6 strange things about travelling in the Balkan state of Kosovo

Visiting a European country half the world doesn’t recognise

Prizren – the old capital and centre of Ottoman Kosovo

When I told my boss I was going to Kosovo, he looked at me like I’d just set fire to his desk.

I drove through Kosovo in a tank,” he said, after a long pause.

My boss used to be a soldier. In 1998, he was part of a British peacekeeping force sent to Kosovo to stop a bloody war between the Albanians and the Serbs – the region’s two main ethnic groups.

Luckily, today’s Kosovo is a far cry from the one my boss remembers. In 2008, it unilaterally declared independence from Serbia, which now mostly leaves it to run its own affairs.

I recently wrote an article about why you should visit Albania, so I thought it only natural to say something about Kosovo, a place where over 90 percent of the people are Albanian and where politicians often float the idea of unification with Albania.

Here are six eccentric things about Kosovo that will put the country firmly on your travel radar!

Kosovo goes crazy for electronic music

One of the things that struck me about Prishtina, Kosovo’s capital, was the number of Western-European hostel-dwellers I met who had specifically flown in to party. Many were there just for an extended weekend jaunt.

I quickly learned that Prishtina is famous among hardcore clubbers for its thriving and diverse underground techno scene. But it caters to a wide range of tastes besides.

The country’s commitment to partying is hardly surprising; its population has a lot of reasons to look for distraction.

The median age in Kosovo is 30.5 years, making it the youngest country in Europe. But over 40 percent of young people were unemployed in 2020.

Going abroad to find work is no easy task for the average Kosovan, either. The country has the weakest passport in Europe, meaning its citizens can travel almost nowhere without a visa.

That’s probably why the most famous Kosovan music acts were born into families that fled during the war and now live in the UK. I’m talking of course about Rita Ora and Dua Lipa.

Kosovo makes the best macchiatos in the world – allegedly

Italians everywhere just spat out their pasta. How could Kosovans make better macchiatos than the country that invented them?

Kosovans swear by their version of the drink. You can buy macchiatos almost anywhere in Kosovo for about a euro and social coffee breaks are a national pastime.

Apparently, the secret to the Kosovan flavour is the unique way baristas foam the milk.

Is this customised coffee really better than the OG Italian macchiato? I’ll let you decide.

In Kosovo you can hike in the Accursed Mountains

Forget the Swiss Alps. Instead, think Peaks of the Balkans. There are a huge number of different hiking routes through Kosovo’s rugged and ominously-named mountains.

The main Balkans trail runs for 192km and takes you into Albania and Montenegro as well. That seemed a bit too hardcore for me, especially without hiking boots.

Instead, I based myself in Peja (where Dua Lipa’s family come from), which is a mountain city tourists often use as a starting point for their hiking expeditions. From there, I hitchhiked into the countryside to go for a pleasant afternoon stroll (10km or so without any faffing over specialist gear).

You could quite easily push the boat out and do a multi-day hiking and camping trip, if you felt like it. You probably wouldn’t get attacked by bears.

Kosovo houses one of Europe’s most bizarre buildings

Finished in 1982, the Kosovo National Library sticks out like a sore thumb in central Prishtina. Its design bamboozles anyone visiting the city for the first time.

Photo by Arben Llapashtica/CC BY-SA 4.0/Unchanged 

The architect was supposedly influenced by the domes of Ottoman and Byzantine buildings and designed the 3-floor 16,500 square metre library to symbolise unity between Serbs and Albanians.

This was before they started killing each other.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder…

With all its metal mesh and concrete cubes, the library is predictably extremely polarising. It’s been described both as a masterpiece of Yugoslav modernism and as one of the ugliest buildings in the world.

I wouldn’t like to comment on which camp I’m in.

Kosovans love Tony Blair

Tony Blair is a marmite figure in Britain, where many have not forgiven him for following George W. Bush into Iraq in 2003. But in Kosovo, he’s widely considered a hero.

Kosovans recognise the former British PM as the driving force behind NATO’s intervention in the Kosovo War. He’s the man who saved the Kosovan Albanians from the Serbs. 

In 1999, many Kosovan parents began naming their sons Tonibler, hoping their babies would grow up to be strong leaders like Tony . Surreally, Blair actually met a number of these kids on a 2010 trip to the country.

What is it they say about meeting your heroes?

Kosovo makes one of the nicest desserts in the world

If you’ve ever been to Latin America, you might have tried a dessert called torta de tres leches –“3 milks cake”.

It’s a popular sponge cake made with condensed milk, evaporated milk and cream and topped with caramel.

Oddly enough, Albanians are keen fans of Brazilian soap operas. This has led to a new Balkan take on the cake, which is now among my all-time favourite sweet treats.

It’s called trileçe and it incorporates everything people love about trifles and tiramisu – the creamy, rich and delicate flavour and spongey, mushy texture. Perfect with a macchiato!

Photo by E4024/CC BY-SA 4.0/Unchanged

Enough reason to visit Kosovo in and of itself, if you ask me.

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