Albanian Currency:  Albanian Lek
Just 30 years ago, Albania was a country that would have been on few people's European itineraries, with many simply considering this Balkan state - one of the last countries to witness the fall of communism - to be off-limits to visitors. Now, it is more open than ever, but it's this very isolation over the past few decades that makes a visit here so magical; its stunning Ionian coastline has escaped the mass tourism of neighbouring Italy or Greece, its Albanian Alps mountain paths are relatively underdeveloped, and socially it has clung onto the kinds of unique cultural traditions that have been slowly eroded in many other nations. With natural beauty, beach resorts, history and hospitality, Albania has everything you could possibly need for a European trip that's slightly different, but never disappointing.
Well, perhaps the real question here should probably be what doesn't Albania have to offer.
Mountains - The Accursed Mountains might sounds like something you would only ever visit on a Halloween hiking tour (is that a thing?), but in actual fact they're really, really beautiful. With much of this mountain range only accessible by foot, it has some of the most spectacular and unspoilt scenery you'll find anywhere in Europe.
Coastline - The Albanian Riviera is growing in popularity every year and deservedly so: it boasts beaches that rival any in the Mediterranean, but for half the price. Sharing a border with Greece and just a ferry ride away from Italy, you can expected turquoise blue waters and sandy beaches, and any intrepid explorers out there will be glad to know that the country excels at offering hidden and secret beaches to explore.
History - Albania has historical sites in every corner of the country, including one of the world's best-preserved collection of Ottoman houses at Berat, the Roman and Greek ruins at Butrint, and numerous ancient castles and churches. For those interested in more recent history, there's Cold War infrastructure and a Museum of Secret Surveillance, which details the methods used to monitor and control ordinary people during the years of communist rule.
With a mix of Balkan, Italian and Greek influences, Albanian food is hearty, heavy and fresh, so expect lots of meat, gooey cheese and comforting veg stews; along the Ionian coast you will also find delicious seafood to feast on. Among the most famous dishes are Byrek, a salty spinach and cheese pie, and tavë kosi, which is baked lamb with yogurt and cheese. It is customary to tip approximately 10% in a restaurant.
Albanians are famously hospitable, and so if someone pours you a drink, you drink it, regardless of whether it's 10am or it looks like lighter fluid - many households do actually produce their own alcohol here so sometimes it can be hard to tell. The traditional drink is raki, a strong spirit made from grapes, with the plum or mulberry versions native to Albania.
Albania is a country of opposites: in the summer it is boiling, in the winter it is freezing. For that reason, the best time to go is often spring (April - June) or autumn (September - October), when you can take advantage of both sunny days on the beach and outdoor opportunities in the mountains.
If arriving from a European city, you'll most likely come by air, landing at Tirana's "Mother Teresa" International Airport, which is roughly a 15 minute drive from the city centre. Alternatively, there are international buses from Athens, Istanbul and Sofia, among others; there are no international trains into Albania.
Thanks to the presence of multiple border checkpoints with neighbouring countries, entering Albania by road is relatively easily. In 2017 the country abolished road taxes for foreigners, but anyone bringing their own car into the country will need to ensure that their International Motor Insurance Card (otherwise known as a Green Card) is valid for Albania, and that they have the Vehicle Registration documents.