I was pleased to learn that the New York Times has chosen Albania as its budget destination of the year for 2007.
Having traveled through the country last summer, I have to agree with writer Matt Gross’s assessment that Europe’s last hermit kingdom has finally emerged as a legitimate travel destination that is not only chalk full of fascinating sights, but extraordinarily affordable as well. With the dollar performing so poorly against the euro these days, such European bargains are very difficult to pin down indeed.
Gross spent most of his time in the southern part of the country where ancient Greek ruins and UNESCO sites pepper the warm, Mediterranean-like landscape. As if this isn’t reason enough to go, the Albanian coast is probably the last remaining stretch of European beach where crowds are sparse and accommodations cheap. And don’t forget, Albania borders Greece so the topography and climate in the south are very similar.
Having spent much time traveling behind the former Iron Curtain it has been my experience that cheap food in transitional economic backwaters is usually unpalatable. I was pleased to discover, however, that the bread and cheese in Albania, as well as the regional dishes I managed to track down, were top quality and bursting with flavor. As Gross reveals in his New York Times article, a full meal runs about $15, although most of what I ate cost far less.
I spent the majority of my Albanian travels in the northern part of the country which sees far less tourists and as a result, prices were much cheaper. Shuttle vans cost about $1 an hour and took passengers nearly anywhere they wanted to go. The times I didn’t want to wait for the next van to fill up, I opted for $20 taxi rides, some of which were more than two hours in length. Talk about a great deal!
Budget destinations are not for everyone, however. They are cheap for a reason. Don’t expect first-class service and chocolates on your pillows. But, do expect some truly untainted lands and wonderful people who have not yet been jaded by massive tour busses and the gaggles of tourists they regular disgorge.
Go now before it all changes; you’ll be happy you did. And, so will your wallet.