Osumi River Valley, Albania’s ‘Grand Canyon’

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times May 10, 2018 15:01

Osumi River Valley, Albania’s ‘Grand Canyon’

Story Highlights

  • 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

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Osum Canyon; Photos: visitskrapar.com

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.

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times May 10, 2018 15:01