‘Land of Albania! Let me bend mine eyes on thee, thou rugged nurse of savage men’.
So wrote Lord Byron in his famous poem Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage.
Albania, for years a forgotten corner of the Mediterranean, is now open for business again. Gifted with beautiful mountain scenery and a stunning coastline, Albania has an untamed beauty that is now a rarity in Europe.
While the roads may have suffered, the spirit of Albanians seems unaffected, the hospitality, especially in the remote areas, is incredible. Life has changed little in the mountains of the north and the homemade cheese, bread and raki tastes how food should taste.
Albania has an enticing mix of spectacular mountain scenery, glorious beaches, and fascinating history and bargain prices. Stony trails weave through sun-bleached mountains where remote villages nestle amongst the interesting remnants of Greek, Ottoman and communist history.
70% of Albania is mountainous, with much of it rugged and inaccessible. Over 30% of the country is forested and very rich in flora, with over 3,000 different species of plants, many of which have medicinal purposes. Albanian forests are still home to a plethora of animals and birds, including brown bear, grey wolf, wild boar and the golden eagle – the national symbol of Albania.
The Albanian horse is small and similar to other Balkan breeds – there are two main types – a mountain horse and lowland or Myzeqeja horse. Before the communist era the Albanian horse had a good reputation for stamina and endurance, but there is no strict stud book and inter-breeding between the two types has blurred the lines. Arab blood was introduced in 1904 as well as some Haflinger and Nonius. Until recently the horse was still the principal mode of transport and was essential to the economy – horses were still used by the Albanian military until 1974! Nowadays the Albanian horse is used more often as a pack animal rather than a riding horse but they are still the ideal mount for trips into the mountains.