Although it seems that you can’t find in Albania anything you can’t buy in other countries, but it far from it! Due to a great number of souvenirs one has a possibility to know this country from the inside. Any souvenir shop in Tirana shows the history of the country, customs and traditions of the local folks, sights of culture and architecture, and alcohol and food delicacies.
The three trifle souvenirs top-list.
No. 1. The main Albanian souvenir is an ashtray in the form of an underground shelter. This form may seem rather strange if you don’t know its original history. Travelling along Albania one can face small half dug-out concrete constructions that remind mushrooms. These are shelters that were built during dictator Hoxha’s ministry. He was obsessed with an idea to protect Albania surrounded by enemies. That is why he ordered to build all over the country mini-fortresses each for one person (totally they managed to build 700 thousand shelters). If you can spare just 20 dollars you should certainly buy this nice trifle.
No. 2. Lighters with the image of the Albanian national emblem hold leading position confidently. The tourists buy them not so much for intended use as for making friends astounded. The lighters look rather bellicose!
Nevertheless, they are of a good quality. Besides, being close at hand such a souvenir will remind you about the leisure time you have enjoyed in Albania.
No. 3. When leaving from Albania almost every third tourist takes along a red flag with a proud black eagle, the national flag of Albania. It is worth to be noted that these flags are made mainly in China and have rather low quality. But being hanged up somewhere on the wall at home it will look very nice (the flag costs about 30 dollars)!
Mainly Albanians prefer to make souvenirs on the basis of their national symbols. The counters of souvenir shops are full of practically any well-known all over the world trifles (pennons, breloques, glasses, small boxing gloves) that have one common feature – an image of a black eagle on the red background.
The only thing that can give rise to disappointment is a small inscription “Made in China” placed practically on each souvenir. Taking it in mind it is recommended to buy only things made in Albania. For example, you can buy copper plaques or marble crafts. Frequently you can meet on the streets of the old city craftsmen who made some articles or other. It is worth indeed to buy their crafts: except for the guarantee that the souvenir is inimitative you will have a possibility to save about 20% of the article’s cost in the process of bargaining which is a mandatory part of the Albanian trade.
On the opinion of many tourists the most elegant, nice and real Albanian souvenirs are Christmas tree decorations (garlands, glass figures and Christmas balls). They are made manually from high quality glass and decorated with traditional national patterns which are passed on from generation to generation throughout the centuries. Such a decoration may cost from 1 to 30 dollars depending upon the form, dimensions, pattern and, of course, the seller.
Albania doesn’t belong to the countries from which people try to bring bags stuffed to the max with clothes. Naturally, you will find some things worth to buy in the trading centres of the Albanian towns, but it would be cheaper and easier to buy such articles in Moscow or Kiev.
If you decide to buy some clothes to bring it home as an Albanian souvenir it is worth to draw attention on souvenir T-shirts and caps which cost 10 dollars. Furthermore, you can order an exclusive inscription on them, for example, “I love Albania”.
The enthusiasts of the ethnic style can see the true value of Albanian national traditional clothes. To tell the truth, such pleasure costs by no means cheap. Every folk costume is made from natural materials and only manually.
Traditional costume of this country includes more than two hundreds types of clothes due to separation of the Albanian principates: practically each Albanian region has its own traditional clothes. You can buy such a piece of folk art in souvenir shops at the cost of 150-250 dollars.
When buying an expensive national costume you should display certain vigilance. Referring to the urgent need of money or hurry small traders can sell you a downscale forgery which costs by half or twofold lower than its market price. So before buying you should inspect the article attentively: it must be made from wool or cotton (these are two main types of material used for making of national clothes), stitches must not shred and, of course, a “precious” label “Made in China” should not be placed on the article.
Carpets and bedspreads.
Carpets are traditional part of Albanian furniture. The word “carpet” (it is spelt “qylym” in Albanian) derives from the Turkish “kilim”. It is considered that carpets came to this country from Turkey as early as in the period of the Ottoman Empire because traditions of carpet weaving appeared here in the 16th century in particular.
From the end of the World War II Albania was famed for manufacturing of carpets mostly in the Persian style. Now people buy most of all Turkish carpets because their prices are lower. They don’t draw any attention on the style. Although even in the previous century the presence of a carpet at home was a matter of prestige and reflected social status. That is why the quality, design and colouring of a carpet were very important.
There are still places in Albania where they weave home-made carpets, wool fabrics, bedspreads and women’s handbags. Carpets are not articles of luxury in rural life. To save warmth people hang carpets on the walls, lay on the floor or on the sofa when it is cold. A real Albanian carpet distinguishes itself by a skilful ornament. You can buy this piece of art in the souvenir shops of Tirana and Shkoder knowing that the price band is from 150 to 250 dollars.
What to drink and eat
Your friends – the beer lovers – will surely get insulted if you don’t bring them a couple of bottles of the local legendary beer Korca from Tirana. This beer was certified with ISO 22000 – the international standard designed to be used by food organizations.
The «Korca» beer has innovatory adjuncts from the sphere of food safety along with the traditional beer quality. It received the International Arch of Europe in the «Diamond» category in Frankfurt in 2009. This drink is widely spread in Albania and also imported in a number of neighboring countries.
As a tourist wisdom says «There must be at least one bottle of the Albanian cognac «Skandenberg» in the luggage of a tourist leaving Albania». This beverage is made of grape alcohol which allows obtaining wine of specific characteristics. Then the wine is poured into copper vessels and distilled until the high-class crystal-clear alcohol is obtained. The alcohol ages in oak barrels for three years as oak is the material which confers a unique and distinguished bouquet to this beverage.
Rakia is the Albanian vodka. Its recipe and the recipes of Georgian Chacha and Arabian Arak are actually alike. The main ingredient of Rakia is grapes.
The Albanians traditionally use Rakia as an «everyday» drink which can heal tooth pain, disinfect wounds or recover a man from a fainting fit. Rakia is drunk in any situation and at any time here. Fruit, cheese and salami are usually the grub.
The Albanians often offer their «all-healing elixir» - which is a bottle of Rakia – as a gift.
There are ancient traditions of winemaking in Albania just like in any other part of the Mediterranean world. The art of winemaking has been practiced here since the ancient times. The Illyrians, being direct ancestors of the Albanians, were famous producers of miscellaneous wines. Proofs of this idea were found in Lii, Thepe and Zgerdhesh.
Today there are a lot of winemaking companies in Albania. Red wines are produced in a big number of regions. «Merlot» and «Cabernet» are made in Berat, Vlora and Permet; «Calmet» - in Shkoder; and «Mavrod» is produced in Leskovik and Lushnje.
Famous white wines are «Shesh I Bardhe» from Tirana and «Riesling» from Durres.
If you are a genuine connoisseur of fine wines, you will be content with tasting the Albanian wines which can easily be emulous of the most famous wine brands in the world.
Spices, olives and olive oil.
Olives from Berat region enjoy great popularity and often are used as table olives due to their big size.
Olives from Vlora region, Himare and Borsh coast and also from vicinage of the capital are high in fat and therefore they are the best to produce olive oil from. These are the biggest suppliers of olive oil for the whole country.
You can buy a couple bottles of olive oil from the locals or street venders at marketplaces of Tirana and other coastal towns.
Southern regions of Albania are overflowed with cheap but unbelievably high-quality spices. They are various herbs, natural vinegar, garlic, parsley, mint, bay leaf, sweet basil, rosemary, sweet marjoram and other aromatic spices.
It seems that the only high-class gifts you can buy in the Albanian Republic are silver jewelry.
Silver processing is the oldest artistic craft of the Albanians. They make earrings, pendants, rings and necklaces of silver here. You have to know that silver is nationally respected in Albania and prices for silver jewelry are almost not driven up at all. Sometimes if you buy a few souvenirs at a time or one expensive item, a cross or a small ring can be given to you as a gift.
Also you can bring a replica of some ancient work of art from here as they are sold here just everywhere. The price for such «masterpieces» is quite low (from 30 dollars) but none of them has any artistic value as a rule.
You can also buy paintings of modern Albanian artists who still remain adherent to «socialist realism» and generally portrait the routine life of their compatriots. Albanian painter Alush Shima is now at the peak of popularity, he uses high fundamental colors to reflect life of the Albanians.