Awaking Sleeping Beauty-like in the 1990s from her hardline communist isolation, Albania was a stranger from another time. Her cities weren't choked by car fumes, her beaches were unspoilt by mass tourism, her long-suffering people were a little dazed and confused. While things have changed a lot since then, this ancient land still offers something increasingly rare in Europe these days-a glance into a culture that is all its own. Raised on a diet of separation and hardship, Albania is distinctly Albanian.
You'll continue to find beautiful pristine beaches on parts of the Ionian Coast (try the charming town of Saranda), fascinating classical sites like ancient Berat, and dramatic mountain citadels, but the mad traffic of Tirana is symptomatic of a bustling, bright city shrugging off its Stalinist grey patina. Squat toilets are no longer the norm and you can even sip cocktails at hip bars while listening to rock bands. Meanwhile, Northern Albania keeps the country's reputation as a wild frontier alive and well, with bleak mountains and the occasional blood feud.
Not just the preserve of the adventurous, Albania is a warm and sincerely hospitable country-with enough rough edges to keep it interesting.