02 March 2018

Albania’s communist heritage sites-Bradt Travel Guides

A popular Travel Guide in UK, “Bradt Travel Guides” has published an article about Albania’s communist heritage sites.
For the first 25 years of Albania’s post-communist history, the last thing people wanted to be reminded of was the political repression and economic hardship they had so recently succeeded in getting rid of. Recently, however, national and local authorities have begun to invest in conserving some of the more notable communist sites and curating them so that Albanians and visitors can learn about this difficult and controversial period.
The most interesting communist heritage sites are located in some cities in Albania such as: Tirana Shkodra, Sarande, Gjirokastra and the notorious prison of Spaç.

Site of Witness and Memory, Shkodra
From 1946 to 1991, a rather unassuming 19th-century house on Shkodra’s main boulevard became the regional headquarters of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. This innocuous name belies the political persecution and terror that emanated from this building for 45 years. The storerooms of the former Franciscan seminary were transformed into detention cells and interrogation rooms for the Sigurimi, communist Albania’s secret police. Thousands of people passed through these cells before they were sentenced; they were then either executed or sent on to other prisons or prison camps such as Spaçi. Now the building has been transformed again, this time into a museum that commemorates those who suffered there. Panels in English and Albanian explain various aspects of Albanian communism, including the destruction of religious buildings, the anti-communist uprisings in northern Albania, and the public trials that took place in buildings around Shkodra.

Memorje 78, Saranda
One aspect of Saranda’s communist history can be seen opposite the post office on Rruga e Flamurit: Memorje 78, a concrete pillbox, half-excavated so that you can look through a grille into its interior. Inside, there is an information panel with photographs of different types of bunker and diagrams of their design.

Town hall air-raid shelter, Gjirokastra
During the communist years, when town halls across Albania were known as ‘Executive Committees’, air-raid shelters were built under them so that the Committee Members and staff could continue to administer their town in the event of enemy bombardment. Gjirokastra's air-raid shelter, now open to the public, is in fact a huge labyrinth of underground corridors with small offices opening off them. Many of the offices still have the signs on their doors indicating which department or functionary would have worked within; even the telephone switchboard operators would have relocated down to the bunker. The functionaries would have slept, as well as worked, in their little windowless offices. The whole structure was designed to resist the impact of missiles of up to six tonnes; exploring the complex gives a unique insight into the Hoxha regime’s permanent state of alert for enemy attack. Maps at the entrance show the entire network of tunnels under the city.

In 1968, the Albanian government decided to use the copper mine at Spaçi as a forced-labour camp for political prisoners. Over the next 24 years, thousands of men were imprisoned at Spaçi, behind three rings of barbed-wire fence that enclosed the whole 12ha of the mine. An unknown number died, sometimes of exhaustion and malnutrition, sometimes shot.
Spaçi was not the only forced-labour camp in Albania, but it was the only one that used exclusively political prisoners. There were also a few non-prisoners employed at Spaçi. Their job was to handle the explosives, which for obvious reasons were not made available to the prisoners. At any one time there was an average of 800 prisoners in the camp; when it closed, in 1991, 830 men were freed.
This eerie place, in its bleak setting amid bare, harsh mountains, has been abandoned to the elements since 1991. Information panels in English have been installed around the site and work has begun to stabilise the buildings so that the the prison camp can be transformed into a museum, along the lines of Robben Island in South Africa.

The House of Leaves, Tirana
The most recently opened of Tirana’s communist-era buildings is the former surveillance centre of the Sigurimi, Albania’s secret police. It was built in 1931 as a maternity clinic, founded by Zog I’s personal physician, and taken over secretly by the Sigurimi for use mainly by the technicians who tapped people’s telephones and installed bugs in their apartments. 
Bunk’Art installations, Tirana
Sister-installations Bunk’Art 1 and Bunk'Art 2 are dedicated to the interpretation of aspects of the communist period. Bunk’Art 1 was built in the 1970s but never used. This vast network of underground tunnels was intended to shelter the entire government apparatus in the event of invasion or nuclear attack. 
Bunk'Art 2 was a bomb-proof tunnel under the Ministry of the Interior, home to the police force in its various incarnations throughout Albania’s 100-year history. You'll be able to visit the display of archive photographs and film that illustrate the phases of World War II and the subsequent chilling of relations with one set of former allies after another. 

21 February 2018

Albania is the new Mediterranean paradise

Conde Nast Traveller, is a Spanish travel magazine has written several articles about Albania in the recent years, and on this lately article it promotes Albania; calling it the New Croatia and the new Mediterranean paradise.  
Imagine the Mediterranean. What comes to mind? Winding coasts, dotted with cliffs and coves. The eternal skies and azure beaches. Try to name it Costa Brava, Costa Azul and Amalfi Coast will be the first that comes to your mind ... But you can add a new one to the list, which is going strong: the Albanian Riviera.

Albania, until now one of the most unknown countries in Europe, finally opens its arms to travelers, and it does not need more arguments than those it has at the bottom. Paradisiacal beaches (and some almost deserted). Archaeological treasures makes you feel of having discovered one of the best kept secrets on the other side of the Mediterranean.
Conde Nast Traveller lists the best beaches to visit in Albania, from Vlora to Saranda you will get surprised by the beaches such as: Plazhi i Ri, Himara, Qeparo and Ksamil.
Photo: Albania Holidays
Vlorë, a hodgepodge of activity and tree-lined walks, comes with great historical weight: Albania's independence from the Ottoman Empire was declared here in 1912. Since then, it has grown to become a center of important port activity, in which the ramshackle charm urban gives way to the first beaches of the Riviera, which better than the previous.
Following the coast in a southerly direction, the next stop is the very peaceful town of Himarë , divided between modern resorts and traditional Greek taverns .
Are you looking for a more solitary and less crowded experience? Go to Qeparo , a picturesque village clinging to two cliffs and overlooking the Mediterranean scene par excellence, the one you have in your head: the golden cove, the turquoise sea, the eternal sky.

Getting to Sarandë, the nerve center of the Riviera and a destination that is gaining popularity in strides in the Balkans, is starting to have very vivid flashbacks of Levante. Sarandë, despite remaining modest in size and population, is experiencing a period of high growth, and skeletons of future apartment buildings are rising on both sides, pointing to an (expected) important boom in visitor numbers. But for now (and luckily), Sarandë remains a pleasant option as a base to explore the nearby beaches when you have exhausted the ones on the street.
Among them, Ksamil takes the trophy to the best, not only in the area, but possibly the entire Riviera. This tiny archipelago, 20 kilometers south of Sarandë, has three dream islands with white sand beaches that you can almost swim between.
Come and discover the new Mediterranean paradise. Or do you need more reasons?

See here the original article in Spanish! 

Albania among 9 adventurous places in the Adriatic coast you must try

The Adriatic coast is one of the earth’s glorious coasts, and certainly one of the best in Europe. With a history that dates back centuries, it boasts some of the most fabulous beaches, fascinating mountains, countless sandstone cliffs overlooking the seas, and picturesque towns – the coast is dreams come true for every kind of a traveller. Part of Adriatic coast is also Albania; the coastline has a total length of 274 kilometres. GoGo Places, a travel website has recommended Albania along with other countries as a must visit destination for adventurous. The editor suggest two must do’s if you want to experience the wild nature and adventure spirit in Albania; Hike in the Albanian Alps and go rafting in Osumi Canyons.
Photo source: GoGoPlaces
Hike in the Albanian Alps
The little country of Albania has a lot to see and do, and the best part is that most of it remains extremely undiscovered, as well as almost completely unspoiled. Bordering Macedonia, Greece, Kosovo and Montenegro, Albania’s long coastline is one of the most beautiful in the world. Here’s what you can do in Albania.
There are many hiking trails to the Alps in Albania of different difficulty levels each offering its unique variations of landscapes and adventures. If you start from Tirana, you can take a ferry trip on the spectacular Lake Koman, go on a trek through the beautiful Valbona Valley and the Theth Valley. You will also get to visit the old Fortress of Kruja in the Albanian hills. Also, go on a hike to the ruins of the Rozafa Castle to admire the spectacular view of the lake.

Go rafting in Çorovodë
The Osumi Canyon located near Çorovode is a great place for those who love rafting. There are many day trips to this place from Tirana, and you can go rafting in the Canyon for about 12km, that starts upstream of the Hamuli Bridge and ends at the descent at the Bridge of Çorovoda. This stretch is usually done when the waters are high, which means a lot of fun!

See here original article!

19 February 2018

Albania, a destination better than you thought -Telegraph Travel

Telegraph Travel has published an article listing ‘10 destinations that are better than you thought’, and among them is Albania in the 9th place. As telegraph writes ‘we judge a place or adventure by reputation”, and it shouldn’t be like this at all.
“We asked 10 of our favourite writers to challenge common wisdom and share their tales of the countries that surprised them, the places they dismissed – or embraced – in error. After all, places change. Reputations are often ill-deserved. The world is your playground: go test it out for yourself.”
Albania getting a nickname “the country of bunkers”, isn’t all about the dark communist past. In fact, tourism in Albania is blooming. Read the experience of the Telegraph travel writer Chris Leadbeater.
Radhime Beach Albania
Credits: Albania Holidays

Albania:  ‘Where was the concrete brutality I had assumed to be total?’
Just below the lounge, with its cushions and coffee pots, I could see several short flights of stairs descending carefully towards the sea. I followed them, past the swimming pool, down the cliff-face to the beach. Although it was still relatively early, just after 9am, a group of young guests was already stationed on the shingle.
One of them decided that her time had come and, fixing her brown hair in a ponytail, took a running leap from the rocks. Momentarily, I lost her, her outline devoured by the swarthy green of the Karaburun Peninsula beyond. But then she landed with a giant splash, surfaced with a smile – and, letting out a whoop of unfettered glee, demanded that her friends join her. They required no second invitation.
It was a scene that could have been staged on a hot afternoon on the Italian Riviera – the boutique retreat, the youthful abandon, the private beach, the decadent beauty of the setting. Indeed, the comparison might not be so far-fetched. At this point on the map – the crooked elbow where the Adriatic and Ionian Seas meet – Italy is just 60 miles west. But the Hotel Liro does not sit in Puglia – or, indeed Liguria. It is tucked into the shore at Radhimë, just outside the city of Vlorë in southern Albania, where preconceptions linger.
Mine included. I had travelled to one of Europe’s last “hidden” destinations, well aware of its past and its image – the half-century of Communist rule which endured until 1992; a reputation for breeze-block hotels rearing in unlovely fashion over dull sands. I had found the latter, not least in second city Durrës, with its humdrum high-rises at the water’s edge.
But I had found something else, too. Although Albania built badly in the domestic tourism boom which followed the parting of its Iron Curtain, it left alone much of the lower half of its 296 miles of coastline. Radhimë feels unspoiled, chic even. As does little Orikum beyond it, where the landmass kicks up, forcing travellers over the twisting Llogara Pass, the road chasing its tail towards Saranda and the Greek border – elevated viewpoints showing a gorgeously unsullied panorama, mountains plunging steeply to surf and spray. Where was the concrete brutality I had assumed to be total? Not here.

See here original article!

13 February 2018

Albania among destinations that you should visit in 2018 - GEO De

Albania is true rough diamond,- writes the German travel magazine ‘GEO De’.
GEO is Europe's leading magazine for large reportage (in text and image) promoting destinations. On their recently inspirations trends about destinations that tourists should visit in 2018 they have listed Albania among 10 places.
The Albanian Riviera is becoming popular thanks to prestigious media and travel influencers who continuously promoted this unspoiled beauty.  
Photo: rh2010 / Fotolia

‘In search of barely visited wild beaches, more and more tourists are invading the Balkans. Croatia has been experiencing a tourist renaissance for years, and neighboring countries such as Montenegro are also benefiting. No wonder, then, that the view is even farther south, and there is really a true rough diamond with Albania. The Albanian Riviera is still considered the Cinderella among the famous sisters, but that's what makes it so special. No large hotel complexes, hardly any tourist infrastructure and unspoiled coastlines awaken the spirit of discovery of all those who prefer authenticity rather than comfort.
About 200 kilometers beyond the capital Tirana, the road leads over 1000 meters to the Mediterranean. The Albanian Riviera stretches for about one hundred kilometers from the Llogara Pass to the archaeological sites of the 3000-year-old Butrint in the very south just before the Greek border. And in between are beach pearls like Gjipe (picture) or Kakome, which are best discovered on a road trip.’

See original article here!

12 February 2018

Albania reborn: What to see and do in Europe’s newest holiday hotspot- Daily Express

“So rich in treasures and sensational sights, everyone has wanted a piece of Albania over the centuries. Maisha Frost discovers a mysterious beauty coming out of the shadows and longing to welcome the world.” This is how the renowned British media “Daily Express” describes Albania in a long article.
Every first time visitor in Albania is impressed by so many things that you can find attractive and worth a visit in this forgotten corner of Europe.
Kruja citadel: Getty Images

“Ancient Greeks, then jeweler-loving Illyrians, the ancestors of many of today’s Albanians, were followed by Romans, Byzantines and Ottomans who all seized, settled and surrendered here in a relentless game of thrones.
Today’s democratic Albania is transforming fast in other ways: the power blackouts and potholes are in retreat and the young as stylish as their European counterparts. Few too would have predicted the land’s dividend from a failed state that never saw through its plans for collective farms. Albania’s small family-run farms stayed largely pesticide-free and its wildernesses untouched.  Today that means organic havens for produce and wildlife, a place for taste delighting foodies and ramblers, with lots for the locals to shout about.
What to see in Albania:
Tirana - Capital of many colours
The capital Tirana is lively and safe, but with an understated, surreal side that often leaves visitors wondering what to make of it.
Part Mediterranean town, part Soviet relic its rainbow-coloured apartment blocks, painted on the orders of a former mayor to bring some cheer, are more faded pastel these days.
For good reason perhaps Tirana’s citizens seem to have a Pythonesque talent for looking on the bright side of life. Ask them about Albania’s reputation as a gangster factory and they promise – only half joking - “there’s no trouble here, we’ve exported all the criminals”.
The city’s cultural highlights include a triumphalist history mural guarding the entrance to the classical artefact-packed national museum and the pretty 18th century Et’hem Bey mosque’s minaret and rare floral mosaics.
Tirana: Getty Images
Kruja: A land of thrones
More weird and wonderful Albania unfolds during the hour’s drive from Tirana to the medieval citadel of Kruja.
Vacant buildings in various stages of abandonment stand beside the highway, some half built or decaying shells and some brand new but desolate and often for sale.
Through a great stone archway lies a long bazaar, its low, long-eaved timbered houses and busy cobbled alleyways a lot like an episode from the TV medieval fantasy.
Beautiful Berat
South of Tirana a great gorge splits the mountains and you come to Unesco world heritage site and Albania’s poster girl Berat.
Dating back to the 4th century BC, the city’s seven-arch Gorica bridge, a favourite Ottoman masterpiece, spans the Osum river and tiers of white gabled houses climb steep cliffs to its citadel.
There towering walls form a hilltop cradle for ancient mosques and eight medieval churches, one housing a stunning collection of icons by 16th century master Onufri, famous for the luscious ruby coloured paint he used.
Berat- Maisha Frost

Wilderness walks and ancient ways
Wild nature is never far away in Albania and as I followed herders’ trails for a morning’s ramble in the sweet air high in the hills above Berat I was surrounded by slopes thick with poppies, campion, delicate blue lilies and wild orchids peeping among the tall grasses.
The crowds have not caught up yet either with the country’s archaeological sites, rated among the best in Europe.
Layers of history are densely packed in Durres, the port city and transit point for the ancient Via Egnatia route to the west of Tirana.
Although this does not have the manicured magnificence of Rome’s Colosseum, the stark suburban setting and details like the pens for lions and the steps deliberately made uneven for crowd control made me more aware somehow of history’s relentless tide.
Different again is pastoral Apollonia, a remote Pompeii-without-the-people hilltop site dating from 588 BC that was once a Greek city state served by slaves and then a Roman cultural centre.
At the entrance a Byzantine monastery’s stone walled galleries are dripping with classic bronzes, busts, vases and coins and across the cobbles gargoyles erupt from a 13th century frescoed church.
As I wandered deeper among its towering ancient pillars and olive groves, red rump swallows and bee eaters flitted by and I was suddenly in a moment only Albania could deliver.
In the distance rose the outlines of a mosque’s minaret and the hump of a bunker, then an unseen church bell began to toll.
Scenic view of Albania
Photo: Maisha Frost
See original article here!

06 February 2018

Albania has the beauty of Switzerland and old-centuries unique traditions

The centuries-old traditions live together with the memories of the Communist era. This mix of both and the nature's beauty compared to Switzerland make Albania an exciting attraction for those arriving from the far north” - writes ‘Turizmus, a Hungarian tourism portal.
Turizmus praise the potentials of Albania regarding tourism, as they refer to several Scandinavian articles about Albania.
Photo: foldersmagazin.hu

“Residents and leaders of this beautiful country today do not yet know what it means when mass tourism starts. Even a couple of years and as the fast foods spread and open to the many star hotels, it happens.  Recently, in Scandinavian newspapers, we can see more and more stories about Albania as travel destination.
The capital, Tirana is not a metropolis such as Berlin, and it does not look like Budapest, "notes the author," but the mingling of minarets and concrete cubes, the hospital men offering of raki, is an exotic mix.
And here it is really all about home, in Albania you will find delicious food taken straight from farms of the villagers.

Read the original article here