Saranda (or Sarandë), Albania
It's been over 20 years since Albania was released from the communist grip and western travellers are slowly starting to get wind of this alternative beach town. While Spain, France, Italy, Greece and now even Montenegro (the world's newest country) are obvious choices, Albania is tipped for a huge tourist boom - you need to get there before everyone else does. With turquoise waters, olive-lined mountains and nearby UNESCO towns, Saranda is the perfect destination for those wishing to fuse beach and culture. While it can get pretty busy during peak season, you're unlikely to bump into anyone you know and, if you want to escape the crowds, quiet pebbled beaches like Bunec, Gjipe and Kasmil are just a stone's throw away. Poor roads mean you can bank on everything you eat being local: plenty of seafood and grilled meat with gastronomic traditions inspired by its Ottoman past, all at tantalisingly low prices. Like Croatia a decade ago, this is Europe when it was fresh and cheap. Don't forget to wave smugly at the less imaginative sun-seekers over in Corfu...
When to go?
As one of the sunniest spots in Europe with more than 290 days of sun a year, you're pretty spoilt for choice but we recommend June or September to get the best of the weather and the least crowds.
Most likely to bump into...
While this is known as the Albanian Riveria, don't expect any of the glitterati you're likely to see on the French version. Here, the beach crowd is a combination of local holiday makers and curious travellers.
Who to bring with you?
The pal you've already explored all of western Europe with and want something a little further afield. Heading to untrodden sites in the day and night time being a more DIY-type affair, you'll want to make sure you take someone who's willing to get involved with the locals.
Buntrint, a collection of Greek, Byzantine, Roman and Venetian ruins that bear testimony to Albania's rich history. Unlike many heritage sites in the Med, this UNESCO site has managed to escape aggressive development so it's a truly authentic experience. You must also visit Syri Kalter or The Blue Eye spring. Lying 20km east of Saranda, this is natural spring is full of deep-blue, icy water and makes for an equally refreshing and hypnotizing trip.
An essential to bring with you
A book by prized Albanian author Ismail Kadare will provide food for thought while relaxing in a pristine bay.
How to get there?
Saranda can be reached by sea or air. Fly into the capital, Tirana, then drive down or catch the recently introduced RivieraBus bus from Tirana to Saranda, which stops at all the main Albanian resorts. Alternatively, Saranda can be reached directly from Corfu via a hydrofoil ferry.