Hiking Beyond Borders in the Balkans


Streets of Albania: Tirana, Berat and the Road to Koman



Top 5 Beaches in Albania


Apollonia is probably the largest ancient city in Albania, and was a Corinthian Greek colony founded in the 6th century BC. It is easily reached by good roads from the town of Fier. The site occupies a hill beyond the village of Pojan that is dominated by a medieval monastery and Cyprus trees.

The city walls built between the 5th and 1st centuries BC enclose a massive area in which a good deal of excavation has been carried out. A theatre, an agora with an odeum, stoas and a bouleterion have been uncovered, as have a series of houses, streets a gymnasium and baths. Beyond the main city on the hill of Shtyllas is the single standing column of a large temple, perhaps dedicated to Poseidon.

Apollonia was well known for its slave markets and schools of rhetoric. It was at one of these latter that Octavian was studying when he learnt of the murder of his adoptive father Julius Caesar in Rome. The city and its Greek citizens traded and intermarried with the surrounding Illyrian tribes, and for a time even had Illyrian rulers. The city remained important under the Roman Empire though environmental deterioration in the 3rd century AD seems to have altered the course of the River Vijosa, on which the city depended for its trade. Thereafter there was a sharp decline, though Apollonia may have survived into late antiquity as attested by a recently discovered 5th to 6th century basilica.

A monastery was constructed on the site in the 13th century, including a substantial Byzantine church with a finely carved narthex and frescoes. The surrounding monastic buildings, including a well-preserved painted refectory, are now used as the museum and archaeological headquarters.

Prizren, Kosovo

Progadec (Southern Albania)

Pogradec is a city in southeastern Albania, situated on the shores of Ohrid lake. It is the capital of the District of Pogradec, in the County of Korçë.

Pogradec is well known for its famous writers and poets such as Lasgush Poradeci and Mitrush Kuteli, and lately Luan Starova. Their works are a crucial part of Albanian literature. The town is also the home of nationally acclaimed painters like Anastas Kostandini(Taso), Gjergji Lako, Gentian Zeka, Vangjo Vasili and Ilir Dhima. All kinds of sports are practiced in town, especially by the youth. Pogradec has a professional soccer team (currently in the Superliga,the best division in Albania) which holds the name Pogradeci.

Theth National Park

Theth National Park (Albanian:Parku Kombëtar i Thethit) is a national park in extreme northern Albania declared by government decree in 1966.It covers an area of 2,630 hectares and is located along the Theth River. The main attractions in the park are the Grunas Waterfall and the Lock-in Tower. Valbonë Valley National Park is adjacent to it and was declared a national park in 1996. It is proposed that the two parks, along with the areas in Montenegro and Kosovo[a] form a tri-border Bjeshket e Nemuna National Park. Theth remains remote. It is most easily accessible by a 25 km unmade road from the village of Boga which is impassible during the winter months and is not generally suitable at any time of the year for motor vehicles without off-road capabilities.

Although the Kanun (traditional Albanian law) remains influential, Theth has not suffered from the recent (post-Communist) reappearance of the blood feud which has troubled other areas of Northern Albania. Ironically, Theth boasts one of the very few remaining “lock-in towers”, an historical form of protection for families that were “in blood”.

Depopulation represents a serious long-term challenge for the community. The population has been greatly reduced over the past few decades and the majority of those remaining occupy Theth only during the summer months. However, the community has a nine-grade school and recent efforts have been made to stimulate tourism. A number of local families offer board and lodging to visitors who come to Theth to hike in the National Park – or merely to admire the mountain scenery. Apart from the lock-in tower, other attractions include spectacular waterfalls, a working watermill (still used to grind the local inhabitants’ corn) and a modest ethnographic museum. A Balkans Peace Park Project is working towards the creation of a park extending across the borders of Albania, Montenegro and Kosova and has taken a lead in recent years in encouraging sustainable and ecologically sensitive tourism in and around Theth (for example by funding the marking of footpaths).

Rozafa Castle in Shkoder

Having personally been to this castle in 2011 and the Mesa bridge I can attest to the beauty and historic value this castle has to offer. The view from the castle is breathless….the city, the mountains and the river all coming together in one stunning spot! Not to be missed if you ever visit Albania.


Saranda is the capital of the District of Sarande, Albania and is one of the most important tourist attractions of the Albanian Riviera. It is situated on an open sea gulf of the Ionian Sea in the Mediterranean two nautical miles from the Greek islad of Corfu. The city of Saranda has a population of about 30,000 (2001 estimate). Near Sarandë are the remains of the ancient city of Butrint, a UNESCO World Heritage site.


Durrës is the second largest city of Albania located on the central Albanian coast, about 33 km (21 mi) west of the capital Tirana. It is one of the most ancient and economically important cities of Albania. Durres is situated at one of the narrower points of the Adriatic Sea, opposite the Italian ports of Bari (300 km/186 mi away) and Brindisi (200 km/124 mi away). Durrës is home to Albania’s main port, the Port of Durrës, and to the newest public university, the Aleksander Moisiu University. It has a population of around 202,000 (as of 2009 estimate). In addition, it is the meeting point of national roads SH2 and SH4. Founded in the 7th century BC by Greek colonists from Corinth and Corcyra, it has been continuously inhabited for 27 centuries is one of the oldest cities in Albania.

Durrës is still an important link to Western Europe due to its port and its proximity to the Italian port cities, notably Bari, to which daily ferries run. As well as the dockyard, it also possess an important shipyard and manufacturing industries, notably producing leather, plastic and tobacco products. The neighbouring district also produces wine and a variety of food products.

Some important buildings in Durrës include the main library, the cultural center with the Aleksander Moisiu theater, the Estrada Theater, the puppet theater, and the philharmonic orchestra. There are also several museums such as the Archaeological Museum, Ahmet Zogu’s Villa of Durrës and the Museum of History.

The city’s beaches are also a popular destination for many foreign and local tourists, with an estimated 600,000 tourists visiting annually. Many Albanians from Tirana and elsewhere spend their summer vacations on the beaches of Durrës. The largest amphitheatre in the Balkans is located in the city close to the harbour. This first-century construction is currently under consideration for inscription as a UNESCO World Heritage site.


Shkodra is the most important urban center of Northern Albania, renowned in the entire country for its rich cultural traditions. It is one of the largest cities in Albania, with a population of 110,000 inhabitants. Shkodra has a very favorable geographic position and can be considered as an ‘entry port’ both to the grandiose Albanian Alps on one hand, and to the sandy beach of Velipoja on the Adriatic, on the other. Shkodra is one of the most ancient cities in Albania.

It was founded in the 4th century B.C. as the centre of the Illyrian tribe of the Labeates. Under the rule of the Illyrian king Gent, it became the capital of the Illyrian state. This is the period when the first coins of the city appear. In 168 BC it fell under Roman rule and in 1040 under Serb rule. In the wake of the fall of the Serbian Empire, Shkodra became an important urban center. In the 14th century it became the capital of the Balsha feudal principality. In 1396 it was occupied by Venetian forces and in 1479 by the Ottomans, who razed the city to the ground. The city recovered slowly and in the 17th century became the most important centre of trade and culture in Northern Albania, while one century later it became the centre of the Shkodra Paschalik (1757-1831). During this time the Bushatllis, who governed the Paschalik, created a rich library. Also, it was in Shkodra that the first Albanian photographs were produced by Pietro Marubi.

Shkodra is known as the city where the first workers’ strike took place in 1901 and where the 1st of May was first celebrated in 1905. The first football game ever played in Albania was in Shkodra and the town boasts the first football club in established in 1919. Shkodra also has a rich tradition in music, painting and literature, with a long list of renowned artists and writers. Cultural attractions to visit in Shkodra include the Rozafa Castle, the Lead Mosque, the Gjuhadol neighborhood, the Historical Museum of Shkodra and the Marubi Photographic Fund. Nearby, Northwestern Albania contains the following additional cultural attractions: Sarda, the Drisht Castle, Ura e Mesit (the Mes Bridge), the Shirgji Church and the Highlands Ethnographic Museum. Natural attractions include Shkodra Lake, Theth National Park, Razma mountain resort and Vermosh Mountain.


Castle is a castle near the city of Shkodër, in northwestern Albania. It rises imposingly on a rocky hill, 130 metres above sea level, surrounded by the Buna and Drini rivers. Shkodër is the capital of the District of Shkodër, and is one of Albania’s oldest and most historic towns, as well as an important cultural and economic centre. Due to its strategic location, the hill has been settled since antiquity. It was an Illyrian stronghold until it was captured by the Romans in 167 BC. The 19th century German author and explorer Johann Georg von Hahn suggested that the ancient and medieval city of Shkodër was located immediately south of the Rozafa hill, between the hill and the confluence of Buna and Drini. The fortifications, as they have been preserved to date, are mostly of Venetian origin. Its legend, archeology and history testify to its early existence.

The legend is about the initiative of three brothers who set about building the castle.They worked all day, but the walls fell down at night. They met a clever old man who advised them to sacrifice someone so that the walls would stand. The three brothers found it difficult to decide whom to sacrifice. Finally, they decided to sacrifice one of their wives who would bring lunch to them the next day. So they agreed that whichever of their wives was the one to bring them lunch the next day was the one who would be buried in the wall of the castle. They also promised not to tell their wives of this. The two older brothers, however, explained the situation to their wives that night, while the honest youngest brother said nothing.

The following afternoon, the brothers waited anxiously to see which wife was carrying the basket of food. It was Rosafa, the wife of the youngest brother. He explained to her the agreement that they had made, namely that she was to be sacrificed and buried in the wall of the castle so that they could finish building it. She did not protest.

The faithfulness of the youngest brother and the life sacrifice of his young wife are portrayed as elements of symbolic importance. Rozafa, who was predestined to be walled in, worried about her infant son, accepted to be walled in on condition that they leave her right breast exposed to feed her newborn son, her right eye to see him, her right hand to caress him and her right foot to rock his cradle. It is said that milk still flows from one of the walls in the castle.


Vlorë is one of the biggest towns and the second largest port city of Albania, after Durrës, with a population of about 94,000 (2008 estimate). It is the city where the Albanian Declaration of Independence was proclaimed on November 28, 1912. The city was for a short time the capital of Albania. Founded as an ancient Greek colony in the 6th century BC by the name of Aulon and continuously inhabited for about 26 centuries, Vlorë is home to the Port of Vlorë and University of Vlorë as the most important economical and cultural city of southwestern Albania.

Vlorë is situated on the Bay of Vlorë, an inlet on the Adriatic Sea, almost surrounded by mountains. The port of Vlorë is closer in proximity than any other to the port of Bari, Italy, and is just 70 nautical miles (130 km) from Salento’s coasts. The island of Sazan is nearby, strategically located at the entrance to the Bay of Vlorë.

The town is surrounded by gardens and olive groves. Valonia, the mass name for acorn cups obtained in the neighboring oak forests and (because of its chemical derivatives) used by tanners, derives its name from Valona, the ancient name of Vlorë.

Vlorë remains a major seaport and commercial centre, with a significant fishing and industrial sector. The surrounding region produces petroleum, natural gas, bitumen and salt. The city is also the location of important installations of the Albanian Navy.

Vlorë has grown in importance as an agricultural center with very large-scale planting of olive and fruit trees, and as a center of the food processing, oil and bitumen export industries.

The surrounding district is mainly agricultural and pastoral, producing oats, maize, cotton, olive oil, cattle, sheep, skins, hides and butter. These commodities are exported.

Tourism has become a major industry in recent years, with many hotels, recreational centers, and vast beaches. It is a pleasant place to relax, to have a coffee and admire the beautiful view over the Bay of Vlorë.

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