New long-distance hiking trail links Albania, Kosovo, Macedonia

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times September 14, 2018 13:38

New long-distance hiking trail links Albania, Kosovo, Macedonia

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  • ‘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

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Tourist sign on the Albanian section of the trail. Photos: GIZ Albania

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.”

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times September 14, 2018 13:38