As mass tourism sweeps across Western Europe’s most popular hotspots, travelers are now heading East in an attempt to escape the crowds. There are many unspoiled European destinations to pick from, but one Eastern country, in particular, has risen to prominence as one of the trendiest destinations of the year: Albania
A country that had been largely ignored by tourists over the years, but that has now become one of Europe’s most promising tourist destinations:
Why Has Albania Been Ignored By Tourists For So Long?
Travel demand for Europe has soared between 2023 and 2023, especially after it dropped all health-related entry requirements and fully reinstated normality, but while tourism giants like France, Italy, or Spain have taken steps to reduce the number of visitors, other lesser-known states are eager to welcome more.
Albania is a small Southeastern European nation nestled in the Balkan Peninsula, where it borders Greece to the South, North Macedonia and Kosovo to the East, and gorgeous Montenegro to the North. Unlike many of its neighbors, however, it was only formally introduced to the world 30 years ago.
Prior to 1992, the country remained sealed off from the rest of Europe due to a repressive Communist regime, when most foreigners were kept from entering, and Albanians could not leave themselves. Fortunately, the winds of democracy would eventually blow over the country.
Influenced by the fall of the Iron Curtain, it transitioned into a democratic state, and pre-existing border curbs were finally be removed in the nineties, but the effects of the dictatorship would be felt for years to come: having been shielded from foreign influence for most of the 20th century, Albania entered the 21st century as one of Europe’s most enigmatic states.
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Very little information about the country could be found on travel guides, as so very few had visited before, and promotional efforts were often hampered by internal political crises and Albania’s own geographical isolation as a non-member of the European Union in an increasingly Brussels-centered continent. That’s not to say it lacked potential.
After several consecutive setbacks, it seems to be finally getting the recognition it deserves.
Albania No Longer A Grey Area On The European Map
According to INSTAT, 377,211 foreigners landed in Albania in January of this year, a whopping 94.2% year-on-year increase. These numbers are nothing short of impressive, considering Europe is still in its ‘off-season’, and generally, arrival figures tend to drop dramatically in this period.
On top of that, all European countries have lifted border measures and allowed for the resumption of tourism. The fact that Albania has kept growing at such a fast rate, in spite of its fiercest competitors’ return to normality, is further proof it has sustained the momentum it gained early on in the pandemic.
While most of Europe shut down over COVID, going as far as banning American tourists for prolonged periods of time, Albania stayed open restriction-free, a factor that undoubtedly contributed to its sudden popularity.
Last year, 7.5 million tourists vacationed in Albania, an increase of over 32% compared to 2021, and should the upward trend continue, the country’s all-time record could easily be surpassed by December.
Why Is Albania Now On Everyone’s Radar?
Many Americans may not be aware of it, but Albania is, in fact, a summer paradise.
It straddles the Adriatic Sea, one of the arms of the wider Mediterranean, much like Croatia and Montenegro, but the comparative cost of living is much lower than other countries in the region. Here you’ll find the exact same turquoise-colored waters, white-sand or pebbly beaches, and stone-built medieval towns without the overpriced hotels and usual tourist traps.
Large portions of Albania’s Southernmost tip, named the Albanian Riviera, are yet to see any kind of development, which means the nature is virtually untouched, the beaches unruffled, and traditional cobblestone-laden villages where generations of families have lived for centuries are shielded from external influences.
The Balkan country also has a beautiful countryside, encompassing rolling green hills, vast plains, and alpine peaks, medieval citadels and castles that have stood the test of time, in spite of questionable preservation efforts, and modern, dynamic cities.
Tirana, the quirky, beautifully chaotic capital, is renowned for its cafe scene, young demographic – it was recently named Europe’s Capital of Youth – and multiculturalism resulting from decades of inter-Balkan migration and a large expat community: Travel Off Path editors have enlisted it as one of four of the most incredible, and cheapest destinations for digital nomads this year.
Nomads are also particularly fond of Shkoder, in Northern Albania, a smaller, less tumultuous city bordering Montenegro, Vlore, a resort strip on the Adriatic Coast, and Gjirokaster, an Ottoman-era gem and UNESCO World Heritage Site famous for its ethnic pan-Balkan cuisine and medieval heritage.
According to other findings by the World Tourism Organization, Albania boasts one of the best recovery rates following COVID, with both arrival figures and tourism revenue easily surpassing 2019. In other words, it has successfully seen off the health crisis and came out the other side far stronger and far more popular than before.
If you want to experience Albania while tourism is still under control, you better get there quickly, though: it is hardly a hidden gem anymore, and it is only a matter of time until the general public is let in on Europe’s best-kept secret.
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This article originally appeared on TravelOffPath.com