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CNN rates Albania among top 2017 destinations

CNN rates Albania among top 2017 destinations

TIRANA, Jan. 11 – Albania has been 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.

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Albania steps up efforts to get UNESCO protection for Lake Ohrid

Albania steps up efforts to get UNESCO protection for Lake Ohrid

TIRANA, Dec. 21 – Albania’s part of lake Ohrid could join that of neighboring Macedonia as a UNESCO World Heritage site in the next couple of years as authorities have stepped up efforts to protect the Pogradec Lake in southeastern

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Hold these suitcases please!

Hold these suitcases please!

By Jerina Zaloshnja At seven in the morning, on the third Tuesday in September of the year 2003, weighed down with some bags and all kinds of suitcases, I placed my foot on the threshold of our new apartment in

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Dutch experts help shape the link between agriculture and tourism in Qeparo

Dutch experts help shape the link between agriculture and tourism in Qeparo

TIRANA, Dec. 1 – Albania has great potential for small-scale agro-tourism with its amazing food, beautiful mountains, long Mediterranean coastline and fertile plains, but a lot remains to be done to develop tourism, say Dutch experts working on boosting the

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Turkish couchsurfer: It’s a social responsibility for me to host people visiting Albania

Turkish couchsurfer: It’s a social responsibility for me to host people visiting Albania

By Jona Kuka Alaattin is an avid traveler and an active participant in the famous traveler’s website, couchsurfing.com. This website is great for those that want to explore countries of the world, while they meet and talk to local people.

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Rehova mountain village declared a historic center

Rehova mountain village declared a historic center

The picturesque Rehova, located at the foot of the Gramozi Mountain, southeastern Albania, has been recently declared a protected historic site by the National Restoration Council. The village of Rehova is well-known throughout Albania for its handicrafts, hospitality, special cuisine

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Western Balkans Via Dinalrica picked as one of best 2017 trips

Western Balkans Via Dinalrica picked as one of best 2017 trips

TIRANA, Nov. 24 – The Via Dinarica mountain hiking trail crossing through seven Western Balkans countries has been rated by prestigious National Geographic as one of the best 2017 trips. The National Geographic singles out Albania’s Thethi National Park to

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Vera Remśkar: ‘Youth need help, donors are welcomed to boost us’

Vera Remśkar: ‘Youth need help, donors are welcomed to boost us’

By Rudina Hoxha Vera Remśkar, Executive Director of the Foundation “Together Albania” (www.nukjevetem.al), specialized in offering online counseling for the youngsters with different emotional problems, is making a big difference in the Albanian and Kosovo societies.  She is a mover

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Ahn Youngjip: ‘More opportunities to enhance trade and investment between our two countries’

Ahn Youngjip: ‘More opportunities to enhance trade and investment between our two countries’

By Rudina Hoxha “In the cold war era, Korea and Albania followed different paths and accordingly had no meaningful contacts. However, since the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1991, Korea and Albania have rapidly become close friends and partners in

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Le verre volé: The American issue

Le verre volé: The American issue

By Jerina Zaloshnja Do you remember Bashkim, ‘The Moustache,’ our military education professor in high school? His horse tail hair, a little receded at the forehead because of the line his hat left. His jet black moustache, so dirty, his teeth

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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Jan. 11 - Albania has been 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.

[caption id="attachment_130644" align="alignright" width="300"]Alb Albania - Sunny, cheap and with mile after mile of beaches (such as this one in Durres), this tiny Mediterranean country has been Europe's best kept secret for the better part of two decades.[/caption]

“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 American media giant says Albania is finding a second life for thousands of Cold War era bunkers that dot the country such as the Bunk'Art on the outskirts of capital Tirana, where former dictator Enver Hoxha's underground complex has been transformed into a cultural center.

In mid-2016, the National Geographic portal also rated Albania among the top 10 destinations that deserve more tourists.

"A burgeoning tourist industry—centered around its meticulously preserved UNESCO-listed Ottoman towns, including Berat and Gjirokastra, and the stretch of land now known somewhat archly as the Albanian Riviera—now brings in almost 3.5 million tourists a year," wrote the National Geographic.

Albania offers a miscellaneous picture of coastal and mountain tourism and has been attracting more and more foreign tourists in the past few years being nicknamed as “A New Mediterranean Love” and “Europe’s Last Secret.”

The 2015 opening of the Sazan Island, a former military base some 20 kilometers from the coastal town of Vlora, to local and foreign tourists for the first time in 70 years, and a Cold War secret bunker outside Tirana that the former communist regime had built underground decades ago to survive a possible nuclear attack, also attracted a lot of interest among international media and visitors.

In late 2015, prestigious French newspaper Le Figaro 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.
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Dec. 21 - Albania's part of lake Ohrid could join that of neighboring Macedonia as a UNESCO World Heritage site in the next couple of years as authorities have stepped up efforts to protect the Pogradec Lake in southeastern Albania.

Sinisa Sosum, a UNESCO Venice official, is optimistic the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, the Albanian part could be granted UNESCO's protection by 2019 as the country has made progress by demolishing dozens of buildings by the lake.

Since 2014, Albania has been part of an EU-funded project with Macedonia aimed at improving the transboundary cooperation and management effectiveness for the protection of the natural and cultural heritage in Lake Ohrid.

“Albania is strongly headed to this project and would not have joined this project if it doesn't want to protect Lake Ohrid on their territory,” Sinisa Sesum said at a recent event held in Struga.

However, Oliver Avramoski, a project officer with the Protected Areas at the International Union for Conservation of Nature, warned the extension of the road following the demolition of buildings in the Lin-Pogradec area still poses a threat to the lake's protection.

Back in 2012, an advisory scoping mission identified unplanned urban development, waste water and solid waste disposal, natural habitat alteration, destruction and depletion of natural resources as the key threats to extending Albania's part of Lake Ohrid under UESCO protection.

The Lake Ohrid region is home to one of the world’s oldest lakes and is one of the most unique sources of biodiversity in Europe. The convergence of distinctive natural values with the quality and diversity of its cultural, material and spiritual heritage makes this region truly unique.

Two-thirds of Lake Ohrid located in Macedonia has already been inscribed on the World Heritage List but the integrity of this World Heritage property would be significantly reinforced by extending it to the remaining one-third of Lake Ohrid located in Albania, says UNESCO.

"The Lake Ohrid region is home to nearly 160,000 people, with more than 52,000 residing in Albania. The Ohrid Lake is extraordinary with the values it has. It is one of the oldest lakes in the world. It is isolated by hills and mountains and has a very rich fauna and flora,” Holta Copani, the head of Albania's National Agency of Protected Areas (NAPA), says in a UNESCO video.

Alexandra Fiebig, a UNESCO project officer, says a project is currently supporting the national authorities of Albania to prepare an extension file to also inscribe the Albanian part on the World Heritage List.

“Overall the project promotes an integrated approach, but sustainable tourism certainly plays a major role in this,” she says.

The UNESCO inscription leading to increased number of tourists would benefit both local guesthouse owners and farmers.

“I live in Tushemisht, Pogradec and I run a family business. We have four rooms that we rent during the summer vacations and in winter for different vacationers. If there is regional development for tourism, it would positively influence our family business,” says Elvira Taci, a guesthouse owner in Tueshemisht.

Ilir Hoxhallari, a farmer in Alarup village says “If tourism expands, we will have more opportunities to sell many more of the products that we cultivate in our agricultural land. For that reason, I think that tourism should be a priority for all of us. Not just for hotels and restaurants, but also for us as farmers.”

“If we will have cooperation among Ohrid, Struga and Pogradec and cooperation between local and central governments and with private entrepreneurship and foreign foundations, then I think we can make something good and attractive,” says Manushaqe Kromollaria of the Ohrid Development Association.

Albanian part of Lake Ohrid

Situated on the shores of Lake Ohrid, the town of Pogradec, southeastern Albania, is a city with an ancient history and numerous cultural, geological and natural values. Based on archaeological findings (ceramics) an Illyrian settlement existed on the hill in north-west of the city in the 5th century BC and was then fortified in the 4th century BC, the Albanian government said in its 2011 bid for Lake Ohrid’s extension.

The city of Pogradec and its historic-cultural region are located in a natural setting of exceptional beauty, while its historical centre represents an example of 19th-20th century Albanian vernacular architecture. Even though with a small area, its old typical streets and houses bear the values of Albanian vernacular architecture and urban setting, revealing the particular atmosphere of this period. The existence in this region of the ruins of the paleochristian church of Lin together with its exceptionally beautiful floor mosaics reveals the presence of Christianity as well as the importance of this area in the period. Traces of the Roman road Via Egnatia found in the region of Pogradec near the shores of Lake Ohrid are evidence of this important passage route in this part of Albania, authorities say.
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                    [post_content] => By Jerina Zaloshnja

At seven in the morning, on the third Tuesday in September of the year 2003, weighed down with some bags and all kinds of suitcases, I placed my foot on the threshold of our new apartment in R. for the first time. ‘The little captain’ weighed down more than me, in a worse state than me, entered behind me. In the dark, narrow corridor of the apartment, which we had rented only one week ago, we carelessly dropped everything we had and then we too dropped to the ground, completely exhausted among all the bags. In the first room on the right, at the end of the corridor, on a long queen size bed which creaked from want of oiling, right there, we lay down, both of us, just as we were, road weary, perspiring, dusty from all that stuff, belts and bags.

We should have arrived at our new apartment the day before but a last-minute mechanical problem in the front of the ferry we were taking caused us to leave at least four hours late.

If you could just see the people on the ship, pushing, waiting to set off. They laid their blankets on the ground, carefully lined up their shoes on the edge of their blankets as if to say, “Hey careful this is my territory -- that over there is yours.” They gladly but also with some annoyance opened some food they had packed – bread, cheese and boiled eggs.

Half an hour after the announcement over the loudspeaker, “Patience folks, a small defect, we’ll be delayed,” every deck of the ship was covered with these cotton blankets of every color and design. They were so multi-flowered and multi-colored that if seen from afar the cotton blankets would look like a spring garden and the people on them like flower seeds.

“Why don’t we sit like them?” -- asked ‘the little captain’ with a kind of annoyance and curiosity.

“Well, we’re not refugees,” I answered, “We’re different!”

True! We were different! We were not desperate refugees, unable to pay for a cabin, or a simple cot bed like the people on the blankets.

We had booked a ‘superior luxury’ cabin (although to be honest it was so stuffy it was hard to breath in there) while below there was a car filled to the brim with bags.

In the ‘superior luxury’ cabin I was set free from the burden of the bags, but it was pointless to shut ourselves in there so early.

“I’m hungry,” said ‘the little captain,’ so we headed for the restaurant. We passed by the blankets like a flower garden on the second, third and fourth floors. Would you believe if I told you we didn’t even look right or left in these areas. The restaurant had hot and ready meals, which many people were eating, and, with a quick head count, seemed to be populated with fewer people than the areas with those on the blankets. Would you believe that ‘the little captain’ first and I behind, we went directly to the VIP zone to the a la carte restaurant? Didn’t I tell you that we were a special case, that we were not refugees like all the others?

Half an hour after that cold supper that in fact was barely eatable under the situation, ‘little captain’ and I went out on the deck, next to the bow, I with a glass of red wine and he with a bottle of Coca Cola. It must have been awfully damp that early fall night, because it made your eyes water and you couldn’t keep them open and ‘captain's’ soft skin was damp as if water had poured on it. Nearby, the port lights dimmed, a little further the fading lights of the town. I rejoiced! Something new was waiting to happen to us, a beginning, a change. But for the moment nothing was moving with this ship. Could this be a signal, a sign, an invitation to turn back, to where they were waiting for us with open arms, our wonderful status quo.

“Look, we are moving”- ‘the little captain’ spoke.

Slowly, so slowly, with just one slide, our ferry slid, cast off, shaking a little back and forth. Soon the port lights started to get smaller, dimmer, more and more until they were quite lost.

“That’s it! it’s over!” I said to myself. In that moment, at that launching, in that loss of light and in the darkness, I understood that I and ‘the little captain’ were no longer as we were a little while ago. Why were we leaving? Had we not been fine?

The next day, the arrival in our new apartment in R. the following day until Sunday, practically all week, I cleaned, organized suitcases and all the stuff we had with us. I went out only to accompany ‘little captain’ to school, to shop, to drink a coffee at Roza’s bar. But I was happy with this new life full of housework and tiredness but without the worry and concern that had weighed down my spirit my whole life. I began to go to language courses and other courses, to take dance lessons once a week with the girls from the dance group at the church, to enjoy details, the little joys that life brings.

“Buona Domenica Signiora,” they say continually at ‘Roza’s bar!’

“Buona Domenica,” I answer with such a sweet disposition, relief! It’s the first time I hear such a greeting for Sundays. The first time I am so free, so uncluttered, enough about me.

But ‘the little captain?’ Well … ‘the little Captain’ bloomed as he deserved. In two years, he blossomed so wonderfully, like a flower turned toward the sun. I noticed the difference every day as I waited for him after school, with that happy childish face.

“Hey ‘captain’ what marks did you get?”

“An A,” he said, all lit up.

In every class after that he always showed up first, so that, when one of the students had to answer in class the teacher said, “Well let’s hear first what ‘prime minister’ has to say!” Who was prime minister you might ask. Well ‘the captain’ who else, my ‘little captain’ whom the school had nicknamed ‘prime minister’ because he was so wise.

In the following years we moved house three times. Not because we were not happy with the previous one, the neighborhood or the people but because we had to. ‘The captain’ was growing up and changing schools and in the larger towns you had to move, to run, to save time and the cost of transport.

Can you guess now how tired I was from all that moving, from all those bags. Sometimes I saw myself as a maid. Life is passing me by as I carry around items, clothes and things, some of which, to tell the truth I’ve seen only two or three times. My mom’s glossy bag when she came for a visit, my dad’s grey tie, some handkerchiefs, the little radio, the beige raincoat, the black telephone, a bunch of photographs, notebooks and dairies. Would you understand if I said that carrying things around has become a habit even when I go out for a little while?

“Eh, as if her arms have lengthened, as if she’s been to the gym,” whistles ‘the little captain.’ He’s right.

If you see a lady walking making a click clack sound, pulling a suitcase at night in our road, it’s me and those are our suitcases. Sometimes, especially uphill their weight seems unbearable, so much so that I feel like throwing them away and be done with it! I feel my heart pounding, as if it will burst from all that burden, from all those memories. Then I stop and rest a while and call ‘the captain.’

“Take them,” I say, “These suitcases, up to the house.” ‘The captain’ obeys immediately. He knows very well that without these suitcases, we wouldn’t be what we are.

 
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                    [post_content] => qeparoTIRANA, Dec. 1 - Albania has great potential for small-scale agro-tourism with its amazing food, beautiful mountains, long Mediterranean coastline and fertile plains, but a lot remains to be done to develop tourism, say Dutch experts working on boosting the agro-tourism potentials in the southern Qeparo village along the Albanian Riviera.

Small-scale sustainable business concepts were missing and that is why the Dutch embassy supported a cooperation with MVO Nederland, Swiss Cityförster and other tourism partners to work on an inspiring concept of sustainable tourism, combining it with agriculture.

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. Until now little advantage has been taken from opportunities to combine natural assets with organic products and food. Albanian and Dutch experts intensively worked together with local citizens in several workshops on the ground, identifying concrete opportunities last summer. Eighteen business cases were developed, such as: taking a hike with a shepherd, restructuring the beautiful antique aqueduct, promoting the local honey, ham and famous Riviera olive oil. Currently, several international organizations within Albania are looking into funding these business cases. Also, some Albanian local entrepreneurs from the village have already taken the initiative to start the tourist activity center.

Tourism is in many countries a driving force for the economy. However, it is often developed isolated from other economically relevant sectors and in many cases has a negative impact on communities, environment and other business.  For Albania, this is currently the case, says “The Traveler and the Olive Grove” report providing insights on how to shape the link between agriculture and tourism in Albania.

“Coastal areas have been rapidly developed for tourism in recent years with only one goal: to make money fast,” experts say.

Lack of planning and enforcement of regulations have led to wild and uncontrolled development of privately owned real estate that stands abandoned for 80 percent of the year. Consequently, esthetics and holistic vision have not been a priority resulting in unsightly buildings along large parts of the Albanian coastline.

On the other hand, there is still a lot of undeveloped territory and the will to create a sustainable alternative to the devastating development of recent years, an alternative that will benefit local communities, businesses from other sectors such as construction, agro food and processing.

For Dutch private sectors, Albania offers a lot of opportunities. It is close by and relatively undeveloped. For tourism, it is a country that has the potential to become a preferred destination for adventurous travelers in the near future. For the food sector, it offers unique products such as wild medicinal herbs and teas.

 

 

 
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                    [post_content] => By Jona Kuka

Alaattin is an avid traveler and an active participant in the famous traveler’s website, couchsurfing.com. This website is great for those that want to explore countries of the world, while they meet and talk to local people. The upside of a website like couchsurfing is its safety and the variety of the people you can choose to meet on your travels. 

Alaattin, what is couchsurfing for you? 

Couchsurfing is mostly used by backpackers or in other words low budget travelers. These people aren’t looking for cheap solutions, but they prove, that money shouldn’t be a barrier when you desire to explore the world. Couchsurfing.com is designed as a website where all its participants get a chance to help each other. Accommodation is a significant expense when you travel. Not knowing the local language and the best places to hang out can also hinder on your travel experience. So, there is couchsurfing.com to help you spend time with local people, be a guest in their house, their culture and their dinner tables. There could be issues of trust when meeting strangers, however the system has references and reviews for each host and you can use your sound judgment when choosing to stay with one. You might visit people’s profiles, read their descriptions, and inquire on other people’s opinion for this person.

Alaattin has 141 references from travelers who have stayed in his house in Tirana. His positive energy is spread all over the comments left by the different couchsurfers. All the couchsurfers would have stayed with him again. They say about him that he has a good sense of humor; he is a good cook; he has knowledge about places and cultures; he can hold interesting conversations; and so continues an almost endless scroll of positive comments.

Some of the travelers consider themselves lucky to have met you. Why do they think that? 

It was a pleasure to have met with all of the amazing travelers. The best think about couchsurfing is that we have at least one similar interest, and that is traveling. When receiving guests, comfort is priority, in the Turkish way of hospitality and I think the Albanian custom isn’t far different. I consider it my social responsibility to host people who would like to visit and learn more about Albania.

He has welcomed people from Kenya, Russia, Lithuania, Canada, Denmark, USA, Finland, Italy, Hong Kong, Japan, Turkey, Argentina,  Hungary, Spain, Portugal, France, Netherland, Germany, Belgium, UK, Sweden, Ukraine, and Thailand just to mention some, and they have great things to say, not only about his personality ,but also about his cozy and funky house. 

Alaattin is from Turkey and he is also a musician and a photographer. Where do you draw inspiration from in photography?

I believe that we are all designers. We began our life and that was our biggest art. Whenever I look at my design, I try to make it better and better. Photography is a fixed point, which helps me see my designs from a distance. In every season of my life, I can see different angles, compositions, and the adventure of finding sources of lights.

Alaattin is a very busy professional guy. As a Multimedia Designer & Programmer, what is your line of work in a day to day basis?

I have two different responsibilities in Albania. I have one multimedia designing and photography company, AlbElite. The other one is in consultancy, created in a partnership with the Turkish Law firm, Istanbul Law and Consultancy. I am spending most of my working time for AlbElite and its sub-brands : Remember You Are Independent, Tirana City Guide or Motion Tease.

What is your favorite routine of the day? 

Not every day is the same for me. My priorities change and it is very hard for me to generalize. I work in the day time, and then try to rest and learn new things before I go to sleep. On weekends, I like to discover new places in or around Albania. But, sometimes I like to organize cooking weekends and invite my friends to cook together to discover new tastes and recipes. Other times I organize movie Sunday and watch some movies with friends.

What is your favorite dish to cook then?

Stuffed melon. We call it in Turkish “Kavun Dolmasi.”

What kind of dish have you learned to cook from a couchsurfer? 

I learned several dishes, but most valuables are sushi and raclette.

Sina Opalka, a couchsurfer from Berlin Germany, had the impression that your mind is always moving and creating new ideas and projects? Can you uncover one or two of these projects?

I will mention Remember You Are Independent and Tirana City Guide. In 2012, I created the project named Remember You Are Independent, which was inspired from 100th years of independence in Albania. We made 10.000 km around Western Europe and we recorded videos of people we met on the road. We talked to them about Albania and enticed them to visit.  Tirana City Guide is a guide for entertainment life in Tirana, which can also be downloaded as an app for android or iOS. You find weekly events with map and descriptions.

If a traveler had only three days to spend in Tirana, where would you suggest they went? 

The most important adventure in Tirana is spending time to know the Albanian people, and see how generous, friendly, helpful and hospitable Albanian people truly are. So, I always suggest travelers I meet to stay longer and live and see. On the other hand, I highly suggest them to go visit National Museum, BunkArt, Dajti, Skender Beu Square, Pyramid, Open Air Communism Museum and so on.

What is your favorite media for news?

News from the internet but I also follow BBC for international news Sozcu and Hurriyet for Turkey.

You have a mountaineering license, how did you get that and what mountains have u climbed so far?

I am a licensed member and instructor in Turkish Climbing Federation. This federation has several training camps to teach new climbers about Alpinism. Latest mountains I climbed Kackar Dagi (3.932 m) and Kucuk Dermirkazik (3.425 m).

Why are the Balkans so great for a traveler to visit and explore? 

The people of the Balkans are hospitable, helpful, friendly and warm. So it is very easy to hang out and share with them lots of things. The nature of the Balkans is very unique and valuable. I want to give you the feeling when traveling in the Balkans:  sometimes, while you are watching an interesting movie, you wish it never ended and you want to watch it more and more; I’ve had exactly the same feeling while traveling in the Balkans, the wish it never ends.

 
                    [post_title] => Turkish couchsurfer: It's a social responsibility for me to host people visiting Albania
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                    [post_content] => The picturesque Rehova, located at the foot of the Gramozi Mountain, southeastern Albania, has been recently declared a protected historic site by the National Restoration Council. The village of Rehova is well-known throughout Albania for its handicrafts, hospitality, special cuisine and its well-preserved rich and beautiful heritage.

The proposal to classify the village as a historic site aims to preserve Rehova's historic, urban and architectonic values, thus allowing it to play an important part in the development of tourism in the Kolonja district, say culture officials.

The historic site preserves the urban, architectonic values of the village, wherein different genres of buildings are comprised, such as social buildings, cult objects and traditional houses. The green areas of the village are also included within the protected area.

Rehova's historic site includes all the existing buildings and is comprised of a compact traditional composure that spans around the church and the village's main square. The ensemble of buildings features an interesting typology, particularly on the way urban spaces have been created and also includes a significant number of variegated houses and a cobblestone-paved road system. The buildings, constructed in limestone, are mostly two-storey ones, and their gates are high arched.

On her recent visit to Rehova, Culture Minister Mirela Kumbaro, praised the preservation of these details, congratulating the locals on not giving in to the temptation of modernizing their houses.

The Ministry of Culture in collaboration with the Institute of Cultural Monuments, and along with other institutions for heritage preservation have created a special touristic destination: "the pathway of the gates" - a door-to-door itinerary across the streets of Rehova, where the gates of the houses are regarded as a tourist attraction itself. With the stonework traditional houses and their arched gates, taking a walk along the cobbled Rehova streets feels like taking a journey back on time.

The Church, located in the heart of Rehova, was built in 1820. Its iconostasis, created by the contributions of Rehova people, can be visited nowadays at the National Museum of Medieval Art in Korça, which houses some 7,000 items of immeasurable historical and cultural significance.
                    [post_title] => Rehova mountain village declared a historic center
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                    [post_date] => 2016-11-25 11:25:49
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Nov. 24 - The Via Dinarica mountain hiking trail crossing through seven Western Balkans countries has been rated by prestigious National Geographic as one of the best 2017 trips.

The National Geographic singles out Albania's Thethi National Park to the Kosovo border as one of the trail's most interesting parts.

What was once a contentious region has become the planet’s most exciting cross-border destination. “The Via Dinarica has replaced politics with nature,” says Thierry Joubert, the owner of Green Visions, a Bosnia and Herzegovina-based tour operator. “What could be more beautiful?”

“The Western Balkans, adventure travelers’ under-the-radar playground, just got more accessible. In 2017, for the first time after years of expansion, the 1,200-mile Via Dinarica trail will be completely mapped with stage information compiled from a growing community of hikers,” writes the magazine.

The trek—which stitches together ancient trading and military routes—traverses the Dinaric Alps, linking the peninsula from Postojna, Slovenia, south through Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Albania, Serbia, Kosovo, and Macedonia. Trekkers sleep in remote mountain shelters along the Adriatic Sea, atop the region’s highest peaks, and above the continent’s deepest gorge. But the path is also a cultural corridor, where thru-hikers, cyclists, horseback riders, paddlers, and day-trippers find themselves lost in old-world traditions uncovered after five decades of communism.

“During homestay layovers in nomadic shepherd settlements and isolated villages—along the popular three-day stretch from Albania’s Thethi National Park to the Kosovo border, for instance—you might find yourself drinking coffee cooked in a copper pot on an iron stove, with a hospitable farmer with work-worn fingers and a sun-creased face,“ says the National Geographic.
                    [post_title] => Western Balkans Via Dinalrica picked as one of best 2017 trips 
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                    [post_date] => 2016-11-18 11:47:02
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                    [post_content] => By Rudina Hoxha

Vera Remśkar, Executive Director of the Foundation “Together Albania” (www.nukjevetem.al), specialized in offering online counseling for the youngsters with different emotional problems, is making a big difference in the Albanian and Kosovo societies.  She is a mover and shaker. At last, the youngsters are asking for help online when they feel pain, isolation or grief and the need to share them is so great. This is no longer a taboo and the youngsters do no longer feel alone.

The idea of this strong Kosovo woman to set up a portal to help the youngsters came after she got inspired by a similar online portal in Slovenia in the context of a system on health service. “I realized that the Kosovo state was unable to support these youngsters, so I stepped up my efforts to do something for them. An online portal is more convenient because it is more real and less costly. People can access internet everywhere, so the technology helped a lot in this respect,” Remśkar said in an exclusive interview for Tirana Times.

She underlines that so far, over 20 million visitors have turned to “Together Albania” whose main support has been the Norwegian Embassy in Albania and Kosovo.  The Foundation has the largest data base on youth issues in the world, and the biggest group of best professionals from both countries, Albania and Kosovo.

“We are trying to increase the importance of solidarity in society and send a message that we can all be part of a positive change.  The profession of psychologist is relatively new in Albania and Kosovo. But I can say that over the last six years, since the time this project has been initiated, asking for help is no longer such a difficulty,”  Remśkar  said.

 How did you come up with the idea of establishing “Together Albania”? Was a personal episode or a friend story which pushed you to embrace this initiative?

This project is about the youngsters. The reason behind this initiative is relatively personal. It is related to a 2007 research on suicides or attempted suicides among the youngsters, a phenomenon, which came across soon after the war in Kosovo, when the suicide percentage went up by 300-400 percent. At that time, I ran a similar association based in Ljubljana, Slovenia. We conducted a survey in the first school in Kosovo and one of the questions we asked was “Have you lost someone in the war and if yes, please, denote the relationship to this person.” After we distributed the questionnaire in different classrooms in that school, one of the youngsters, a boy of around 15-16 years old, with a very calm face, addresses to me by saying “How about me, I don’t have enough space to write all the names of the people I have lost in the war? May I leave someone out?” No, I replied. “Write them all.” By leaving someone out, you do not give the right meaning to everyone’s lives. This episode made me think about the real meaning of the war in Kosovo. I was really touched by this episode. At that time, you could notice the lack of emotional support to the youngsters and to the adults as well.

Both Albania and Kosovo is people who still suffer from stigma. Situations mostly pertaining to morale or certain emotional conditions are related to shame, fault and prejudice.  Consequently one feels pain and isolation due to not having the possibility to share his/her grief. So, my idea came after we got inspired by a similar online portal in Slovenia in the context of a system on health service. I realized that the Kosovo state was unable to support these youngsters, so I stepped up my efforts to do something for them. An online portal is more convenient because it is more real and less costly. People can access internet everywhere, so the technology helped a lot in this respect.

 How were the first days of this project? Do you remember it at all?

When we started to lay the project out, many of the people told me not to go for it because the Albanians are not people who ask for help especially in the internet.  At the very beginning, we faced dilemmas. One important feature of this project is that the entire counseling team works on voluntary bases. We are trying to increase the importance of solidarity in society and send a message that we can all be part of a positive change.  The profession of psychologist is relatively new in Albania and Kosovo. But I can say that over the last six years, since the time this project has been initiated, asking for help is no longer such a difficulty. In this period we have had over 20 million visitors. We have the largest data base on youth issues in the world, and the biggest group of best professionals from both countries. This data base can be used when designing interventions and programs for youth.

Over the last two years, we started to receive a lot of questions from Albania, namely 25 percent of all the questions were coming from Albania. This increased the volume of our work to the extent that as a team we were not able to cope with it.  Given the situation, I contacted the Norwegian Embassy in Kosovo (it covers Albania and Kosovo) that support this project in Kosovo and discussed the problem with them, and asked if they would be ready to support similar project in Albania. They said “yes,” and here we are continuing with our work and sending an important message to the youth of Albania, that when they feel low, we are here for them. They Are Not Alone.

How are you using technology so positively?

The biggest advantage of our project success is that we reach out for youth where they spent most of the time: ONLINE. We provide free, anonymous and professional help.  I believe over the years we have earned their trust.  And being able to talk about an intimate issue and have your identity completely protected is very important for youth. We offer youth the commodity to reach out to us from everywhere, even the most remote parts of the country. All they need is a phone that has access to internet.  Personally, I think that technology should be used to its fullest potential to improve lives of youth and general population in countries in development.  It is the only way to quickly fill in the gap of so many services lacking in the country.

There are some dilemmas about negative influence of use of technology in youth particularly. But technology is here to stay, and we need to adjust to it and teach young generation how to use it for good deeds. This is how we fight fire with fire.

 Referring to your data base (received questions) , what are the main  problems youth  in Albania are experiencing?

Most frequent problems youth writes about are depression, anxiety, suicide ideation and problems in relationships. Then, big part are problems related to sexuality, based on what they ask it is very obvious that there is a huge lack of sexual education.  Sexual orientation is another issue that concern the youth of this country. They are afraid to talk about this even with closest persons in their life, fearing that they will face complete isolation and condemnation. These types of questions present almost 35% of all questions we received in both countries.

This is why in February 2017 we are organizing the First International Conference in Albania about Sexuality and Youth. We want to bring this issue to the public discussion and see what can be done to improve and protect the well-being of youth.

Do you think the Foundation is taking on a lot of responsibility by discussing such big problems just online? Isn’t “a step 2” when you meet with the youngsters face to face to discuss problems?

Very good question!  The online counseling is relatively new to us, but otherwise based on research it seem to work best for youth globally. Online counseling has its own specifics of course, but it cannot take the place of the face-to-face counseling. What we offer is the first aid or the first step towards seeking professional help, if that is needed. In the cases when the youngsters need a more elaborated help; we refer them to professional help or face to face therapy.

Our main goal is to build the culture of seeking help among youth. Change the pattern in society that regards help seeking   for mental health issue as weakness of an individual or a shameful act that brings shame to the entire family. For us as an organization it is of outmost importance to reduce the stigma and empower youth to seek help when they face emotional problems.
                    [post_title] => Vera Remśkar: 'Youth need help, donors are welcomed to boost us'
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                    [post_date] => 2016-11-18 11:35:32
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                    [post_content] => By Rudina Hoxha

“In the cold war era, Korea and Albania followed different paths and accordingly had no meaningful contacts. However, since the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1991, Korea and Albania have rapidly become close friends and partners in many areas such as people-to-people exchanges, trade, development, culture, education and international fore,” said Ambassador of South Korea, Ahn Youngjip in an exclusive interview for Tirana Times. 

South Korea and Albania reestablished their diplomatic relations 25 years ago.

Celebrating this marked anniversary in their bilateral ties, Tirana hosted a series of cultural events from South Korea from Nov 10-12, 2016. The Korean Embassy, which oversees Albania affairs from Greece, is showing a greater interest in consolidating the bilateral relations.

Ambassador Youngjip is optimistic that the door of opportunities is more open than ever. “Some Korean companies such as Samsung Electronics, LG Electronics, Hyundai Motor Company, and Kia Motors Corporation show strong presence in Albanian market. Some other companies are also looking for new business opportunities in diverse fields such as public projects, construction works, e-ticketing system and cosmetics,” he said, adding “Given the advantages and potentials of Albanian economy, I believe that more and more Korean companies will have interests in doing business in Albania.”

 First time in Albania? What are your first impressions about our country?

This is my second visit to Tirana. This January, I came to Tirana to present my credential to H.E. Bujar Nishani, President of the Republic of Albania. Before my first visit, my knowledge on Albania was superficial built on old books or journals I read in the past: Albania belonged to the communist block and pursued the purest form of communism. Through my visit, I realized that since the end of the Cold War, Albania has been transformed into a democratic country with a membership of NATO and a status of EU member candidate. Moreover, Albania is a rapidly emerging and developing economy with a lot of potentials.

Albania and South Korea celebrate 25th anniversary of their diplomatic relations. How have these relations evolved over these years in your view?

In the cold war era, Korea and Albania followed different paths and accordingly had no meaningful contacts. However, since the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1991, Korea and Albania have rapidly become close friends and partners in many areas such as people-to-people exchanges, trade, development, culture, education and international fore.

For example, Foreign Ministers of the two countries had a constructive discussion to enhance the bilateral relations between our two countries in New York last year.  This year alone, the Korean government invited 10 Albanian government officers for various training courses such as intellectual property system, judicial justice, e-government and others. Furthermore, the Korean government officers and experts will visit Tirana to hold an ICT/e-Government workshop on 25 November this year in close cooperation with the Albanian Ministry of Innovation and Public Administration.

What are your thoughts about giving a push to the bilateral relations between Albania and South Korea? What are the expected outcomes from this cooperation? From now on into the future, where do you want to see our two countries go?

There will be more opportunities to enhance trade and investment between our two countries. Albania is located in the Western Balkans and would be a gateway to EU. It has a large reserve of decent human resources and labor competitiveness comparing to other neighboring European countries. I believe that if it joins the EU in the near future, Albania will become more attractive investment destination.

Some Korean companies such as Samsung Electronics, LG Electronics, Hyundai Motor Company, and Kia Motors Corporation show strong presence in Albanian market. Some other companies are also looking for new business opportunities in diverse fields such as public projects, construction works, e-ticketing system and cosmetics. Given the advantages and potentials of Albanian economy, I believe that more and more Korean companies will have interests in doing business in Albania.

As you may know, the Republic of Korea, the 12th largest economy in the world achieved rapid economic development and mature democracy for a quite short period of time and wishes to share such experience with Albania through close cooperation. The Korean government regards Albania as one of important partners in development cooperation. As I mentioned earlier, the KOICA (Korean International Cooperation Agency) invited around 10 Albanian government officers for various training programs to share our experience of development every year. Also the cooperation in the field of ICT and e-Government which Korea has competitive edges will be more expanded.

It is also important to strengthen cultural exchanges and mutual understanding among people of the two countries. In this regard, our embassy organized the Korean Week in Albania which includes various pubic cultural events such as Korean Film Night on 11 November, Ensemble Korea Concert on 12 November and Ambassador’s Cup Taekwondo Championship on 13 November to commemorate the 25th Anniversary of the diplomatic relations between our two countries. Last night, many Albanian young people came to the Korean Film Night and made very positive comments on Korean movies. I hope that such events will help mutual understanding and cultural exchanges among youths. Our embassy would like to host such events on a regular basis.

Human exchanges seem vital to progress our relations. No visa to visit each other. In what way, can we push ahead in this direction?

People-to-people exchanges play important roles in deepening the relations between Albania and Korea. On the basis of the principle of reciprocity, Albanian tourists can visit Korea for 30 days without visa and vice versa.

Recently, more and more Korean tourists visit Balkan countries such as Greece and Croatia. The increasing number of Korean tourists come Albania, too. Last year around 6,000 Koreans visited Albania. I expect more and more vibrant people-to-people exchanges between the two countries.

Availing this opportunity, I would like to introduce a full scholarship program of my government for the post graduate students of foreign countries. This program provides all relevant costs (tuition fees, air tickets, living expenses and etc.) for 3 to 5 years to one Albanian student every year. As Korean universities provide very good quality academic courses in diverse fields, I would like to recommend many Albanian students to pay more attention to this program whose information is available at the following website: (https://www.studyinkorea.go.kr/en/main.do)

South Korean society has a zero tolerance to drugs. How did it achieve it? What approach did you follow?

Korea is considered as a drug-free country. In Korea, there were around 10,000 narcotics-related convicts as of last year. In the past drug abuse had been seen as largely confined to the criminals, but recently some numbers of salaried workers, housewives, students and farmers become drug users.

Facing drug abuse challenges, the Korean government enforces very strict and tough measures to address these cases. For example, the Act on the Control of Narcotics stipulates the punishment of habitual sellers of banned substances up to death penalty, while simple smuggling itself can carry life imprisonment.

Another reason why Korea is a drug-free country has been the tradition of the Korean society to strongly reject drug dealers and suppliers. The Korean society has firmly rejected any suggestion of liberalization of any kinds of substances.

I would like to consider the possibility to share our experiences in tackling the problem of drug abuse with Albania.
                    [post_title] => Ahn Youngjip: 'More opportunities to enhance trade and investment between our two countries'
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                    [post_content] => By Jerina Zaloshnja

Do you remember Bashkim, ‘The Moustache,’ our military education professor in high school? His horse tail hair, a little receded at the forehead because of the line his hat left. His jet black moustache, so dirty, his teeth colored like seed potatoes and one of them gold? Do you remember how he used to say to us in dialect, “American Imperialism is a frying pan made of paper,” a drop of spit from his mouth flew right into your face if you had the bad luck to be in the front row of the team? Really, don’t you remember ‘The Moustache,’ pathos, sparkle, determination, his other favorite placard, “Socialism is a case that needs to be resolved”?

Me? Yes!

With the image of the professor, other thoughts came back, deeper than I could have expected. I realized this suddenly one day while I was asking myself a seemingly simple question but with a very deep answer. Why don’t I like the United States of America?

Because I don’t like the United States of America and this has been one of the troubles of my life! Everyone around me can witness to the fact that I love every country and am dying of curiosity to see Europe, Africa, Asia or wherever, but not the United States!

Is there a reason or explanation for this? In fact, there isn’t. In my life, I have been surrounded by people who love American freedom. The only ‘Anti American,’ whose lectures we were forced to listen to twice a week for 45 minutes, was Professor Bashkim!

What can I tell you about my previous family?

They have all been pro-American since birth! My grandmother, as long as I remember has been in love with Kissinger and stuck her face in the television anytime the Italian news spoke about across the ocean. Every day at 6 p.m. exactly, everyone in my house gathered around our Tesla radio as a rite to listen to the Voice of America’s Albanian program, even the grandfather who couldn’t hear well. Everyone knew her obsession with America and often teased her. … Now I remember it as a film: Dad who bought her Partizani cigarettes which he put in an empty Dunhill packet and fooled her easily. “Take them,” he would say. “They’re American cigarettes.” Grandmother caught the packet in the air and smoked with pleasure every cigarette, swallowing the smoke without mercy for her atrophied lungs, sighing afterwards …  “ah … those are cigarettes Shkelqim!”

In my second family?

Well, I have to say that regarding the ‘American issue’ from the beginning we have been divided into two camps. The children and I in one camp, in the camp of Professor ‘Moustache,’ let’s say, and my husband ‘The Doctor,’ on the other side! Shall I tell you now how often we have argued with ‘The Doctor’ about America, how much we suffered his journeys alone to that world. His obvious enjoyment and the pro-American portrait when he returned, the way he tried to hide from us his enjoyment? Shall I tell you how badly we experienced the American dreams the ‘The Doctor’ had at night during which he, sweating and groaning, after being schooled in the best schools, took part in open competitions, won all without exception, from a simple person, managed to be chosen as the mayor of New York or a senator with two mandates? Or should I tell you about the postcards that he brought from far with the words, “Greetings from my previous life!” Because, so that you know, from the time that we met the ‘The Doctor’ has believed that he has lived two lifetimes. That in his previous lifetime he was an American and that if he had a third lifetime he would dedicate it to America!

What solution did I find for my ‘American Phobia,’ for my run against the tide? No solution. Things worked out strangely well. At a point in my life I calmed down, began to be more wise, to reason, to realize that to fight idiotic phobias is necessary and healthy. So I made up my mind that the memory of the professor and his favorite placard “Socialism is a case that has to be resolved” needed a basic correction; “My life is a case that has to be resolved!” Yes, Yes! “My life, (and yours) is a case that has to be resolved!”

There are at least two people who helped me in this reflection.

First, my favorite uncle, Ahmet, who dad with an ironic love called ‘Worthy Ahmet’ or ‘Science Ahmet!” He called him this because no one wanted the Communist Party praised or wanted the wellbeing of our socialist nation like him. And because in his briefcase he carried a science bulletin and the ‘Zeri i Popullit’ (Voice of the People) newspaper. As it’s said, Uncle Ahmet is ‘The last Communist.’  His devotion surpassed his ability many times over and so, often he caused considerable problems for his relatives. Shall I give you an example? The call of the Communist Party in the mid 70’s as to which of the elite of the administration would volunteer to give up his job in capital for any sort of work in the village, Ahmet raised his hand and said, “I’ll go!” If you could only have heard the cries of his daughters who had to leave school and their life in Tirana to start again in Lushnja!

Three years ago, I received an envelope from this person, the first and the last from Washington where he had moved to with his family ten years previously! There was nothing in the envelope except a photo which had the date July 4, 2014! In the photo was a large crowd of people with placards, hats, bands who it seemed were celebrating American Independence Day. Amongst them a gentleman with white hair who was shaking a little American flag in front of the camera! I knew him from his inner calm, unchangeable, just like him! It was my dear uncle, the Communist and pro-American!

The second person who helped me in my new reorientation came to our home one morning -- in a completely original and unexpected way -- Mrs. M.

Here’s how it happened, ‘The Doctor’ got up to go to the bathroom leaving his cell phone on the pillow. I opened his cell phone, (why, what do you say, shouldn’t I check ‘The Doctor’s’ cell phone?) a ‘tring’ a what’s up. 

“Dear friend, I thank you so much for your help, you have changed my life. Hug M.” I don’t know what you would have done dear ladies, but I waited, just as if nothing had happened. I waited with the patience of one who was going to catch the other in the act, totally, absolutely, with no way out. In the following days the level of thanks and gratefulness rose. … Next week, we’re leaving finally and moving to Washington,” Mrs. M. informed ... “How can I thank you?”

As if this hazy case wasn’t enough, another person, a Mr. A. wrote the same words, time after time to ‘The Doctor’! What’s going on?!...

“What is it, What are you doing?” I yelled at the top of my voice since I can’t control my hormones!

Then, with a victorious smile, ‘the dear doctor’ explained that A. and M., husband and wife and my colleagues, had moved to the United States and, with the right recommendations he had helped them to find work in their field!

They have gone to the United States? Even my colleagues, A. and M.?

Do you know anyone who doesn’t have someone in his family or acquaintances in the United States of America? Is there anyone in this place who has not been tempted even a little at least one time, with the idea if not in practice of the ‘American Issue’? No, I bet not! It would be difficult!

So, I too decided: let the waves take me, let the American lottery take me there! Let this change include me!

Often I think that this is a trick of the mind (and for thousands like me) and that nothing is going to happen. But often it seems as if I’m running to catch the last train, the last chance left to me. ...

“Eh…what can you do… this place is finished,” whispers ‘The Doctor.’

For the first time, I agree.

I picture our Albania as we’re putting the lock on the gate, as we’re leaving, as we’re leaving it alone, only with our graveyards! It’s an unclear picture, not normal, it’s like a lump that rises in your throat, when it wants, how it wants!

Then I understand that something awful is happening: Either I’m going crazy or ‘The Doctor’ is right.

 
                    [post_title] => Le verre volé: The American issue
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            [post_content] => TIRANA, Jan. 11 - Albania has been 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.

[caption id="attachment_130644" align="alignright" width="300"]Alb Albania - Sunny, cheap and with mile after mile of beaches (such as this one in Durres), this tiny Mediterranean country has been Europe's best kept secret for the better part of two decades.[/caption]

“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 American media giant says Albania is finding a second life for thousands of Cold War era bunkers that dot the country such as the Bunk'Art on the outskirts of capital Tirana, where former dictator Enver Hoxha's underground complex has been transformed into a cultural center.

In mid-2016, the National Geographic portal also rated Albania among the top 10 destinations that deserve more tourists.

"A burgeoning tourist industry—centered around its meticulously preserved UNESCO-listed Ottoman towns, including Berat and Gjirokastra, and the stretch of land now known somewhat archly as the Albanian Riviera—now brings in almost 3.5 million tourists a year," wrote the National Geographic.

Albania offers a miscellaneous picture of coastal and mountain tourism and has been attracting more and more foreign tourists in the past few years being nicknamed as “A New Mediterranean Love” and “Europe’s Last Secret.”

The 2015 opening of the Sazan Island, a former military base some 20 kilometers from the coastal town of Vlora, to local and foreign tourists for the first time in 70 years, and a Cold War secret bunker outside Tirana that the former communist regime had built underground decades ago to survive a possible nuclear attack, also attracted a lot of interest among international media and visitors.

In late 2015, prestigious French newspaper Le Figaro 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.
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