Relief and Climate
Albania covers a total area 28,748 km2 and is distinguished for its spectacular and diverse terrain. One-third of the country consists of lowlands located primarily in the west and extending along the Adriatic and Ionian coasts. The remainder of the country is hilly or mountainous and offers tremendous views and vistas. The highest point in Albania, at 2,751 m, is Mount Korabi in Dibra district. As one might expect, this beautiful and varied terrain offers visitors many opportunities to enjoy Albania’s natural beauty.
The beauty and unique climate offered by the highlands is often just a short drive away from all that the coast and its Mediterranean-like climate have to offer. Albania also enjoys long periods of pleasant weather. Summer is the most sunny and beautiful of the seasons, but the remainder of the year is beautiful, as well.
The Albanian seashore is an expansive 450 km and includes numerous lagoons. The sea has influenced Albanian history and culture since antiquity through the trade and fishing opportunities it provides. Heading north and/or east from the sea, visitors will gain altitude and truly begin to appreciate the highlands and, eventually, the alpine areas. The mountainous terrain in the northern Alps is breathtaking. Snow cover lasts for nearly half the year and affords numerous outdoor recreation possibilities, particularly in the Albanian Alps in the north of country. The landscape is also strewn with numerous lakes and rivers for travelers to enjoy.
Albania’s climate is varied and seasonal. From average annual seacoast temperatures around 17.5°C, to the cooler highlands averaging 7.5°C, Albania offers tremendous diversity. Summers tend to be hot and dry, while the winters are mild and offer an autumn-like beauty. This pleasant weather supports a wide variety of recreational activities.
The Albanian coast begins in the northwest at the Buna River delta, which marks the Albania-Montenegro border, and extends southward until it reaches Cape Stillo at the Albanian-Greek border. Including various lagoons and harbors, the coast stretches for a total of 450 km and touches two seas: the Ionian in the south and the Adriatic in the north. Along its length, the coastline is dotted with beaches ranging from large and sandy to hidden and private. Beautiful rocky coastlines comprise portions of this landscape as well. The coastline of Albania is particularly picturesque because of its relative lack of development. This unspoiled coast has been preserved as a natural beauty and is ripe with outdoor recreation possibilities. Teeming with rich sea life, the water offers many treasures. Remnants of ancient civilizations dot the coastline and demonstrate the centuries-old relationship that this area shares with the sea.
Although relatively small, Albania is home to a large number of lakes. Three of the largest are Shkodra, Ohrid, and Prespa. Each of these lakes is significant: Shkodra is the largest lake in the Balkans at 368 km2. Ohrid is the deepest lake of the Balkans, and Prespa is the highest, at 850 m above sea level. There are many other small lakes throughout the country that provide beauty and enjoyment, as well.
Lake Shkodra is located along Albania and Montenegro’s shared border. The beautiful shore consists of marshes in the north and rocky shores in the south, with two notable beaches located at Shiroka and Zogaj. The southern part of the lake is called “the hither coast,” while the northern part is called “waterfront.” There are several villages nearby which are attractive to tourists, such as Kosani, Flaka, Kamnica, Jubica and Kalldrun. The lake is home to a tremendous variety of living creatures, including 45 species of fish and 281 species of birds.
Lake Ohrid is one of the most beautiful tectonic lakes of the Balkans, located on the shared border between Albania and Macedonia. It is 695 m above sea level and accordingly remains temperate and cool even in the warmest summers. At an estimated four million years old, it is also one of the oldest lakes in the world. It too boasts a tremendous variety of fish, some of which are unique to Ohrid. Notable among them is the Belushka Salmon, a delicious and highly prized fish, and Koran, which is the most famous and is exclusively found in this lake. Recreational opportunities abound, particularly near Pogradeci, Lini, Pojska, and Tushemishti.
Prespa lakes. Big Prespa Lake measures 285 km2 and straddles the borders of Albania, Macedonia, and Greece. Little Prespa Lake, located on the Albanian-Greek border, is significantly smaller, at 44 km2. As with other Albanian lakes, the Prespas enjoy beautiful, clear water. The region surrounding them offers myriad opportunities for recreation, including sightseeing, wildlife observation, ecotourism, and water sports. The area features some of the best Albania has to offer – a rare combination of resplendent natural beauty and warm, hospitable locals will make any visit to this region memorable.
The small lakes. Albania also features many small, beautiful glacial lakes. Most notable among them are Doberdol and Sylbice Lakes in Tropoja, Balgjai Lake in Bulqize, and the beautiful and 60 m deep Black Lake in Martanesh. Other beautiful examples include Dushku Lake in Gramsh, the four Rajca Lakes in Librazhd, and Sheleguri Lake on Mount Gramozi (Kolonja District). Others still worth visiting are the 69 wonderful lakes of Dumre Plateau, near the expansive 960 ha Merhoja Lake, and the 61 m deep Çestija Lake, among others.
Artificial lakes (Man-made lakes). Artificial lakes and reservoirs are popular for fishing and recreation. Several large ones exist in Komani, Mati (Ulëza and Shkopet), Tirana (Farka reservoir and the artificial lake of the city), Lushnja (Thana reservoir), and Korça (Gjançi reservoir). These small, man-made lakes have a lot to offer. In addition to sporting opportunities, they provide habitats for a rich variety of flora and fauna. The Komani Lake also functions as a traveling waterway.
The Albanian countryside is rich with springs, rivers, and streams. There are an estimated 200 springs, each of which bursts forth with over 200 liters of water per second. Some springs have been noted for their medicinal or curative powers and have thus been the site of spas since antiquity. These spas are located throughout the country, but several noteworthy ones exist in Leskoviku (Vronomero) Dibra, Elbasani, Benja, and Fushë-Kruja (Bilaj).
Four springs which are remarkable for their natural beauty are the Blue Eye in Saranda, Cold Water in Tepelena, Viroi in Gjirokastra, and Syri i Sheganit at Lake Shkodra. The network of inland Albanian waters consists of 11 major rivers and their 150 tributaries. Measuring 285 km, the Black Drini River is the longest and it flows from Lake Ohrid to the Adriatic Sea. Other large rivers include the Valbona, Buna, Fani, Mati, Erzeni, Shkumbini, Seman, Vjosa, Osumi, Shushica, Devolli, Langarica, Drino, and Bistrica rivers.
Some valleys and canyons created by these ancient flows offer tremendous natural beauty as well. Among these are the Valbona and Shala Valleys in the Northern Alps, Tomorica Valley, Këlcyra Outfall on the Vjosa River, and the Bënça and Osumi Canyons. The canyons, in particular, offer a beautiful backdrop for a variety of paddling sports. Waterfalls are also a part of this vast network, such as those located at Grunas and Thethi, Shoshan and Kurveleshi.
Franc Josef is a small island located in the Buna River delta. This island is rich with waterfowl and other bird species. The island is also covered in beautiful lush greenery and provides a peaceful place to refresh and relax.
The Sandy Island of Kune has an area of 125 ha and lies in the Drini River delta. This island features extravagant and varied plant life, including everything from small Mediterranean shrubs to ash and willow forests. Island wildlife is abundant as well, boasting 70 bird species, 23 species of mammals, 22 reptiles species, and 6 species of amphibians. Since antiquity, hunters have prized this island for its variety of prey. Located nearby, the secluded and private beach of Tale is also worth visiting.
Zverneci Island is one of two islands in Narta Lagoon in Vlora. It is very picturesque and its landscape is dotted with beautiful cypress trees. The island is also home to the historically significant Santa Maria Church. Access to the island is via a wooden bridge, which offers spectacular views of the lagoon.
Shurdhahu Island is a small, but picturesque island located in Vau i Dejës Lake. On this island, visitors will find the ruins of the medieval town of Sarda. It has also served as the residence of the prominent feudal Dukagjini family.
Sazani Island is Albania’s largest island, measuring 5.7 km2. It sits approximately 15 km off the shore at Vlora and features mostly rocky shores, except for the magnificent Admiral Beach. In antiquity, this island was known as Sason, and it has long been a destination for divers and fishermen.
Maligradi Island is located in Grand Prespa Lake. It is frequently visited by boaters who come to enjoy the beauty of the varied fauna and the historic Saint Pavllo eremite church.
Ksamili Islands. The four marvelous Ksamili islands total only 8.9 ha when measured together, but feature some of the most unspoiled beauty in all of Albania. They remain covered in lush, green vegetation throughout the year, and can only be accessed by small boats. The clear water surrounding these islands makes the pristine beaches in the area that much more special.