One of the most relaxing ways to explore the world is on board a ship or boat. The Mediterranean is often overlooked in favour of South America or South East Asia and yet there are corners of this ancient sea that have been overlooked and are still waiting to be discovered.
Apart from the more famous destinations, including Spain, Turkey and Italy there are a grand total of 21 countries bordering the shores of the Mediterranean, and each of these will offer a unique cultural experience. For example, Albania doesn’t often figure on most Mediterranean cruises but in view of its newly elected Prime Minister’s ambition to improve the country’s image overseas, now might be the time to dip one’s metaphorical toe into the water. Edi Rama is determined to encourage more visitors to his country and to date he is famous for his time as the Minister of Culture when he helped eradicate some of the dull grey of Tirana’s Stalinist architecture by commissioning brightly coloured replacement facades.
This city that has recently been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Berat is a two-hour drive from Albania’s capital, Tirana and is probably the most visited city in the country. Sometimes known as the ‘town of a thousand windows’ Berat has seen a whole procession of invaders and most of these have left their mark. Ottoman architecture dominates the old town and if you want to learn more about its culture, The town’s Ethnographic Museum is a fascinating way to discover more the traditions of this part of Albania.
This city is in the south of Albania and gained UNESCO World Heritage status in 2005. The Ottomans invaded this extraordinarily beautiful city in 1447 and stayed until the collapse of their empire during the First World War. A 13th century castle dominates the town and travellers who have fallen in love with Gjirokater’s ancient cobbled streets are able to extend their stay by working as volunteers on a variety of restoration projects. Students of architecture and art history may be able to take part in an exchange educational programme with their universities back home.
For decades the Mediterranean was synonymous with the glitz and glamour of St Tropez and other hotspots along its coastline. As the world has opened up, so has access to some of the region’s less familiar countries and this prospect has increased the popularity of cruises in this part of the world. Now is the time to visit some of the more remote regions of the Mediterranean, though sadly, regional unrest does mean that the Crusaders’ castles in Syria or the bustle and drama of Cairo should be put to one side for the time being. Lebanon, formerly famous for its hospitality, history and wonderful climate is also currently not recommended for visitors by the UK government’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office. This does leave a whole range of islands and small countries that can be explored, just try to avoid the most popular and perhaps take an out of season cruise to reach your destination.
By, Celina Bledowska, journalist and author.