both in one.
To immerse completely in the tourist experience, there are many family-run hotels in the area, with a lot more character than a big chain, and the staff are always delighted to help the visitors.
Albania’s coastline is not only rich in incomparable beauty, but also in ancient history. Starting from Palasa beach, where Caesar landed with his army in his campaign against Pompey in 48BC. The ancient road is still visible and is subject to rehabilitation for touristic purposes. This road is well worth exploring by anyone with an interest in Europe’s past.
Archeology in Albania
Another aspect of Albania that mesmerizes me is its myriad of archaeological parks and heritage sites, dating to Illyrian, Greek, Roman and Ottoman periods, some of which are on the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites. There are 9 archaeological parks in Albania. When one visits the archaeological sites in Albania, is as if time stands still. So much history, so many different civilisations one can experience within just one short visit. Each of these sites has a distinct history.
My favourite archaeological park is Butrint, which according to the legend, was found by Helenus, the son of Priam, King of Troy. Butrint was an Illyrian city, inhabited by Greek and Roman Colonies, as well as Venetian rule. In 1272, Buthroutum was taken by the king of Sicily, Charles of Anjou who created the Kingdom of Albania (Regnum Albaniae), only to be surrendered to the Venetians in 1386.
For history buffs such as myself, I would suggest to take the opportunity to admire a lot of statues and mosaics when visiting Butrint, such as the statue of Apollo – the goddess of Butrint, heads of Zeus, the goddess Agrippina, the head of Livia, etc. The Baptistery mosaic was created towards the first half of the 6th century. All the design in the mosaics is rich in symbolism and the Christian doctrine, as the baptistery mosaic belongs to the period when Christianity was flourishing in Butrint and the city had its own bishop. In the Eastern Roman Empire, this is according to scholars, the second largest baptistery after that in the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul.
Apollonia named after the powerful divinity Apollo, Apollonia archaeological park has been preserved in an exceptional intact condition. Apollonia was one of the most eminent cities of the Adriatic basin broadly known as Apollonia of Illyria, founded during the first half of 6th century. The city flourished during the 4th century AD as an important economic and trade centre. The fame of the city attracted many personalities of the largest empire of the ancient world as the eminent roman philosopher and orator Cicero, which noted Apollonia in his Philippics as magna urbs et gravis (a great and important city). During this period, the city became one of the most important gateways of the trans-balkanic Via Egnatia, while in its famous Academy has studied and underwent military training Octavianus, accompanied by Agrippas, the eminent general and statesman of the Roman Empire. After a long period of continuous economic and cultural development, Apollonia fell into decline until its total abandonment during the medieval period. The culture and the general development of the city maintained a clear Greek character throughout its existence. However, the independent economic and politic activity as well as the close relationships with the Illyrian hinterland determined a distinctive physiognomy of the apollonian culture. This archaeological site contains also a Museum of Archaeology, that is situated at the old Monastery of Saint Mary.
Whether you’re someone who admires the towering beauty of mountains from afar or up close, there’s no denying how fascinating they are. On that note, the flagship region for mountain tourism is the Albanian Alps, the National Parks of Thethi, Valbona and the Region of Kelmendi. The “Accursed Mountains” are both truly spectacular and virtually impenetrable except for a series of high passes that link the small number of farmsteads and homes in the valleys below to the outside world during the summer months.
In the summer months, when roads are not blocked by snow, I love to hike from Theth to Valbona valley, a wonderful and not too difficult trail of 15-16 km, a hike much prefered by sportive tourists.
Tirana, the heart and capital of Albania, like all other European metropolises has never-ending movement, buzz, and energy. Tirana has rapidly transformed into the cultural, entertainment and political center of Albania. With its clubs, bars, cafes, and taverns, Tirana is worth discovering by both day and night. The hospitality shown towards tourists is something that will mark your journey not only in Tirana, but also all over the country.
After tasting one or two shots of organic home-made raki – as one does – a very interesting activity would be to then explore the handful of museums, monuments, historic buildings and parks that are located all over the city. My favourite place is the sunset at Scanderbeg Square, a mega pedestrian space in the heart of Tirana, named after Albanian National Hero, Gjergj Kastrioti who fought vehemently against the Ottomans during the 15th Century and served as a barricade to the Ottoman penetration into central Europe.
As a capital, Tirana has the country’s finest museums, theatres, and galleries representing the national arts. A visit to the National History Museum, the Archeological Museum, the National Gallery of the Arts combined with a visit to Bunk’art will leave you with a better understanding of the history of Southeast Europe and with wonderful memories.
The picturesque city of Berat is home to more than 2,500 years of history, which has gifted it with stunning archaeology, quaint residential areas and preserved monuments. Berat’s architecture is preserved in the UNESCO World Heritage list. Moreover, one cannot help but admire the stoic mountain scenery that shields this quaint, but formidable town.
The ensemble of the Byzantine churches in the castle of Berat is also extraordinary and totally worth visiting. At the foot of the castle, there is the Byzantine Church of Shën Mëhilli (Saint Michael), while the 13th century Church of Shën Maria e Vllahernës (Saint Mary Blachernae), the Church of Shën Triadha (The Holy Trinity), the post-Byzantine monumental Cathedral of Shën Maria (Saint Mary) and many other churches are located in the castle. The Cathedral of Shën Mëria houses a museum of works by the famous iconographers of the 16th century: Onufri, and his son, Nikolla. There are over 100 icons on display and they also include works of other artists such as Joan Çetiri, Onufër Qiprioti, and many other painters.
To sum up, one does not need to be equipped with a sense of adventure when deciding to visit Albania – only one of curiosity – as with the allure of the remote northern Alps, the ancient ruins from all breadths of ancient history, or the pristine beaches of 476 km Albanian coastline, Albania holds a wealth of beguiling attractions just waiting to be explored.
Photos: courtesy of Mr. Tom Vandecasteele @TomVandecasteele
Author: Beata Bruggeman-Sękowska is an award-winning international journalist, TV correspondent, author, chief editor of international journalism centre, Central and Eastern Europe Centre, board member and a sworn translator. She was born in Warsaw, Poland and has also Armenian blood and roots in Lvov, which is now part of Ukraine. She has been living in Heerlen since 2005.