German tourists discover Albanian Alps

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times August 21, 2018 18:01

German tourists discover Albanian Alps

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

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

German tourists are everywhere along Valbona.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Regular direct flights connect Tirana to Munich and Frankfurt.


Hydropower concerns

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


An emerging adventure travel destination

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

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

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

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

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

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

Theth is another top Albanian Alps destination where mountain tourism has gained an upper hand in the past decade also thanks to German support to local residents who have transformed their traditional homes into guesthouses.

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times August 21, 2018 18:01