New Frontiers: Albania

Outside chooses the top vacation spots of 2013

Thethi in the Albanian Alps.     Photo: Michael Runkel/Getty

For decades, Albania was an isolated backwater ruled by a dictator, Enver Hoxha, who refused to let anyone in or out of his sad little hellhole. Even after communism collapsed and the borders cracked, the war in neighboring Kosovo and gun-toting thugs kept the Adriatic nation a shadowland. What a difference a few years makes. Sandwiched between the former Yugoslavian republic of Montenegro to the north and Greece to the south, Albania today is rapidly playing catch-up, thanks to stabilization agreements with the European Union that dumped more than $700 million into the country.

That’s good news for us: it’s every bit as beautiful as Croatia, far less polished, and home to a nascent adventure-tourism industry. Roads are slowly improving. New trails already wend through the rugged 8,000-foot Albanian Alps in the north, where villagers are using German development grants to convert sleepy stone huts into cozy guesthouses. The wind whips around archaeological sites like Antigone in the south, which you can have entirely to yourself. And you can find some of the longest wild beaches in the Adriatic here. Development and tourism are on the way—about 2.5 million visitors came last year, compared with just over 500,000 a decade ago. But for now, the country occupies that precious sweet spot: there are a million reasons to go, yet no one really does.

THE TRIP: Row Adventures offers new nine-day trips this summer to sea-kayak between coves near Himare and hike through the Zagoria Valley around 4,500-foot Dhembeli Pass, in the Albanian Alps. From $2,750.

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