From unknown country to top travel destination, Durres Albania has been cropping up on list after list of predictions for the next travel years. It is one of Europe’s lesser-known treasures -but recently, the beautiful beaches, wild coastline, well-preserved nature, vibrant capital city, and UNESCO’s heritage have started to gain some (well) deserved attention. If you’re asking yourself if Albania is worth the visit, the short answer is yes. Albania is not an ordinary travel destination, like its more famous neighbors, and this is the first reason why you should go there. Others? Dazzling vistas, great food, and low prices. Prepare yourself to fall in love with this beautiful and still unspoiled country. Spot after spot Albania will not stop to surprise you. My advice: grab a guidebook, hop in a car, and get lost in the land of eagles. Now it’s the time to visit Albania before everyone else finds out how wonderful it is.
Despite its small size, Albania offers visitors anything they could ever wish for -mountains, beaches, and historic towns. About this, in February, I visited Durres, the second-largest city in the country, after the capital Tirana, and one of the oldest settlements along the Adriatic coastline. The town has its fascinating history and is less than an hour from Tirana, making it a perfect choice for a day trip, a weekend, or even more days, outside the capital, for anyone looking to learn a thing or two about this ancient and unknown country. Inhabited since ancient times by Illyrians and Greeks before, Romans, Venetians, and Ottomans then, Durres Albania is home to some of Albania’s oldest archaeological sites. The most important cultural and historical landmark in town is the Amphitheater of Durres located in the city center, the largest in Albania and the Balkan Peninsula, which dates back to the 2nd century AD, built during the reign of the Roman Emperor Hadrian. It used to hold around 20.000 people. Don’t be shocked by the sight of buildings that surround the amphitheater. Like many other sites in the Balkans, the amphitheater was discovered late (in the ’60s), and found in the middle of a residential neighborhood. For this reason, the most significant part of it hasn’t got excavated yet.
Save a few extra minutes to look for colorful murals painted by local and international artists near the amphitheater and take funny photos. Also, don’t forget to admire the Fatih Mosque, built-in 1502, one of the oldest in the region, lesser-known but most important than the modern Great Mosque, located right in the middle of Durres. Then, head to the Byzantine forum, the traditional center of old Dyrrachium, built at the time of the Roman Emperor Anastasius I Dicorus. Indeed, it’s nestled between modern buildings and an exciting place to visit. Also, another not-to-miss place to see is the Venetian Tower, located at the entrance of town. Part of the ancient defensive walls that surrounded the city called this because the Venetians reinforced it before the Ottomans conquered the city and country (Albania, and most of the Balkan states, had been under the Ottoman rule for 500 years). For history lovers, Durres is the place to be, and the Archaeological Museum of Durres, established in 1951, worth the visit. It is the largest in the country and preserves an essential collection of relic founded in Durres and surroundings, as well as artifacts, mosaics, busts, funerary steles and stone sarcophagi (others are kept in the National Museum of History in the capital city Tirana).
After the cultural tour, it’s time to enjoy the nearby beaches of Durres. Locals well know the Albanian town for its sandy, and long beaches and the proximity to the capital Tirana make it one of the most famous sea places in Albania during summer months. In winter and springtime, or just before the start of the touristic season, you can relax along the coastline without hordes of tourists and enjoy the beach at its best. My suggestion is to choose a base to explore the city, beaches, and surroundings. If you want to treat yourself like a king or a queen, for half of the prices compared to neighboring countries, the best choice is Adriatik Hotel, a great luxury resort located just in front of the beach in Plazh district. Here you can enjoy the beach or swimming pools, taste excellent seafood (or traditional Albanian dishes) at the local restaurant or relax with massages and skin treatments at the terrific Queen Teuta spa. This hotel is the perfect place for families with children too. In essence, the staff organizes many activities to entertain kids of all ages, like funny cooking classes, Zumba dances, and tennis classes. It’s impossible not to have fun here. Also, the rooms have spectacular sea views and offer magnificent panoramas over the sea and port, especially when the sun goes down.
If you have extra time and want to visit other places in the Land of the Eagles, the hotel offers tours all around Albania from the UNESCO towns of Berat and Gjirokastra to the capital Tirana to the Albanian coastline. You might have heard things about Albanian Riviera. However, the country is still mostly unexplored by tourists, and if you want to explore something new, don’t be worried, the country has plenty of hidden gems easily reachable. North of Durres, for example, protects a real gem: Kepi I Rodonit, or Cape Rodon, a rocky cape home to great beaches, a small church dedicated to Saint Anthony, several bunkers and the ruins of an old castle built in the fourteenth century by the Albanian national hero and commander George Kastriota Skanderbeg. This cape isn’t on the usual tourist paths, but it’s definitely worth the visit. If there is a destination that doesn’t stop to surprise the visitors, it is Albania. This small Balkan country is one of the wildest and still unspoiled destinations in Europe and worth a look.