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Charter flights bring thousands of Ukrainian, Russian-speaking tourists to Albania

Charter flights bring thousands of Ukrainian, Russian-speaking tourists to Albania

TIRANA, June 19 – Ukrainians are among the new tourists to massively visit Albania for this year, joining Nordic countries as well as some central European countries who have been discovering Albania and its emerging tourism industry in the past

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Saranda makes it to top off-the-radar destinations around the world

Saranda makes it to top off-the-radar destinations around the world

TIRANA, June 14 – Albania’s southern pearl, Saranda, has been named by prestigious Business Insider portal as one of the top off-the-radar destinations that deserve holidaymakers’ attention. “Saranda, a resort in the Albanian Riviera, is equally known for its archaeological

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Albania’s bathing waters rate mostly excellent, sufficient quality, EU watchdog says

Albania’s bathing waters rate mostly excellent, sufficient quality, EU watchdog says

TIRANA, May 31 – Five wastewater treatment plants that Albania has made operational in recent years have considerably improved the quality of the country’s bathing waters, giving a boost to the emerging travel and tourism industry, although Albania has to

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New Via Dinarica hiking, biking trails to connect northern Albania to Kosovo

New Via Dinarica hiking, biking trails to connect northern Albania to Kosovo

TIRANA, May 28 – New hiking and biking long-distance trails linking Albania to neighboring Kosovo are 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

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Tirana makes it to Europe’s 2018 top 10 hotspots

Tirana makes it to Europe’s 2018 top 10 hotspots

TIRANA, May 23 – Albania has made it to the top ten European hotspots for 2018 in Lonely Planet’s travel guide on a list topped by Italy and Spain but also featuring Kosovo, the continent’s youngest country, as a surprise

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British, Canadian media recommend Albania as up-and-coming, budget destination

British, Canadian media recommend Albania as up-and-coming, budget destination

TIRANA, May 14 – With the 2018 season already underway, British and Canadian media have recommended Albania as an up-and-coming and budget summer destination that has much to offer and discover after shrugging off its communist past and isolation in

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Durres becomes Albania’s magnet for Nordic tourists

Durres becomes Albania’s magnet for Nordic tourists

TIRANA, May 15 – The coastal city of Durres may not be a favorite destination to most Albanians who have become tired of it, but is becoming a magnet for Nordic tourists who have booked some of the best local

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Osumi River Valley, Albania’s ‘Grand Canyon’

Osumi River Valley, Albania’s ‘Grand Canyon’

TIRANA, May 10 – Albania’s most popular adventure travel destination, the southern region of Skrapar has launched its 2018 tourism season amid an improved tourist infrastructure for rafting lovers along the Osum Canyon. Marking Europe Day from his native Skrapar,

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Let the Southern games begin

Let the Southern games begin

By Sidonja Manushi Vuno might be nothing but a small dot in the South of Albania’s comparatively unknown geographical map, but anyone who’s set foot there will guarantee this: few other places can provide its salt-smelling summer air, its hanging

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Vjosa HPPs threaten critically endangered fish, environmentalists warn

Vjosa HPPs threaten critically endangered fish, environmentalists warn

TIRANA, May 1 – Hydropower development plans along the Vjosa River in Albania, one of Europe’s last wild rivers, could lead to the extinction of two critically endangered fish species growing there, a study has found. Currently, two hydropower plants

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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, June 19 – Ukrainians are among the new tourists to massively visit Albania for this year, joining Nordic countries as well as some central European countries who have been discovering Albania and its emerging tourism industry in the past few years as one of Europe’s last secrets and an up-and-coming destination.

Regular charters from Ukraine have been flying to the Tirana International Airport, Albania’s sole international airport, six times a week starting early June, having already brought thousands of Ukrainian and Russian-speaking tourists.

Sky Up, a Ukrainian charter airline, has arranged 96 flights to Albania in partnership with an Albanian tour operator from June until the end of September, says TIA, the Tirana International Airport.

“Tourist numbers are growing in Albania, and the new interest is very high to see this country. I am sure that the warm hospitality of the Albanians will be very welcome, treating the new guests well and making them wish to return. TIA is happy to support these routes financially and contributing to tourism across borders,” says Rolf Castro-Vasquez, TIA’s Chief Executive Officer.

A country with a resident population of some 45 million, Ukraine is a huge potential for Albania’s emerging travel and tourism industry and sporadic visits by Ukrainian travelers until a few years ago have now become well-organized and sharply increased in numbers.

Tatyana Bajraktari, a Ukrainian lady married to an Albanian and managing a Tirana-based tour operator and several rented hotels around Albania, has had a key role in promoting Albania to her homeland and increasing the number of Ukrainian and Russian-speaking tourists to Albania.

"I have always maintained that Albania possesses a real gem which with some arrangements can become much more valuable. Mother Nature has given a lot to Albania including mountains, seas, lakes and endless historic sites. The thing is how to make use of them and bring people here," says the Ukrainian travel manager who brings Ukrainian, Russian and Belarus tourists to the country.

Her husband Bledi Bajraktari, who serves as Ukraine's honorary consul to Albania, says he expects the number of Russian-speaking charter tourists to double to 20,000 this year.

The central Albanian city of Durres is a favorite for family holidaymakers and children enjoying sun and sea along the Adriatic coast while young couples seeking adventures often try the southern Albanian Riviera offering a combination of sandy and rocky beaches.

Some 5,000 Albanians live in the southern Odesse region in Ukraine. The Albanian community there settled in the 18th and 19th centuries from Bulgaria, having previously escaped 15th century Ottoman occupation from the southeastern Albanian region of Korça.

Ukraine is mostly popular in Albania for its sports stars, former AC Milan striker Andriy Shevchenko, the current coach of Ukraine whom Albania played in a recent friendly , and the Klitschko brothers who dominated heavyweight boxing for more than a decade until the early 2010s.

NATO member and EU candidate Albania has also joined Western sanctions over Russia's 2014 annexation of Crimea.

Albanian regularly lifts visas for Russian, Ukrainian and several other former Soviet Union countries for most of the year.

This year’s tourist season in Albania is being characterized by a sharp increase in charter flights, mostly bringing Nordic tourists who are massively visiting Albania, having booked up the best hotels along the Adriatic coast of Durres for most of the season.

Charter flights will regularly link Copenhagen, Oslo, Stockholm and Helsinki to Tirana from May to early October 2018. In addition, direct charter flights from Poland, Hungary and Russia as well as new regular flights with Israel and a new low-cost carrier linking Tirana to London are much promising for this season in Albania.

The travel and tourism industry was one of the key drivers of the Albanian economy in 2017 when it generated a record high of €1.7 billion in income as the country was visited by more than 5 million foreign tourists, according to central bank and INSTAT data.

Closed to tourists for about five decades under a Stalinist dictatorship, Albania has a rather later tradition in tourism compared to its regional competitors, but quality investment and service in the past decade and a mix of natural and cultural heritage dating back to ancient times have rated it as “Europe’s last secret” and a destination worth being visited.

 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, June 14 - Albania's southern pearl, Saranda, has been named by prestigious Business Insider portal as one of the top off-the-radar destinations that deserve holidaymakers' attention.

“Saranda, a resort in the Albanian Riviera, is equally known for its archaeological ruins and its beaches. While you'll find the remains of a 5th-century synagogue in the town itself, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that dates to prehistoric times is located about 12 miles outside Sarandë. The site, Butrint, has in the course of its storied history functioned as a Greek colony, a Roman city, and a bishopric,” writes the Business Insider portal.

Saranda is the only Balkan town to make it to the 40 underrated destinations around the world which the Business Insider says deserve more attention compared to popular destinations at the top of tourists' travel bucket list.

From overlooked second cities — Bergen, Norway, and Valparaíso, Chile, to name a few — to beautiful islands such as Anguilla and Pangkor Island, Malaysia, Saranda, on the southern Albanian Riviera is ranked the second most popular among 40 underrated travel sites.

“If you'd rather catch some rays than sightsee, some of the most popular beaches in the area include Mirror Beach, Santa Quaranta Beach, and Pulebardha Beach.As an added bonus, the Greek isle of Corfu is just a short ferry ride away,” says the Business Insider.

"A friend's photos of Pulebardha Beach was the impetus for my visit to Albania and it was well worth the visit," writes a TripAdvisor user.

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

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

In 2013, Saranda, known for its beautiful pure Ionian waters, was named by the United States Price of Travel portal as the third cheapest beach destination in Europe.

“The town of Saranda in the south is arguably the highlight of the Albanian Riviera, and part of its appeal is that it’s just across the channel from the (also modestly priced) Greek island of Corfu. Perhaps one day it will be competing for the mass market cheap holidaymaker, so it could be a good choice for those who like to go to those places first so they can complain about the development later,” says the portal.
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, May 31 – Five wastewater treatment plants that Albania has made operational in recent years have considerably improved the quality of the country’s bathing waters, giving a boost to the emerging travel and tourism industry, although Albania has to further improve the quality of its excellent waters in order to catch up with leading EU travel destinations.

As the country gears up for its peak 2018 season, a report by Denmark-based European Environment Agency, an EU watchdog, has rated the overwhelming majority of about 85 percent of Albania's bathing waters of excellent and at least sufficient quality, up from 66 percent in 2016 to account for Albania’s best ever result since 2014.

In Albania, 55 percent of bathing waters for 2017 rated at excellent quality and a combined 84.3 percent of all existing coastal bathing waters met at least sufficient water quality standards in 2017, says the report.

Only 12 bathing waters out of total of 102, mostly situated in downtown port areas and where rivers flow into the sea were rated of poor quality while quality qualification was not possible for four bathing sites due to not enough samples or new bathing waters subject to changes or closed.

“In Albania, assessed under the provisions of the Bathing Water Directive for the third time, 12 bathing water sites (or 11.8 percent) were classified as poor, which is 2.3 percentage points less than in 2016,” says the report examining the quality of bathing waters in 28 EU member states, Switzerland and Albania.

“Since 2015, when 31 bathing water sites (or 39.1 percent) were quality assessed as 'poor', the number of bathing water sites classified as poor has decreased significantly. This improvement can be associated with the five waste water treatment plants constructed in recent years, which provide waste water treatment for almost half a million residents and contribute to better bathing and overall water quality,” adds the report.

The wastewater treatment plants in the Adriatic beaches of Durres, Kavaja, Shengjin and Velipoja as well as the southern Ionian waters of Saranda were made available through EU support, considerably improving water quality along the country’s 476 km coastline since 2015 when about 40 percent of the country’s bathing waters were rated of poor quality.

The report shows most of Albania’s excellent water quality beaches are found along the southern Riviera in Himara and Saranda, but also Vlora where the Adriatic meets the Ionian. Excellent and good water quality beaches also dominate the more overcrowded Durres, Shengjin and Velipoja beaches in central and northern Albania.

Ten new coastal bathing waters were identified in Albania in 2017, taking the total number to 102 which represents 0.5 percent of Europe's bathing waters.

Albania's maximum bathing season in 2017 was at 128 days from May 16 to September 29.

Water samples are taken and analysed for two bacteria, Escherichia coli and intestinal enterococci which may indicate the presence of pollution, usually originating in sewage, livestock waste, bird faeces and water quality classified as excellent, good, sufficient or poor.

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

Three UNESCO World Heritages, the Butrint archaeological park and the historic towns of Gjirokastra and Berat, in southern Albania, also unveil the rich cultural heritage in Albania, a gateway to the Mediterranean boasting a mix of Illyrian, Roman, Greek and Ottoman civilizations.
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, May 28 - New hiking and biking long-distance trails linking Albania to neighboring Kosovo are 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, the EU Delegation to Albania says in a statement.

"The development of these trails will contribute to enrich the tourism offer that links mountain communities and tourism stakeholders in the target region for the valorization of unique natural wealth and cultural-historic heritage. Furthermore, the project would increase attractiveness of the area for visitors through small-scale interventions and effective promotion and marketing of the destination," says the EU Delegation.

The project is expected to significantly contribute to the development of mountain and sustainable tourism in northern Albania, the country’s hotspot for adventure travelers, and further promote cross-border tourism in a region that remains quite undiscovered to adventure travelers.  It comes as a continuation of the previous concepts of Via Dinarica and Peaks of the Balkans that inter-connects Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Kosovo and Albania through over 1000km of uninterrupted long-distance trails.

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

“For anyone who’s ever dreamed of being a 19th century naturalist explorer the mountains of northern Albania is heaven. A wild, high, mountainous region inhabited by strong and fiercely independent people, the Malësi (Highlands) has for the history of Albania been the region which was never really conquered or subdued by the various waves of invaders during the last 2,000 years of Balkan history,” the Via Dinarica says on its portal.

The National Geographic has rated Via Dinarica, which in 2017 was completely mapped with stage information from a growing community of hikers, among the top five new hiking and biking trails.

“A European odyssey, the Via Dinarica runs like a rocky backbone along the Western Balkans. It starts in the peaks of northern Albania, winding its way through five countries before ending in Slovenia. The challenging White Trail is already beckoning — at 782 miles, it takes in some of the highest summits, with a combined ascent of nearly 170,000ft. Take a tent, or check-in at highland huts and farm-stays,” says UK’s National Geographic about the Balkan Via Dinarica.

The Vogue magazine has also earlier recommended Via Dinarica among the 9 destinations every adventurous women should visit.

“Trekkers can experience the rich, cultural heritage of the region during homestays in local villages and mountaintop or seaside huts. The 128-mile route weaves through the unexplored region, where limestone peaks meet the Adriatic Sea and views of glacier-fed lakes prove frequent. If you prefer to cycle the Balkans, opt for a spot on The Odyssey with TDA Global Cycling, a seven-week tour from Athens to Amsterdam that stops in Albania, Montenegro, Bosnia, Croatia, and Slovenia,” the Vogue says.

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

The 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.

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.

Rafting and kayaking along the Osum and Vjosa canyons, southern Albania, as well as paragliding along the Albanian Riviera can really get the adrenaline flowing.

The Pellumbas and Erzen and Tujani Canyon outside Tirana are also gaining an upper hand as adventure travel destinations due to their short distance from the country’s sole international airport.

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, May 23 – Albania has made it to the top ten European hotspots for 2018 in Lonely Planet’s travel guide on a list topped by Italy and Spain but also featuring Kosovo, the continent’s youngest country, as a surprise destination to discover.

Albania is represented in the ranking with Tirana, the country’s capital which is described as a vigorous metropolis that has undergone transformation and that offers much to visitors.

“One would be hard-pressed to imagine a better-placed travel hub than Tirana, which sits between the Adriatic Coast and the Albanian Alps. But this is no gateway town; rather, it’s a vigorous metropolis that has undergone a transformation thanks to its former mayor (now Albania’s prime minister), who had drab buildings painted in primary colours, encouraged commuters to eschew their cars for bikes, and placed greater emphasis on the city’s green spaces. The result is compelling,” says Lonely Planet in its Tirana description.

Back in 2011 when Albania was branding its tourism industry as ‘Europe’s last secret’ and a “New Mediterranean love,” the popular travel guide ranked long-isolated Albania under communism as the number one global destination to visit.

“A typical day might include catching a cable car from the centre to the city’s peak, Mount Dajti, for panoramic views, lingering over a slow-food experience at a local bistro, and then a night-time tour of the cocktail lounges and designer boutiques of the fashionable Blloku neighbourhood, once the territory of corrupt communist bosses,” Lonely Planet says about Tirana.

Tirana’s deputy Mayor Arbjan Mazniku says Lonely Planet’s ranking of Tirana among Europe’s top 10 destination is good news, but not something unexpected as more and more tourists have been visiting capital city in the past few years.

“Tirana will showcase a series of events this summer, at least two to three each week. Of course, being landlocked, Tirana is not the country's main destination, but yet is the starting point to many international tourists," Mazniku told a local TV this week.

Two famous singers of Albanian roots will perform at Tirana’s reconstructed Skanderbeg central square in early June.

Kosovo-born, UK-based R&B singer Rita Ora will be performing on June 3. The Kosovo-Albanian singer also previously performed in Tirana in 2012 when Albanian celebrated its 100th independence anniversary and was also one of the Albanian performers at a concert at St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican City in Sept. 2016 when the world famous nun of Albanian origin was declared a Saint.

Rita Ora's concert will be preceded by another emerging Albanian talent, Italy-based singer-songwriter Ermal Meta who in 2018 won Italy's Sanremo music festival and successfully represented Italy at the Eurovision song contest to finish fifth.

Tirana Mayor Erion Veliaj has earlier invited beach holidaymakers to spend evenings in the company of  Tirana events.

Tirana is a 400-year-old town that has been the country's capital city since 1920 when its population was at only more than a dozen thousand compared to a present day 800,000.

Tirana was established in 1614 by Sulejman Pasha from the village of Mullet who first build a mosque, a bakery and a Turkish sauna. However, the capital outskirts boast settlements and archeological heritage dating back to ancient times.

In addition to the communist legacy for more almost five decades until the early 1990s, Tirana and many Albanian cities also owe much to Italian 20th century architecture.

Italian architects designed major public buildings and squares in Albania from 1925 to 1943. In Tirana, Italian planners and architects designed the main square named after the national hero Skanderbeg, the central boulevard, the ministry buildings, the national bank and the town hall.

The communist regime has also left its mark with several Socialist Realism and former Soviet Union style buildings.

Last year, Tirana's landmark Skanderbeg square was given a facelift that completely transformed the most important public space linked to a number of historical events and manifestations from King Zog’s reign until WWII, to the communist takeover and the early 1990s protests for democratic changes.

Tirana is also becoming an emerging adventure travel destination with sites such as Mount Dajti, the Pellumbus Cave, the Erzen and Tujan Canyons, outside the capital attracting more and more adventure travelers.
                    [post_title] => Tirana makes it to Europe’s 2018 top 10 hotspots 
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                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_137155" align="alignright" width="300"]giz 2 Photos: Armand Habazaj © GIZ[/caption]

TIRANA, May 14 – With the 2018 season already underway, British and Canadian media have recommended Albania as an up-and-coming and budget summer destination that has much to offer and discover after shrugging off its communist past and isolation in the early 1990s.

The UK’s Daily Mail has rated Albania as one best up-and-coming travel destinations that most holidaymakers don't know about and compares Albania's southern Riviera to Italy's famous Amalfi Coast.

“Once the poorest nation in all of Europe, Albania has shrugged-off its socialist past,” World Nomads travel expert Isaac Entry is quoted as saying.

“Amalfi Coast is seen throughout Instagram feeds and is on everyone's bucket list because of the captivating scenery. The downside of its popularity is that you will have to battle with other visitors if you want the perfect photo, so travel expert Isaac Entry suggests people instead head to the Albanian Riviera,” writes the Daily Mail on its portal.

“With Greece to the south and Italy’s ‘heel’ cross the Adriatic, there’s an endless supply of pretty coastal villages along the Albanian Riviera – and almost NO-ONE on them! Albanian wine is pretty good too,” says Isaac Entry.

Meanwhile, the UK’s Telegraph rates Albania eighth among the world's 15 most underrated destinations.

“Considering it has superb Roman ruins, good food, glorious scenery, ridiculously low prices, and 380 miles of Mediterranean coastline, you'd imagine Albania would attract more than 80,000 British travellers each year - out of a total of four million,” the Telegraph says on its online version.

Another British portal, the Standard.uk, rates Albania as the number one destination among 12 countries that one needs to keep on their travel radar.

"Albania rose eight places on the latest report meaning it’s an exciting up-and-coming travel destination. While there, make sure you check out the Albanian Riviera and wander through Gjirokastra, the ‘city of stone,’” says the London Evening Standard on its online version.

Earlier this year, Hungarian low-cost carrier Wizz Air launched direct Tirana-London flights, offering a new cheaper opportunity to British tourists and a community of more than 13,000 Albanian residents in the UK.

Albania has been placed on the list of safe countries for Britons to visit for 2018 at a time when major destinations face severe to likely terror threats, according to the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office travel advice.

Data published by the country’s state statistical institute, INSTAT, shows some 127,000 British citizens visited Albania in 2017, a 24 percent hike compared to the same period last year. The number of Albanian citizens visiting the UK is considerably lower as Albanian citizens need visas to visit Britain.

Canada's Troy Media has also recommended Albania as one of the cheapest European destinations for a budget traveler.

“Albania is another destination perfect for everything from a city break to a week spent lazing on the beach. The city of Tirana offers visitors a new take on a city break, with just enough familiarity to include everything you love about them!” says the Troy Media portal.

“The pristine stretches of coastline are practically untouched due to the lack of tourism here, but that lack of tourism also accounts for the much lower prices! There are no tourist traps to fall into here, so you can sit back and relax with a low budget of just €20-€30 a day at most,” it adds.

Earlier this year, the National Geographic also rated Albania among the 2018 places one needs to visit, especially for adventurer travelers and divers.

“Sunken aqueducts, shipwrecks, and rarely visited caves are a few of the relatively untouched treasures awaiting divers in Albania. Decades of isolation under communist leader Enver Hoxha limited development and inadvertently preserved underwater cultural heritage, particularly off the southern coast,” says the National Geographic, featuring a picture of a diver exploring a cargo of amphoras from a Roman-era shipwreck.

The fun fact about Albania is that late dictator Hoxha famously banned scuba diving to prevent Albanians from escaping, adds the National Geographic.

The Irish Times has also rated Albania as one of the top two budget destination for 2018, sandwiched between the Spanish Costas and Turkey.

“Not the first place a family might think of, nor the easiest to get to – you’d have to travel via Manchester – but it has novelty factor and is much cheaper than Italy or Croatia. The beaches are beautiful, the villages quaint – look towards the medieval town of Kruja, Apollonia’s ruins and Berat, the Unesco World Heritage site famous(ish) for Byzantine churches and Ottoman architecture,” says the Irish Times.

“Car hire is less than €10 a day and restaurants and accommodation are as cheap. And the sun will shine,” it adds.

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 “A new Mediterranean love” and “Europe’s last secret.”
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, May 15 – The coastal city of Durres may not be a favorite destination to most Albanians who have become tired of it, but is becoming a magnet for Nordic tourists who have booked some of the best local hotels and resorts for the next four months.

Elidon Delilaj, the manager of a hotel at Durres beach, says the 140 rooms that his hotel offers have almost been fully booked until next August by Nordic tourists from Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland as well as central European holidaymakers such as Poles and even Italians.

The manager says the arrival of Nordic tourists is a test for Albania’s emerging tourism industry and tourism in Durres, the country’s largest destination.

“Despite tough competition with Greece, Spain and Portugal, we believe we will soon catch up with their standards," Delilaj tells a local TV.

Closed to tourists for about five decades under a Stalinist dictatorship, Albania has a rather later tradition in tourism compared to its regional competitors, but quality investment and service in the past decade and a mix of natural and cultural heritage dating back to ancient times have rated it as “Europe’s last secret” and a destination worth being visited.

Danish carrier Jet Time recently brought the first 130 Scandinavian tourists for this season.

“This is the first group of tourists from Scandinavia and we are expecting others from Sweden and Norway. People from Scandinavian countries are very interested to see Albania and we wish them a wonderful experience," said Rolf Castro-Vasquez, the director of Tirana International Airport, the country's sole airport.

Charter flights will regularly link Copenhagen, Oslo, Stockholm and Helsinki to Tirana from May to early October 2018. In addition, direct charter flights from Poland, Hungary and Russia as well as new regular flights with Israel and a new low-cost carrier linking Tirana to London are much promising for this season in Durres.

"We are from Finland and this is our first time in Albania where we are staying for two weeks. People are nice and the service is good. We are having a nice time," says a Finnish tourist.

Among holidaymakers, there are also ethnic Albanians from Kosovo or Macedonia, accounting for almost half of tourists to the country and the segment being often referred to as ‘patriotic tourism.’

“This is my first time here. I am here with my fiancé and it's exactly what I expected it to be," says a young lady, originally from majority ethnic Albanian-inhabited Tetovo, Macedonia, but who grew up and lives in the U.S.

With a coastline stretching 62 km along the Adriatic, Durres is Albania's largest beach destination and also boasts much history dating back to ancient Roman and Greek times as well ancient Illyria, the predecessor of present-day Albania.

The port city of Durres is one of the country’s busiest cities during summer when it is flocked by dozens of thousands of tourists enjoying its beaches and cultural heritage sites.

The central Albanian region is known for its massive tourism in its Durres and Gjiri i Lalzit beaches as well as a wetland near a naval base. More and more quality hotels and resorts as well as residential areas have been developing in the past few years as Durres seeks to attract European tourists.

However, the major part of the coastline is overcrowded with apartment blocks and hotels build in the early 1990s and 2000s without a clear strategy for the country’s largest destination.

Tax incentives reducing VAT on accommodation units to 6 percent, down from a standard 20 percent, as well as tax exemptions on elite tourism facilities are expected to increase quality tourism in Durres, the country’s second largest city, only a 30-km drive from Tirana and its airport.

The travel and tourism industry was one of the key drivers of the Albanian economy in 2017 when 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, according to central bank and INSTAT data.

The Durres port is also Albania’s main cruise ship tourism destination bringing about 10,000 tourists a year.

The new bigger municipality of Durres following the 2015 administrative reform has a resident population of 175,000 people and includes five former coastal municipalities and communes.

The city’s population more than doubles in summer with dozens of thousands of local and foreign holidaymakers.

However, handing the waste issue which is often burned in the open air just outside the city due to lack of a proper landfill remains a key issue to settle.

Civil society activists and local residents have also been critical of a €6 million government-funded project who they say risks burying ancient ruins in concrete next to the landmark Durres castle and Venetian tower.

The project was suspended for one year by a local court and only resumed this year after it was changed to preserve Roman and Ottoman era discoveries during the digging.

The Veliera luxury veil-like square is situated in front of the country’s biggest port of Durres next to the landmark Durres castle and Venetian tower.

Founded in the 7th century BC under the name Epidamnos, Durres has been continuously inhabited for 27 centuries and is one of the oldest cities in Albania. The city boasts a Roman amphitheater of the 2nd century A.D, one of the largest in the Balkan and a restored archeological museum showcasing thousands of items dating back from prehistory to antiquity, the post-Byzantine and Middle Ages.

The port city of Durres also offers tourists attractions such as the Roman thermal baths, the Byzantine wall with its towers, the Byzantine forum, the Venetian tower, the Arapaj Basilica and the ethnographic museum.

Archaeologists have discovered some of the country’s most beautiful mosaics in the ancient city of Durres and its suburbs including the famous “Durres Beauty” mosaic which is on display at the National Historical Museum in Tirana.

 
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                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_137017" align="alignright" width="300"]osum 1 Osum Canyon; Photos: visitskrapar.com[/caption]

TIRANA, May 10 – Albania’s most popular adventure travel destination, the southern region of Skrapar has launched its 2018 tourism season amid an improved tourist infrastructure for rafting lovers along the Osum Canyon.

Marking Europe Day from his native Skrapar, President Ilir Meta said this week Skrapar and its famous canyon and Mount Tomor are set to become one of the Balkans most popular destinations if current insufficient accommodation capacities increase and local traditions are preserved.

“Skrapar will soon be one of the whole region's most important tourist destinations as other countries are already investing to create artificial rafting environments at a time when we already have them unique and incomparable even compared to other bigger and more popular countries,” Meta told local residents at the Çorovode town, the seat of the municipality of Skrapar, where a local products fair opened the 2018 tourist season.

A mountainous area, Skrapar is now a municipality of some 12,500 residents, situated some 33 km from the UNESCO World Heritage site of Berat and 172 km from Tirana but poor road infrastructure does not make it accessible in less than three-hour drive. Thousands of rafters and adventure travelers from all over Europe have been discovering its canyon offering rafting and kayaking opportunities as well as many other outdoor sports such as climbing and trekking as well as mountain biking.

“It is difficult to find rooms in Skrapar to bring friends and guests and that is something positive as well as a challenge because boosting tourism and the number of visitors requires the increase in accommodation capacities,” said President Meta.

“It requires the improvement of infrastructure, but also the improvement of service quality and especially the preservation of local traditions and their characteristics that can impress local or foreign visitors. That is why this local products fair is very important to promote the further development of the area,” he added.

osum 3Nesim Spahiu, the Mayor of Skrapar, says tourism in Skrapar is set to become a year-round industry as the number of rafting tourists has doubled to 12,000 in the past few years while the number of total tourists visiting the Skrapar region is more than 50,000.

In addition to the unique Osumi Canyon, Skrapar also boasts Mount Tomorr, a site of pilgrimage for Bektashi believers that is also becoming a popular climbing and trekking route.

Bektashi believers and pilgrims of all religions take to Mount Tomorr every August, commemorating Abbas ibn Ali, who died at the battle of Karbala in the 7th century, in a pilgrimage believed to bring healing and luck.

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.

“Tourism in Skrapar used to be considered a seasonal event, only related to rafting with several months of tourism depending on the river’s water flows. Today, tourism in Skrapar is no longer seasonal, but year-round,” says Skrapar Mayor Spahiu.

“But as the number of tourists keeps rising, there is still a lot to do with tourist accommodation so that tourists can stay more than one day,” he adds.

The Skrapar Mayor says his municipality is cooperating with local government officials from the UNESCO World Heritage sites of Gjirokastra and Berat as well as Permet, a southern Albania town also famous for its Langarica Canyon, to offer joint package holidays as part of a "Travel your own way" project that is expected to finalize next year and have a major impact on the four regions.

Local government officials say they are encouraging local farmers along the Osum River valley to invest in their houses and turn them into accommodation units as an opportunity for the area’s sustainable economic development.

“Farmers must overcome hesitation and invest in their homes and turn them into accommodation units for tourists so that the accommodation capacity increases," says the mayor pledging local government assistance in grant application.

The Trans Adriatic Pipeline bringing Caspian gas to Europe and whose Albania section also passes through Skrapar has given a boost to the local area development, supporting infrastructure, local employment as well as social projects.

However, road infrastructure linking Skrapar to the UNESCO World Heritage site of Berat has been damaged as the TAP consortium worked to build the natural gas pipeline.

A new $46 million government funded project is set to improve Skrapar's connection to Korça, the largest south-east Albania on the border with Greece, paving the way to new potential tourists from the neighboring country. Part of the proposed 106 km road has already been completed by Norway's Statkraft that is building two huge hydropower plants in the Devoll area.

Skrapar officials say Italian experts have helped establish road and tourism signs and promote investment in tourist destinations during this year.

Back in 2017, two panoramic balconies over Osumi canyon, a joint investment of the Albanian-American Development Foundation and the Trans Adriatic Pipeline, were made available for tourists.

The construction of two viewing platforms, the ‘Flag’s Panoramic Loop’ and the ‘Bride’s Hole’, allows tourists, visiting the Skrapar area, to have safe access to a bird’s-eye view over the canyon.

 

Osumi Canyon 

The Osumi River canyon is one of the most spectacular natural attractions of Albania. During spring, high water from melting snow makes it possible to explore all 26 km (16 mi) of the canyon from the river. Spring is also the best time to view the many waterfalls in the canyons, which thunder from above as explorers pass below on boats. The rapids are Class-II, so one does not need prior white water experience to join the fun. At the end of the summer, when the water is lower, boating the full length of the canyon is not possible, but there are many wonderful hikes with opportunities for swimming in various pools and streams.

The edges of the canyon are notable for its unique ecosystem that preserves the greenery on both sides of canyon year-round. Mediterranean bushes like heath and briar flourish along with a rich and lively world of flora and fauna. On the slopes of the canyon, erosive activity has created pockmarked cavern walls, with small caves to explore as well. Some of the rock formations in the canyon have fanciful names such as the Cathedral, the Eye, and the Demon’s Door, according to a description on the Western Balkans Geoturism MapGuide.

 

An emerging adventure travel destination

Taking an adventure trip to Albania has been rated as one of the top tours on travelers’ to-do-list for 2018.

National Geographic France has rated Albania as the 11th most beautiful destination for adventure seekers along with trips to exotic places such as Papua New Guinea’s tribes, the Sudan temples, the Chinese Shangri-La and as well as Madrid street art, Macedonia’s melting pot, a weekend in Hamburg and Californian vineyards.

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

The travel and tourism industry was one of the key drivers of the Albanian economy in 2017 when 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, according to central bank and INSTAT data.
                    [post_title] => Osumi River Valley, Albania’s ‘Grand Canyon’ 
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                    [post_content] => By Sidonja Manushi

[caption id="attachment_136930" align="alignright" width="300"]DSCN9344 Tents under olive trees[/caption]

Vuno might be nothing but a small dot in the South of Albania’s comparatively unknown geographical map, but anyone who’s set foot there will guarantee this: few other places can provide its salt-smelling summer air, its hanging olive tree shades, its majestic view of the Ionian Sea and its free tour back to a time when life was simpler and purer. 

This year, the South Outdoor Festival offered its crowd all that, and then some more. 

Looking to promote the country’s most day-dreamy region, SOF has been going through the southern snaky roads that cut through titanous mountains and lead to virgin, utopic beaches, jumping from one remote location to the other in the past couple of years to mark the start of adventure season. 

And so, on April 27, as the temperatures in the country bordered 30 degrees and Tirana started turning into a stove, nature lovers, party goers, adventure junkies and change seekers found Vuno waiting for them, marble tiles clean and shiny as ever, silence bearing nature and the sea majestically looking from afar, calling on life.

The magic happens before, way before one even reaches Vuno, sitting for years in a mountain ridge between Himara and Dhermi. Right after the Llogara road reaches the top of the Ceraunia Mountains, leaving way to the Ionian Sea to expend in the palm of one’s hand, the feeling of a choice well-made starts settling in. 

[caption id="attachment_136928" align="alignright" width="224"]unnamed Jal Bay[/caption]

Llogara’s panoramic view became one of SOF’s hottest spots of activities during this last weekend of April, seeing off people who, stripped in front of  professional flyers and underneath colorful gigantic clothes, paraglided between sky and sea-blue to what looks like an infinity without horizon.

Respecting the increasing need to return to traditionalism and our roots, something Vuno and other close-by villages offer naturally, SOF made sure to promote its unique architecture, cultural heritage, history and tradition by gathering locals to exhibit their culinary, artisanal and even cultural products in the same field close to Saint Spyridon Church where hundreds of participants from around Albania and the world were camping from Friday to Sunday. 

The three evenings that stretched into the night, but that everyone wished would last longer, were inaugurated by the iso-polyphonic sounds of the South, which UNESCO has declared a national cultural heritage. Next to the open-air food stands and the Vuno homemade jam markets, a group of amateur iso-polyphonic group of local men were giving their own show, which attracted no less than twenty foreigners filming them in amusement. 

“They’ve just began. It will take them a while until they catch a breath,” a local woman told a number of girls wondering when the men would get tired.

The children were another group which, like the singing men, didn’t get tired from the outdoor events and workshops offered for free in the festival grounds, the sports games, like archery, volleyball, American football, painting and pottery; they would be seen running around until the setting of the sun, passing through the cushions laid in front of the outdoor cinema screen, and among the people strolling, chatting and dancing in front of the stage. 

During the day, the SOF field and surrounding camping space completely came under the sun’s attention, chasing almost everyone away in nearby Jal Bay, which still stands in the populated end of the south’s beaches, in Gjipe Bay, the only-lately explored location that looks like the eyelid of the mountains that open up to it, or Himara and Dhermi, now popular, but always favorite. 

Each of these locations offered jeep safari, hiking, mountain biking, climbing, canyoning, free ride racing, kayaking and stand-up paddling under the monitoring of professionals, the cheap prices of Albania’s up-and-coming tourism and the raw, remote setting of the Albanian riviera. 

[caption id="attachment_136933" align="alignleft" width="300"]IMG_0144 (1) Vuno in the distance[/caption]

The cultural Himara Castle and Vuno tours, as well as the olive-oil tasting tour could not be absent for those looking to experience the more easy-going side of what the region has to offer.  

In turn, all the heat, physical effort and adrenaline people released during the day was rendered worthy when the sun would start setting in the distance, on top of vast fields of olive trees plantations, and the fireflies and fresh evening air would accompany a cold cup of beer and live music. 

With an end-party at the Gjipe Bay -  the surrounding rocks of which served as climbing spots for a number of people the same morning - that had some postponing the weekend with one more lazy day in the idyllic south, the German cooperation and Ministries of culture, tourism and environment cut the inauguration rope for a summer full of light, music and life. 
                    [post_title] => Let the Southern games begin
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, May 1 – Hydropower development plans along the Vjosa River in Albania, one of Europe’s last wild rivers, could lead to the extinction of two critically endangered fish species growing there, a study has found.

Currently, two hydropower plants have been given the final okay to develop along Vjosa, triggering protests by local and international environmentalists, worried over dams posing a key threat to the unique local ecosystem.

“Vjosa is by far the longest unspoiled river in the Adriatic basin and habitat for the critically endangered European eel (Anguilla Anguilla) and the regionally endangered twaite shad (Alosa fallax),” says the study examining endangered fish species along Balkan Rivers.

“Expansion of hydropower facilities in the last major free-flowing rivers on the Balkan Peninsula such as in Albania are a major threat to regional fish populations,” it adds.

The Vjosa River flows 192 km undammed through Albania to the Adriatic, making it one of Europe’s longest and most unspoiled river systems.

The study by Austria and Germany-based Riverwatch and EuroNatur environmental watchdogs has revealed that 113 endangered fish species find habitat in Balkan rivers between Slovenia and Greece, more than in any other region in Europe, making Balkan rivers Europe's fish sanctuary.

Eleven fish species would go globally extinct and another 38 species would be driven closer to the brink of extinction if the projected hydropower plants in the Balkans were to be constructed, notes the study.

“Hydropower development is endangering 10 percent of all river fish species in Europe. Thus, hydropower constitutes the biggest threat to our continent’s fish fauna,” says fish expert Steven Weiss of the University of Graz, the author of the study.

About 2,800 new dams are currently projected between Slovenia and Albania, which has pushed ‘EuroNatur’ and ‘RiverWatch’ to launch the “Save the Blue Heart of Europe” campaign in order to counteract the spate of destruction.

"Avoidance of hydropower expansion in these rivers would conserve a considerable number of species. Additionally, regions of Greece, Albania and Republic of Macedonia where all climate models support significant reductions in precipitation should consider whether additional hydropower exploitation is at all wise," warns the study.

Albania's domestic electricity production suffered a severe setback in the second half of 2017 as the country faced one of its worst droughts in decades, leading to costly electricity imports and underlining the need to diversify power sources.

Back in mid-2017, a first instance administrative court decided to suspend the Poçem hydropower plant construction works, but the legal battle continues and there are few hopes the project could be cancelled as the Albanian government has already concluded negotiations for the 35-year concession contract.

The Pocem HPP is a 100 MW HPP that will be built by a Turkish consortium that plans to invest about 101 million euros in the next three years and produce an annual 305 million kWh.

In late 2017, the government also awarded a Turkish-Albanian joint venture a contract to reactivate the abandoned Kalivac hydropower plant, the first concession HPP Albania awarded in 1997.

The concession was initially awarded to Italian businessman Francesco Bechetti whose Albania assets, including a local TV station, were seized in mid-2015 on suspicion of money laundering and fraud-related offences.

The concession plant will be a dam HPP close to the Kalivaç village, in the southern Albanian district of Tepelena, along the downstream of Vjosa River from the quota of 113 meters above the sea level to the quota of 73 meters.

Another study has shown that the boom in hydropower plant construction in the past decade has put significant pressure on the environment in Albania and international financial institutions are also to blame for this for financing the controversial projects.

A recent report by Bankwatch, a Czech Republic-based environmental and human rights group which monitored two European-financed HPP projects in Albania and six others in Croatia and Macedonia shows HPPs in protected areas are inflicting serious damage to nature and biodiversity.

Albania produces all of its domestic electricity from hydropower, three-quarters of which from three major state-run HPPs. Some 177 HPPs, mainly small and medium-sized ones built under concession contracts, are currently in operation and another 43 HPPs are under construction.

The Albanian government has earlier reacted to environmental concerns, saying that the Poçem and Kalivac are the only HPPs that will be built on the Vjosa River and the rest of the river will be declared a national park, making it the first natural river in Europe to obtain such protected status.

Similar HPP projects along the Valbona and Shala rivers in northern Albania have also triggered protests and environmental concerns and even legal action by local residents who fear their emerging local tourism industry could receive a severe blow.

In its latest Albania country report, the European Commission says investments in renewable energy projects other than hydropower need to be further explored.

“Plans for future plants (on the Vjosa and Valbona rivers, etc.) have generated debate about the need to address ecological considerations. Doubts have been expressed about the quality of strategic environmental assessments and environmental impact assessments carried out on energy projects,” says the report.

 
                    [post_title] => Vjosa HPPs threaten critically endangered fish, environmentalists warn 
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            [post_date] => 2018-06-19 20:48:18
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            [post_content] => TIRANA, June 19 – Ukrainians are among the new tourists to massively visit Albania for this year, joining Nordic countries as well as some central European countries who have been discovering Albania and its emerging tourism industry in the past few years as one of Europe’s last secrets and an up-and-coming destination.

Regular charters from Ukraine have been flying to the Tirana International Airport, Albania’s sole international airport, six times a week starting early June, having already brought thousands of Ukrainian and Russian-speaking tourists.

Sky Up, a Ukrainian charter airline, has arranged 96 flights to Albania in partnership with an Albanian tour operator from June until the end of September, says TIA, the Tirana International Airport.

“Tourist numbers are growing in Albania, and the new interest is very high to see this country. I am sure that the warm hospitality of the Albanians will be very welcome, treating the new guests well and making them wish to return. TIA is happy to support these routes financially and contributing to tourism across borders,” says Rolf Castro-Vasquez, TIA’s Chief Executive Officer.

A country with a resident population of some 45 million, Ukraine is a huge potential for Albania’s emerging travel and tourism industry and sporadic visits by Ukrainian travelers until a few years ago have now become well-organized and sharply increased in numbers.

Tatyana Bajraktari, a Ukrainian lady married to an Albanian and managing a Tirana-based tour operator and several rented hotels around Albania, has had a key role in promoting Albania to her homeland and increasing the number of Ukrainian and Russian-speaking tourists to Albania.

"I have always maintained that Albania possesses a real gem which with some arrangements can become much more valuable. Mother Nature has given a lot to Albania including mountains, seas, lakes and endless historic sites. The thing is how to make use of them and bring people here," says the Ukrainian travel manager who brings Ukrainian, Russian and Belarus tourists to the country.

Her husband Bledi Bajraktari, who serves as Ukraine's honorary consul to Albania, says he expects the number of Russian-speaking charter tourists to double to 20,000 this year.

The central Albanian city of Durres is a favorite for family holidaymakers and children enjoying sun and sea along the Adriatic coast while young couples seeking adventures often try the southern Albanian Riviera offering a combination of sandy and rocky beaches.

Some 5,000 Albanians live in the southern Odesse region in Ukraine. The Albanian community there settled in the 18th and 19th centuries from Bulgaria, having previously escaped 15th century Ottoman occupation from the southeastern Albanian region of Korça.

Ukraine is mostly popular in Albania for its sports stars, former AC Milan striker Andriy Shevchenko, the current coach of Ukraine whom Albania played in a recent friendly , and the Klitschko brothers who dominated heavyweight boxing for more than a decade until the early 2010s.

NATO member and EU candidate Albania has also joined Western sanctions over Russia's 2014 annexation of Crimea.

Albanian regularly lifts visas for Russian, Ukrainian and several other former Soviet Union countries for most of the year.

This year’s tourist season in Albania is being characterized by a sharp increase in charter flights, mostly bringing Nordic tourists who are massively visiting Albania, having booked up the best hotels along the Adriatic coast of Durres for most of the season.

Charter flights will regularly link Copenhagen, Oslo, Stockholm and Helsinki to Tirana from May to early October 2018. In addition, direct charter flights from Poland, Hungary and Russia as well as new regular flights with Israel and a new low-cost carrier linking Tirana to London are much promising for this season in Albania.

The travel and tourism industry was one of the key drivers of the Albanian economy in 2017 when it generated a record high of €1.7 billion in income as the country was visited by more than 5 million foreign tourists, according to central bank and INSTAT data.

Closed to tourists for about five decades under a Stalinist dictatorship, Albania has a rather later tradition in tourism compared to its regional competitors, but quality investment and service in the past decade and a mix of natural and cultural heritage dating back to ancient times have rated it as “Europe’s last secret” and a destination worth being visited.

 
            [post_title] => Charter flights bring thousands of Ukrainian, Russian-speaking tourists to Albania
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