Tirana, the capital of Albania

Albania //

Tirana

Its buildings are painted in lurid colours, a gigantic, useless pyramid rises smack in the centre, the main square is a mess, the roads are potholed, and still there’s no bus station for this city of almost one million people, and yet for all these idiosyncracies TIRANA is undeniably a charmer. The clash of architectural styles (from Italian to Communist to postmodern) is most evident in the central Blloku area, which was off-limits to all but Party members during Communist times.  A generation down the line, espresso-sipping, fun-loving locals and trendy bar openings are vivid proof that the city is well on its way to becoming a “regular” European capital.

Tirana’s Ottoman legacy was largely eroded by former dictator Enver Hoxha’s failed regime, an era still evidenced by enormous boulevards and brutal architecture. In 2000, the Edi Rama period began with the city’s charismatic mayor attempting to paint his city into the modern day; the resulting streetscape kaleidoscope performs a continuous palette shift from lemon to lime, saffron to cinnamon and burgundy to baby blue. Some locals grumble that their city looks to have fallen victim to a made-for-TV makeover.

Tirana is better for strolling than sightseeing, but there’s plenty to keep you occupied in the southbound stretch from Skanderbeg Square to the Grand Park, which narrowly bypasses the trendy Blloku district on the way.