Albania could do with a good PR agent. It suffers terribly from pre-conceived ideas that don’t do the country justice. Mention of Albania brings up images of a paranoid dictatorship and stolen cars. Why would anyone want to travel to Albania for photography?
However, I’ve yet to meet anyone who has visited the country and hasn’t fallen in love with it. Myself included. I still think Albania may be my favourite European country, particularly for travel photography.
Ignore the Doubters
I wasn’t immune to pre-conceived ideas on my first visit. It had been a while since the thought of a border crossing made me so apprehensive. But, driving my hire car from Macedonia into Albania was notable only by its lack of drama.
Crossing the border, two things are immediately apparent.
First, the scenery is stunning. Albania is very much a mountainous country. You can’t fail to be impressed by the landscape that is passing by your windscreen. And an under-developed economy has meant that man’s footprint is less visible than it is in other mountainous regions in Europe.
The second is the state of the roads. I frequently fell out with my sat-nav over what it believed constituted a road. I understand that not every road has to be covered in tarmac. But some of the potholes were so large that when the rain came, they could have been reclassified as lakes.
In many ways roads with tarmac were the worst because they put you into a false sense of security. You’d have a kilometre where the road surface allowed you to build up a little confidence. Then you’d go into a hairpin corner to discover that your side of the road no longer existed.
Admittedly, it would probably be safer if you notice the state of the roads before being distracted by the scenery.
But that’s all part of the fun of Albania. Despite being a bit shabby, it’s comfortable. Like your favourite jumper that you default to when it’s a bit chilly. Amongst the friendliest people I’ve met, amazing food and it’s cheap. Really cheap.
What are you waiting for?
Valbonë was the highlight for me. A stunning valley through the Albanian Alps in the far north of the country. Surrounded by peaks over 2500 metres high, the valley is all but empty. In three hours exploring off the end of the road, the only person I saw was at least 500 metres away.
I was there in autumn. The forest was rich with golds, yellows and browns, framed with the deepest of blue skies.
The far end of the valley provides great opportunities for shots of dramatic, barren mountain landscapes, decorated with whatever colour the forest happens to be in for that time of year. The valley floor is a carpet of moraine, adding to the sense of drama.
Further down the valley, it’s a gentler affair. Pockets of meadow ringed by the forest. But always aware of the brooding peaks high above your head.
Berat doesn’t come with a great introduction. Coming in from the north, you hit an uninspiring, run-down city. But, pushing through you eventually get to Berat’s medieval centre and all apprehensions disappear.
This UNESCO Heritage site is filled with a beautiful style of building that you can see elsewhere in the Balkans. But not in this concentration. And then there are the churches built into the rock face. The castle and citadel sitting at very top of that rock face. All joined by cobbled lanes that provide photographic opportunities at every corner.
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