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Neranxi Culinary Institute marks 10th anniversary of foundation

Neranxi Culinary Institute marks 10th anniversary of foundation

TIRANA – “A cuisine chef does never arrive at the destination. He is always in a long search of perfection and novices. But it is a beautiful road never getting you bored,” the President of the ‘Neranxi Company’, Nikollaq Neranxi

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New long-distance hiking trail links Albania, Kosovo, Macedonia

New long-distance hiking trail links Albania, Kosovo, Macedonia

TIRANA, Sept. 14 – A new long-distance hiking trail connecting the mountains located in the borderline between Albania, Kosovo and Macedonia has been launched, giving a boost to adventure travel in the Western Balkans where regional cooperation and joint package

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Visa free travel boosts Chinese tourists to Albania

Visa free travel boosts Chinese tourists to Albania

TIRANA, Sept. 13 – The visa free travel that Albania offered to Chinese tourists this year has had a positive impact on increasing the number of tourists from the world’s second largest economy and the largest source of outbound tourists.

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Berat given facelift as tourism becomes key year-round industry

Berat given facelift as tourism becomes key year-round industry

TIRANA, Sept. 12 – Road and tourism infrastructure at the UNESCO World Heritage site of Berat, southern Albania, is being given a facelift thanks to a World Bank project supporting urban and tourism development in the country. A UNESCO World

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Ksamil islands, lack of rehabilitation project mars Albania’s tourism gems

Ksamil islands, lack of rehabilitation project mars Albania’s tourism gems

TIRANA, Sept. 4 – The Ksamil islands and the nearby beaches in southernmost Albania offer one of the most breathtaking views of the Albanian Riviera and regularly make it to promotional spots of the country’s emerging tourism industry, but ongoing

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Albanians seek healing, good luck at annual Mount Tomor pilgrimage

Albanians seek healing, good luck at annual Mount Tomor pilgrimage

TIRANA, Aug. 22 – Dozens of thousands of Bektashi believers and pilgrims of all religions have taken to Mount Tomor, southwest Albania, in an annual August pilgrimage commemorating Abbas ibn Ali, a saint who died at the 7th century battle

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German tourists discover Albanian Alps

German tourists discover Albanian Alps

TIRANA, Aug. 21 – Coastal destinations along the Adriatic and Ionian dominate trips by foreign tourists to Albania during summer. But for adventurers wanting to escape the heat wave and seeking a retreat, the northern Albanian Alps offering breathtaking views

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Environmentalists want Albania’s sole Balkan lynx sanctuary a protected area

Environmentalists want Albania’s sole Balkan lynx sanctuary a protected area

TIRANA, July 25 – Albanian environmentalists want a northeastern mountain region that is the country’s sole sanctuary of the critically endangered Balkan lynx to be declared a protected area. Local environmental watchdog the Protection and Preservation of Natural Environment in

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Poles lead tourist growth as Albania climbs among top travel destinations

Poles lead tourist growth as Albania climbs among top travel destinations

TIRANA, July 24 – Poles are leading the hike in Albania tourist arrivals for a second year in a row as Albania has climbed to one of the top 7 most popular destinations there and more charter flights directly link

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Klaivert Dervishi: The 17-year-old Albanian eSports world champion

Klaivert Dervishi: The 17-year-old Albanian eSports world champion

TIRANA, July 19 – Seventeen-year-old Albanian Klaivert Dervishi was part of the duo that impressed audiences in Valencia’s DreamHack venue, by winning the Fortnite gaming competition, which granted the winning team €5,000. In what looks like a hobby to some,

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                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_138546" align="alignright" width="300"]neranxi 2 Photos: Neranxi Culinary Institute https://www.facebook.com/instituti.kulinar/[/caption]

TIRANA - "A cuisine chef does never arrive at the destination. He is always in a long search of perfection and novices. But it is a beautiful road never getting you bored," the President of the 'Neranxi Company', Nikollaq Neranxi has said in the inauguration ceremony of the 2018 - 2019 Academic School year of the Neranxi Culinary Institute in Tirana.

"There would not be a more beautiful manner to celebrate the tenth anniversary of our school in the atmosphere of this wonderful view," Mr. Neranxi said on September 17, 2018, launching the second decade of the Institute which is called the gate of the 'Tirana's culinary aroma' where many culinary professions have been taught.

More than a thousand students were present at the ceremony attended by representatives of the diplomatic corps in Tirana, businessmen and customers, relatives of the students and journalists.

In his emotional greeting, Mr. Neranxi extended his thanks to the Tirana German development cooperation agency, GIZ, for the cooperation with the Institute.

"A sincere thanks to GIZ for the two-year support provided to the students of vulnerable families as well as for the help given to the performance of the Neranxi Culinary Institute," Mr. Neranxi said, thanking also Albania's municipalities across the country which have picked up the students to attend the Institute.

In the meantime, he said that hundreds of students who graduated from the Institute already work in Albania and abroad.

"Some of them have started their businesses and are doing well. We continue to support them as they are customers of the Neranxi Co.," said Neranxi.

Ms. Josephine Desepada from Philippines, a chef and professor of Asian Cuisine at Neranci Co., said among others: "This company has given many opportunities to Albanians, particularly to youth, to find a job. In addition, more than the profession itself, students have learned much about social life."

 

What GIZ official told students

"I can assure you that you are at the right address. On behalf of GIZ, I would like to wish you all a great academic year," said Esra Misrahi, a programme coordinator of GIZ’s ProSEED Programme in her address at the inauguration ceremony.

"I would like to say that our ultimate goal is to boost employment, especially young people. In that spirit, we support private providers in Albania, and Neranxi is one of them in that respect; we are very happy and satisfied about our cooperation with Neranxi Co," GIZ's Misrahi told the students and participants at the launch ceremony of the 2018 - 2019 academic year of the Neranxi Culinary Institute in Tirana.
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                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_138489" align="alignright" width="300"]hiking 2 Tourist sign on the Albanian section of the trail. Photos: GIZ Albania[/caption]

TIRANA, Sept. 14 – A new long-distance hiking trail connecting the mountains located in the borderline between Albania, Kosovo and Macedonia has been launched, giving a boost to adventure travel in the Western Balkans where regional cooperation and joint package holidays are seen as key to give a boost to the emerging tourism industry in the EU-aspirant countries.

‘High Scardus Trail,’ named after the ancient name for the current Sharr mountain range is a 495-km hiking trail that starts from Sharri Mountain in Macedonia and crosses through Macedonia before ending at the Prespa lake area, southeast Albania in a lengthy trip that takes 20 days.

Launched last August, the hiking trail is a German government-funded product implemented by the German development cooperation agency, GIZ, as part of a “Future prospects through mountain tourism” regional project aimed at improving employment opportunities through tourism in the border region between Albania, Kosovo and Macedonia.

The hiking trail also connects three Albanian-speaking countries where resident ethnic Albanians dominate in both Albania and Kosovo and account for more than a quarter in Macedonia, with an estimated 5 million Albanians living in all three countries.

Tourist signs in English have made crossing the hiking trail, whose 150 km out of the total 495 km are situated in Albania, much easier.

The Albania section of the trail in the Dibra region, northeast Albania, crosses through the Korab-Koritnik Nature Park, a section of the European Green Belt which serves as a retreat for endangered animal including the brown bear, wolf, fox and the roe deer and thousands of hectares of woods home to rare plant species.

The new hiking trail is one of the many projects that the German Society for International Cooperation, GIZ, has been implementing to help Albania develop and promote its tourism industry.

The German development agency has given a boost to mountain tourism in Theth, a north Albania region which is now visited by thousands of tourists but was quite unknown and undiscovered a decade ago when no guesthouses existed.

Last August, GIZ also supported the establishment of a tourist information office in Himara, one of the most popular Albanian Riviera destinations south of the country, offering tourists information on the main attractions of the southern coast, including local history, culture and tradition, culinary, natural monuments, the typical architecture of the region and its characteristic villages.

New hiking and biking long-distance trails linking Albania to neighboring Kosovo are also being developed as part of the Via Dinarica Western Balkans tour which the National Geographic has rated as one of the world’s top five hot new hiking and biking trails.

The majority EU-funded €445,000 two-year project that has already kicked off will develop two new hiking and biking long-distance trails that will connect Kosovo and its cross-border Bjeshkët e Nemuna (Accursed Mountains) and the Kosovo municipalities of Gjakova, Deçan, Junik and Peja to northern Albania’s municipalities of Kukës and Lezha regions.

Valbona and Theth are the main destinations on the Via Dinarica section in Albania.

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.

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.

Earlier this year, the National Geographic France rated taking an adventure trip to Albania as one of the top tours on travelers’ to-do-list for 2018, recommending Albania as a perfect adventure travel destination offering trekking, horseback riding, rafting and kayaking.

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.”
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Sept. 13 – The visa free travel that Albania offered to Chinese tourists this year has had a positive impact on increasing the number of tourists from the world’s second largest economy and the largest source of outbound tourists.

Although still modest considering the huge potential and traditional Albania-China ties, the number of Chinese tourists to Albania rose to more than 8,600 until early July 2018, a 50 percent hike compared to the first half of 2017, according to the Chinese embassy in Tirana.

The hike comes as Albanian authorities also included China on the list of countries whose citizens can visit Albania without visas this year after more than 10,000 Chinese citizens visited Albania in 2017, almost double compared to the previous year.

The visa waiver allows Chinese tourists to visit Albania from April 1 to October 31, 2018 and stay in the country for up to 90 days, benefiting Albania’s rapidly growing tourism industry and potential Chinese tourists to the tiny Balkan country which in the 1960s and 70s was the key ally of then-communist Albania and has now emerged as one of the top investors and trading partners.

An entire generation of Chinese people who grew up with Albanian movies for about two decades until the late 1970s and have now retired are the most likely segment to visit Albania, considering their ongoing nostalgia for Albania.

The potential is huge as China had an estimated 127 million outbound tourists spending more than $110 billion in 2017, ten times the Albanian GDP, and managing to attract only a tiny portion of Chinese tourists would have huge benefits for Albania’s economy, which remains one of Europe’s poorest.

Regional package holidays, as Western Balkan countries are already planning, could also be more appealing to Chinese tourists considering the small size of six EU aspirant regional countries but with emerging coastal and mountain destinations and a variety of civilizations and cultural heritage dating back to ancient times.

 

Chinese tourist amazed

Ding Jian is one of the Chinese tourists who visited Albania last August together with his wife and son, taking advantage of the 90-day visa free travel Albania is offering to Chinese citizens for seven months until late 2018.

The manager of a hotel catering company in his home town of Hangzhou, a city of some 9.5 million residents in East China, Ding Jian said he was amazed by his two-week stay in Albania.

"The greatest impression we had were the people. They were so friendly and simple," Jian tells China Radio International in the local Albanian service

The Chinese tourist spend his holidays at Kavaja beach, central Albania, but also visited Tirana and the historic town of Kruja.

"In order to get used to the Albanian lifestyle, we went for a coffee as soon as we stepped down the plane. Then we came to Kavaja which has beautiful beaches with soft and natural sand and cheap umbrellas, sunbeds and rooms," he is quoted as saying.

"We noticed that Albanians are happy people despite their living conditions. Before visiting Albania, I read on the web that the economic situation in the country is not very good, but when we came here we noticed expensive cars and taxes," he adds.

The Chinese tourist says his wife also liked the Albania holidays a lot and that his 13-year-old son said he would like to study in Albania, where Chinese language and culture is promoted by a Confucius Institute in Tirana.

Speaking about food, Ding Jian said what he loved most in Albania was Italian-style wood-fired pizzas, fish and seafood risotto. "I can say that the food is much different from Chinese one. My job consists in catering for hotels and that's why I am familiar with Western food. But as a common Chinese, I will switch back to my own cuisine in the next few days. I am thinking about introducing the Chinese to pizzas and seafood risotto,” he says.

"I think the hotel standard in Albania is quite good, and even better compared to Chinese hotels of the same level. What I suggest is increasing the variety of Chinese food at restaurants as food is very important to common Chinese. If I am given the opportunity, I would like to invest in Albania's food industry because there are few Chinese restaurants there," says Ding Jian, adding that he would like to explore southern Albania Riviera in his next Albania trip.
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Sept. 12 – Road and tourism infrastructure at the UNESCO World Heritage site of Berat, southern Albania, is being given a facelift thanks to a World Bank project supporting urban and tourism development in the country.

A UNESCO World Heritage site since a decade, Berat is having one of its characteristic cobblestone streets leading to the landmark castle repaved, upgrading infrastructure at a time tourism has emerged as the main business in town.

The reconstruction of the ‘Mihal Komneno’ pedestrian cobblestone street and the ‘Tabia’ view point on the way to the local ancient castle is being carried out as part of a larger World Bank-funded project supporting four tourism centers south of Albania, including the UNESCO World Heritage sites of Berat and Gjirokastra, as well as Saranda and Permet.

The US$ 71 million project will help create jobs, increase incomes, and support local economic development by improving urban infrastructure, enhancing tourism assets, and strengthening the capacity of institutions to support tourism at local level, says the World Bank.

The Berati projects underway are focused on upgrading road and underground infrastructure to the local ancient castle, the main tourist attraction in the hilly town, nicknamed the “city of a thousand windows.”

"With the support of the World Bank, we are working on two important projects in Berat. The rehabilitation of ‘Mihal Komneno’ pedestrian cobblestone street and the reconstruction of the ‘Muzak Topia’ street whose works are scheduled to start soon" says Eris Zenelaj, a contract manager at the state-run Albanian Development Fund.

Eugen Kallfani, the director of the Berat regional directorate of cultural monuments, says the reconstruction of the cobblestone street is well aligned with the development priorities of Berat and preserving the town’s cultural and historical heritage.

"The stones and skills used to lay the street perfectly reflect the preservation of old tradition and techniques," he tells the World Bank in a video documentary.

Local government officials expect the number of tourists in Berat, a two-hour drive south of Tirana, to be visited by a record 100,000 tourists this year.

“The region of Berat is home to 486 cultural heritage monuments which has had an extraordinary impact especially on the cultural tourism flow in the past two to three years. Talking numbers, we expect some 100,000 visitors to visit Berat this year," says Kallfani.

Mishela Kazazi, a tourism expert at the municipality of Berat, says tourism in town is becoming year-round and that she is optimistic the new rehabilitated streets will boost tourism in Berat and increase tourist numbers at the castle neighbourhood.

The Tabia view point in the southern part of the castle offering a panoramic landscape of Berat is also being reconstructed as part of the project that involves rehabilitation of both the traditional and the urban streets, including the upgrade of water supply and sewerage systems as well as street lighting.

"We believe that this street will bring us many benefits, as we have participated in public hearings for this purpose. I think that will bring added value for our city. New hotels, hostels and restaurants are being built and the rehabilitation of this street will also bring new serious investment," says Valter Mio, the manager of a local hotel.

Built on the banks of the Osumi River over 2,400 years ago and home to an ancient castle that towers over the city, Berat is among the main tourist destinations in Albania, unique city for its overlapping houses.

The cobblestone layers have engraved every street in Berat and the stone pathways that surround the castle, making it resemble a decorative hand-woven carpet.

"My grandfather and father used to be cobblestone masons. We have preserved this skill generation after generation to conserve Berat history as a city built on stones," says Xhorxhi Fani, a cobblestone mason in Berat.

 

Development alternatives

A recent study on the integrated urban development of Berat has identified three alternatives for the city, says the Albanian Development Fund.

The first alternative sees Berat as a regional administrative center and a center of cultural events and services. The second one sees Berat as a green-blue environmentally-friendly and healthy city. The third alternative is focused on Berat as a city of cultural heritage and a regional tourism center. All three alternatives are based on strengthening the role of Berat as a UNESCO World Heritage site and the establishment of a vibrant environment that enables economic development based on culture and tourism. Packages to upgrade local infrastructure have been proposed for each of the alternatives in order to improve connection and mobility among the historic neighborhoods of Mangalem and Gorrica to the Osum river and urban space around the local cultural facility, the library and the squares.

 

Emergency restoration needed

A UNESCO site since 2008, Berat has in the past few years had much of its road infrastructure and main tourist attractions such as the 18th century seven-arched stone Gorica bridge, a 13th century orthodox bridge and a museum of icons named after Albanian 16th century iconographic painter Onufri.

Heritage experts say that dozens of protected monuments of cultures, several of which abandoned, are in urgent need of intervention and careful restoration has to be made in order to preserve originality in the characteristic houses, some of which have been turned into guesthouses.

Since 2008, Berat has been inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage list as a rare example of an architectural character typical of the Ottoman period. Located in southern Albania, Berat bears witness to the coexistence of various religious and cultural communities down the centuries. It features a castle, locally known as the Kala, most of which was built in the 13th century, although its origins date back to the 4th century BC. The citadel area numbers many Byzantine churches, mainly from the 13th century, as well as several mosques built under the Ottoman era which began in 1417.

Berat bears witness to a town which was fortified but open, and was over a long period inhabited by craftsmen and merchants. Its urban centre reflects a vernacular housing tradition of the Balkans, examples of which date mainly from the late 18th and the 19th centuries. This tradition has been adapted to suit the town’s life styles, with tiered houses on the slopes, which are predominantly horizontal in layout, and make abundant use of the entering daylight, says UNESCO.
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Sept. 4 – The Ksamil islands and the nearby beaches in southernmost Albania offer one of the most breathtaking views of the Albanian Riviera and regularly make it to promotional spots of the country’s emerging tourism industry, but ongoing neglect over their rehabilitation following the demolition of some illegal buildings few years ago has sparked environmental concern.

Construction on the Ksamil islands has been banned for many years now, but the rehabilitation of the islands from the demolition of illegal constructions in 2014 is still out of the agenda by central and local government institutions, reports the Voice of America in the local Albanian service in a video documentary prepared by young journalists of a local journalism center.

The four small islands at Ksamil coastal area, just off the Greek island of Corfu, feature some of the most popular beaches and are recommended as a must-see to foreign tourists, but traces of the demolitions and environmental degradation from the brutal intervention during Albania’s transition there are still visible.

In 2014, three illegal buildings, including a hotel, a bar and a restaurant built on the biggest Ksamil island were demolished through remote-controlled explosions in an operation that almost risked an environmental disaster following a blast-triggered fire risking the island's vegetation.

Four years on, digging on the island to pave the way for the now demolished constructions and raw material still mar the island's view.

The islands remain covered in lush, green vegetation throughout the year and can be easily accessed by small boats.

The Butrint islands are the sole Albanian islands that are protected as a part of the national Butrint archeological park, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Albania also has another island, the Sazan Island, a military base in southern Albania which turned into a popular tourist attraction after first opening up in 2017 following decades of secrecy and mystery. The tiny now uninhabited 5.7-km2 island and the Karaburun peninsula form the first and only national marine park of Albania.

The Ksamili islands have been a natural monument since 2002, but environmentalists say there is yet no plan to rehabilitate them from the damage they have been through over years of neglect. Culture ministry officials also admit there is no rehabilitation project.

Environmentalist Ened Mato, who spend part of his childhood in Ksamil, blames both authorities and local resident for the neglect to Albania's gems.

"There are also washing machines and fridges underwater which have been criminally dropped into the water and that coastal area is too small for so many buildings and sewage pipes,” Mato says.

Back in 2017, massive sewage spill following a broken sewage pipe almost ruined the summer tourist season in Ksamil.

Mato says fish is also a rare thing in Ksamili islands these days following years of illegal hunting.

“There has been much concrete poured there and what is needed there is more service alternatives and environmentally friendly tourism," Mato tells VoA.

The state-run National Agency for Protected Areas says visiting the islands, already performed by thousands of tourists each year, is one of the few activities that can be allowed at Ksamil islands, where sunbathing often causes pollution.

 

The Albanian gem

Ksamil is one of the Albanian popular destinations that is often recommended as one of Albania’s gems by international travel portals.

Back in 2016, Brussels-based European Best Destinations organization rated the Ksamil islands in southernmost Albania along the country’s Riviera as one of Europe’s best beaches for 2016.

“The four marvellous Ksamili islands only 8.9 ha when measured together feature some of the most unspoiled beauty in all Albania. They remain covered in lush, green vegetation throughout the year, and can only be accessed by small boats. The clear water surrounding these islands makes the pristine beaches in the area that much more special,” wrote the European Best Destinations.

Back in 2015, the Business Insider magazine also rated the Ksamil beach as one of Europe’s undiscovered gems.

“Ksamil Beach, Albania — Along with the rest of Albania, this remains one of Europe’s undiscovered gems,” wrote the American portal.

Located in the southern part of the Albanian Riviera, Ksamil is a popular destination only 15 kilometers south of Saranda and in the vicinity of the archaeological UNESCO site of Butrint.

“Ksamil has three small, dreamy islands within swimming distance and dozens of beachside bars and restaurants that open in the summer,” says the Lonely Planet tourist guide which in 2011 placed Albania as a top undiscovered destination before rating Tirana as one of the top ten European hotspots for 2018.

While a quiet village throughout the year, Ksamil becomes quite overcrowded with tourists during summer. The small islands are the main attraction, also featuring a number of isolated beaches.

During the past five years, Ksamil situated some 17 km south of Saranda, has been home to the mussel festival opening the tourist season in Saranda region in mid-May.

Saranda is known for its massive mussel production in Lake Butrint close to the UNESCO-listed Butrint archeological park, southernmost Albania, but has been banned to export mussels to EU on safety concerns for more than two decades since 1994.

As a result, domestic mussel production has dropped to less than 2,000 metric tons, from a record high of about 5,000 metric tons in the late 1980s.

Albania’s southern pearl, Saranda, is often placed as one of the top off-the-radar destinations that deserve holidaymakers’ attention.

 

Butrint Park

The Ksamil islands are just off the Butrint archaeological park, which has been under UNESCO protection since the early 1990s after the collapse of communist regime.

Inhabited since prehistoric times, Butrint has been the site of a Greek colony, a Roman city and a bishopric. Following a period of prosperity under Byzantine administration, then a brief occupation by the Venetians, the city was abandoned in the late middle Ages after marshes formed in the area. The present archaeological site is a repository of ruins representing each period in the city’s development, according to UNESCO.

Excavations have brought to light many objects – plates, vases, ceramic candlesticks – as well as sculptures including a remarkable ‘Goddess of Butrint’ which seems to completely embody, in the perfection of its features, the Greek ideal of physical beauty.
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Aug. 22 – Dozens of thousands of Bektashi believers and pilgrims of all religions have taken to Mount Tomor, southwest Albania, in an annual August pilgrimage commemorating Abbas ibn Ali, a saint who died at the 7th century battle of Karbala in a pilgrimage believed to bring healing and luck.

Pilgrims set up tents, slaughter animals and pray to Abbas Ali, to whose mausoleum on top of Mount Tomor the faithful go on pilgrimage every August 20 to 25.

One of the four traditional religions in Albania that is respected with a national holiday, the Bektashi, an ultra-liberal mystical Muslim sect with roots in Sufism and Shia Islam, make up between 2 to 3 percent of Albania’s population, mainly concentrated in southern Albania.

The Novruz Day, celebrated on March 22, has been a public holiday in Albania since 1996. The holiday is celebrated with a special pie and the traditional Bektashi dessert called Ashure, also known as Noah’s Pudding, consisting of grains, dried fruit and nuts.

The annual gathering brings together pilgrims who slaughter sheep and lambs, perform rituals such as painting foreheads in blood in honor of cleric Abbas Ali, have barbecues and light candles and pray at the saint’s tomb.

"This ritual is about everybody who believes, we pray to have our desires fulfilled," pilgrims say.

The landmark Kulmak tekke, a shrine where pilgrims come to seek healing, has been led by some of the most renowned Bektashi leaders.

Zalo Qato of the Bektashi community, says the tekke was set up in honor of Abbas Ali by Dervish Iliazi, a very respected Albanian cleric who was the first to serve in this tekke.

Abbas Ali lies buried in a tyrbe (mausoleum) on the southern peak of Mount Tomor and is venerated there by pilgrims. His tyrbe, constructed in 1620, later became a Bektashi pilgrimage site, being a few hundreds meters above the Bektashi tekke there, which was built in 1916.

According to one legend, Abbas Ali is said to have come from Arabia on a white horse to save the country from the barbarians and is supposed to have spent five days on Mount Tomor before departing to live on Mount Olympus.

Naim Frasheri, Albania's late 19th century national Renaissance poet who dedicated much of his work to the awakening of Albanians to seek independence, also mentions Abbas Ali in one of his poems.

"Abbas Ali took over Tomor/ he came to live with us / Albania was no longer afflicted/ for God came to love it" says Frasheri's poem as quoted in a translation by late Canadian-German Albanologist Robert Elsie.

 

President’s appeal 

In his visit to Mount Tomor this week, President Meta described the pilgrimage and massive attendance as a message to the challenges facing the country, especially young men and women leaving the country in search of a better future abroad.

"We need to love each other more and offer more hope, confidence and patience to young men and women so that they can build their future in these wonderful territories where there are great development opportunities. And for this, we always have to look back to those values that keep a family, a nation and a society together, strong, healthy and hopeful especially for the younger generation,” said President Meta, a Bektashi believer.

Around 250,000 people visit the mountain each year during the six-day pilgrimage.

 

Mount Tomor, Shna Ndou pilgrimages 

The pilgrimage to the 2,400 meter Mount Tomor peak, a symbol of Bektashism and Albanian 19th and 20th century Renaissance, takes place in Skrapar region, also famous for its Osumi River Canyon and rafting and canoeing.

Mount Tomor is sacred both to the Christians who used to climb it on August 15, Assumption Day, in honor of the Virgin Mary and to the Bektashi, who honor Abbas Ali during the annual August pilgrimage.

The mountain is considered the home of the gods in central Albanian popular belief, similar to Greece's Mount Olympus.

The mountain is personified as a god itself and known as Baba Tomor (Father Tomor) and swearing by Father Tomor among local residents is considered stronger than any sworn on the Bible or the Koran.

The Mount Tomor pilgrimage is not the sole religious holiday that brings together people of all religions in Albania, known for its religious harmony.

Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims of all religions visit the Shna Ndoi (St. Anthony) church in the northern Laç each year concluding a pilgrimage of 13 Tuesdays which stars in March. People of all faiths take the road to the popular church located on a hill some 50 kilometres from Tirana in a religious festival believed to bring healing and luck. Pilgrims believe that the rock at Shna Ndo is holy and touching it brings healing. St. Anthony was a pilgrim who is believed to have made some miracles during his stop to Albania on his way from Jerusalem to Vatican.

 

Bektashism in Albania

 

The Bektashi trace their entry into Albania to the famous 14th century legendary figure Sari Salltek associated with the town of Kruja, some 50 km off modern Tirana, where a month-long pilgrimage is also held each year from August 14 to September 14.

The Bektashi leaders were expelled from Turkey in the 1800s and early 1900s as heretics and found shelter in Albania as refugees because the country already had a strong Bektashi community and was tolerant on matters of religion. Some of Albania’s key figures from the national Renaissance era leading to the country’s independence, like the Frasheri Brothers, were Bektashi.

Likewise the other religious communities in Albania, the Bektashi community was persecuted by the communist authorities until dissolving in 1967 when Albania banned religion, becoming the world’s first official atheist country.

During the religion ban under communism, the Albanian Bektashi tradition was kept alive by a tekke in Gjakova, Kosovo and another one Detroit, the U.S.

The Tirana tekke and its world headquarters reopened in January 1991 as the communist regime collapsed.

Last year, Father Edmond Brahimaj, the head of the Bektashi community in Albania and around the world, was awarded the Global Peace Icon award by a U.S. based NGO for his “insight and unique ability to inundate the soul with immense love and humbleness.”

Albania’s religious harmony is praised internationally as an example to be followed.

Surveys show residents of Albania to be among Europe’s least religious people in terms of practicing any of the country’s four traditional faiths, but according to the latest 2011 census, Sunni Muslims constitute nearly 57 percent of the population, Roman Catholics 10 percent, Orthodox Christians nearly 7 percent, and Bektashi (a form of Shia Sufism) 2 percent.

 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Aug. 21 – Coastal destinations along the Adriatic and Ionian dominate trips by foreign tourists to Albania during summer. But for adventurers wanting to escape the heat wave and seeking a retreat, the northern Albanian Alps offering breathtaking views amid fresh air, river valleys with plenty of hiking, climbing and riding treks are a perfect opportunity.

The Valbona River Valley in the Albanian Alps, which is reached through a ferry trip and takes about seven hours from Tirana is one of the top northern Albanian destinations and more and more German tourists have been discovering it in the past few years.

German tourists are everywhere along Valbona.

Rainer and Petra are visiting the site for the third time.

"It's a beautiful landscape like the steep Dolomites mountain range. It's a spectacular view with mountains and lakes. We are surprised to see there are much more guesthouses compared to a couple of years ago," Mattias tells Deutsche Welle in the local Albanian service.

"On the way you can buy a lot of things to eat and drink and the infrastructure is good," he says.

His wife Petra says they bought cheese, yogurt and milk from local shepherds.

Meanwhile, Cathrin has travelled to Valbona from Wuppertal with her son.

“We were hoping for few tourists here. We are a little shocked of the numerous groups of tourists here, but it's very beautiful here. It's evident that the people want to do something about tourism and things here look on track.”

Eva and her boyfriend are visiting Albania and Valbona for the first time.

"We decided to come here because we love hiking and we are going to Theth. We are going to stay for three or four days in Valbona. The landscape is beautiful, the weather is wonderful and the people very hospitable," says Eva.

The camping site along the river is much more preferred compared to the hotel.

Besnik Hallaci of the regional administration for protected areas says he expects the number of tourists to Valbona to increase to 130,000 to 150,000 this year, up from 120,000 last year.

German tourists elsewhere on the Adriatic or along the Albanian Riviera say they are amazed at Albania’s stunning landscape, beaches, hospitality and food, but rather surprised by the poor public transport and reckless driving in the country.

Albanian food, especially seafood, is another delight for German tourists who consider it too cheap for its special taste similar to Italian and Spanish cuisine.

In a previous article, Deutche Welle compared the Albanian southern Riviera and especially the landmark Drimadhes beach to landscapes in the French Riviera and the Italian island of Sardinia.

Data published by state-statistical Institute, INSTAT, show about 49,000 Germans visited Albania in the first half of this year, about 20 percent more compared to the same period last year. However, a considerable number of German citizens are Albanian or Kosovars who have given up their Albanian citizenship to get the German one.

Regular direct flights connect Tirana to Munich and Frankfurt.

 

Hydropower concerns

But not everything is quite smooth in Valbona River valley, northeast Albania.

“Hiking along the road has become a bit difficult because of the construction of the hydropower plants. A new hiking path along the lawns would have been much better,” says Petra.

"I like it very much. It's a little bit like the Italian Alps. It's very nice here and I feel very comfortable." says Carin who has come to Valbona to protest against the ongoing construction of some hydropower plants.

"I heard about this hydropower project that the inhabitants of this valley don't want and we had a meeting with [American activist] Catherine Bohne and asked her how we could help them because my husband is a hydropower plant engineer,” Carin is quoted as saying.

“I think hydropower plants are a good thing, but there shouldn't be so many," she adds, supporting the idea of a small hydropower plant that would benefit local residents meeting their electricity needs.

Plans to build 14 hydropower plants in the Valbona river valley are already underway, despite protests by local residents and environmentalists who say they will destroy tourism in the pristine northeastern Albania area.

Albanian environmentalists have been protesting HPP construction projects along the Vjosa and Valbona rivers, two of Europe’s last wild rivers for the past couple of years, but court decisions have upheld government decisions to allow their construction.

Albania produces all of its domestic electricity from hydropower, three-quarters of which from three major state-run HPPs.

 

An emerging adventure travel destination

The National Geographic has also previously rated Albania as among the top ten places that deserve more travelers and recommended the Valbona Valley in northern Albania as one of the greatest 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.

“Either way, you should definitely indulge in one of their five-course, traditional Albanian dinners—stuffed peppers, fried cheese, and local, homemade brandy are the perfect way to watch the sunset turn the valley gold,” says National Geographic.

“The cragged peaks are formed from spectacular white rock, while the fir and beech forests form a deep green contrast. Now a national park, the valley is part of the Albanian Alps and a stretch of a 10-day loop called the Peaks of the Balkans. The trail climbs steep summits and winds along quiet river valleys, past summer grazing areas in mountain highlands and glacial lakes,” it adds.

Theth is another top Albanian Alps destination where mountain tourism has gained an upper hand in the past decade also thanks to German support to local residents who have transformed their traditional homes into guesthouses.
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, July 25 – Albanian environmentalists want a northeastern mountain region that is the country’s sole sanctuary of the critically endangered Balkan lynx to be declared a protected area.

Local environmental watchdog the Protection and Preservation of Natural Environment in Albania, PPNEA, says declaring the Munella Mountain a protected area would save the current handful of Balkan lynx from human-caused extinction and protect several other locally endangered species breeding there such as the brown bear, the wolf, the wild goat and the roe deer.

The Northeast Albania Munella Mountain is home to only four Balkan lynxes, whose presence in the area is critically endangered by illegal hunting and logging despite moratoriums in place as well as intentional fires and mining operations, environmentalists say.

Experts estimate there are only about 40 adult Balkan lynx in Munella which is one of the top two breeding sites in the region after Macedonia's Mavrovo national park where plans to develop hydropower plants were dropped last year after major banks withdrew funds following environmental pressure by watchdogs concerned over the destruction of Balkan lynx's natural habitat.

"The protected area status would reduce human pressure on the Balkan lynx population, its prey and habitat with a positive impact on the recovery of the Balkan lynx in Albania. The protected status would also give the poor and neglected area of Munella in the country an opportunity to have a development alternative focused on sustainable environmental and social development,” say PPNEA experts.

Munella is also home to a large copper plant, which is the biggest employer in the area.

However, despite continuous lobbying for the past four years, environmentalists have failed to convince central and local government authorities of the importance of declaring Munella a protected area.

The presence of the Balkan lynx was first documented at the Munella Mountain in 2011 through camera traps. In 2015, two Balkan lynx cubs were found dead in the area, one of which shot dead by a local farmer apparently not aware of its protection and afraid of any possible attack to farm animals.

"Although the presence of a small Balkan lynx population makes the Munella region unique and important, the Balkan Lynx continues to face the threat of illegal human activities," environmentalists say.

Environmentalists says illegal hunting and logging continued even this year at Munella where blank cartridges and cut down trees were pictured, despite moratoriums in place to protect Albania’s declining forest areas and endangered fauna species.

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.

The Protection and Preservation of Natural Environment in Albania has earlier warned illegal logging in the Munella Mountain, the country’s sole sanctuary of the Balkan lynx, is further putting at risk one of the most threatened wildlife species in serious danger of extinction.

Last November, camera traps also revealed the presence of the Balkan lynx at the Nikaj-Merturi regional nature park in northeastern Albania bordering Kosovo.

Back in 2015, the Balkan lynx was listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature, IUCN, Red List of Threatened Species as Critically Endangered.

“The continuous presence of the Balkan Lynx is so far only confirmed for Macedonia and Albania in two separate, but relatively close locations, therefore the population is considered to consist of two subpopulations. Camera-trapping surveys resulted in a single observation from Kosovo, possibly a dispersing animal,” says IUCN.

“The presence of the Balkan Lynx in Montenegro and Greece is presently regarded as unlikely. The only known area with reproduction is Mavrovo National Park and its vicinity in Macedonia, the larger and eastern of the two subpopulations,” adds the Switzerland-based organization.

Protected areas represent about 16 percent of Albania's territory and range from national parks to natural monuments, parks, landscapes and wetlands.

Watchdogs have warned hydropower plants in protected areas are inflicting serious damage to nature and biodiversity.

In 2017, a new law on protected areas finally forbid the construction of hydropower plants in Albania national parks, but this move comes too late for those plants such as Rapuni located at the Shebenik-Jabllanicë National Park, east of Albania close to the Macedonia border.

In late 2017, animal rights activists submitted more than 37,000 signatures in a petition addressed to MPs seeking to make animal cruelty punishable by fines and even imprisonment by amending the country’s Criminal Code.

The initiative, which has not been examined yet by Parliament, comes amid a rise in reported cases of animal abuse thanks to technology.

Brown hares and bears being killed and advertised as trophies on social networks or endangered species such as the Balkan Lynx kept embalmed at restaurant bars in addition to caged bear cubs held in captivity are some of the cases the PPNEA watchdog has identified.
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, July 24 - Poles are leading the hike in Albania tourist arrivals for a second year in a row as Albania has climbed to one of the top 7 most popular destinations there and more charter flights directly link Poland's major cities to Tirana.

The ninth largest nationals of foreign tourists visiting Albania, the Poles rank first when it comes to annual growth rates in an ongoing upward trend for the past few years.

Data published by Albania’s statistical institute, INSTAT, shows some 21,000 Poles visited Albania during the first half of this year, about a quarter more compared to the same period last year.

Prospects for the remaining half of the year are optimistic as the year’s first half arrivals were negatively affected by a rainy June and stronger growth is expected in the peak July and August months at a time when charter flights from Warsaw, Gdnask, Kotowice will be regularly linking Poland to Tirana from June to September 2018.

The Poles made it to the top ten of foreign tourists visiting Albania last year, with a record 74 percent hike to about 115,000 tourists, according to INSTAT.

The hike comes at a time when Albania climbed to the seventh most favorite destination for Poles for the 2017-2018 season in a ranking published by PZOT, the Polish Tour Operators Association, after first making it to the top ten for 2015-2016 when it ranked ninth in terms of popularity.

PZOT says Polish interest to visit Albania for 2017-2018 climbed by 75 percent compared to a couple of years ago, ranking Albania the seventh top destination with a 3.2 percent share among 20 destinations globally.

Poles are mostly interested in the southern Albanian Riviera offering a mix of rocky and sandy beaches and ancient sites dating back to ancient Illyria, the predecessor of Albania, as well as Roman and Greek heritage sites, but there is also huge interest in discovering northern Albania and the emerging mountain tourism there.

A combination of quality beaches, affordable accommodation units, good food and hospitality are key factors in bringing Poles to Albania.

Cheap prices compared to more established regional destinations with an earlier tradition in tourism compared to Albania which was cut off from the world for about half a century under a hardline communist dictatorship also play a key part in attracting Poles and other central and northern Europe tourists.

"We are back to Albania because the people are great, prices are much cheaper compared to Greece where we earlier went on holiday," a Polish tourist told a local Albanian TV, visiting Albania on a bike tour for a second time, this time exploring the southern Albanian Riviera after a mountain tour north of the country a couple of years ago.

Students are also among the biggest Polish visitors to Albania.

"We have been to various countries and last summer we were in Croatia. But this time we read that Albania is supposed to offer ideal holidays and that it would be great. In fact it is true and it's very cheap, which is a good thing for us students who can't afford to spend much," another tourist says.

Poles are also reported to have become the third largest buyers of apartments along the Albanian Riviera after Norwegians and Russians, according to real estate agents.

With a population of 38 million, Poland is a huge potential market for Albania’s emerging tourism industry.

Poland’s Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz who visited Tirana earlier this year said tourism is great potential to bring closer the two countries that have eight decades of diplomatic relations.

“I am aware that tourism is an important sector of the economy. Albania is a beautiful country and Poles appreciate it, which is confirmed by an increasing number of my compatriots among tourists visiting your country,” minister Czaputowicz told Tirana Times in an interview ahead of his Albania visit last May.

Polish ambassador to Albania Karol Bachura says Albania has become a new discovery in the old continent.

“I think Albania is relatively close, it has great potential as a tourist destination, a wonderful climate and it’s a safe country,” Ambassador Bachura has earlier said.

“Polish tourists are present all around Albania, but the majority of them certainly prefer the coastline, especially the southern part of the country. However, there are tourists seeking new forms of tourism such mountain hiking, motorcycling etc.,” the Ambassador says.

Albania and Poland established diplomatic relations in 1937 soon before WWII but ties between the two countries date back much earlier during the 15th century under Skanderbeg’s era when the two nations aligned against the Ottoman Empire.

Considered an EU success story, Poland has offered to share its pre-accession experience with Albania, which has been striving to open accession talks since mid-2014 when it became an EU candidate country.

Albania had some 1.9 million foreign tourists visiting the country during the first half of this year, a majority of whom ethnic Albanians from Kosovo, Macedonia and Montenegro in what is often referred to as a segment of ‘patriotic tourism.’

Nordic tourists have also been visiting Albania in much bigger numbers during this year, with regular charter flights bringing tourists from Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Finland who have booked some of the best hotels along the country's Adriatic coast until next September.

The travel and tourism industry was one of the key drivers of the Albanian economy in 2017 when authorities say it generated a record high of €1.7 billion in income, up about 12 percent compared to a year ago as the country was visited by more than 5 million foreign tourists.
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                    [post_date_gmt] => 2018-07-19 22:59:15
                    [post_content] => TIRANA, July 19 - Seventeen-year-old Albanian Klaivert Dervishi was part of the duo that impressed audiences in Valencia’s DreamHack venue, by winning the Fortnite gaming competition, which granted the winning team €5,000.

In what looks like a hobby to some, Dervishi has found a passion which he plans on sticking with, and eventually even turn into a profession.

Having broken his third world record on June 28 in the solo vs. duo category, where he managed 31 kills, Dervishi says he is considering to even start his own game one day, or become the head of eSports - a form of competition using video games.

Last April Dervishi, who goes by the name of Teeqzy in his online gaming platforms, placed an absolute world record of 43 kills in the solo vs. squad category - this remains the highest number of kills a player has managed to achieve at a Fortnite Battle Royale, in all game platforms and modes.

“My online name Teeqzy doesn’t have any special significance,” Dervishi told Tirana Times during an exclusive interview, “I just randomly clicked on the keyboard, and really liked the way the outcome sounded.”

Followed by approximately 126,400 subscribers at his online YouTube channel, Dervishi differs from other gamers in terms of his performance - while it is common for Fortnite gamers to under-perform during live Youtube gaming sessions, he reached his record 43 kills during a live gaming session, as he was also playing the moderator’s role.

Now, the Albanian teenager, who lives in Belgium, has been offered job positions and significant amounts of pay from some of the best gaming companies in the world.

“I play many hours each day, in order to train. I don’t feel time passing because I play with passion and when I don’t feel like playing anymore, I simply stop and make time for myself. My parents were worried at first, as they primarily think about my studies, but I proved to them I can dedicate time to gaming as much as studying, and so I won their trust,” Dervishi explains. 

His words are not just claims, and his results are proof of that - Dervishi graduated high school with honors, while he is already making his own money at seventeen, having won complete financial independence.

“Being financially independent at seventeen is awesome. I am aware that I’m very lucky but nonetheless I’m trying to remain grounded and be careful, money-wise. I don’t spend on too many things, except maybe for tools or equipment that are needed in gaming. I am also trying to save in the meantime, to be able to afford my future projects.”

His maturity and level of confidence when it comes to his gaming routine and future have managed to also win his parents’ trust and support, which has also reassured him on the steps he is willing to take in the future to make his gaming plans a reality.

“First and foremost, I play for passion, not money or popularity. I am the same person I was when I first started, and, of course, I am Albanian, before being Belgian,” Dervishi comments, on what is probably the most frequently asked question coming from Albanian media. 

“I have kept contact with my home country, Albania, I try to visit as frequently as possible, when I make time between dealing with school and gaming. I try to make the most out of seeing my family and vacating there…family comes before everything else,” he concludes. 

Teeqzy and Verrmax was the duo that awarded the Millenium team the world cup in online gaming at Valencia’s DreamHack - a sports event that has been increasingly gaining attention also in Albania, due to its popularity but also due to recent research pointing to links between game skills and intelligence, thus removing the stigma associated with spending too many hours in front of the computer. 

 
                    [post_title] => Klaivert Dervishi: The 17-year-old Albanian eSports world champion 
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            [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_138546" align="alignright" width="300"]neranxi 2 Photos: Neranxi Culinary Institute https://www.facebook.com/instituti.kulinar/[/caption]

TIRANA - "A cuisine chef does never arrive at the destination. He is always in a long search of perfection and novices. But it is a beautiful road never getting you bored," the President of the 'Neranxi Company', Nikollaq Neranxi has said in the inauguration ceremony of the 2018 - 2019 Academic School year of the Neranxi Culinary Institute in Tirana.

"There would not be a more beautiful manner to celebrate the tenth anniversary of our school in the atmosphere of this wonderful view," Mr. Neranxi said on September 17, 2018, launching the second decade of the Institute which is called the gate of the 'Tirana's culinary aroma' where many culinary professions have been taught.

More than a thousand students were present at the ceremony attended by representatives of the diplomatic corps in Tirana, businessmen and customers, relatives of the students and journalists.

In his emotional greeting, Mr. Neranxi extended his thanks to the Tirana German development cooperation agency, GIZ, for the cooperation with the Institute.

"A sincere thanks to GIZ for the two-year support provided to the students of vulnerable families as well as for the help given to the performance of the Neranxi Culinary Institute," Mr. Neranxi said, thanking also Albania's municipalities across the country which have picked up the students to attend the Institute.

In the meantime, he said that hundreds of students who graduated from the Institute already work in Albania and abroad.

"Some of them have started their businesses and are doing well. We continue to support them as they are customers of the Neranxi Co.," said Neranxi.

Ms. Josephine Desepada from Philippines, a chef and professor of Asian Cuisine at Neranci Co., said among others: "This company has given many opportunities to Albanians, particularly to youth, to find a job. In addition, more than the profession itself, students have learned much about social life."

 

What GIZ official told students

"I can assure you that you are at the right address. On behalf of GIZ, I would like to wish you all a great academic year," said Esra Misrahi, a programme coordinator of GIZ’s ProSEED Programme in her address at the inauguration ceremony.

"I would like to say that our ultimate goal is to boost employment, especially young people. In that spirit, we support private providers in Albania, and Neranxi is one of them in that respect; we are very happy and satisfied about our cooperation with Neranxi Co," GIZ's Misrahi told the students and participants at the launch ceremony of the 2018 - 2019 academic year of the Neranxi Culinary Institute in Tirana.
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