10 Fairy-Tale Towns You’ve Never Heard of in a Country You Rarely Think Of
If you are looking for stunning photos and a great setting, check out Albania’s magical-looking towns and villages.
Albania’s rumpled mountains cover almost 75% of the country and even the Riviera is bordered by steep mountains that descend into a rugged coastline. This predominant mountainous terrain has determined the apparition of countless magical-looking towns and villages perched on abrupt slopes of the mountains or strategic hilltops with impactful views. Here are the most picturesque towns and villages in Albania.
Berat Town: The Town of a Thousand Windows
WHERE: Berat, Albania
Standing in a rugged mountain setting in the heart of the country, Berat has earned the title of ‘Town of a Thousand Windows’ for the endless number windows climbing up the steep hill around the old town. In 2008, the evocative town has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its well-preserved impressive Ottoman-style houses and fairytale atmosphere.
The three old quarters in Berat (Kalaja, Mangalan, Gorica) feature traditional dwellings of white-washed walls, tiled roofs, and cobbled streets and create an iconic image of the town that is so well-known for its magical looking.
Despite the destruction of the communist regime, Berat still retains outstanding examples of old architecture that range from the historic neighborhoods standing at the foot of the mountain (Mangalan and Gorica) to the living castle strategically perched on a hilltop (Kalaja).
Krujë Town: The Medieval Capital of Skanderbeg
WHERE: Krujë, Albania
A very small town not far from Tirana, Krujë was the birthplace of the national hero Skanderbeg 500 years ago. The colorful stalls of the Old Bazaar (called Derexhiku) are packed with antiques and traditional handmade crafts that line the road leading up to the castle gates. In the old part of the town, the houses stand in the lap of a mountain dominated by the romantic ruins of an ancient castle overlooking the valley.
Merlika is one of the well-preserved old houses in Krujë and it features fascinating Ottoman-style interiors. Here you can stay overnight in apartments with luxurious epoch décor, serve dinner watching a wood fire in a medieval stove or admire an unforgettable sunset on the outdoor terrace.
Gjirokastra: The City of Stone
WHERE: Gjirokastra, Albania
Gjirokastra was proclaimed a Museum City in the 60s and earned its title of the ‘City of Stone’ for the hundreds of rock-hewn buildings packed in the Old Town. The hillside town has also been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and for Albanians, it’s also known for the former communist dictator Enver Hoxha, who was born here.
Besides a very active Ottoman-style Bazaar in the city center, two-story white-washed houses with slate roofs create an idyllic atmosphere. One can wander the sloping streets paved with limestone for hours and visit several well-preserved examples of traditional houses—kulle (Zekate House, Skenduli House) with low-lying divans lining the walls, stained glass windows, and wall frescoes. But the best views of these picturesque houses can be seen from the hilltop fortress that dominates the whole town and the Drina valley.
Theth Village: Fairytale Journey through the Accursed Mountains
WHERE: Theth, Albania
Theth is a charming mountain village set in the high pastures of the Accursed Mountains (the name of the Albanian Alps in the north of the country). The village is surrounded by an incredibly dramatic setting, serrated mountain ridges, sensational waterfalls, and pristine mountain springs.
The journey to get here is quite an adventure as it requires a several-hour-minibus (furgon ) trip on a bumpy half-asphalt road winding through the scenic mountains. To complement this fairytale setting, accommodation and meals are available only in charming households built of local stone, usually run by families such as Shpella Guesthouse.
Valbona Village: Getaway to the Albanian Alps
WHERE: Valbona, Albania
Valbona small village is set in a glorious scenery at the foot of the mountains, on a wide pasture surrounded by towering mountain peaks. It is one of the remotest settlements in the country and you can reach it at the end of a long serpentine road through the Valbona Valley. Despite its isolated location, it retains incomparable romance and a unique, peaceful atmosphere. It is connected with Theth village by an intriguing trail that crosses a spectacular mountain path.
Shkelzen Rexha Gjakovë [CC BY-SA 4.0]/Wikimedia Commons
Korçë Town: City of Serenades
WHERE: Korçë, Albania
Known as the City of Serenades, Korçë is a quaint Albanian town in the southeastern part of the country, very close to the famous Ohrid Lake. The city center has undergone urban renewal and is now a charming place to stroll and admire the local heritage, especially the old Turkish quarter with traditional cafes and stylish restaurants. Also, the rustic neighborhoods in the city center feature picturesque squares, white-washed houses, and cozy inner courtyards.
Dhërmi Village: Hilltop Village Between Sea and Mountains
WHERE: Dhërmi, Albania
Dhërmi is famous for the beach and party bars lining the seaside but uphill, the coastline village remains often unobserved despite its charming atmosphere. Dominated by a magical-looking old monastery, the village has narrow winding streets paved with cobblestone and white-washed houses with tiny inner courtyards shaded by vines. Dhërmi is undoubtedly one of the best-preserved Albanian villages where see, nature, and local architecture complement beach festivals and seaside vacations.
JM Travel Photography/Shutterstock
Himarë Village: The Mediterranean spirit of Ionian small towns
WHERE: Himarë, Albania
Shadowed by the busy Himarë resort that has been developed on the Riviera, the hilltop Himarë village and castle are never crowded with visitors. Perched on a forested cliff high above the seafront, the old village features the Mediterranean spirit of Ionian small towns, a ruined castle with superb sea views, and attractive alleyways covered by pink oleanders.
Vuno Village: Typical Coastline Village
WHERE: Vuno, Albania
Vuno might be one of the less expected stops on the Albanian seaside. The truth is that it’s a cute village, with steep narrow alleys, jaw-dropping seaside views, and an intriguing place to hunt for the most photogenic spots on the Riviera. Built on the slope of the Ceraunian Mountains, it has a unique look with tiny houses scrambling up the hill, blue-cerulean gates, and stone walls.
Prezë Village: Hilltop Fortress Village
WHERE: Prezë, Albania
Prezë is a small village situated in the central part of Albania, very close to Tirana’s Airport. It features a well-preserved hilltop castle with mighty fortification walls, an ancient mosque, and a few medieval buildings. The old rooms were refurbished into a stylish restaurant (Kalaja e Prezes restorant) with a terrace overlooking a vast panorama of the surrounding region.