The Far Edge of Travel: Albania

We drive into the Ceraunian Mountains of Albania on a switchback-happy coastal road, past walls of black pines and by rickety tables laden with local honey and tea. Slopes spilling down to beaches yield, in season, lemons, oranges, olives. The Ionian Sea shimmers blue to our right, with Corfu visible in the haze.

“These are my mountains, the Thunder Mountains,” my guide, Adrian, says. “I grew up here. They are in my blood.”

Adrian points out a pass below through which Julius Caesar in 48 B.C. led his legions against Pompey. Then he talks of the thousands of Albanians who fled a communist rule that ended in 1992—and says many are coming home.

“My grandmother calls this the land of stone and clouds. The stones are those who came back, who are rooted to the earth,” he says. “The clouds wander, seeking a place to settle.”

We rumble in a 4×4 on gravel roads through olive groves to Pilur, a village where, under a chestnut tree, elders burst into impromptu polyphony, a UNESCO-recognized blend of musical voices that dates back more than a thousand years. Then we dine alfresco on local figs, plums, eggs, petulla (fried dough), tart goat cheese, and sausage, washed down with home-brewed rakija and wine out of soda bottles.

Travelers have largely overlooked the Balkan region, which has long been shrouded by a troubled past. But its enigmatic nature may prove to be its most potent drawing card. We’ve seen this happen elsewhere: Papua New Guinea, Myanmar, Bhutan.

In Traveler’s year-end issue, writer Mark Jenkins told a story of remoteness (in China’s Altay Mountains) and cultural adventure (on a horse-drawn chana expedition).

It may seem a vicarious glimpse of a far-off land. Yet, as with Albania, it may soon be within reach.

This piece, written by Keith Bellows, first appeared in the December 2014 issue of National Geographic Traveler magazine.

Comments

  1. Mile
    January 14, 2015, 4:03 am

    Instead of focusing on the photo (which has a clear caption), why not focus on the nice things the article says about the Balkans? Albania, Macedonia and all other Balkan countries share centuries of history and travelers rarely care about where modern borders fall across that shared landscape when they come here.

  2. Roz
    London
    January 11, 2015, 3:11 am

    this article is about travel, not geopolitics.
    As somebody pointed above, that’s Slavic Macedonia, nothing in common with Alexander nor Filip.
    And the churches which Albanians build where hundreds, or even one thousand years before any Slavic person set foot in Balkan.
    As you may well know, Slavic people belong in Russia, not in Balkan.
    Btw, both side of lake Ohrid are Albanian, as Ohrid is Albanian.

  3. Nicole
    United States
    January 9, 2015, 10:56 pm

    How is this even considered a story? It felt like a blurb. I got all settled in with the beautiful opening and the well done description and then, bam. It ended. I’m looking all over this website for long-form stories and I’m kind of disappointed. Give me something with meat on its bones! I want more story! I’m sick of blurbs! And another thing, why don’t any of the links go to the actual stories? If your attempt is to get me to buy the magazine, just say that. Links leading me to encyclopedias are just weird, especially because it took me to Britannica and not Wikipedia, which is what everyone uses. So far, Nat Geo, I’m really disappointed!

  4. Armand
    Tirana
    January 9, 2015, 3:07 pm

    I am disapointed that out of all the marvels the Albanian Riviera offers including, breathtaking panoramic views at Ceasar’s pass at Llogora mentined in the article, or the carabean looking beaches of Ksamil, the illustration photo is a curch on half a lake. Despite being a beautiful one which St.John Caneo definitely is.

  5. natan
    UK
    January 9, 2015, 2:15 pm

    I don’t want to go too far, but all what could be seen in the picture is native Albanian land. It is a matter of fact that at least half of F.Y.R.O.M is inhabited by ethnic Albanians (bearing in mind that there have been many schemes to cleanse or displace the population during the 20th Century)! And yes, many parts of Albania could be covered with ugly bunkers and low development, but that is mainly thanks to its greedy neighbours trying to get their hands all over the place.

  6. Alfred
    London
    January 9, 2015, 9:17 am

    Anyway after all, Ohrid, Struga, Debar, Tetova, Gostivar, half of Skopia, was Albanian cities, and before FYROM there was Albania…..So Calm Down slavs.

  7. Lika
    January 9, 2015, 7:04 am

    In the Balkans we would enjoy ourselves much more if we could set aside nationalistic mindsets and visit our neighboring countries with an open mind. But than again who has time for that: we have to stay online and criticize selection of photos on articles and names of countries.

  8. may
    January 9, 2015, 6:15 am

    awesome, and i agree! however it’s misleading to have a title about albania and a photo of macedonia.

  9. Dee
    Sydney, Australia
    January 9, 2015, 5:51 am

    I agree that the photo is on the Macedonian side, just as it is also obvious that Slavs commenting here have not been to Albania, not for over a decade at least. Dominika who writes about dirty beaches and bunkers alone has no idea that Macedonia today is a grey and depressing hellhole when compared to Albania. I personally find the town of Ohrid on the Macedonian side prettier than Pogradec(on the Albanian side), but Ohrid Town is the only pretty place in Macedonia. As for Albania, you can visit Gjirokaster, Berat, Shkodra, Tirana, Butrint, act… as well as a countless number of spectacular beaches.

  10. sam dardha
    Albania
    January 8, 2015, 10:06 pm

    Dominika… please dont use that language… Albania has pristine beaches… you must have no idea what Albania is all about….

    For more visit our web site: http://www.albania-estate.com

  11. Elian
    Albania
    January 8, 2015, 5:42 pm

    If smb want to know more about albania follow the link to the official Facebook page of Albania, managed by National Tourism Agency. https://www.facebook.com/VisitAlbania.al

    P.S Pls be cool, dont hate each other.

  12. ervin
    italy
    January 8, 2015, 4:51 pm

    All around the lake Ohcrid live albanians even they lives in two states. Ohcrid is beautiful in both states, thank you.

  13. Fatmir Mehmeti
    Italy
    January 8, 2015, 4:37 pm

    Top 5 Beaches in Albanian Riviera! http://youtu.be/CC2m3gl25hA

  14. Helen Morrison
    Brisbane, Queensland
    January 8, 2015, 2:22 am

    I am currently planning my trip to Macedonia but am finding that the cost of touring for a single person is extremely high. Also at this time only a few of the major airlines fly into Ohrid or Skopje. BUT I’m still going!!!!!!! :)

  15. jane
    US
    January 4, 2015, 5:32 pm

    Interesting “story” but seriously misleading image. The caption on the image is correct, Lake Ohrid is nestled between Macedonia and Albania, but everything visible in this picture is in Macedonia. I’m sure Nat Geo Traveler has access to a similarly lovely picture that actually illustrates Albania. Oh those pesky details…

  16. Stavross
    Greece
    January 3, 2015, 5:50 am

    It s Fyrom not Macedonia internationally .this truly is misleading.lake oh rid is between the 2 countries.by the way is Filip a Slavic name.Alexander the great s fathers name was Filippos but the slavs came many centuries later.jovan is gully slavic

  17. Biljana
    Bijeljina
    January 2, 2015, 12:06 pm

    I agree with Philip, these photos should not be there because it belongs to the Macedonian culture.

  18. Matthew
    United States
    January 1, 2015, 2:38 pm

    Its just across a shared lake, calm down. Macedonia is a nice place too, don’t get all jelly over your neighbors getting and article.

  19. Dominika
    December 29, 2014, 3:25 pm

    It is MACEDONIA! Slavic Macedonia. Side of the lake and the church on the photo absolutely nothing to do with Albania. Only the caption is true, the lake connects Albania and Macedonia. From the Albania side you can not perform equally scenic pictures, just dirty beaches and bunkers from the time of Enver’s Hodža.

  20. Filip
    Macedonia
    December 22, 2014, 4:51 pm

    The photo is showing Sv.Jovan Kaneo church which is located in the city of Ohrid at Ohrid lake Macedonia. Hence it is not associated with Albania by any means. The article is misleading and should be amended accordingly.