20 October 2015

Albanian road trip: history behind the bunkers

Albania is becoming a new tourist destination and is making its way into European Travel itineraries. Lonely Planet is writing again for our beautiful country, this time suggesting for tourists a trip in 4 amazing cities, Shkodra, Kruja, Berat and Gjirokaster, with plenty of castles, museums, Unesco Sites, and unique archaeology. Here is a summary of the Albanian Road Trip in Tirana from Lonely Planet

"Having spent nearly half of the 20th century isolated from the rest of the world, Albania remains somewhat a land of mystery, only recently making its way onto European travel itineraries as an offbeat and budget-friendly destination.
While ‘the land of eagles’ may be better known for its stormy communist past (with some 750,000 concrete bunkers still scattered around to prove it), it has a rich and diverse historical and cultural legacy. The best way to take in Albania’s ancient castles, lived-in World Heritage Sites and ethnographic museums is on a road trip, especially if you have limited time or aren’t keen on working out the country’s bewildering bus system.

Start your cultural exploration of Albania in the north. Once an important trading town due to its favourable geographical position at the meeting point of two rivers and very close to the Adriatic Sea, Shkodra is considered the country’s cultural capital thanks to its music and literary traditions.

Head south from Albania’s cultural capital to its historical capital, Kruja. No trip to the country is complete without a stop in this town synonymous with Skanderberg, Albania’s national hero who led the defence against the Ottomans some 500 years ago. For a period Skanderberg was based here, and Kruja is regarded as almost a holy site for Albanians.

From Kruja or Tirana, continue south and inland towards Berat via Lushnja and SH4. You can also get there passing through Elbasan, though note this route takes a good hour or so longer regardless of how it looks on the map. Known as the ‘town of a thousand windows’, Berat has become a major star on the Albanian travel scene thanks to its impressive Ottoman ‘sprawl’ up the hills on both sides of the Osumi River.

The final stop on this north-to-south cultural tour of Albania, Gjirokastra was inscribed on the Unesco World Heritage List in 2008 as another important Ottoman town along with Berat. Your best bet getting here is to head back north to Lushnja and continue along the SH4 through the spectacular Tepelenë District and Drino Valley, famously described in Lord Byron’s Letters on Albania.

Read more: http://www.lonelyplanet.com/albania/travel-tips-and-articles/albanian-road-trip-history-behind-the-bunkers#ixzz3p69H1FeJ



13 October 2015

Tirana- a city of contrast, a great travel destination

By Bart van Eijden

"Tirana is a city of contrast, therefore a great travel destination". Here how a dutch photographer describe the city of Tirana. He writes a blog about his impressions after spending two weeks in our Capital. The Communism past, bunkers and pyramid, the cheap food, lively people, sleepless nights, colored building in contrast with poverty, damaged benches and road traffic etc- are the focus of his article. Here is a summary of his impressions:

"The Pyramid is one of the main attractions to those visiting Albania’s capital. Used as a NATO base during the Kosovo war, it now sits as a reminder of communism in downtown Tirana. Youth often climb it and hang out on top as a perfect place to smoke marihuana while staying our of reach for police.
He mentioned our "Visit Tirana" page in Twitter

Climbing this former museum to dictator Enver Hoxha is not difficult at all. While some say that going down is much more difficult, I never found that. Just make sure you take the slopes on the sides, as they are least steep.

Weekend or not, there is always a party somewhere in Tirana. Also, if you go to Block/Blloku, you can drink so much great coffee for cheap (<€0.50) that you will never be able sleep.

During the terror regime of dictator Enver a lot of money was wasted on building communist bunkers all over the country. At the highest period there were about 700,000 communist bunkers or one for every four persons. After the fall, these concrete structures became redundant and some find different use these days. Where until recently there was short supply of cars, people for example lost virginity in these things.

If you don’t want to be bothered by searching for them, just go and visit the bunker at the east entrance of Block (located right here). It sits there as a checkpoint monument to the former secluded Blloku neighbourhood where dictator Enver Hoxha once lived. You can also find a piece of the Berlin wall there.

Happy coloured building emerged all over Tirana after reportedly the mayor told residents to give their homes a fresher non-communist look. Locals claim there was a fair share of corruption involved in this move, but all I know is that some of the use of colours is pretty hilarious.

Tirana is a city that never sleeps, a city where most youngsters hook up and where they can earn more than in any other Albanian city. On the other hand, it is also incredibly crowded, loud, congested and as a pedestrian you don’t have much to say in traffic.

Asking around a bit, some seem to love Tirana while others don’t. One thing is for sure: it’s a city of contrast. After having been there two weeks myself I can say it’s therefore a great travel destination. If I could live there is question that will remain unanswered, but I definitely had a great time there! A must-visit while you are out in the Balkans!

Bllok area

Colored buildings

Read the full article here:

07 October 2015

This Nation Banned George Michael, Now it’s a Tourist Paradise

This Nation Banned George Michael, Now it’s a Tourist Paradise . Albania is far from perfect.. However, I’m writing from the perspective of a tourist. For short-term visitors, Albania is a land of ridiculously scenic beaches, postcard-worthy mountains, historic castles and towns, ancient fortresses, Roman-era ruins, the oldest lake in Europe, and a cool European capital city relatively devoid of tourists. The photos speak for themselves ... . For tourists, it’s a bit of a paradise here. Compared to almost any other country in Europe, Albania is inexpensive. Hotels are great value, and if you think about staying longer, you could purchase a new ocean-front apartment for about the same price as a Volkswagen. The Albanian Riviera was described to me, by an older man from France, as “Spain in 1970”.

Quite the contrary – to date, the changes I have seen in Albania are great, and seeing a little more financial security in one of the poorest regions in Europe can only be good. But, I already feel a little selfish nostalgia knowing that the future will inevitably bring more and more crowds to Albania, and more of the raw natural landscapes will be blighted by the over-development of apartment blocks and hotels. For better or worse, it is, what it is.

Things are changing in Albania.. But, it hasn’t always been this way. Freedom of speech, religion, cars, foreign travel, foreign investment, George Michael, and even beards, were all forbidden. Albania became the most isolated and poorest country in Europe, a land where citizens were more likely to know of someone living in a concentration camp than have a neighbour that owned a colour TV.

Long story short, Albania isn’t like that anymore.

Apart from regular concrete-bunker sightings and the occasional fading communist-era propaganda artwork, the casual tourist wouldn’t realise such tumultuous events occurred so recently. However, after experiencing around sixty years of grief, many Albanians got tired of waiting for “things to get better” and over the last couple of decades, they left the country, en-masse. The exodus hasn’t stopped – for example, in May of this year, more Albanians than Syrians sought asylum in Germany. The Albanian diaspora around the world is now larger than the number of Albanians living in Albania. Given the history, it’s not hard to understand this exodus – sixty years is a very long time to wait for a bunch of promises that never actualised.

So, Albanians continue to leave, just as tourists are really starting to arrive.

Read the full article here from Yomadic:


21 September 2015

Albania – Europe’s Hidden Jewel

"Pure, beautiful and full of spirit. This was the essence of Albania", described through amazing photos of Albania taken by Michael Jurick one of the best known as New York City’s photographer.
The article and photos was published in his website with the tittle: "Albania – Europe’s Hidden Jewel" (http://www.jurick.net/2015/08/abania-europes-undiscovered-jewel/ ). There are about 90 photos of #Albania, especially the seaside, southern riviera, as well as UNESCO cities of Berat and Gjirokaster.

Here is a summary of his article:
By Michael Jurick

"When we told our friends and family that we were going to Albania for our summer vacation, they all asked the same question, “why Albania?” After you see these photographs and read this journal, all your questions will be answered. We found Albania to be a gorgeous jewel of Eastern Europe’s southern riviera.

The lead photograph from our journey is of our daughter Eden. We stopped for chocolate and vanilla ice cream macchiatos at the edge of a cliff-side mountain cafe. Fashionista Eden soaks up sunshine between billowing drapes that reveal a jaw-dropping deep azure sky thousands of feet above straw-colored beach umbrellas. To me, this was the essence of Albania. Pure, beautiful and full of spirit. After establishing its independence from dictator rule in 1991, the country has now spread her wings to shre the world the hidden gems within. The Albanian riviera was a fabulous highlight of our trip.
The views from our drive along the rugged coast south from Vlora to Llogora to Himara were staggering! Most of Albania’s roads are steep, swirly switchbacks – but all reveal magnificent vistas at each hairpin turn. Soaring green mountains drop straight into the Ionian Sea thousands of feet below.
 Once we arrived in Himara, the charm of the Albanian riviera had completely taken over. The weather was absolutely pristine with just a hint of soft wispy breezes and 81 degree temps. The crescent cove of the coast anchored both the charming village below and homes that dotted the hillside rising into the mountains. The sun bathed it all in gold.
The drive from Himara to Sarandë featured another awe-inspiring set of breathtaking views of the southern Albanian riviera. Homes peppered the rocky edges and donkeys shared the winding roads. We stopped for lunch and cappucinos at the gorgeous panoramic cafe, Perla and ate fish soup and fresh salads. When we pulled into Sarande, the sun glittered on the colored hotels lining the crescent cove directly across the Greek Island of Corfu.

The penultimate stop on our Albanian adventure took us to the southern tip of the country to a town called Ksmali which featured small islands lining the channel to Greece’s Corfu island. Small rustic fishing boats anchor off the beach. There was color everywhere. We jet-skied, we ate fresh fruit, we enjoyed life. The vibe in the air here in Ksamili was perfect pristine paradise.

On our drive to Berat, we witnessed the most unusual and peculiar thing that ended up being the topic of conversation the entire trip. We saw hundreds of half-completed homes in nearly mint condition. We later learned from the people of Albania that after gaining their independence in 1991, Albanians began to build a home to secure property rights. Those homes are built in phases and until each phase has the funds, it remains incomplete. See the pink house in the photograph below to see what I’m talking about. You will also see how we shared the roads with all types of livestock.
When we arrived in Berat, we were smitten with it’s ancient charm. We explored the Citadel castle in Berat and walked, talked, and laughed until sunset. At sunset, we came to the peak of the castle mount and glanced across the Osumi River tothe Gorica neighborhood, whose houses face those of Mangalemi.

The arched bridge of Gorica, built in 1780, is a beautiful architectural monument constructed to link Gorica with Mangelemi. We then walked along the promenade for a stroll to enjoy summer life among this quaint Albanian town. The view of the white houses climbing up the hillside to the citadel is one of the best known in Albania and features homes with windows that seem to stand above each other. This city is the pride of Albanian architecture, and under the protection of UNESCO .I took many different photographs in this city – it was visually striking!

What we found so unique about Albania was it’s deep family roots. Everywhere we went, we experienced family-run businesses. Hotels, inns, restaurants, businesses, shop-keepers, and farmers all had multi-generational family members involved in some part of the business. Everything was organic. With farms everywhere you looked, and fresh seafood at arms length from most restaurants, the food was fresher than you could imagine.

On our drive back north, we stopped in Gjirokastër an ancient hilltop village rich in history.

If you like these photographs, do your self a favor and book a trip to Albania!

05 August 2015

Bild: Newcomer in the Balkans

In Albania? Yes, why not: The small country on the Adriatic and the Ionian Sea has beautiful beaches, rich culture, natural treasures - and friendly people. And moreover, the prices are more than moderate.

This is how one of the biggest newspaper in Germany describes our country, Albania. The author
Von Oliver Abraham is a newcomer in Balkans and in Albania too, and he is surprised with nature, history and culture of Albanians. His tour included Durres, Kruja and Berat, Gjirokastra and Blue Eye Spring, Saranda and Butrint, and at the end, Albanian riviera from Saranda to Vlora, through Llogara Pass. Also the article has beautiful photos starting with Ksamil.


28 July 2015

How to go to Karaburun Pennisula, near Vlora Albania?

Karaburun Pennisula is the new destination to be explored in Albania. 
Many people are going there by boat every day to see the undiscovered land in front of Vlora city. 
Karaburun is the biggest Peninsula in Albania, which is situated between the Vlora Gulf and the Otranto Canal. Its 16 km long, but have no good road for driving. People are using a narrow remote road starting from Pasha Liman military base, where you can drive only with '4X4' cars.
The easiest way to reach the site is by boat, only for 30 minutes. 
In 2014, the Regina Blu ferry was established by a Radhime-based hotel owner making trips to Karaburun Peninsula and Sazan Island while stopping along the secluded beaches. This year there are many boats and speedboat which sends more and more people to see and explore Karaburun. There are some beaches and the first restaurants, where you can drink, eat, and rest for all the day. But not to spend the night, because there are not hotels yet.   
One year ago, the Pennisula was all dark, no lights. But now you can see the first lights of bars in the other side. It’s amazing for the people of Vlora to see this view in front of their city.
Rexhina ferry remains the cheapest way to go in Karaburun. It costs about 12 euro per person for a trip of 7 hours. During this trip you can see some beaches of Karaburun, explore Sazan island, which is now open for the public after 25 years isolation, and also you can see the Haxhi Aliu Cave, an awesome place situated in the Cape of Gjuheza, at the end of Peninsula.  Then you continue the trip in Shen Vasili beach, were you can sunbathe for two or three hours and in afternoon come back to Vlora. It’s an amazing trip where you can see the pristine beaches, the amazing nature and crystal waters of our country. Feels like opening up a box of treasures  hidden for year from Albanian public eyes. (Photos: AH)

25 July 2015

Albania Holidays celebrates 10 years of success!

The story behind!
All started from the two well educated young  guys who were very enthusiastic about their country and its tourism potential. Kliton Gerxhani was graduated in International Tourism Management and Consultancy at NHTV- Breda University in Netherlands and Armand Ferra in Business Administration and Management in Oxford Brookes University UK.

As other people who studied abroad and wanted to invest their knowledge in their country, they founded in 2005 the incoming company named Albania Holidays. The company started with online tourism through a website for hotels, which is today the most popular website for booking hotels in Albania always top 1 in Google, www.albania-hotel.com. The website itself was an innovation as it brought Albanian hotels for the first time online, with description and prices. From years, hotels are bookable with credit card from this website and other websites added lately such as www.balkan-hotel.com and www.tirana-hotel.com
Albania Holidays  as an incoming agency as played a great role in promoting Albania abroad, by publishing rich information on tourism in Albania, not only in English but  also in German, Italian, French and even Russian language. One of the leading UK newspapers Mirror.co.uk. on  22 April 2006 in an article titled “Albania Mania “ would write:  Albania doesn't have its own tourist board in the UK, but you should visit albania-holidays.com, a dynamic little local company which offers three-night hotel stays in Tirana from and week-long tours around the country, including accommodation."

Albania Holidays DMC is today a Destination Management Company the only representative for Albania at World of DMC, member of Albanian Tourism Association and other important tourism bodies. It organizes successful Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Events for some international companies, and brands. 
The company operates tours around Albania and Balkans through partnering with some well-known international tourism companies, mainly from UK, USA but also other countries of Europe. Through its rich and updated websites, the company serves to individuals to book hotels and tours online. 
Due to its hard work and professionalism in offering top quality service, Albania Holidays has grown significantly in 10 years. It has opened a branch in Pristina Kosovo, named Kosovo Holidays, and employs 10 well educated people full time, while working with around 30 or more professional guides on tour bases. 
Albania Holidays  has contributed actively in lobbing for tourism and influencing government policies to support the development of the sector. All these make it a very reputable company in Albania and broader.