Albania © Artur Malinowski
Increasingly celebrated as one of Europe's most remarkable and unusual tourist destinations, Albania boasts a coastline lapped by both the Ionian and Adriatic Seas, and a traditional culture relatively untouched by globalisation. The little Balkan gem is known as the birthplace of Mother Theresa and the great 15th-century hero Skanderbeg, and those who know their history remember the isolation of Albania under Communist rule, even after the fall of the Iron Curtain and the Soviet regime. It wasn't until 1992 that the Communist party finally relinquished power and Albania established a multi-party democracy.
Albania boasts beautiful beaches, snow-capped mountains, rivers, lakes and forests and some of the most hospitable people in Europe. Not only that, it also features Butrint, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the world's archaeological wonders. It provides visitors with a glimpse of Mediterranean civilization from the Bronze Age through the Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Venetian and Ottoman periods; and if that wasn't already impressive enough, the ancient site is situated on top of a cliff overlooking Corfu.
In the leafy capital city of Tirana, tourists can enjoy the pretty views over the city from Mount Dajt or head to one of the many sidewalk cafes to sample some traditional Albanian fare, which has a primarily Turkish influence.
Saranda in the south is known for its unforgettable beaches and colourful spring flowers while Shkodra features the Rozafa Castle, a major tourist attraction. Orchards burst with ochre, burnt oranges and yellows in autumn while spring sees apple and cherry blossoms carpet the roadsides. These seasons are the best time of year to visit Albania, as even in September it is still warm enough to swim on the southern coast.
With both coastal and mountain holidays on offer, as well as fascinating ancient culture, Albania is guaranteed to knock the socks off first time visitors.