Guest Author - Sarah Reid
Bordering Greece, Macedonia, Montenegro and Kosovo, Albania is a country of many contrasts.
Albania has an extensive coastline, running for 362 kilometres along the Ionian and Adriatic seas. By contrast, the country also boasts vast mountainous regions which comprise approximately 70% of the land area.
The Albanian climate varies dependent on the region. At high altitude, visitors can expect to enjoy a continental climate, characterised by hot summers and cold winters. The more Mediterranean mild winters and hot, humid summers are enjoyed in the lower lying coastal areas. A very sunny country, Albania benefits from around 300 days of sunshine each year and very little rainfall in the summer months.
When travelling to Albania, all international flight arrivals will land at Mother Theresa International Airport. Named after one of the country’s most famous and philanthropic natives, the airport is situated roughly 25 kilometres from the country’s capital, Tirana. Shuttle buses are available from the airport every hour for a very reasonable €2, or a taxi to the capital will cost around €20.
While Albania is part of Europe, it is not currently a member of the European Union. It does not use the euro (€) as its currency, but rather the lek. The exchange rate tends to hover around the mark of 130 lek to 1 euro, or 100 leke to 1 US dollar.
Some hotels and restaurants in Tirana may accept euros as payment, but this should not be relied upon. Outside of the capital, businesses are unlikely to accept euros, nor are travellers cheques or credit cards likely to be accepted either.
Visitors to Albania may wish to indulge in some of the locally produced alcoholic beverages. There are many Albanian wines, an Albanian cognac known as Scanderbeg and a drink made from grapes known as Raki Skrapari. The food in Albania is heavily influenced by neighbouring countries while, predictably, the coastal regions boast an array of seafood-based specialities.
Religion has played an important part in the history of Albania, and there is little in the way of discrimination or extremism in this respect. A predominantly Muslim country, there are also a great many Christians within Albania. Consequently, there are a number of beautiful mosques, churches and other religious monuments to visit while in Albania.
While Albania remains one of the poorest countries within Europe, it is certainly one of great beauty, intriguing history and would make an ideal vacation destination for anyone who desires a break from the usual European package vacation.