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‘It’s not Antibes, but Drimadhes’

‘It’s not Antibes, but Drimadhes’

Although in Germany summer is a season that leaves much to be desired, in many other parts of Europe, especially south of it, the current temperatures exceed 40 degrees Celsius. Fortunately, many southern countries lie next to the sea and

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Why Albania is among the top 10 holiday destinations for Poles

Why Albania is among the top 10 holiday destinations for Poles

  “Would you like to spend your holidays in a special way? Are you looking for a country to enjoy an extraordinary atmosphere, a country with cultural diversity? Are you dreaming about all-inclusive holidays in a warm coastline and a country

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France 2: Albania is the ‘Balkans’ Pearl’

France 2: Albania is the ‘Balkans’ Pearl’

TIRANA, July 27 – A country still neglected by tourists, Albania is a hidden paradise facing Italy and sandwiched between Greece and Montenegro with crystal clear waters, mountain landscapes and preserved nature. That is a how French public broadcaster France

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Forbes: Albania is world’s cheapest 2017 destination

Forbes: Albania is world’s cheapest 2017 destination

TIRANA, July 19 – U.S.-based Forbes magazine has rated Albania as the number 1 cheapest destination to travel to globally for 2017. In a video showcased on the prestigious business magazine portal, Albania is rated as the most affordable destination

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Albanian baker claims Italy foreign entrepreneur award

Albanian baker claims Italy foreign entrepreneur award

TIRANA, June 29 – Italy-based Albanian businessman Leart Dhrami has been awarded as one of the best foreign entrepreneurs living and running successful businesses in Italy. The 44-year-old Albanian who runs a bakery in Rome has recently claimed the MoneyGram

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Albania rated as top up-and-coming destination

Albania rated as top up-and-coming destination

TIRANA, June 28 – U.S.-based Travel + Leisure magazine has rated Albania as the top up-and-coming destination around the world, suggesting it as the number one destination to be considered for the next vacation. In a recent article, the prestigious

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Beach or mountain? Try Albania, Go your own way!

Beach or mountain? Try Albania, Go your own way!

TIRANA, June 22 – Whether you are a beach, mountain or cultural heritage lover, it is high time you visited Albania to enjoy all three. Albania is now at its peak tourist season with its Adriatic and Ionian coastline ready

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First Albanian woman climbs Everest

First Albanian woman climbs Everest

TIRANA, June 20 – Uta Ibrahimi has become the first Albanian woman to climb Everest, the world’s highest peak of 8,848 meters and every climber’s lifetime dream. The 33-year Kosovo climber reached the Everest summit on May 22, when she

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New Prague-Tirana direct flights set to increase Czech tourists to Albania

New Prague-Tirana direct flights set to increase Czech tourists to Albania

TIRANA, June 19 – The number of Czech tourists visiting Albania is set to register a considerable boost this year after direct flights linking Prague to Tirana were launched few days ago. Travel Service, the largest Czech carrier, will be

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Conservation, awareness projects launched on notorious Spaç prison

Conservation, awareness projects launched on notorious Spaç prison

TIRANA, June 6 – An emergency conservation project has been launched on the former notorious Spaç prison for the politically persecuted under communism while periodic student visits to site target raising awareness among the younger generations of one of the

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                    [post_content] => Although in Germany summer is a season that leaves much to be desired, in many other parts of Europe, especially south of it, the current temperatures exceed 40 degrees Celsius. Fortunately, many southern countries lie next to the sea and offer hidden bays behind mountains surrounded by crystal turquoise water, which although quiet and shining, is kept under control on both sides by small isolated, but rather arrogant cliffs.

Such landscapes are found in southern France, in Sardinia, Corsica and southern Albania where the road from the capital city to the south is often a goal in itself. The breathtaking views offered after going through the Llogara Pass is the reward, like an extra bonbon that travelers enjoy with much desire while taking their time.

Some 400 km of coastline, hidden places and big cities, beaches with international electronic music festivals such as "Turtle Fest" that was just held in Drimadhe, tourist villages for family visitors and hippie beaches for the luckier Albanian youngsters are situated in Jale. And all of these places are packed with holidaymakers these hot August days.

There are groups of Albanian youngsters, French and German backpackers, Italian and Spanish families with small babies. Everything is a kind mix of people spending their holidays next to the sea in the middle of Europe.

Often built on the foot of cliffs, restaurants offer a diversity of food for every kind of taste. Service is polite, multilingual and full of self-confidence. Most of the staff are students who get very modest wages during the summer holidays like Ilirian who works as a seasonal waiter at a hotel in Drimadhe.

"I study veterinary medicine in Tirana. I decided to work here for the summer months," says the 20-year-old.

Evi, who works as a receptions but studies German linguistics in Tirana, says "it is not a decision that takes a lot of time to make."

"Having in mid the Tirana heat wave, I'd better come and work here," she smiles.

Of course both of them are right. The spectacular view of deep blue and often twinkling sea that the hotel's restaurant terrace offers and where Ilirian and his colleague serve the holidaymakers, is often welcome bonus for everybody.

Even international media have for several years now discovered the still virgin southern beauty which until a few years ago was reserved only to Albanians as a hidden treasure on the back of proud mountains which seem to hardly tolerate on narrow roads. And it's exactly about this treasure that Lonely Planet , National Geographic and even New York Times write about and encourage their readers to head there with the promise that what they will find when they reach there will be the greatest reward every individual tourist escaping overcrowded places can get.

And this promise does not seem exaggerated at all when you are there in the middle of Europe, surrounded by woods, mountains and the sea merging with sky on the horizon and the sky that preserves exactly the same shade to the sea color gently touching it, and quiet people resting in a friendly atmosphere next to each other.

Such landscapes are found in Southern France, in in Sardinia, Corsica and southern Albania where I found all the above in one, spending the holidays of my dreams.

(Article by Sonila Sand originally published on Deutsche Welle in the local Albanian service, translation by Tirana Times)
                    [post_title] => 'It's not Antibes, but Drimadhes'
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                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_131922" align="alignright" width="300"]karol Polish ambassador to Albania Karol Bachura[/caption]

  “Would you like to spend your holidays in a special way? Are you looking for a country to enjoy an extraordinary atmosphere, a country with cultural diversity? Are you dreaming about all-inclusive holidays in a warm coastline and a country that has just started opening up to the tourism world?

If yes, Albania is the right destination for you: a spectacular coastline next to the Ionian and the Adriatic, a scenic destination with excellent hotels, with magic Balkan culture and food and a mild climate. 

What could you want more?

Holidays in Albania will make you happy with the virgin landscape, the centuries-old historical monuments and a friendly atmosphere. Albania is ideal for perfect holidays.”

That is how Poland Travel, the Polish national tourist office, describes Albania which has emerged as a surprise destination for Poles in the past couple of years, making it to the top 10 most popular.

Polish ambassador to Albania Karol Bachura says Albania has become a new discovery in the old continent, attracting about 70,000 Polish tourists a year.

"I think Albania is relatively close, it has great potential as a tourist destination, a wonderful climate and it's a safe country," Ambassador Bachura has told a local Albanian TV.

"Polish tourists are present all around Albania, but the majority of them certainly prefer the coastline, especially the southern part of the country. However, there are tourists seeking new forms of tourism such mountain hiking, motorcycling etc.," Bachura has told Vizion Plus TV in an interview.

Data shows the number of Polish tourists to Albania rose by 30 percent to about 70,000 in 2016 and is expected to register another hike this year as the number of charter flights to Tirana has increased and more and more Poles are visiting Albania in their cars considering a distance of about 2,000 km that takes about 20 hours. Prospects remain optimistic considering Poland’s huge market of about 38 million residents.

An annual survey conducted by the Polish Tour Operators Association, PZOT, ranked Albania’s as the Poles’ ninth favorite destination for 2015-2016, sandwiched between Portugal and Cyprus.

However, only about 2,500 Albanians travelled to Poland last year, apparently negatively affected by lack of direct flights linking the two countries and a considerably smaller population in Albania.

Poland’s state-run airline LOT has earlier expressed interest to launch direct flights with Tirana as Albania emerged a top 10 destination for Poles.

Asked about what Albania can do to further develop its emerging tourism industry, Ambassador Bachura says settling the long-standing unclear property rights issue is key to paving the way for foreign investment.

"I think the potential you have with a coastline of 350 km is great and this is certainly one of your biggest assets. The more investment you have, the more employment opportunities, higher wages and exchanges you will have. You are in Europe and a European country, you have been isolated for so many years and I think it's time for you to open up," says the ambassador.

The tourism industry has been one of the country’s fastest growing in the past few years, attracting more than 4 million tourists and generating about €1.5 billion, about 8.4 percent of the country’s GDP, in 2016 alone.

The communist past is also what fascinates tourists about Albania, which was cut off from the rest of the world under a Stalinist dictatorship for about five decades until the early 1990s.

Albania and Poland will be marking the 80th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations this year.

However, relations between the two peoples date back to the 15th century when a Polish-Hungarian court recognized Skanderbeg, Albania's national hero who ousted the Ottomans for more than two decades.

Polish geologist Stanisław Zuber discovered oil and minerals in Albania  1927-1947 before he was killed after World War II by the communist regime of late dictator Enver Hoxha. The author of Albania's first geological map in use even today, Zuber has been immortalized with a monument in the southern Albanian town of Kuçova.

Polish Father Alfons Tracki was one of 38 martyrs killed by the Albanian communist regime from 1945 to 1974 who were beatified last year at St. Stephen Cathedral in Shkodra, northern Albania.

The Albanian-Polish Friendship Society and Albanian Chopin Society also contribute to strengthening the ties, organizing events.

More recently, Albanian international striker Armando Sadiku left Switzerland to join Legia Warsaw, one of Poland’s most successful clubs, and has also scored his first two goals since moving in mid-July.

In December 2016, Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydlo visited Albania to reconfirm Poland’s support to Albania’s EU bid and urged stronger economic cooperation.

Since joining the EU in 2004, Poland has been one of the bloc’s most dynamic economies and success stories.
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, July 27 - A country still neglected by tourists, Albania is a hidden paradise facing Italy and sandwiched between Greece and Montenegro with crystal clear waters, mountain landscapes and preserved nature. That is a how French public broadcaster France 2 describes Albania, an emerging European destination that is also attracting French tourists, dubbing it the "Pearl of the Balkans."

Isolated from the rest of the world for a long time under communism, Albania is attracting more and more tourists with its low prices, still unaffected by mass tourism and overcrowded cities.

Speaking with France 2, two newly graduate Parisian young women who picked Saranda for a week of vacation said it was the low prices that drove them to make their first Albania trip.

"One week of hotel accommodation, a round trip and food costs only about €500 a person," says French tourist Camille Bronner, adding that eating, drinking and a little entertainment can cost as cheap as€3 to €4.

U.S.-based Forbes magazine has rated Albania as the number 1 cheapest destination to travel to globally for 2017.

“This forgotten corner of Europe is a wonderfully off-the-beaten-track budget destination in an otherwise very touristy and expensive continent. With fantastic beaches along its coastline, including the fishing port of Saranda, Albania gives visitors the chance to enjoy the Mediterranean waters for a fraction of the usual price,” says the magazine.

A recent report by Eurostat, the statistical office of the European Union, has also rated Albania’s restaurants and hotels as Europe’s cheapest.

At 40 percent of the EU average, Albania’s price levels on restaurants and hotels are the lowest among 37 European countries, including 28 EU members, three EFTA states and six EU aspirants.

Earlier this year, a TV documentary by Deutsche Welle in the local Albanian service featured a French couple who regularly spend their summer holidays in Qeparo village of the Albanian Riviera.

Qeparo is a characteristic old village, located along the south-west coastline of the country. The mountains there steeply dive into the sea. On the seaside, some small restaurants and hotels have their businesses.

Deborah Auge from Montpellier has been spending her summer holidays for seven years now with her husband Philippe. The couple have bought and reconstructed two village houses and are thinking of permanently moving there when they retire.

Asked about what she likes most about the coastal village, Auge says it is the authenticity of the village and the hospitality of Albanians.

"I think the landscape here is extraordinary and I consider Qeparo among the most beautiful destinations around the world. And what's more important, people are so friendly. This is very important to me," says her husband Philippe.

Back in 2015, French magazine L’Express ranked Albania as the top third global destination to, describing Albania as the new pearl of the Balkans.

Featuring a picture of the Qeparo village in the southern Albanian Riviera, the magazine recommended Albania for its beautiful beaches and mountains, the UNESCO World Heritage sites and its 2,500-year history with Roman and Byzantine elements.

What makes Albania a favourable destination for French tourists is also the direct flights to Paris and Brussels twice a week and the cheap prices and quality Albania offers, the magazine says.

Prestigious French newspaper Le Figaro had also placed Albania as one of the top five global destinations for 2016. Featuring a picture of the ancient Rozafa castle in the northern city of Shkodra, Le Fiagaro said Albania will surprise everybody just like it did with its first-ever qualification in a major football competition such as France 2016.

The tourism industry has been one of the country’s fastest growing in the past few years, attracting more than 4 million tourists and generating about €1.5 billion, about 8.4 percent of the country’s GDP, in 2016 alone.

The country boasts dozens of sandy and rocky beaches along its 476 km coastline stretching through the Adriatic and Ionian, the most famous of which are found on the Albanian Riviera south of the country.

Three UNESCO World Heritages, the Butrint archaeological park and the historic towns of Gjirokastra and Berat, in southern Albania, also unveil the rich cultural heritage in Albania, a gateway to the Mediterranean boasting a mix of Illyrian, Roman, Greek and Ottoman civilizations.

The communist past is also what fascinates tourists about Albania, which was cut off from the rest of the world under a Stalinist dictatorship for about five decades until the early 1990s.

 
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                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_133282" align="alignright" width="300"]Waterfront in Saranda, Albania. (Photo courtesy of Shutterstock) Waterfront in Saranda, Albania. (Photo courtesy of Shutterstock)[/caption]

TIRANA, July 19 - U.S.-based Forbes magazine has rated Albania as the number 1 cheapest destination to travel to globally for 2017.

In a video showcased on the prestigious business magazine portal, Albania is rated as the most affordable destination where the dollar goes far, beating destinations from Vietnam to Vegas.

“This forgotten corner of Europe is wonderfully off the beaten track, with accommodations as low as $5 a person,” says Forbes.

Featuring a picture of a waterfront in Saranda, the Forbes suggests southern Albania and the Albanian Riviera beaches for 2017 travelers.

"This forgotten corner of Europe is a wonderfully off-the-beaten-track budget destination in an otherwise very touristy and expensive continent. With fantastic beaches along its coastline, including the fishing port of Saranda, Albania gives visitors the chance to enjoy the Mediterranean waters for a fraction of the usual price," says the magazine.

"Accommodation starts from as little as $5 per person and fishing trips or boat rides to the nearby islands are similarly well priced. There's also some fascinating historical sites across Albania that are either free to enter or cost only $2-$5. From the mountainous medieval town of Gjirokastër to the Roman ruins at Butrint, this is a diverse and very different side of Europe, which is definitely worth visiting before the crowds do," it adds.

The rating comes as Albania is already in its peak tourism season, with hundreds of thousands of tourists packing the country’s Adriatic and Ionian beaches, but also enjoying mountain and adventure destinations as well cultural heritage sites.

A recent report by Eurostat, the statistical office of the European Union, has also rated Albania's restaurants and hotels as Europe's cheapest.

At 40 percent of the EU average, Albania’s price levels on restaurants and hotels are the lowest among 37 European countries, including 28 EU members, three EFTA states and six EU aspirants.

Earlier this year, U.S.-based Travel + Leisure magazine rated Albania as the top up-and-coming destination around the world, suggesting it as the number one destination to be considered for the next vacation.

Albania was rated as one of the top seventeen global destinations to visit in 2017 by the prestigious CNN news portal amid other renowned destinations such as the U.S., Canada, France, Denmark, China and Australia.

The tourism industry has been one of the country’s fastest growing in the past few years, attracting more than 4 million tourists and generating about €1.5 billion, about 8.4 percent of the country’s GDP, in 2016 alone.

The country boasts dozens of sandy and rocky beaches along its 476 km coastline stretching through the Adriatic and Ionian, the most famous of which are found on the Albanian Riviera south of the country.

Three UNESCO World Heritages, the Butrint archaeological park and the historic towns of Gjirokastra and Berat, in southern Albania, also unveil the rich cultural heritage in Albania, a gateway to the Mediterranean boasting a mix of Illyrian, Roman, Greek and Ottoman civilizations.

The communist past is also what fascinates tourists about Albania, which was cut off from the rest of the world under a Stalinist dictatorship for about five decades until the early 1990s.

Several former communist buildings and memorabilia have been put on display for tourists and younger generations in Albania to learn about the country’s communist past.

The House of Leaves museum of the notorious Sigurimi police surveillance in downtown Tirana, a Cold War bunker outside the capital city that the former communist elite had built underground decades ago to survive a possible nuclear attack and the Sazan Island military base south of the country all house the mystery and phobia of the country’s communist leaders for about five decades until the early 1990s.

 
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                    [post_content] => spigaTIRANA, June 29 - Italy-based Albanian businessman Leart Dhrami has been awarded as one of the best foreign entrepreneurs living and running successful businesses in Italy.

The 44-year-old Albanian who runs a bakery in Rome has recently claimed the MoneyGram Profit Growth Award for his La Spiga d'Oro, a bakery with a catering service.

Dhrami is one of the many success stories of Albanians in Italy where a community of about half a million of Albanians has been living and working since the early 1990s when the first waves of Albanians fled to the neighbouring in overcrowded ferryboats from Durres Port after almost five decades of isolation under communism.

Twenty-five years following the first exodus, Albanians in Italy now make up the second largest non-EU migrant numbers in Italy and are one of the best well-integrated communities in the neighbouring country across the Adriatic. Their contribution to the Albanian economy has been huge, being a key source of remittances and know how.

“I learned this job by watching and asking. I never gave up despite the difficulties. Despite the nightlong work and all the stamina, I always looked forward,” Dhrami says as quoted by Shqiptari i Italise (Albanian in Italy) portal.

His work starts at 8:30 p.m. to finish early in the morning.

"I handled everything with the support of people who work with me and my family. At the end of the day, you are no longer upset when you have your child hugging and telling you 'I love you daddy,'" he says.

Born in Tirana, Dhrami is a 44-year-old businessman who first visited Italy in 1989 when the communist regime and the exodus to Italy had not started yet. With the country in total isolation, he was able to visit Italy only because his parents worked at the Albanian embassy in Rome.

spiga 2By summer 1992, when the communist regime had collapsed and his parents no longer worked at the embassy, he had to make a tough decision. He had the option to either return to Albania and attend military academy or stay in Italy.

"I didn't want to go back to Albania, I didn't want to attend that university only because of the circumstances, I wanted to stay in Italy. For me, the most important thing was finding a job and being independent so that I could go my own way," he says.

"In Italy I started working as an assistant to a baker providing catering. But during summer, when the baker was on holiday, I had to handle everything on my own. I picked everything up by watching and asking and when I learned that I could make better pizzas than the baker, I understood I had a talent," he adds.

Leart Dhrami worked for several bakeries until 2006 when he started his own business with “La Spiga d’Oro” bakery in Rome's Fidene neighborhood.

La Spiga d’Oro is a bakery offering bread, pizzas, desserts made by highly qualified artisans.

Dhrami says the Italy recession was hard even for his bakery business.

"In 2013, despite the economic difficulties I decided to invest on a small bar. There’s nothing better than a cappuccino accompanied by a fresh brioche that just comes out of the oven," says Leart.

"But this was not enough to make the business grow. I was thinking, I had to go reach customers if they didn't come to my shop. I started cooperating with some important hotels in Rome after I had them try my products. I didn't give up to any difficulty,” he adds.

One out of 16 Albanians residing in Italy has started their own business, mainly as self-employed in the construction industry, Albanian media based in Italy report citing Italy’s Unioncamere chamber of commerce.

Data shows some 30,700 companies, mainly small businesses, in Italy were owned by Albanians at the end of 2014 when some 502,000 Albanians were reported holding a residence permit in the neighboring Adriatic country, making it the key host of Albanian migrants since the early 1990s, soon after the first exodus following the collapse of the communist regime.

Albania has several famous singers, ballet dancers, chefs and football players in Italy, the country’s main trading partner and one of the top investors.

 

 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, June 28 - U.S.-based Travel + Leisure magazine has rated Albania as the top up-and-coming destination around the world, suggesting it as the number one destination to be considered for the next vacation.

In a recent article, the prestigious New York-based magazine and portal, ranks Albania as a top pick among 15 up-and-coming destinations around the world on a list that includes names with a longer tradition in the tourism industry such as Japan, Israel, South Korea, Egypt, Peru, India and Mexico.

The ranking is based on progress made in the latest Tourism Competitiveness report published by the World Economic Forum earlier this year when Albania climbed eight places, making it as one of 15 destinations to have registered the biggest progress in the past couple of years.

“Albania rose eight places to land in the 98th spot this year, meaning it's one of the most exciting up-and-coming destinations for tourists,” says the magazine on its online version, suggesting the Albanian Riviera and the UNESCO World Heritage site of Gjirokastra, both south of the country, as the top destinations to visit.

“Visit the Albanian Riviera for teal waters and nearly year-round sun, or wander through Gjirokastra, ‘The City of Stone,’ for a dose of culture and history,” says Travel + Leisure.

Albania climbed eight places in the 2017 Travel and Tourism Competitiveness report to rank 98th among 136 global economies, making it as one of 15 destinations to have registered the biggest progress, but yet continued to lag behind some of its key regional competitors who have a longer tradition in the tourism industry, according to a report by Switzerland-based World Economic Forum.

The tourism industry has been one of the country’s fastest growing in the past few years, attracting more than 4 million tourists and generating about €1.5 billion, about 8.4 percent of the country’s GDP alone.

The country boasts dozens of sandy and rocky beaches along its 476 km coastline stretching through the Adriatic and Ionian, the most famous of which are found on the Albanian Riviera south of the country.

Three UNESCO World Heritages, the Butrint archaeological park and the historic towns of Gjirokastra and Berat, in southern Albania, also unveil the rich cultural heritage in Albania, a gateway to the Mediterranean boasting a mix of Illyrian, Roman, Greek and Ottoman civilizations.

Earlier this year, Albania was rated as one of the top seventeen global destinations to visit in 2017 by the prestigious CNN news portal amid other renowned destinations such as the U.S., Canada, France, Denmark, China and Australia.

“The tiny Mediterranean country — once one of the Cold War’s most forbidding Stalinist redoubts — has been Europe’s best-kept secret for the better part of two decades. Sunny, cheap and with mile after mile of pristine beaches and unspoiled wilderness, Albania has made much of what it has after it emerged blinking into the daylight of freedom in the ’90s,” writes the CNN.

The communist past is also what fascinates tourists about Albania, which was cut off from the rest of the world under a Stalinist dictatorship for about five decades until the early 1990s.

The House of Leaves museum of the notorious Sigurimi police surveillance in downtown Tirana, a Cold War bunker outside the capital city that the former communist regime had built underground decades ago to survive a possible nuclear attack and the Sazan Island military base south of the country all house the mystery and phobia of the country’s communist leaders for about five decades until the early 1990s.
                    [post_title] =>  Albania rated as top up-and-coming destination
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, June 22 - Whether you are a beach, mountain or cultural heritage lover, it is high time you visited Albania to enjoy all three.

Albania is now at its peak tourist season with its Adriatic and Ionian coastline ready to await tourists, offering a combination of sandy and rocky beaches, accommodation units for all budgets and a mix of traditional and international dishes.

For mountain lovers, there are hideaways both in northern Albania along river valleys guesthouses in the Alps and along the Albanian Riviera, south of the country.

The country also boasts three UNESCO World Heritage sites, intangible heritage such as iso-polyphony music and material cultural heritage dating back to Illyrian, Roman, ancient Greece and Ottoman eras.

Three new direct flights linking Tirana to Amsterdam, Budapest and Prague have made the country more easily accessible to European tourists this year while Durres, Vlora and Saranda ports regularly link the country to neighboring Italy and Greece and are turning into a regular Mediterranean stops for cruise ships.

Albania's cruise ship tourism is set to register a boost this year as several international cruise lines have placed Turkey off their itineraries on security grounds, replacing it with alternative Albanian destinations among others.

With a heat wave already underway, beaches are the number one destination. One can pick the sandy Adriatic beaches of Durres, Shengjin or Velipoja in central or northern Albania or head south of the country in Vlora, where the Adriatic meets the Ionian, and along the Albanian Riviera beaches of Dhermi and Saranda.

The Lonely Planet tourist guide which in 2011 placed Albania as the world’s top destination to discover, says Albania has become the Balkans’ sleeper hit, offering stunning mountain scenery, a thriving capital in Tirana and beaches to rival any elsewhere in the Mediterranean.

“So backward was Albania when it emerged blinking into the bright light of freedom [early 1990s] that it needed two decades just to catch up with the rest of Eastern Europe. Now that it has arguably done so, Albania offers a remarkable array of unique attractions, not least due to this very isolation: ancient mountain codes of behaviour, forgotten archaeological sites and villages where time seems to have stood still are all on the menu,” says the Lonely Planet guide.

The country has also recently emerged as a top adventure travel destination as several outdoor tour operators in the country offer hiking, rafting, biking, horse riding and birds watching adventures, while cross-border tourism is gaining an upper hand with the opening of some mountain hiking trails.

The communist past is also what fascinates tourists about Albania, which was cut off from the rest of the world under a Stalinist dictatorship for about five decades until the early 1990s.

The country is also attracting tourist by opening up some former secretive facilities under communism such as newly launched House of Leaves museum of the notorious Sigurimi police surveillance in downtown Tirana.

Earlier this year, authorities also opened up to tourists the Sazan Island, a military base in southern Albania managed by the defense ministry. The tiny island was first used by the Italians until World War II before becoming the country’s most secretive base under communism when it was fortified with bunkers and tunnels designed to withstand a possible nuclear attack that the Albanian communist authorities feared.

Back in 2015, Albania also opened up as a tourist attraction a Cold War secret bunker outside Tirana that the former communist regime had built underground decades ago to survive a possible nuclear attack.

The country boasts dozens of sandy and rocky beaches along its 476 km coastline stretching through the Adriatic and Ionian, the most famous of which are found on the Albanian Riviera, south of the country.

Three UNESCO World Heritages, the Butrint archaeological park and the historic towns of Gjirokastra and Berat, in southern Albania, also unveil the rich cultural heritage in Albania, a gateway to the Mediterranean boasting a mix of Illyrian, Roman, Greek and Ottoman civilizations.

 

Albanian Riviera

[caption id="attachment_132926" align="alignright" width="300"]riviera Albanian Riviera. Photo: Getty Images[/caption]

  It is no surprise British hitmaker Jonas Blue picked the Albanian Riviera and a stunning Albanian model to promote his latest summer music video sensation.

Featuring vocals from YouTube sensation William Singe, the brand new “Mama” single showcases stunning views of the Jale and Dhermi beaches along the Albanian Riviera and Albanian supermodel Oriola Marashi.

Only a month after its release, the single by the emerging 27-year-old DJ has already hit about 43 million views on YouTube.

Offering a mix of sandy and rocky beaches, some of which quite virgin, the Albanian Riviera stretches along some curvy panoramic roads.

Starting in Vlora, where the Adriatic Sea meets the Ionian, and stretching to Ksamil in southernmost Albania, the Albanian Riviera is already entering its peak tourist season as a heat wave gradually hits the country.

The Albanian coastline south of Vlora down to Saranda offers one of the most scenic and spectacular views along the Adriatic and Ionian coasts, says the Western Balkans Geotourism portal.

“The road past the tunnel follows the rocky cliffs and blue waters of the Adriatic, with charming hotels and popular beaches along the way. South of Orikum, the road heads inland and moves down a dramatic valley with steep mountains on either side. There are many small villages situated high in the mountains and visitors will see small booths by the side of the road with mountain tea, raki, wine, honey, olive oil, and fresh milk for sale,” says the portal.

 

 Saranda

[caption id="attachment_132927" align="alignright" width="300"]saranda Saranda[/caption]

Each year, a characteristic mussel and olive oil festival opens the new tourist season in the southernmost Albanian town of Saranda, nicknamed the pearl of Albanian Riviera.

Saranda is a top destination in Albania during summer, offering tourists a combination of rocky and sandy beaches as well as cultural heritage attractions such as the Butrint UNESCO World Heritage site and the Blue Eye spring. Situated just next to the Greek island of Corfu with regular ferry lines, Saranda remains one of Albania’s top destinations despite the boom of uncontrolled constructions somehow spoiling the beauty of Albania’s southernmost coastal town.

“Saranda is a great location for summer travelers who want a good deal without having to compromise cleanliness or good food. Whether you want to relax on the beach and swim to one of the islands in Ksamil, visit ancient archaeological sites like Butrint, or perhaps just enjoy a nice meal or drink next to the glistening Ionian Sea, you will likely find yourself charmed by this unique location,” says a Saranda promotional website.

The southern Albanian port of Saranda is poised to register a strong boost in its emerging cruise ship tourism as some major ships have placed Turkey off the itinerary on security grounds and replaced it with alternative Albanian and Greek destinations.

The Butrint archeological park, a UNESCO World heritage site that has been the site of a Greek colony, a Roman city and a bishopric is the main attraction for tourists visiting Saranda. The present archaeological site is a repository of ruins representing each period in the city’s development.

 

Valbona Valley 

[caption id="attachment_128481" align="alignright" width="300"]Valbona River Valbona River[/caption]

For mountain lovers, the Valbona valley in northeastern Albania is a perfect hideaway to escape the heat wave and enjoy virgin nature with panoramic views of mountains, waterfalls, crystal clear river water and guesthouses offering traditional meals.

In late 2016, the Valbona Valley in northern Albania was recommended by prestigious National Geographic portal as one of the top nine great outdoors globally.

The Albanian paradise, where residents and activists have recently been protesting dam construction plans along the crystal clear Valbona River worried about the future of emerging tourism industry in the local area, is described as Albania’s equivalent of Mount Zion in Jerusalem.

“Nestled into what’s known as the ‘accursed mountains,’ the highlands are a remarkably wild region—Albania’s equivalent of Zion—with many yet to be discovered climbing sites,” says the National Geographic.

The prestigious magazine which suggests visiting Valbona from June to September, recommends staying in one of the family-style lodge rooms or camp along a sparkling river nearby.

 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, June 20 - Uta Ibrahimi has become the first Albanian woman to climb Everest, the world’s highest peak of 8,848 meters and every climber’s lifetime dream.

The 33-year Kosovo climber reached the Everest summit on May 22, when she unfolded a scarf with the Kosovo and Albanian flags.

Coach Xhimi Begeja was the first to announce the news in the early hours of May 22 through a post on social media.

"She defeated Everest which claimed four climbers' lives today. She withstood bad weather and brought the murderous Mountain to its knees during her second try. She could see the world below her for 15 minutes," wrote Begeja.

The 33-year-old Kosovo climber described climbing Everest as her best life experience.

"I am so happy to bring Albanian and Kosovo flag on top of the world as the first Albanian woman. Thanks for your support and love that made this expedition much easier and enjoyable... and my hero-climbing partner Tendi Sherpa Utalaya," wrote Ibrahimi, a climber based in Prishtina, the Kosovo capital city, where she runs an outdoor adventure travel agency.

The Kosovo-Albanian climber undertook the challenge after having earlier climbed the 4,880m Mount Blanc and reached the 5,925m Ramdug Peak in the Himalayas.

She was picked by the Tirana-based Dajti Alpine-Tourist Association as the first Albanian woman to undertake this tough challenge due to having the required physical and psychological condition.

The challenge unveiled on March 8, the International Women’s Day, came five years after a team of Albanian climbers of the Dajti Alpine-Tourist Association led by Xhimi Begeja became the first to raise the national flag on the summit of Mount Everest.

“My several years of experience in mountain climbing, continuous physical training, maturity and self-confidence, support by the pan-Albanian climbers, has made me more courageous to undertake this tough challenge carrying lots of risks,” said Ibrahimi at that time.

Some 500 women have climbed Everest so far since 1975 with Japan’s Tamae Watanabe, aged 73 in 2012, becoming the oldest women atop Everest.

In a photo exhibition a year after the historic climb of the Albanian team, climber Fatjon Plaku, recalled that the same as climbing the Everest, taking pictures on the way to the Everest summit was very dangerous. “One of our team mates nearly lost his hand because of wanting to take some more pictures,” he said.

Back in 2012, Xhimi Begeja and his son Mateo, politician Gjergj Bojaxhi were among the team of six Albanian climbers who made it to the Everest summit assisted by Sherpas, having previously climbed the Mont Blanc and Kilimanjaro summits before deciding to take the risk of climbing the world’s highest peak at 8,848 metres above the sea level located in the Himalayas on the Nepal-China (Tibet) border.

 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, June 19 - The number of Czech tourists visiting Albania is set to register a considerable boost this year after direct flights linking Prague to Tirana were launched few days ago.

Travel Service, the largest Czech carrier, will be offering regular flights during the tourist season under the SmartWings brand.

"There will be two direct flights every week on Mondays and Thursdays until the end of September," say the Czech embassy and the Tirana International Airport in statement.

Some 14,000 Czech tourists visited Albania in 2016, a majority of whom on Travel Service but also using other tourist charter flights from Prague.

“Albania has become a very popular destination for Czech tourists during the past few years. Many Czech people also travel individually to explore not only the coastline, but also Albanian mountains,” says the embassy.

Known for their passion for Albanian mountains and adventure tourism, the number of Czech tourists to Albania has almost doubled compared to the early 2010s.

Company representatives say a reduction in airport charges would allow Travel Service to operate the Prague Tirana flights the entire year while the increase in the number of flights would benefit tourist exchanges between both countries and promote Czech-Albanian business contacts and ties.

Airport charges in Albania’s sole international airport are considered too high making the operation of low-cost carriers difficult, resulting in Albania having one of the region’s highest ticket prices.

The Czech government through its embassy in Tirana has been supporting several tourism development projects in Albania, including tourist trails in the Dajti Mountain and mountain rescue teams in the Valbona Valley.

Back in late 2014, a group of Czech volunteers fond of exploring northern Albania teamed up to establish the Albanian Challenge not for profit association aimed at revitalizing the isolated Curraj i Eperm village in the northeastern region of Tropoja where they marked more  than 100 km of trails.

Further developing mountain tourism remains a challenge to address the seasonality of Albania’s summer and coastal-based tourism and turn the promising tourism sector into year-round.

Earlier this year, Dutch and Hungarian low-cost carriers also launched direct flights with Albania.

While patriotic tourism from ethnic Albanians in Kosovo, Macedonia and Montenegro still accounts for more than half of tourist arrivals, the geographical location of tourists visiting Albania has also extended to Western and central European countries.

The tourism industry has been one of the country’s fastest growing in the past few years, attracting more than 4 million tourists and generating about €1.5 billion, about 8.4 percent of the country’s GDP in 2016 alone.

Closed to tourists for about five decades until the early 1990s when the communist regime collapse, Albania offers a miscellaneous picture of coastal and mountain tourism and has been attracting more and more foreign tourists in the past decade being nicknamed as “A new Mediterranean love” and “Europe’s last secret.”
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                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_132716" align="alignright" width="300"]spac A tourist sign explains the inmates' revolt in the former Spaç prison. Photo: Ministry of Culture[/caption]

TIRANA, June 6 - An emergency conservation project has been launched on the former notorious Spaç prison for the politically persecuted under communism while periodic student visits to site target raising awareness among the younger generations of one of the country's most significant remembrance sites.

The Swedish-government funded project will carry out emergency intervention on the former prison, a protected monument of culture located in northern Albania, about 8 km off Reps village along the Milot-Kukes highway.

The project comes one and a half years after New York-based World Monuments Fund declared the former Spaç prison as one of the world's 50 at-risk cultural heritage sites.

A notorious labour camp in communist Albania, the organization described the forgotten site as a powerful place of memory that deserves to be preserved for future generations.

“Spaç Prison, the notorious labor camp, is in an extremely advanced state of deterioration, and deserves to be transformed into a modern place of remembrance,” said the organization in its 2016 World Monuments Watch.

Culture Minister Mirela Kumbaro describes the conservation project as the second most important step taken on Spaç after the site was placed under protection in 2014.

"We have started work on the conservation of the most important remembrance monument, the Spaç prison, and its remains which resisted time, robbery and forgetfulness," wrote minister Kumbaro this week.

Sweden-based Cultural Heritage without Borders, which is implementing the conservation project, says preserving Spaç prison means protecting fundamental rights and democracy.

"Sites of memory like Spaç enable society to seek justice, acknowledgement and honor for the victims of communist persecution and serve as places of witness and education for the younger generations,” says the CHwB.

“By starting the emergency stabilization works on the remaining buildings of Spaç Prison, we are taking an important step together to save this site from oblivion and turn it into a place of dialogue and hope,” adds CHwB, the most active cultural heritage NGO operating in the country focused on conservation and restoration.

Earlier this year, Skender Shatku visited Spaç for the first time in 25 years after he was released from prison, housing former politically persecuted people accused of agitation and propaganda against the regime until the early 1990s when the communist regime collapsed, paving the way for the closure of the notorious facility.

“We were at the coffee bar when he told us: ‘Wait for me, I will eat, as I don’t want to be there again with an empty stomach.’ Once we arrived he sat on one of the stairs of the prison and said ‘Give me a minute,’ then he started to cry without making a sound,” say ChwB representatives.

The prisoners were used as a working force to mine for minerals and went through heavy psychological and physical torture, fearing for their life every minute of every day.

NGO representatives are also working to introduce Spaç to younger generations by organized student trips.

"Remembrance sites such as the notorious Spaç prison, where thousands of Albanians accused as enemies of the regime served their sentence are important especially for the younger generation who are growing with no remembrance and not enough information on the past," says Jonila Godole, the head of the Institute for Democracy, Media and Culture, organizing regular trips for students and professors to communist remembrance sites.

“The visits to the remains of the former Spaç prison cannot raise awareness without the presence of witnesses, former inmates who spent a considerable part of their lives there and want to share their stories with youngsters. Their integration gives meaning to Spaç as a museum site but also their suffering and resistance under dictatorship," adds Godole, a journalism professor at the University of Tirana.

"We are committed to raising awareness on the importance of these visits to remembrance sites throughout Albania and that they are included in the school curricula as compulsory visits for students attending compulsory education," she says.

U.S. Ambassador to Albania Donald Lu has also encouraged Albanians to visit Spaç, which he has described as a "sobering reminder of the sacrifices made by those who fought for freedom."

“A visit to the prison at Spaç is a sobering reminder of the sacrifices made by those who fought for freedom and against tyranny, and all too often died in that pursuit,” Ambassador Lu said after a visit to the prison in late 2015.

 

Spaç Prison

Spaç prison was a notorious labor camp established in 1968 by the communist government of Albania at the site of a copper and pyrite mine, in a remote and mountainous area in the center of the country. While only one of many such sites, the political prisoners held at Spaç included some of the most prominent Albanian intellectuals of the twentieth century, granting it a special place in the collective memory of that era, says U.S.-based World Monuments Fund.

The site of the labor camp, on a terraced slope below the tunnel entrances to the mine, was so remote and unforgiving that no perimeter wall was needed to secure the complex, only barbed wire fencing punctuated by occasional guard posts and a front gate. The French-Albanian artist Maks Velo, who was taken into custody in 1978 and sentenced to ten years imprisonment at Spaç, later described it as “the most terrible camp in Europe and I think in the world during this period.”

In May 1973, Spaç Prison became the site of a famed prisoners’ revolt, one of the first moments of resistance to the oppression of the regime. Nevertheless, Spaç continued to operate as a labor camp until the fall of the communist party from power in the early 1990s. It was completely abandoned several years later. Today, even though it has been designated as a heritage site, the complex is in an extremely advanced state of deterioration due to the elements and the abandoned and vacant buildings have lost almost all of their fixtures.
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            [post_content] => Although in Germany summer is a season that leaves much to be desired, in many other parts of Europe, especially south of it, the current temperatures exceed 40 degrees Celsius. Fortunately, many southern countries lie next to the sea and offer hidden bays behind mountains surrounded by crystal turquoise water, which although quiet and shining, is kept under control on both sides by small isolated, but rather arrogant cliffs.

Such landscapes are found in southern France, in Sardinia, Corsica and southern Albania where the road from the capital city to the south is often a goal in itself. The breathtaking views offered after going through the Llogara Pass is the reward, like an extra bonbon that travelers enjoy with much desire while taking their time.

Some 400 km of coastline, hidden places and big cities, beaches with international electronic music festivals such as "Turtle Fest" that was just held in Drimadhe, tourist villages for family visitors and hippie beaches for the luckier Albanian youngsters are situated in Jale. And all of these places are packed with holidaymakers these hot August days.

There are groups of Albanian youngsters, French and German backpackers, Italian and Spanish families with small babies. Everything is a kind mix of people spending their holidays next to the sea in the middle of Europe.

Often built on the foot of cliffs, restaurants offer a diversity of food for every kind of taste. Service is polite, multilingual and full of self-confidence. Most of the staff are students who get very modest wages during the summer holidays like Ilirian who works as a seasonal waiter at a hotel in Drimadhe.

"I study veterinary medicine in Tirana. I decided to work here for the summer months," says the 20-year-old.

Evi, who works as a receptions but studies German linguistics in Tirana, says "it is not a decision that takes a lot of time to make."

"Having in mid the Tirana heat wave, I'd better come and work here," she smiles.

Of course both of them are right. The spectacular view of deep blue and often twinkling sea that the hotel's restaurant terrace offers and where Ilirian and his colleague serve the holidaymakers, is often welcome bonus for everybody.

Even international media have for several years now discovered the still virgin southern beauty which until a few years ago was reserved only to Albanians as a hidden treasure on the back of proud mountains which seem to hardly tolerate on narrow roads. And it's exactly about this treasure that Lonely Planet , National Geographic and even New York Times write about and encourage their readers to head there with the promise that what they will find when they reach there will be the greatest reward every individual tourist escaping overcrowded places can get.

And this promise does not seem exaggerated at all when you are there in the middle of Europe, surrounded by woods, mountains and the sea merging with sky on the horizon and the sky that preserves exactly the same shade to the sea color gently touching it, and quiet people resting in a friendly atmosphere next to each other.

Such landscapes are found in Southern France, in in Sardinia, Corsica and southern Albania where I found all the above in one, spending the holidays of my dreams.

(Article by Sonila Sand originally published on Deutsche Welle in the local Albanian service, translation by Tirana Times)
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