For four decades, Albania was ruled by a xenophobic communist dictator who kept the country isolated and largely ignorant of the modern world. Since the death of Enver Hoxha in 1985, the country has finally begun to wake up to the wider world. An offshoot of their extreme isolation has meant that Albania, too poor to become polluted by factories and choked with vehicle exhaust fumes, is unspoiled, and in many places, heavenly pristine. This mountainous and beautiful little country north of Greece — with its coastline on the Adriatic and Ionian Seas — is pleasantly out of time. Today, visitors can get a glimpse into an ancient Albanian culture that is completely distinct from the rest of Europe.
Southern Albania, with its snowy mountains buttressing the dazzling blue sea and white sand beaches, is the country's most scenically stunning region. It also happens to be the least populated, which also means it's unsullied. Many see this as the only truly pristine and remote stretch of the Mediterranean coast to be found anywhere.
The Ionian Coast is full of beaches that are remote and untouched by tourism, something unheard of in the rest of Europe. Saranda is a charming seaside town and wins the prize for the most beautiful waterfront in the whole of the country. Saranda's homes are spread over the hills with views out to sea and the myriad sailboats bobbing the harbor. For 300 days a year — the number of sunny days this town receives annually — people stroll the waterfront boardwalk and promenade. The Greek island, Corfu, is only eight miles away from Saranda, making the town an excellent access point between the two countries. The town got its name from an early Christian monastery, Ayii Saranda, which is open to visitors. Many of the town's best attractions are just outside of town, such as the archeological site Butrint, and also the Blue Eyed Spring (Syri i Katterc). You can also amble along Saranda's beach to the tiny village of Ksamili, which has a small but attractive beach for swimming.
Also not to be missed is Berat, surely one of Albania's most gorgeous towns. In fact, it was preserved by the communist government as a 'museum city' for its assembly of bright white Ottoman houses hugging the hillside all the way up to the castle. Known as the "town of a thousand windows", Berat is in the middle of the country surrounded by rugged mountains. An Illyrian fortress, the Antipatria, was constructed here in the third century, and later fortified by the Byzantines, followed by the Bulgarians, then the Serbs, and then in 1450, taken over by the Ottomans where it grew into a town famous for woodcarving.
Keep in mind, Albania is still one of the poorest countries in Europe and its travel and tourism industry is in its infancy. Therefore, don't expect fast service very often, or much service at all. For the adventurous, however, visit before it becomes like the rest of the Europe!