Beach or mountain? Try Albania, Go your own way!

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times June 22, 2017 11:55

Beach or mountain? Try Albania, Go your own way!

TIRANA, June 22 – Whether you are a beach, mountain or cultural heritage lover, it is high time you visited Albania to enjoy all three.

Albania is now at its peak tourist season with its Adriatic and Ionian coastline ready to await tourists, offering a combination of sandy and rocky beaches, accommodation units for all budgets and a mix of traditional and international dishes.

For mountain lovers, there are hideaways both in northern Albania along river valleys guesthouses in the Alps and along the Albanian Riviera, south of the country.

The country also boasts three UNESCO World Heritage sites, intangible heritage such as iso-polyphony music and material cultural heritage dating back to Illyrian, Roman, ancient Greece and Ottoman eras.

Three new direct flights linking Tirana to Amsterdam, Budapest and Prague have made the country more easily accessible to European tourists this year while Durres, Vlora and Saranda ports regularly link the country to neighboring Italy and Greece and are turning into a regular Mediterranean stops for cruise ships.

Albania’s cruise ship tourism is set to register a boost this year as several international cruise lines have placed Turkey off their itineraries on security grounds, replacing it with alternative Albanian destinations among others.

With a heat wave already underway, beaches are the number one destination. One can pick the sandy Adriatic beaches of Durres, Shengjin or Velipoja in central or northern Albania or head south of the country in Vlora, where the Adriatic meets the Ionian, and along the Albanian Riviera beaches of Dhermi and Saranda.

The Lonely Planet tourist guide which in 2011 placed Albania as the world’s top destination to discover, says Albania has become the Balkans’ sleeper hit, offering stunning mountain scenery, a thriving capital in Tirana and beaches to rival any elsewhere in the Mediterranean.

“So backward was Albania when it emerged blinking into the bright light of freedom [early 1990s] that it needed two decades just to catch up with the rest of Eastern Europe. Now that it has arguably done so, Albania offers a remarkable array of unique attractions, not least due to this very isolation: ancient mountain codes of behaviour, forgotten archaeological sites and villages where time seems to have stood still are all on the menu,” says the Lonely Planet guide.

The country has also recently emerged as a top adventure travel destination as several outdoor tour operators in the country offer hiking, rafting, biking, horse riding and birds watching adventures, while cross-border tourism is gaining an upper hand with the opening of some mountain hiking trails.

The communist past is also what fascinates tourists about Albania, which was cut off from the rest of the world under a Stalinist dictatorship for about five decades until the early 1990s.

The country is also attracting tourist by opening up some former secretive facilities under communism such as newly launched House of Leaves museum of the notorious Sigurimi police surveillance in downtown Tirana.

Earlier this year, authorities also opened up to tourists the Sazan Island, a military base in southern Albania managed by the defense ministry. The tiny island was first used by the Italians until World War II before becoming the country’s most secretive base under communism when it was fortified with bunkers and tunnels designed to withstand a possible nuclear attack that the Albanian communist authorities feared.

Back in 2015, Albania also opened up as a tourist attraction a Cold War secret bunker outside Tirana that the former communist regime had built underground decades ago to survive a possible nuclear attack.

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

Three UNESCO World Heritages, the Butrint archaeological park and the historic towns of Gjirokastra and Berat, in southern Albania, also unveil the rich cultural heritage in Albania, a gateway to the Mediterranean boasting a mix of Illyrian, Roman, Greek and Ottoman civilizations.

 

Albanian Riviera

riviera

Albanian Riviera. Photo: Getty Images

 It is no surprise British hitmaker Jonas Blue picked the Albanian Riviera and a stunning Albanian model to promote his latest summer music video sensation.

Featuring vocals from YouTube sensation William Singe, the brand new “Mama” single showcases stunning views of the Jale and Dhermi beaches along the Albanian Riviera and Albanian supermodel Oriola Marashi.

Only a month after its release, the single by the emerging 27-year-old DJ has already hit about 43 million views on YouTube.

Offering a mix of sandy and rocky beaches, some of which quite virgin, the Albanian Riviera stretches along some curvy panoramic roads.

Starting in Vlora, where the Adriatic Sea meets the Ionian, and stretching to Ksamil in southernmost Albania, the Albanian Riviera is already entering its peak tourist season as a heat wave gradually hits the country.

The Albanian coastline south of Vlora down to Saranda offers one of the most scenic and spectacular views along the Adriatic and Ionian coasts, says the Western Balkans Geotourism portal.

“The road past the tunnel follows the rocky cliffs and blue waters of the Adriatic, with charming hotels and popular beaches along the way. South of Orikum, the road heads inland and moves down a dramatic valley with steep mountains on either side. There are many small villages situated high in the mountains and visitors will see small booths by the side of the road with mountain tea, raki, wine, honey, olive oil, and fresh milk for sale,” says the portal.

 

 Saranda

saranda

Saranda

Each year, a characteristic mussel and olive oil festival opens the new tourist season in the southernmost Albanian town of Saranda, nicknamed the pearl of Albanian Riviera.

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

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

The southern Albanian port of Saranda is poised to register a strong boost in its emerging cruise ship tourism as some major ships have placed Turkey off the itinerary on security grounds and replaced it with alternative Albanian and Greek destinations.

The Butrint archeological park, a UNESCO World heritage site that has been the site of a Greek colony, a Roman city and a bishopric is the main attraction for tourists visiting Saranda. The present archaeological site is a repository of ruins representing each period in the city’s development.

 

Valbona Valley

Valbona River

Valbona River

For mountain lovers, the Valbona valley in northeastern Albania is a perfect hideaway to escape the heat wave and enjoy virgin nature with panoramic views of mountains, waterfalls, crystal clear river water and guesthouses offering traditional meals.

In late 2016, the Valbona Valley in northern Albania was recommended by prestigious National Geographic portal as one of the top nine great outdoors globally.

The Albanian paradise, where residents and activists have recently been protesting dam construction plans along the crystal clear Valbona River worried about the future of emerging tourism industry in the local area, is described as Albania’s equivalent of Mount Zion in Jerusalem.

“Nestled into what’s known as the ‘accursed mountains,’ the highlands are a remarkably wild region—Albania’s equivalent of Zion—with many yet to be discovered climbing sites,” says the National Geographic.

The prestigious magazine which suggests visiting Valbona from June to September, recommends staying in one of the family-style lodge rooms or camp along a sparkling river nearby.

 

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times June 22, 2017 11:55