Albania is a land with a troubled past. It was a less-than-fully-willing part of the Soviet Union and then an unstable Balkan state with political troubles of its own, and the sound of the country’s name doesn’t ring in most Brits’ ears as a good place to holiday. But those old ideas, based on half-remembered news reports, don’t fit the facts of the new Albania.
Visitors to the nation’s capital, Tirana, don’t get newsreel footage; they get a broad, European city plan with spacious boulevards and handsome, stylish buildings – plenty that’s distinctly Albanian, to be sure, but if you’ve been to Prague or Budapest you’ll also see plenty of similarities. And visitors are going, in ever-increasing numbers.
The Albanian tourist boom began last year, with reform of the country’s land laws and a personal promise from the Prime Minister, Sali Berisha, that ‘when British people come to Albania to buy property, their money is safe.’ Disputes used to arise in Albania over who owned land, based on hereditary claims going back generations, but the reforms mean it’s now simple: ‘When [people] buy land based on official state documents, no other claim on that land will be accepted,’ explains Mr. Berisha. ‘I give full assurances on that.’
Initially, only the most enterprising were prepared to dip a toe in uncharted waters – or to jump right in, like Chris Esdale-Pearson, 65, who retired to Albania after a working life as a Harwich ship’s pilot. His 1-bed apartment in Lalzit Bay, a 30-minute drive from Tirana International Airport, cost him £54,000. Chris gave his reasons: ‘My wife Pepie and I have gone for a long-term investment in an emerging market, where we will be able to spend lovely holidays, and explore off the beaten track.’
But the track to Albania’s low property costs, sunny Mediterranean climate and reformed housing market is being beaten by tourists of every stripe now: so many are going that British Airways have laid on extra flights.
Last year, three weekly flights from Gatwick Airport supported the Albanian tourist trade, with the occasional spare seat. This year, BA announced an increase to five flights a week. While BA was unavailable for comment on the subject, it’s believed to be a direct response to increasing numbers of Brits going to Albania to explore, just like Chris, and, just like Chris, to buy.
Peter Walshe, Marketing Director at Labania’s Lalzit Bay Resort and Spa company, said, ‘The future is looking bright for Albania. With an increasing number of tourists visiting each year combined with the new BA flights, the country looks set to explode as a tourist destination. One of Albania’s biggest attractions – aside from its cultural and historical charms, balmy Mediterranean climate and stunning beaches – is definitely its rock-bottom cost of living.’
Mr. Walshe also pointed to improving infrastructure – the highways linking major cities and airports were recently remetalled, and plans are afoot to build a second international airport in the south of Albania to fully realize the potential of a tourist market that’s just finding out about this rich and vibrant country. The future of Albania may look rosy, but it’s well and truly on the beaten path now, so if you’re attracted to one of the world’s fastest growing second and holiday home markets, book now…