Sitting proudly above the sparsely inhabited Drinos valley, Gjirokastra is one of Albania’s most attractive towns, and home to some of its friendliest people. Its days as an Ottoman trading hub have bequeathed it a wealth of sparkling Ottoman houses, which line a grey-white-pink tricolore of steep, cobbled streets. Gjiro is also etched into the nation’s conscience as the birthplace of former dictator Enver Hoxha, and more recently the world-renowned author Ismail Kadare.
The Old Town’s centrepiece is its imposing citadel, which is clearly visible from any point in town. Built in the sixth century and enlarged in 1811 by Ali Pasha Tepelna, it was used as a prison by King Zog, the Nazis and Hoxha’s cadres; the interior remains suitably spooky. There are also tanks and weaponry to peruse, but most curious is the shell of an American jet which was (apparently) forced down in 1957 after being suspected of espionage by the Communist regime. Other than the castle, Gjiro’s most appealing sight is its collection of mainly nineteenth-century Ottoman houses; there are some prime examples in Partizani, a steep residential area just west of the castle.