Albania has a population of three million people, with around 421,000 people living in Tirana, the country’s capital and most populous city. More than half of the people living in Albania are Muslim, with other religious affiliations including Catholicism and the Orthodox Church.
Albanians can trace their origins to the ancient Ilyrian people who lived in the Balkan region around 2000BC. The Albanian language derives from the Ilyrian language and is very different from those in neighboring countries. Over the centuries, the region has been controlled by various powers, including the Romans, the Serbs and the Ottoman Empire. During World War I and II, it endured several different occupying armies and during the Second World War it turned to communism, first being allied to the USSR and later to China. The ties with China ended in the late 1970s and economic decline and collapse followed, with food and power shortages common. Communist rule ended in 1992 and since then, the country has struggled to move out of poverty.
In 1999, thousands of refugees crossed the border into Albania, desperate to escape the ethnic cleansing that was being carried out by the Serbs. Albania’s already limited resources were stretched to the limit and foreign aid from other countries was much needed.
Insufficient investment over many years has meant that Albania has not moved with the times, and has a slightly dated feel. However, the positive side of this is that the country offers a glimpse of a simpler and less commercial time that cannot be experienced in many parts of the Western world.
Albania has a mild temperate climate. In general, winters are cool and wet while summers are warm and dry, but there are regional variations. The coastal region has typical Mediterranean weather with mild winters whereas the highland areas have much colder winters, with snowfall in the mountainous regions. These regional differences offer benefits for the budding tourist industry, with both summer coast and winter skiing vacations being potential areas for development.
Annual rainfall in the lowlands averages 1,000 mm, with over 1,500 mm in the northern uplands. Average high temperatures range from 13°C in January and February to 32°C during July and August.
Albania’s only international airport is Tirana International Airport, and there are currently no domestic flights within the country. Renovation work has begun on some old regional airports, but contractual constraints mean that they will not be able to operate flights for several years. There are direct flights from Tirana to several European cities, including London, Rome and Milan.
There are two major ferry ports in Albania, the port of Durres in the north and Vlore situated in the south. There are ferry routes from several ports in Italy, from Slovenia to Durres, and from Brindisi to Vlore. The most popular route is Brindisi to Durres. There are no international rail services to Albania for passengers.