Ksamil islands, lack of rehabilitation project mars Albania’s tourism gems

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times September 4, 2018 16:41

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 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.

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times September 4, 2018 16:41