Berat weaves its own very special magic, and is easily a highlight of visiting Albania. Its most striking feature is the collection of white Ottoman houses climbing up the hill to its castle, earning it the title of 'town of a thousand windows' and helping it join Gjirokastra on the list of Unesco World Heritage sites in 2008.
Shkodra, the traditional centre of the Gheg cultural region, is one of the oldest cities in Europe. The ancient Rozafa Fortress has stunning views over Lake Shkodra, while a concerted effort to renovate the buildings in the Old Town has made wandering through Shkodra a treat for the eyes.
Korça is southern Albania's intellectual centre and a town with a proud cultural heritage. It's an exceptionally pleasant and well-cared-for place by Albanian standards, and recent efforts at urban renewal have made this even more so, with a showcase pedestrian avenue linking the town's main square to its rebuilt Orthodox cathedral.
Valbona has a gorgeous setting, on a wide plain surrounded by towering mountain peaks, and its summer tourism industry is increasingly well organised. The village itself consists virtually only of guesthouses and camping grounds, nearly all of which have their own restaurants attached.
The Accursed Mountains
The 'Accursed Mountains' (Bjeshkët e Namuna) offer some of Albania's most impressive scenery, and the area has exploded in recent years as a popular backpacker destination. It's a totally different side of the country here: that of blood feuds, deep tradition, extraordinary landscapes and fierce local pride.