Albania

UNKNOWN ALBANIA

For millennia, Albania was a country impenetrable to outsiders. Guarded by steep and menacing mountains, it allowed Romans and Byzantines, Venetians and Ottomans, Fascist Italians and Nazi Germans to colonise and properly rule only its thin strip of coast and a handful of cities. The rest of the country, hidden behind rising peaks crisscrossed by narrow and dangerous roads, remained isolated, independent, ruled by its own tribes and codes. Communist dictator Enver Hoxha brought his country's isolation to a whole new level.

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TIRANA, ALBANIA'S CAPITAL, IS NO LONGER ONE OF THE MOST ISOLATED PLACES IN EUROPE

Albania and its capital are shrouded in the atmosphere of a little-known, little-visited, isolated and poor country haunted by the memories of Europe's last dictatorship.

Between 1944 and 1991 Tirana was the capital of Communist Albania. Most of those years were spent under the Stalinist Enver Hoxha, who imposed total isolation on the nation. Albania was a North Korea in southern Europe. Add this to Albania's late start as a nation state, in 1912, and its troubled transition to democracy in the 1990s, and you end up with a destination that simultaneously fascinates and frightens.

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BERAT

If you are trying to go off-off-off-the-beaten-track and still remain geographically in Europe, look no further than Albania. Tugged among the precipitous mountains of the Western Balkans, it has been under the radar for most of the time since its creation in 1913. During its Communist period, from 1944 to 1992, Albania was sealed off from the modern world by Stalinist leader Enver Hoxha, who dealt ruthlessly with real or imaginary opponents and ordered the construction of over 700,000 bunkers to guard himself from real or imaginary enemies.

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