Former Albanian dictator Enver Hoxha’s final heart attack and the eventual collapse of Communism hailed the beginning of the end of Albania’s isolation, and in recent years the once-tense border region separating Albania, Montenegro and Kosovo has become the kind of place you’d want to visit. Aid money, remittances and relative stability have helped create a middle class, and tourism in the region is beginning to boom. Guides take groups kayaking under stone bridges in Montenegro, hiking around Albanian archaeological sites and even skiing in Kosovo. New hotels are pumping fresh life into stale Communist hangouts, even if the water isn’t always hot.
“If you want luxury, sorry, go to Paris or New York,” Kela Qendro, a 33-year-old Albanian working for a small tourism company, told me later. “You come here to see the real stuff. The shepherd. The old woman picking pomegranates. You go up to villagers and they will invite you inside their home for the joy of meeting you.”