Cruise ships are still a comparative rarity in Albania, a country less than fifty miles from Italy across the Strait of Otranto that links the Adriatic and Ionian Seas sits Albania. Albania is one of the least visited countries in Europe. A country of rugged mountains – the highest of which rise to over 9,000 feet – Albania is a treasure trove of rare flora and fauna surviving in continental Europe making the country a prime destination for discerning eco-tourists. Over three thousand plant species can be found in the country along with wolves, bears, wild boar and lynx. The golden eagle, the national emblem of Albania, soars above its mountain ridges.
Albanians form a separate ethno-linguistic group within the Indo-European family. The country has Muslim and Orthodox Christian adherents in equal numbers. For five hundred years the Ottoman Turks ruled and the country was occupied by the Italians under Mussolini in 1939. Albanian partisans liberated the country without the aid of the Soviet Army and an idiosyncratic communist government was established in the country at the end of war-time hostilities. Until the end of the twentieth century the country was virtually closed to tourists, but the death of long-serving Secretary-General of the Communist Party Enver Hoxha in 1985 set in motion a process of liberalization that has led to Albania becoming a member of NATO in 2009 and an applicant member of the European Union.
We plan two ports of call in order to visit two very special places. From Saranda on the Ionian Sea we drive the road constructed in 1959 for the state visit of Nikita Kruschev to the archaeological remains at Butrint. Butrint National Park, designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site preserves a remarkable archaeological sequence, notably from the classical period, in a beautiful forested setting. Its Roman theater is justly celebrated. By contrast, Albania’s bustling capital city of Tirana, founded by the Ottoman Turks in 1614, is reached from the port of Durrës along a new pan-Balkan highway. Recent visitors have described the country’s capital affectionately as’ organised chaos’!
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