Albania seeks to scrub stereotypes of poverty, criminality and blood feuds to persuade tourists to visit. But can it exploit its natural and cultural treasures without wrecking its potential as an undiscovered gem?
For those flying in from German and Austrian hubs, the first sight of Albania is usually of the Dajti mountain brooding over Tirana. The shadow it casts across the capital perfectly matches the mystery that engulfs the country in most minds.
After taking power during the Second World War, Enver Hoxha — whose authoritarian rule of Albania lasted from 1944 until his death in 1985 — sealed off the country for four decades, outlawing travel and religion. Over 500,000 concrete bunkers sprang from his paranoia onto the country’s beaches, mountains and plains, many remaining to this day.
This long and haunted isolation, allied to the vicious wars that stalked the western Balkans in the 1990s, has helped turn Albania into Europe’s least known and most enigmatic country.
That means that for the uninitiated, the images that spring to mind stem from its grim communist past. But while corruption and criminality can be found, as in all European countries, Albania is still one of the last unspoiled corners of Europe