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Albania - When and where to visit
The climate is Mediterranean, with hot dry summers and mild rainy winters in the lowlands. The higher altitudes further inland make temperatures lower, and winter precipitation there often falls as snow. In the highest mountains, snow lies in the northeastern corries all year round. The lowlands have between 270 and 300 days of sunshine a year, and the sea is warm enough to swim in (comfortably) from May to October. The coldest month is January, when the mean lowland temperature is 5–10°C and inland it can fall to below –10°C. The hottest month, July, can be very hot indeed, sometimes topping 40°C inland. Sea breezes keep the coastal towns cooler.
A Catholic church in the Thethi Valley with the Albanian Alps in the background © ollirg, Shutterstock
For most purposes, the best times of year to visit Albania are spring and autumn. The countryside is particularly beautiful in those seasons; in autumn the orchards blaze with the bright orange of the persimmons and the cooler colours of the citrus fruits, while in spring the apple and cherry blossoms form little pastel-toned drifts by the roadside. The long spring evenings are a good time to enjoy the terrace cafés in Tirana and the coastal towns. In September and October it is still warm enough to swim at the Ionian beaches. In addition, spring and autumn are ideal for relatively low-level hiking or cycle-touring.
Albania has something for almost everyone. Lovers of the outdoors will be happy just about anywhere in the country. The Albanian Alps in the far north and the mountains between Berati and Përmeti in the south are probably the best organised in terms of accommodation, guides and so forth. The Lura Lakes, between Rrësheni and Peshkopia, and the Lunxhëria and Nemerçka ranges in the southwest, are more remote but offer fantastic hiking and cycling opportunities.
Mesi Bridge ('Ura e Mesit' in Albanian) near Shkodra © ollirg, Shutterstock
Those who are interested in archaeology and history will find Albania full of delights. In the southwest of the country, the ancient city of Butrint already draws hundreds of thousands of visitors every year. It richly deserves its status as the country’s best-known archaeological site, but there are many other interesting Illyrian, Greek and Roman remains. No visit to southern Albania would be complete without the ancient cities of Gjirokastra and Berati, with their hilltop castles and unique architecture. In the north, the castles of Shkodra and Kruja embody centuries of history, one layer upon another.
Lovers of medieval art should visit the icon collections in Berati, Korça and Tirana; the whole of central and southern Albania is full of half-forgotten churches with magnificent frescoes. Ornithologists will want to head for the coastal wetlands at Karavastaja, Kune Vaini and Velipoja. Finally, connoisseurs of beaches could easily spend a couple of weeks happily working their way up or down the Albanian Riviera.
Where you go in Albania depends not only on what you like doing, but also where you enter the country. The main points of entry are Tirana International Airport, and Saranda, on the ferry from Corfu. Those who approach Albania from other directions – from Montenegro, Kosova, Macedonia, Greece or Italy – will need to tweak these suggested routes to suit their starting points. All the suggested itineraries can be done by public transport, although the occasional taxi will speed things up considerably.