Home to the oldest lake in Europe and once cut off from much of the rest of the world, Albania has a bit of a mysterious rep. But that’s all changing now – thousands of foreign visitors discovering the nation’s relatively untouched landscapes, villages, and sites.
Still, it’s probably not the first place you’d choose for your hols given, say, the hedonism of the States, the romance of Paris, or the tropical delights of Barbados. But should you be after a wholly unique vacation, Albania might be the place to go. Environmental travellers will be pleased to learn that pretty much the whole of the country’s energy is hydroelectric; linguists will be fascinated by the ancient tongue; historians will enjoy a feast of Greek, Roman and Ottoman heritage sites. And for those in search of a more generic getaway, it boasts some fairly gorgeous beaches.
Foodies, on the other hand, might not include Albania on their bucket list. Which is a shame, because the local fare is pretty palatable. Although it’s generally representative of Mediterranean cuisine, it roughly divides into three regional categories: the meat, fish and veg-based dishes of the north, heavy on the garlic and onions; the fishy dishes of the central region, close to the sea; and the dairy products and citrus fruits of the south, an area abundant in pasture and orchards.
The national dish, however, is enjoyed country-wide. Known as tavë kosi, it’s a sort of soured milk casserole that’s pretty popular across the entire region, with varieties appearing in Greece and Turkey. The local version relies on lamb and rice baked with a mixture of yoghurt and eggs and added to a roux, and it’s pretty tasty by all accounts.
Often consumed at lunchtime as the main meal of the day, tavë kosi is usually accompanied by a veggie dish or two – often salad. But then you might also plump for gjellë (another main dish of slowly-cooked meat), a grilled veg dish, sausages, or an omelette, depending on the region (and hunger level!).
It’s unlikely you’d be in Albania purely for the food, but take the country’s cuisine, culture, and history as a whole, and you’ve got a nation worth a visit.