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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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Albania rated among Europe’s top adventure travel destinations

Albania rated among Europe’s top adventure travel destinations

TIRANA, June 5 – Albania has become best known for its sun and sea tourism during the past quarter of a century as the country emerged from almost total isolation under communism when it remained Europe’s best kept secret for

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Race for controversial Bechetti abandoned HPP reopens amid concerns over Europe’s last wild river

Race for controversial Bechetti abandoned HPP reopens amid concerns over Europe’s last wild river

TIRANA, May 31 – A decision by the Albanian government to recall a tender on an abandoned hydropower plant along the Vjosa River has angered Albanian and European environmentalists seeking to protect one of Europe’s last wild waterways which they

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Three-month-old bear cub rescued after advertised for €1,100 sale

Three-month-old bear cub rescued after advertised for €1,100 sale

TIRANA, May 29 – A three-month-old bear cub that had been trapped in mountain village outside Tirana has been rescued from captivity after being illegally advertised for sale at a popular portal for €1,100. Forest authorities say they acted to

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Proposed billion dollar mass tourism resort threatens national park, Dalmatian pelican, environmentalists warn

Proposed billion dollar mass tourism resort threatens national park, Dalmatian pelican, environmentalists warn

TIRANA, May 29 – Environmental NGOs have come together again to renew their calls opposing plans to develop a luxury tourist resort in a protected national park and lagoon along the Adriatic as a Kosovo company progresses with public hearings

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Overwhelming majority of Albanian bathing waters meet EU standards, watchdog says

Overwhelming majority of Albanian bathing waters meet EU standards, watchdog says

TIRANA, May 23 – As Albania gears up for the 2017 bathing season, the overwhelming majority of its Adriatic and Ionian waters have been rated as meeting EU standards, giving a boost to the emerging tourism industry which continues to

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Regional countries to offer joint package holidays to Asian tourists

Regional countries to offer joint package holidays to Asian tourists

TIRANA, April 18 – Being too small to compete on their own and facing tough competition from already established European destinations, EU aspirant Western Balkans countries are considering offering joint package holidays to attract tourists from distant parts of the

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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] => TIRANA, June 5 - Albania has become best known for its sun and sea tourism during the past quarter of a century as the country emerged from almost total isolation under communism when it remained Europe's best kept secret for about five decades until the early 1990s.

With tourism emerging as a key sector of the economy, the country's authorities and tour operators see adventure holidays as the best option to turn tourism into a year round industry.

Represented by mountain hiking and rafting along canyons, Albania’s adventure tourism is also gaining popularity among European adventurers seeking new challenges in emerging destinations.

Earlier this year, U.S.-based Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA) placed Albania as one of the three destinations added to the top adventure travel destinations along with Cuba and Portugal.

“For Europeans, Italy, Spain, and France receive the most bookings year after year. A surprise for 2017, however, is the appearance a new country among the top five destinations for Europeans: Albania. The spark of interest in Albania is noteworthy, as a spotlight has been on the region since 2014 with AdventureWeek Western Balkans, Balkans-focused AdventureEDU trainings, and the recent AdventureNEXT Balkans industry event,” says the ATTA.

Several outdoor tour operators in the country offer hiking, rafting, biking, horse riding and birds watching adventures in the country, while cross-border tourism is gaining an upper hand with the opening of some mountain hiking trails such as the ancient Via Egnatia linking Rome to Byzantium, the present-day Istanbul, crossing through Albania and Macedonia.

The Via Dinarica mountain hiking trail crossing through seven Western Balkans countries is another joint destination regional countries have opened up as they strive to increase their competitiveness by offering joint package holidays, being too small to compete on their own. The trek which stitches together ancient trading and military routes traversing the Dinaric Alps was rated by prestigious National Geographic as one of the best 2017 trips.

The Peaks of the Balkans, a 192 km cross border hiking trail which connects mountainous areas of Albania, Kosovo and Montenegro, is another opportunity that has been made available in the past few years.

“The Balkans has left behind war and is now in peace and safe having a unique opportunity to show the world an unexplored region which is thinking of joint development on its road to the EU,” Albania’s Economy and Tourism Minister Milva Ekonomi said earlier this year at a Tirana regional tourism fair.

Albania has been diversifying its map of European tourist arrivals as the country emerges as an under-the-radar destination and tourism gains momentum as a much promising sector for the developing Albanian economy.

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 has also extended to Greece, Italy, Germany, the UK, France and Switzerland although a considerable number of foreign tourists coming from these countries are believed to be Albanians holding dual citizenship.

Tourists from Serbia and central European countries such as Poland, Austria and the Czech Republic have also considerably increased in the past few years.

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 travel and tourism industry directly supported 85,000 jobs in 2016 but the sector’s total contribution to employment including wider effects from investment, the supply chain and induced income impacts in 2016 was 267,000 jobs or about 24 percent of the country’s total employment, according to a report by London-based World Travel & Tourism Council, WTTC.

Closed to tourists for about five decades until the early 1990s, 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.”

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.

Several hydropower plant projects in the virgin Vjosa and Valbona rivers in Albania have sparked international concern over two of Europe’s last wild rivers while plans to build a mass tourism resort also put at risk a national park and lagoon including the already endangered Dalmatian Pelican breeding there.

With the peak tourist season already underway, the country hopes to have another successful year luring tourists with 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.

Albania 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.
                    [post_title] => Albania rated among Europe’s top adventure travel destinations 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, May 31 - A decision by the Albanian government to recall a tender on an abandoned hydropower plant along the Vjosa River has angered Albanian and European environmentalists seeking to protect one of Europe's last wild waterways which they say is threatened by HPP dams.

The Albanian government has recently invited bids to reactivate the Kalivac hydropower plant, the first concession HPP Albania awarded in 1997, just few years after the collapse of the communist regime and its planned economy when Albania was facing turmoil triggered by the collapse of some pyramid investment schemes.

The new tender comes after the HPP contract was cancelled few months ago after almost two decades of almost no works at all. The concession was initially awarded to Italian businessman Francesco Bechetti whose Albania assets, including a local TV station, were seized in mid-2015 on suspicion of money laundering and fraud-related offences.

The Italian businessman is seeking hundreds of millions of euros in compensation over unfinished waste management and renewable energy production projects in Albania in an arbitration trial at the Washington-based International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID), part of the World Bank. The government has already paid about €2.3 million to a UK-based law firm defending Albania in the arbitration dispute.

The London-based businessman has also recently had financial problems with his Leyton Orient football club because of debts to players and creditors.

The construction of the dam initially funded by Becchetti Group and Deutsche Bank started in 2007, but was halted several times. Albanian prosecutors, who even issued an international arrest warrant against Beccetti, said the Italian businessman’s companies issued artificially swollen bills of work that was never done and asked for value-added tax refunds through forged documents.

However, environmentalists are hopeful of saving the Vjosa River as only 30 percent of construction works were completed, leaving the river yet unimpaired.

In its call for a July 18 tender, just three weeks after the June 25 general elections, the energy ministry says the concession hydropower plant will be a dam HPP close to the Kalivaç village, in the southern Albanian district of Tepelena, along the downstream of Vjosa River from the quota of 113 meters above the sea level to the quota of 73 m.a.s.l.

Environmentalists worried

The reopening of the tender after almost two decades has also angered activists including Vienna-based Riverwatch, Germany’s EuroNatur, already in a legal battle over another big hydropower plant the Albanian government has approved along Vjosa.

Activists say the Vjosa river and its ecosystem is also threatened by another big concession hydropower plant, the Poçem, which a first instance court recently suspended but whose decision has been appealed by the Albanian government. Last November, the Albanian government concluded contracts negotiations with a Turkish consortium to build a 100 MW Poçem hydropower plant under a 35-year concession contract, in what is expected to be one of the country’s biggest HPPs.

“The court’s decision against Poçem, which was based on a highly deficient Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) as well as public consultation process, indicates the flawed rule of operation inside the government. We call upon the Albanian authorities to follow national law and international standards in regards to the Kalivaç concession procedure,” says Ulrich Eichelmann, the coordinator of the “Save the Blue Heart of Europe” campaign at Riverwatch.

Gabriel Schwaderer, the CEO of the EuroNatur Foundation, is also worried the Kalivaç race has been reopened only a month ahead of the general elections.

“It is remarkable that the Albanian government re-opens the Kalivaç case just one month before the national elections. The government’s decision to utilize the Vjosa for hydropower instead of protecting the last wild river in Europe is of utmost consequence in regard to the accession to the EU and should not have been rushed during the election period,” he has said.

Olsi Nika of the EcoAlbania NGO says the government has decided to re-open the concession procedure against the will of local authorities and communities, national and international stakeholders, ruining plans to declare Vjosa ‘Europe’s first wild river national park.’

“We will vigorously fight against this project and for a dam-free Vjosa,” says Nika, the coordinator of the Vjosa campaign in Albania.

Mayors’ protest

Earlier this year, local government units along the Vjosa River in southern Albania came together in an appeal to the Albanian government over saving one of Europe’s last wild waterways which is threatened by a big hydropower plant that has received the final okay to start construction works, defying calls by local residents, environmentalists, civil society activists and even members of the European Parliament to protect what they call a unique ecosystem and the “Blue Heart of Europe.”

In an open letter to Prime Minister Edi Rama and Parliament Speaker Ilir Meta, the mayors of Permet, Tepelene, Memaliaj, Mallakaster and Selenice nominated by both the ruling majority and the opposition Democrats in the February 2015 local elections, called on the central government to suspend concession contracts on hydropower plants threatening to dam Vjosa River and destroy sustainable tourism in one of Europe’s last wild rivers.

Vjosa is one of Europe’s last intact waterways, famous for its Canyons drawing kayakers from all over the world. It flows freely from the Pindus Mountains in Greece to the Adriatic Sea over a course of 270 kilometers. Scientifically, the river remains largely unexplored.

Concession contracts to build hydropower plants in the Vjosa and Valbona rivers have sparked protests among local residents who fear the emerging tourism industry and the unique ecosystems will suffer a severe setback.

Construction on the first of 14 proposed hydro-power plants has already started in the Valbona Valley, northeastern Albania, despite protests by local residents and environmentalists who say they will destroy tourism in the pristine area in northeastern Albania.  Activists and local residents fighting to protect Valbona and its emerging mountain tourism have also recently initiated a legal battle to cancel the HPP concession contracts along one of the country’s most beautiful rivers.

However, cancelling the concession contracts would be a bit difficult and legally costly for the Albanian government which has been promoting investment in hydropower plants through concession contracts.

Private and concession hydropower plants have increased their share in the country’s wholly hydro-dependent domestic electricity generation to about a third after more than 100 HPPs were made operational in the past decade.
                    [post_title] => Race for controversial Bechetti abandoned HPP reopens amid concerns over Europe’s last wild river
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, May 29 - A three-month-old bear cub that had been trapped in mountain village outside Tirana has been rescued from captivity after being illegally advertised for sale at a popular portal for €1,100.

Forest authorities say they acted to rescue the bear cub after they were notified the cub was being offered for sale after being found by a farmer in Shengjergj village at Mount Dajti, some 30 km off Tirana.

The cub will be temporary accommodated at the Tirana zoo until authorities decide if he can be resettled to its natural habitat.

"Rei was listed for sale on a public site, an illegal act that was stopped today with the immediate help and quick intervention of the State Inspectorate," said the Bears Albania watchdog.

Earlier this year, Henk and Eso, a malnourished bear couple found caged near a hotel in Puka, northeastern Albania, were transferred to a safe place in Tirana, where they will be regularly fed and treated properly until a forever home is found for them.

Local authorities and animal welfare organizations have been receiving assistance by Four Paws, a Vienna-based international animal welfare organization, which last year pushed Albanian authorities to enforce a ban on the cruel keeping of bears, leading to more than a dozens bears and cubs being rescued from captivity.

Four Paws believes that Albania is currently home to some of the saddest bears in Europe.

“Brown bear cubs are regularly snatched away from their mothers in the wild and traded illegally throughout the country to be exploited as tourist attractions or kept as pets in terrible conditions by people who have no idea how to meet the needs of these beautiful and complex wild animals,” says the Vienna-based animal welfare.

An estimated 180 to 250 brown bears currently live in the wild in Albania while another 50 are believed to be held captive, mainly for entertainment purposes.

“The cubs are usually sold either privately as pets or to small businesses. In both cases, the common theme is that profit is the priority, and the welfare of the bears does not factor at all. Most of the bears can then look forward to a life of miserable servitude, trapped in tiny cages as ‘tourist attractions’ at restaurants, petrol stations or hotels as a way of luring customers,” says the Four Paws welfare whose online petition about saving Albanian bears has been signed by about 300,000 people.

Back in 2016, Bear Tomi made international headlines because of the miserable conditions he lived caged in a restaurant in northern Albania before being rescued.

The UK’s Daily Mail online published two articles featuring pictures of how Tomi, the caged brown bear, was kept in a restaurant in the Albanian mountains as a tourist attraction and relied on sweets and crisps from visitors, begging with outstretched paws.

The brown bear, currently in danger of extinction, is a protected species by Albanian legislation, while captivity for commercial purposes is banned.

Albania has banned hunting for the past couple of years and imposed a new five-year moratorium to put an end to uncontrolled and illegal hunting, which has decimated wildlife populations in the country over the last two and a half decades after the collapse of the communist regime in the early 1990s.

 

 
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                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_132613" align="alignright" width="300"]Environmentalists speak at a press conference at the Divjake-Karavasta park. Photo: PPNA Environmentalists speak at a press conference at the Divjake-Karavasta park. Photo: PPNEA[/caption]

TIRANA, May 29 - Environmental NGOs have come together again to renew their calls opposing plans to develop a luxury tourist resort in a protected national park and lagoon along the Adriatic as a Kosovo company progresses with public hearings ahead of a final government decision.

Environmentalists are worried the tourism resort at the Divjaka park, some 80 km south of Tirana, seriously puts at risk the local ecosystem and its flora and fauna, including the already endangered Dalmatian Pelican population. While the government has not had its say yet, few days ago the environment ministry announced May 10 as the Dalmatian Pelican Day in a bid to raise awareness of the endangered species growing in the Karavasta lagoon, where the billion dollar development project is planned. The Karavasta Lagoon, one of the largest in the Mediterranean, is home to about 5 percent of the world’s endangered Dalmatian Pelican population.

The tourist resort project has been proposed to the Albanian government by a Switzerland-based company owned by Kosovo-Albanian billionaire and politician Behgjet Pacolli known for its construction projects in Russia and Kazakhstan during the past two decades. If given the okay by the Albanian government, the proposed 3,342 hectare project is expected to be implemented under the so-called Albania 1 Euro initiative which provides investors free of charge construction sites and facilities in return for investment and job creation.

Tirana-based Protection and Preservation of Natural Environment, the PPNEA NGO, said the proposed mass tourism development project poses a threat to the ecosystem integrity of the Divjake-Karavasta national park.

"The park protects a unique ecosystem which integrates lagoons, sand dunes, wetlands and coastal forests with a highly diverse flora and fauna. Within the park, pine forests of up to 400 years old can be found and it is one of the most important bird areas that serves as a stopover for millions of migrating birds,” PPNEA said after a press conference at the park area last weekend.

“Divjaka is the only place where the Dalmatian pelican breeds in Albania, a symbol species for the park and Albanian environment. Every other developmental project beyond the purposes of conservation of the current state would be devastating for the delicate ecosystem of the park," the watchdog warned.

The Eco Albania and Ornithological Society NGOs have also condemned the project.

"This is not a simple construction project or a hotel with a limited number of beds but a new city that is going to be built at the heart of Divjake-Karavasta national park which is a new town twice as big as Divjaka making use of all of its assets and turning the national park into the front garden of this hotel," said Olsi Nika of the Eco Albania environmental watchdog.

The birds study Albanian Ornithological Society says the planned multi-storey buildings would prove destructive for the park.

"We don't agree with the development plan that has been introduced because it includes multi-storey buildings of up to 20 floors at the national Divjake-Karavasta park. This project is destructive for a considerable part of the habitats and the characteristic environment not only in Divjaka but the whole of Albania and as such these plans should be stopped," says Taulant Bino of the Ornithological Society.

Environmental NGOS had earlier warned the project targets occupying and transforming 10 percent of the park’s territory while road, lighting and sea infrastructure would have a negative impact on all of the park’s area.

“The company is seeking to occupy about 12 km of coastline for an amount of only 1 Euro and planning to build 2,400 apartments, 370 villas, a 90-hectare tourist resort and a town for 18,000 residents, almost double compared to population of Divjaka town spanning in a much bigger area,” the NGOs had warned about the construction project at a national park whose lagoon has been under the protection of the Ramsar Convention since 1994.

Mabetex Group representatives, who in late April held a public hearing with local Divjaka residents, argue the development project represents extraordinary economic and social opportunity for residents of the region and the whole country due to job creation and stimulus to the agriculture and transportation sectors and offering security to the park’s wildlife.

“The park’s extraordinary ecosystem, with its lagoons, forest and wildlife, is the project’s stand-out feature, both in terms of its implementation and its profile. A carefully balanced construction work schedule has been planned in areas of the park that over the years have been subjected to wholesale changes,” says the company on its website about the project whose cost is estimated at about $1 billion.

The Mabetex Group executive Behgjet Pacolli, 65, is apparently the richest ethnic Albanian businessman with his fortune estimated at $1 billion. He is also involved in Kosovo politics heading the New Kosovo Alliance Party and also served as the country’s president for slightly more than a month in 2011, three years after Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia.

The Divjaka-Karavasta national park spans over a surface of 22,230 hectares offering a variety of habitats such as a river delta, lagoons, sand dunes and rich flora and fauna.

The national park is recently also emerging as a bird watching destination and has also been recommended by prestigious Lonely Planet tourist guide.

The park is also known for its sandy beaches, pine forests and trekking.

Last year, Albania extended its hunting ban with another 5 years in a bid to protect its endangered fauna. The Dalmatian pelican breeding in the Karavasta lagoon is one of the country’s most endangered species, with only a few dozens having survived in the past two decades due to illegal hunting.
                    [post_title] => Proposed billion dollar mass tourism resort threatens national park, Dalmatian pelican, environmentalists warn
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, May 23 – As Albania gears up for the 2017 bathing season, the overwhelming majority of its Adriatic and Ionian waters have been rated as meeting EU standards, giving a boost to the emerging tourism industry which continues to remain largely seasonal.

A newly released report by Denmark-based European Environment Agency, an EU watchdog, has rated 86 percent of Albania's bathing water as excellent or at least of sufficient quality, a sharp improvement compared to 2015.

Albanian authorities reported on a record 92 bathing waters in 2016 and early 2017, compared to 78 in 2015 when more than a third of waters proved of insufficient quality.

The EU environment watchdog attributes the considerable improvement in quality to five wastewater treatment plants made operational in the past few years, serving about half a million residents.

The wastewater treatment plants in the Adriatic beaches of Durres, Kavaja, Shengjin and Velipoja as well as the southern Ionian waters of Saranda were made available through World Bank and EU support, considerably improving water quality along the country’s 476 km coastline.

The report shows most of Albania's excellent water quality beaches are found along the southern Riviera in Himara and Saranda, but also Vlora where the Adriatic meets the Ionian. Excellent and good water quality beaches also dominate the more overcrowded Durres, Shengjin and Velipoja beaches. Authorities suggest avoiding sunbathing close to downtown port areas and where rivers flow into the sea.

Albania’s 2016 maximum bathing season period was from May 17 to September 30, with a maximum season span of 127 days, says the European Environment Agency.

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 travel and tourism industry directly supported 85,000 jobs in 2016 but the sector’s total contribution to employment including wider effects from investment, the supply chain and induced income impacts in 2016 was 267,000 jobs or about 24 percent of the country’s total employment, according to a report by London-based World Travel & Tourism Council, WTTC.

While more and more international tourists are discovering what is known as “Europe’s hidden gem,”  ethnic Albanians from Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro account for three-fifths of foreign tourists visiting Albania, with local experts often referring to this market as ‘patriotic tourism.’

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.

Closed to tourists for about five decades until the early 1990s, 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.”

The country is also luring tourists by opening up some of its communist era secret sites such as the tiny Sazan island, a military base in southern Albania currently managed by the defense ministry, but 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.

Albania will hold general elections on June 25 but the recent overcome of a three-month political deadlock is expected to give a boost to the tourism industry in the country, where some new tourist resorts and villages are under construction.

 

 

 

 

 

 
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                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_132032" align="alignright" width="300"]dinarica The Via Dinarica mountain hiking trail crossing through seven Western Balkans countries[/caption]

TIRANA, April 18 - Being too small to compete on their own and facing tough competition from already established European destinations, EU aspirant Western Balkans countries are considering offering joint package holidays to attract tourists from distant parts of the world.

The initiative came earlier this month at a regional tourism fair held in Tirana and is in line with the Berlin Process commitments of establishing a common regional market among the six EU aspirant Western Balkans countries.

Macedonian officials present at the Tirana fair, the first regional tourism showcase in the country, pushed for the creation of joint package holidays and the introduction of regional countries as a single tourist destination ahead of their participation in the major Japan travel fair by next September.

"Nobody from Asia especially Japan will come this far to the Balkans to visit a single country. They will come only if they visit the whole region offering joint package holidays with accommodation in the Albanian coastline and its UNESCO World Heritage sites, the Montenegro Mountains and the Serbia tourist attractions,” Lela Krstevska, the head of Macedonia’s Tourism Promotion Agency told Deutsche Welle in the local Albanian service.

“We are preparing to represent ourselves as a region in this year's Tokyo tourism fair where Albania, Macedonia, Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina will represent their joint products as a common regional market,” she said.

The Western Balkans region already offers some hiking trails such as the ancient Via Egnatia linking Rome to Byzantium, present-day Istanbul crossing through Albania and Macedonia.

The Via Dinarica mountain hiking trail crossing through seven Western Balkans countries is another joint destination. The trek which stitches together ancient trading and military routes traversing the Dinaric Alps was rated by prestigious National Geographic as one of the best 2017 trips.

The Peaks of the Balkans, a 192 km cross border hiking trail which connects mountainous areas of Albania, Kosovo and Montenegro, is another opportunity that has been made available in the past few years.

However, with the current few joint tourism products only focused on mountain tourism and targeting hikers, the Western Balkans countries need to work a lot on developing joint packages that could attract tourists of all kinds and extend their geography of visitors.

“The Balkans has left behind war and is now in peace and safe having a unique opportunity to show the world an unexplored region which is thinking of joint development on its road to the EU,” says Albania’s Economy and Tourism Minister Milva Ekonomi.

“Thanks to the Berlin Process the whole region has been involved in what is known as the Balkans connectivity project where we target opening up our trade, road and energy borders to promote economic development. At last month's Sarajevo Summit, Western Balkans countries signed a deal on the establishment of a common regional market also involving the tourism sector,” said Ekonomi.

“We target boosting cooperation to increase and diversify regional tourism products, introducing ourselves as a single market in the global tourism market,” she added.

Kosovo representatives at the Tirana Mediterranean travel fair said all regional countries need to boost cooperation and promotion to change the image of a region at war, known as Europe’s powder keg.

"We should not forget that the Western Balkans is still perceived like in the 1990 by tourists around the world. They think of the region still at war with no stability and security,” said Arber Muhaxhiri, a Kosovo tourism representative.

“It is high time we changed this image with joint tourism products. Travelling and watching the region for yourself, you can understand how distorted the image is when looking at these countries from the outside,” he added.

Tourism officials and travel agencies from Albania, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro as well as EU members Italy and Greece, two of Europe's most popular destinations, took part in Albania's first Mediterranean tourism fair.

In late 2016, Albania and Serbian tourism officials also planned offering joint package holidays to attract tourists from new potential markets such as Russian-speaking countries and Asia.

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. The travel and tourism industry directly supported 85,000 jobs in 2016 but the sector’s total contribution to employment including wider effects from investment, the supply chain and induced income impacts in 2016 was 267,000 jobs or about 24 percent of the country’s total employment, according to a report by London-based World Travel & Tourism Council, WTTC.

Ethnic Albanians from Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro account for three-fifths of foreign tourists visiting Albania, with local experts often referring to this market as ‘patriotic tourism.’

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.

Closed to tourists for about five decades until the early 1990s, 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.”

Since 2014, the country has been marketing its travel destinations under the “Albania, go your own way" slogan.
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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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