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Daily Mail article forces gov’t to place under protection animals held in shocking captivity

Daily Mail article forces gov’t to place under protection animals held in shocking captivity

TIRANA, Oct. 17 – The Albanian government says it has ordered the relocation and protection of some malnourished and mistreated wild animals kept at a private zoo in Fier, southwestern Albania, following an article by the UK’s Daily Mail showing

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Polish Secretary of State: “Albania, important stabilizing role in the region”

Polish Secretary of State: “Albania, important stabilizing role in the region”

Interview with Szymon Szynkowski vel Sęk, Polish politician, party activist and local government official. From 2018, he has been serving as the Secretary of State in the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs.   Q: The number of Polish tourists coming

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Butrint set to become first Albanian site with an integrated management plan

Butrint set to become first Albanian site with an integrated management plan

TIRANA, Oct. 11 – Butrint is set to become the first Albanian UNESCO World Heritage site that will have an integrated management plan with a focus on its sustainable economic development and addressing challenges facing the country’s largest archeological park.

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A first-timer’s opera experience

A first-timer’s opera experience

By Sonja Methoxha TIRANA, Sept. 29 – The opera season in Tirana started on Sept. 27 through Sept. 30 with the return of Carmen on our stage. The production was a collaboration between the Tirana Theatre of Opera and Ballet

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Rehabilitated staircases ease access to Albania’s southern gem

Rehabilitated staircases ease access to Albania’s southern gem

TIRANA, Sept. 27 – Albania’s southernmost travel destination of Saranda is having its landmark staircases reconstructed as part of a facelift blending modernity with tradition thanks to a World Bank project supporting urban and tourism development in the country. Situated

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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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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Oct. 17 - The Albanian government says it has ordered the relocation and protection of some malnourished and mistreated wild animals kept at a private zoo in Fier, southwestern Albania, following an article by the UK's Daily Mail showing pictures exposing the shocking conditions of the animals and the zoo.

Environment Minister Blendi Klosi says he has ordered an operation by the Environment Inspectorate which is cooperating with the Fier Police and an animal welfare association to immediately relocate the mistreated animals held in captivity and place them under protection to put an end to what he calls a “shameful event.”

The relocation of animals at the Safari Park, a private run zoo that has been operating for years in Fier, Albania's third largest city, comes only after an article by a British tabloid despite the critical conditions of the wild animals held in captivity there already known by visitors to the zoo which also has a restaurant bar.

"Pictures taken at the Safari Park Zoo in Fier show a 'severely malnourished' lion living in cramped conditions with what appears to be an untreated eye injury. Other animals, including a zebra, a thin-looking wolf and several deer, were seen locked up in desolate concrete cages in the privately-owned zoological park," writes the Daily Mail.

Four Paws, a Vienna-based international animal welfare organization, which in 2016 pushed Albanian authorities to enforce a ban on the cruel keeping of bears, leading to more than a dozen bears and cubs being rescued from captivity, called the situation at the Fier zoo 'absolutely unacceptable'.

"Signs of the mental and physical impact of being kept in such abject surroundings can be clearly seen on each of the poor animals at the zoo. If something is not done soon, these animals will continue to suffer and most likely die in these unspeakable conditions," Ioana Dungler, the head of the Four Paws Wild Animals Department is quoted as saying.

“Once again, we see the horrific treatment of wild animals in poor captivity, all for the sake of tourism!” she adds.

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 Protection and Preservation of Natural Environment in Albania (PPNEA) watchdog has identified in Albania.

Four Paws says that Albania is currently home to some of the saddest bears in Europe with dozens of bears and cubs trapped in tiny cages as ‘tourist attractions’ at restaurants, petrol stations or hotels as a way of luring customers.

Dozens of other protected wild animals live in captivity as a considerable number of the identified abuses were advertised as trophies on social networks by perpetrators themselves, apparently unaware of the legal consequences that include heavy fines and even imprisonment.

The latest reported case involves two wolf cubs advertised for sale for €200 at a local trade portal.

Earlier this year, a German researcher assessing the effectiveness of the hunting ban that Albania has been applying for the past four years collected evidence proving that illegal hunting in Albania continues even in protected areas although the cases identified are sporadic and significantly lower compared to early 2014 when Albania imposed the ban.

Environmentalists have also identified golden eagles (Aquila chrysaetos), the symbol of Albania’s national red and black flag, kept in captivity, the killing of red foxes and a restaurant which had turned into a museum of embalmed species in a northern Albania beach areas.

Albania has banned hunting for the past couple of years and imposed a new five-year moratorium until 2021 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.

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, but the legal initiative that needs a qualified majority of 84 votes, three-fifths of the current 140-seat Parliament, has not been examined yet.
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                    [post_content] => Interview with Szymon Szynkowski vel Sęk, Polish politician, party activist and local government official. From 2018, he has been serving as the Secretary of State in the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. 

 

Q: The number of Polish tourists coming to Albania has increased significantly. In a way, Poland is rediscovering Albania through tourism. What is your evaluation of this development?  What have been the impressions that you have received?

A: Polish tourists are rediscovering Albania in tens of thousands, with growing numbers year by year. Albania in the season 2017 and consequently in 2018 has become one of the most popular tourist destination for Poles. In 2017 and 2018 Poles recorded in Albania the highest increase among foreign tourists. According to the Polish Institute of Tourism the dynamics of growth in 2016/2017 for Albania was 124% - second highest of all destinations (after Egypt but before Portugal, Cyprus, Bulgaria, Turkey, Italy, Spain, Greece and Croatia). I hope that our economic relations will also grow as fast as the number of Polish tourists travelling to Albania and soon, as in tourism, we record three digit numbers in turnover growth.

 

Q: Poland has been a consistent supporter of the European accession perspective of Albania and other countries in the region. How do you see the perspective now, with all the delay in the process as well as the complex situation within the EU?

A: Poland and Albania have a very good bilateral relationship confirmed by significant number of mutual visits and bilateral initiatives creating many opportunities for exchange of experience in various areas. I have to stress that no common border and long distance dividing Albania and Poland has never been an obstacle in mutual contacts. We see Albania as a country that plays an important stabilizing role in the region, keeping the positive relationship with all its neighbors. Albania remains for us also a reliable partner in NATO. We are very satisfied that very good political relations are followed by good economic cooperation. Despite the fact that, on the background of economic cooperation with other countries in the region, Polish-Albanian trade is not so big, the trend of exchange between our countries is growing. One of initiative aimed to strengthen economic ties between our countries is the Polish-Albanian Economic Forum - third session was held in the end of September in Tirana. 

 

Q: What is your assessment of the current bilateral relations between Poland and Albania? What is the potential for the development of these relations and what should both countries do to reach it?

A: We continue to support the EU “open door” policy in general and individual aspirations of each Western Balkan country including Albania. Poland understands importance of the EU accession for Balkan partners, their societies and economies. We are truly glad about renewed momentum in the enlargement policy that translated into an ambitious and forward-looking Western Balkans strategy that encompasses all the WB countries. We hope that "enlargement fatigue" is becoming history. However, before all member states can take a decision on opening negotiations with Albania, mutually agreed criteria in key priority fields must be fulfilled.

 

Q: Poland is taking over the Berlin process and organizing the summit in Poznan in 2019. This process is very important for the Western Balkans countries. Which will be the focus areas of discussion in this summit next year?

A: Poland is very satisfied with joining the Berlin Process and organizing the Western Balkans summit in July 2019 in Poznań. We look forward to cooperating with Balkan and EU participants on connectivity, economic integration and development, security and other areas that contribute to the region’s progress on the European path and its stability. We believe that our own experience of challenging reforms before joining the EU will provide an added value for the Process.

 

Q: In the meantime you have started a tour of consultations in preparation for the summit in the region. What has been the feedback received so far? How do you asses the current situation and developments in the Western Balkans?

A: It is still ongoing process. So far our Western Balkan partners have been very positive about ideas  and the content of the agenda of our presidency in the Process. Western Balkans still have a lot of challenges ahead with ensuring security, fighting illegal migration, people smuggling, radicalization, terrorism or hybrid threats on the top of the list. We cannot forget  the need for reconciliation and solving bilateral issues as well. Overcoming the past and bringing the Western Balkan societies closer together is necessary to boost economic cooperation and prevent conflicts and disputes that sometimes stall the integration process. We closely observe dialogue on normalization between Belgrade and Pristina, forthcoming election in Bosna and Herzegovina and implementation of the Skopje-Athens agreement. All those factors are crucial not only to the future of the countries involved, but also to the stability of the entire Western Balkan region.

 

Q: Can you share with our readers the significant reasons why Poznan was chosen as a site, instead of let’s say, Warsaw?

A: The explanation for choosing Poznań as a host city of the summit is very simple. Poznań is a great example how we should link the past to the future, make historical preservation relevant for today’s culture, society, and development. Poznań, one of Poland’s oldest city with over 100-year-tradition of holding fairs, is now leading, modern regional center of business, trade and fairs with great experience in hosting big events - for example, the 2008 Climate Summit.

 

Q: There is a lot of debate about the role of third actors such as Russia, China, Turkey and others. What is your view on the influence of these actors and on the relevant geopolitical developments in general?

A: I agree that in recent years, the slowdown of the EU enlargement process has allowed other powers to intensify their presence in the Western Balkans. Especially Russia has become proactive in the region since the annexation of Crimea. Russia doesn’t accept that the Western Balkans move towards the EU and NATO. The Kremlin intervenes in local politics and promote an anti-Western and populist narrative. Moscow has been increasing its investment in key strategic sectors in the region for some time – military, security, finance and energy, which remains a key target for Russian influence. Since that, we are glad that the European Commission, in the end of its term, has enhanced its commitment in the Western Balkans. Poland is consequently engaged in supporting the Western Balkan region in its European integration reforming efforts not only in EU political dimension but also in bilateral and regional formats of cooperation (e.g. expert-to-expert meeting as the Tirana conference format launched this year, Enlargement Academy or twinning projects).

 
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Oct. 11 – Butrint is set to become the first Albanian UNESCO World Heritage site that will have an integrated management plan with a focus on its sustainable economic development and addressing challenges facing the country’s largest archeological park.

UK-based Prince & Pearce has been hired to draft the Butrint integrated management plan for seven months until April 2019 through funding of $250,000 by the Albanian-American Development Foundation, AADF, in a project that is expected to transform current management of one of the country’s key heritage sites and set a sustainable development model for other important sites in the country.

Situated in southernmost Albania, close to the Greek island of Corfu, Butrint is one of the main tourist attractions in Saranda and along the Albanian Riviera with an estimated 170,000 tourists visiting it last year.

The Butrint integrated management plan is the first of its kind in the country after Albania adopted a new law on cultural heritage and museums earlier this year.

“The integrated management plan will conform to UNESCO terms and provide fresh and innovative perspectives with tangible and measurable framework for the sustainability of the site. In the longer term, the project aims to offer a new approach to heritage sites in the country by addressing issues relating to years of neglect, lack of adequate financing, sustainable conservation, increasing tourism, local capacity building and community outreach,” says the Albanian-American Development Foundation which has been supporting Albania cultural heritage and tourism projects for about a decade.

UK-based Prince & Pearce says it will lead a team of experts in the fields of Graeco-Roman archaeology, natural history and biodiversity, tourism and infrastructure, cultural heritage management, business and operational planning, museology and interpretation as part of a project that will balance the conservation needs of the Butrint site with sustainable tourism to optimize public access and the economic potential of the region.

Albania’s culture ministry says the new management plan will offer guidance and policy, provide proposals on the possibility of economic development in the site and around it including travel and entertainment, propose a new management structure and increase the capacity of the park's managing staff.

The new project will also produce a new business plan on the Butrint UNESCO World Heritage site and prepare updated GIS mapping on the whole Butrint territory of around 9,000 hectares.

“The drafting of this plan is a great responsibility for this new stage of cultural heritage development. At the same time this is also a moment to provide an answer to some questions, dilemmas or attacks concerning Butrint," says Culture Minister Mirela Kumbaro, adding that preparatory work on the plan has been made in constant communication with UNESCO, the United Nations’ cultural body.

According to her, the new Butrint integrated management plan will duly address all challenges facing Butrint, the first Albanian site to make it to the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1992.

Last year, heritage activists protested the construction of a restaurant bar inside the park’s facilities as a threat to the park’s development, but the ministry argued there was nothing illegal and the project served tourists to the site.

Inhabited since prehistoric times, Butrint, a UNESCO site in southernmost Albania, 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.

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

UNESCO has earlier warned that due to their geographical location or materials, structure and condition of the buildings, Albania’s three World Heritage sites of Berat, Gjirokastra and Butrint are exposed to various natural hazards such as earthquakes, landslides, fires and flooding.

Several factors that further increase the vulnerability of exposed populations and cultural heritage at these sites include limited awareness, public knowledge and training for disaster preparedness, inadequate infrastructure to address these hazards as well as the necessary resources to maintain them, unsafe buildings and exploitation of natural resources, says UNESCO.
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                    [post_content] => By Sonja Methoxha 

TIRANA, Sept. 29 - The opera season in Tirana started on Sept. 27 through Sept. 30 with the return of Carmen on our stage.

The production was a collaboration between the Tirana Theatre of Opera and Ballet and its Belgrade counterpart, an Albanian-Serbian joint work to celebrate art and music.

There were different artists portraying the characters in each night, so an enriched performance with flowing emotions would take place, the dynamic energy remaining as artists were taking their rest.

This was my first time in the opera. I went on the third night with a close childhood friend who was a first-timer as well. We shared feelings of anxiety and curiosity. We’ve certainly seen opera pieces on TV or the internet, but nothing beats the real thing. It’s simulation versus reality.

Carmen has four acts. The stage was already decorated for the first act, while a voice in the background repeated three times that the show would start soon, and that we should take our seats and turn the mobile phones off. On the meantime, the orchestra was playing some music to tune the instruments and fill the atmosphere until all was set.

The show started off with a game of cards. It is amazing to note the precision of the music with the blow of the cards on the table. This gave me a childlike enthusiasm and the appreciation of art’s wonders filled my chest.

Then the singing started. Suddenly, I could feel a large smile being carved on my face and my eyes sparkling almost as much as the stage lights. Goosebumps crawled on my skin. There was a piece of art which merges singing, symphony, storytelling, acting, visuals, history and fiction, into a thrilling production which explores the undying phenomenon of human character development and its love tangles.

However, on a more personal level, the piece spoke to me about the female pursuit of freedom. Living in a country where females are still objectified and face scorn both whenever they try to succeed on their own or choose a shortcut, they face violence along the way. Such cases occur mostly in the context of love relations, where love notion is equaled with possession, rather than real freedom, as should be the case.

Just like in Carmen, Don Jose for me represents the male privilege, which has built him soft and fragile with a high sense of pride that is easily being broken as the truth emerges from Carmen when she tells him that he doesn’t love her.

On Saturday, Sept. 26, Carmen was portrayed by Ivana Hoxha and Don Jose from Janko Sinadinovic. The duo was a smart combination which worked dynamically and managed to grasp and render the characters. Hoxha’s Carmen was energetic, mean and real in her depiction of sentiments, making sure to sing her thoughts clearly . 

Sinadinovic’s Don Jose was slushy, passively active, with an anticipation to his explosion in the end of the show which managed to shake the entire stage.

There was a fascination which grew in me. There was this harmony of the choir and the characters which sang at their own pace or acted in their own world. These worlds within the world of the stage which managed to coexist in concord. I couldn’t get enough of the interplay.

However, there were some technical issues which made the show a bit difficult to follow. The opera is written in French, and it was also performed in French. On the sides of the stage were two screens which showed the text in Albanian. It was like seeing the opera with subtitles. But, the subtitles weren’t always accurate; at times they forgot to display them, they weren’t following the text at all or just flashed by too quickly to be read. So in that sense, one couldn’t grasp the entirety of the plot and dialogue, unless they knew French or had already read the piece prior to the show.

There were a few instances when instead of conducting dialogue, the artists were staring from the audience instead of the interlocutor. And at times, Hoxha’s Carmen felt too wicked rather than playful and free.

At other times, the overall cast failed to follow the plot or read some movements of the characters. It focused more on the singing performance rather than exploring the full potential of the characters and exploiting the space to bring something more fluctuating, leading to everything feeling a little bit static.

Regardless, it was all an amazing experience full of wonder concerning the magic of the voice waves and how they can transmit energy and emotions. An alluring phenomenon on how sound can fill an entire auditorium.

The event took place at the Palace of Congresses, which is where the upcoming opera shows will be performed. 

The show was directed by Gezim Myshketa and the orchestra was conducted by Dejan Savic, director of Belgrade’s Opera. The main roles were performed by both Albanian and Serbian opera singers, and the two Balkan Operas anticipate future collaboration together, both in opera shows and ballet.

 
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                    [post_date] => 2018-09-27 18:50:48
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                    [post_content] => TIRANA, Sept. 27 – Albania’s southernmost travel destination of Saranda is having its landmark staircases reconstructed as part of a facelift blending modernity with tradition thanks to a World Bank project supporting urban and tourism development in the country.

Situated in the city center of Saranda, a town known as the Pearl of the Albanian Riviera, the staircases connect the waterfront walkway to the upper parts of the town, serving tourists, local businesses and residents especially in summer when the city becomes overcrowded with tourists, but using them had become quite risky during the past few years following years of neglect.

"The project includes the reconstruction of 4 out of 5 staircases in the city. This work is complemented with improvement of the infrastructure network, which includes water supply and sewerage system, use of rainwater for plants and lighting," says Pavli Mico, a contract manager for the state-run Albanian Development Fund that is implementing the World Bank-funded project.

"After the rehabilitation, the staircases will facilitate the pedestrians to stroll through the city. This project has been designed by blending modernity with traditions in the existing staircases, preserving the stone element, but adding the modern element of mosaics, decorative lighting and enhanced greenery," he tells the World Bank in a video documentary about the project.

Modern changes to the stairs have added a mosaic design through which one can discover the city.

Local government officials are also optimistic the project will contribute to the key travel and tourism in Saranda, also home to the UNESCO World Heritage site of Butrint and the famous Ksamil islands.

"The reconstructed staircases have enriched the city's architecture, ensuring better connections not only for the city's residents, but also for the tourists to visit the city's museums such as the Onhezmi Museum, the Monastery of 40 Saints and the Synagogue," says Robert Piro, the deputy mayor of Saranda.

But for some local residents, Saranda also needs new staircases to make access to local destinations easier.

"These initiatives are welcome of course because they will serve tourism development in Saranda. But for me, it would have been more efficient to add more staircases to the city," says Xhorxhi Vasili, a Saranda resident.

Vjola Demi, another Saranda resident, says the new stone stairs have brought more harmony to the city.

"As a citizen of Saranda, I think that the rehabilitation of stairs and the new design has made it easier for the citizens to move within the city. The old stairs were heavily damaged and the new white stairs have brought harmony with the beauty of the city," she says.

The World Bank says the next major improvement in Saranda will be the reconstruction of the existing promenade, including the rehabilitation of 12,700m2 of public space.

The project comes at a time when local travel agencies report a hike in tourist numbers in Saranda.

“Saranda has seen a steady increase in tourists in the last two years, many arriving by cruise ships. Visitors are attracted by the wonderful landscape, clear water beaches, archaeological sites and the city culture. We expect the number of tourists to increase by 25 to 30 percent compared to last year,” says Romina Laze, a representative of a local travel agency.

The staircase rehabilitation is 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 World Bank says 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.

 

The Albanian pearl

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 linking the two cities, Saranda faced a boom of unplanned and illegal constructions following the early 1990s, somehow spoiling the beauty of Albania’s southernmost coastal town.

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.

Earlier this year, Saranda, was named by Business Insider portal as one of the top off-the-radar destinations that deserve holidaymakers’ attention.

 

 

 

 

 
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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.
                    [post_title] => Neranxi Culinary Institute marks 10th anniversary of foundation
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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.
                    [post_title] => Ksamil islands, lack of rehabilitation project mars Albania’s tourism gems 
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            [post_content] => TIRANA, Oct. 17 - The Albanian government says it has ordered the relocation and protection of some malnourished and mistreated wild animals kept at a private zoo in Fier, southwestern Albania, following an article by the UK's Daily Mail showing pictures exposing the shocking conditions of the animals and the zoo.

Environment Minister Blendi Klosi says he has ordered an operation by the Environment Inspectorate which is cooperating with the Fier Police and an animal welfare association to immediately relocate the mistreated animals held in captivity and place them under protection to put an end to what he calls a “shameful event.”

The relocation of animals at the Safari Park, a private run zoo that has been operating for years in Fier, Albania's third largest city, comes only after an article by a British tabloid despite the critical conditions of the wild animals held in captivity there already known by visitors to the zoo which also has a restaurant bar.

"Pictures taken at the Safari Park Zoo in Fier show a 'severely malnourished' lion living in cramped conditions with what appears to be an untreated eye injury. Other animals, including a zebra, a thin-looking wolf and several deer, were seen locked up in desolate concrete cages in the privately-owned zoological park," writes the Daily Mail.

Four Paws, a Vienna-based international animal welfare organization, which in 2016 pushed Albanian authorities to enforce a ban on the cruel keeping of bears, leading to more than a dozen bears and cubs being rescued from captivity, called the situation at the Fier zoo 'absolutely unacceptable'.

"Signs of the mental and physical impact of being kept in such abject surroundings can be clearly seen on each of the poor animals at the zoo. If something is not done soon, these animals will continue to suffer and most likely die in these unspeakable conditions," Ioana Dungler, the head of the Four Paws Wild Animals Department is quoted as saying.

“Once again, we see the horrific treatment of wild animals in poor captivity, all for the sake of tourism!” she adds.

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 Protection and Preservation of Natural Environment in Albania (PPNEA) watchdog has identified in Albania.

Four Paws says that Albania is currently home to some of the saddest bears in Europe with dozens of bears and cubs trapped in tiny cages as ‘tourist attractions’ at restaurants, petrol stations or hotels as a way of luring customers.

Dozens of other protected wild animals live in captivity as a considerable number of the identified abuses were advertised as trophies on social networks by perpetrators themselves, apparently unaware of the legal consequences that include heavy fines and even imprisonment.

The latest reported case involves two wolf cubs advertised for sale for €200 at a local trade portal.

Earlier this year, a German researcher assessing the effectiveness of the hunting ban that Albania has been applying for the past four years collected evidence proving that illegal hunting in Albania continues even in protected areas although the cases identified are sporadic and significantly lower compared to early 2014 when Albania imposed the ban.

Environmentalists have also identified golden eagles (Aquila chrysaetos), the symbol of Albania’s national red and black flag, kept in captivity, the killing of red foxes and a restaurant which had turned into a museum of embalmed species in a northern Albania beach areas.

Albania has banned hunting for the past couple of years and imposed a new five-year moratorium until 2021 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.

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, but the legal initiative that needs a qualified majority of 84 votes, three-fifths of the current 140-seat Parliament, has not been examined yet.
            [post_title] => Daily Mail article forces gov’t to place under protection animals held in shocking captivity 
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