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Q: MY boyfriend and I would like to visit Albania this summer and we would like some tips on what to see. Also, what is the weather like in June, do we need visas and what sort of currency do we have to take?

Jayne Greene

A ALBANIA is slowly dragging itself into the 21st century after 50 years in the shadow of Enver Hoxha, a brutal communist despot who aligned himself more with Mao than Moscow. He was overthrown in 1990 and his legacy was a bankrupted, dispirited country which soon descended into anarchy.

All that is changing. There is now a proper parliamentary democracy, an ambitious programme of reconstruction and a big effort to bring in tourists.

Confidence is high - British Airways has just launched three new flights a week from London to Tirana, the capital - and the country has been busy exporting its olives and soft fruits to its neighbours.

That said, some 30 per cent of Albania's 3.5m people still live below the poverty line and small pockets of the country, particularly in the mountains near the Greek and Macedonian borders, are pretty lawless (rumour has it that after the fall of Communism several thousand of the army's AK47 rifles went "missing").

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However, you'll enjoy Tirana. Its mayor was a famous artist and he has recruited art students to repaint the city's ugly concrete buildings in shades of green, red and blue.

In the Bllok area, the villas and mansions of the forming ruling elite have been converted into bars and restaurants. You'll be unlucky to pay more than 60p for a bottle of beer or £7 a head for a huge meal with a bottle of local wine. The currency is the lek, but euros are accepted everywhere.

The language - which you'll probably find unintelligible - is Shqip, although in Tirana English is widely spoken.

Outside Tirana it is worth taking a guided tour along the Albanian Riviera overlooking the Ionian Sea - the views from the Llogara pass, 1,000m above sea level, are spectacular. At the town of Saranda you can lunch at the Lekuresi Fortress with views across to the island of Corfu. Near here is the ancient city of Butrint, a world heritage site, with plenty of Greek ruins.

Gjirokastra, a Unesco site, has a fortress which stages the National Festival of Folk Song and Dance in the summer.

In nearby Berat there's a castle which still has people living within its walls in traditional houses, as they have done for centuries. The port of Durres, one of Albania's oldest (founded in 627BC) and most important cities, has a Greek amphitheatre and an archaeological museum with a huge collection of Greek and Roman artefacts.

UK passport-holders don't need a visa. As for the weather, Albania is just across the water from Corfu, so in June you can expect hot, sunny days.

Source: Mirror.co.uk 

Last Updated ( Saturday, 28 February 2009 )
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