This pint-sized, sunny slice of Adriatic coast has been ground down for years by poverty, blood vendettas and too many five year plans, but Albania still manages to pack a wild punch of traditional Mediterranean charm and Soviet-style inefficiency.
It's a giddy blend of religions, styles, cultures and landscapes, from Sunni Muslim to Albanian Orthodox, from idyllic beach and rocky mountain to cultivated field. Relics from one of the longest dictatorships in Eastern Europe rub shoulders with citrus orchards, olive groves and vineyards.
Decrepit, Chinese-built factories stand next to breathtaking mosques; ornately decorated Orthodox churches face off 'Soviet Brutal' palaces of culture.
Kicked around by the Balkan big boys for millennia and turned upside down by its very own Maoist Cultural Revolution in the 1960s, Albania is now tentatively embracing democracy, the outside world and a few foreign travellers. Some things won't ever change, though: the spectacular forested mountains, the warm Mediterranean sun, and the heart-rendingly blue waters of the Adriatic all endure the country's ups and downs.
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Off the beaten track