03 March 2023

 In Albania's Tourism Revival, Food Plays a Central Role

After a century of unrest, Albania's welcome remains undimmed as refugees return to piece its national identity back together one dish at a time.

As I stroll the rainbow-painted Soviet blocks of Tirana, Gjergj invites me home for lunch. A pensioner in a tweed cap, with a face as smooth and readable as olive wood, he leaves his game of backgammon on a bench beneath the furry talons of Lebanese cedars when he sees me. “I found you,” he quietly declares, insisting that his wife has already set the table. Soon I am seated before a starched tablecloth laden with tart mountain cheeses, glistening pickles, rosemary-spiked lamb, and pomegranates.

The Zoe Hora hotel, the riviera’s first luxury property, is the result of a government initiative to revitalize Albanian villages. Jenny Zarins
Despite a century of deep national trauma, Albanians still abide by besa—the ancient code of honor—to embrace all strangers as missing family. After Mussolini invaded his Adriatic neighbor only 27 years into Albania’s independence (after more than four centuries of Ottoman rule), European and Albanian Jews were sheltered in the mountains by Muslims and Catholic villagers like Gjergj’s father; guarded by summits as fierce as eagles’ wings. “None were ever lost,” Gjergj tells me in Italian—his own language is a barbed wire of Gjs, Xhs, Shs and Njs, on which Latin, Greek, and Turkish words snag.
For the crime of hailing from unbreakable Catholic stock, Gjergj was later imprisoned under Enver Hoxha’s post-war Stalinist regime—a nightmarish exaltation of Tito’s neighboring Yugoslavia that kept the nation under surveillance, hermetically sealed, and agrarian for the remainder of the 20th century. Then in 1997 came civil war; when the new democratic government lost the people’s money, depots of old Russian and Chinese Kalashnikovs were raided and Albanians fled, the new refugees of Europe. The past is behind them now, but not forgotten—as engraved on minds as the nation’s summits are with goat tracks. Behind every smile is a story—many worthy of a Netflix deal—and an invitation to hear it over home-grown food and raki, twice-distilled from garden vines—the most judgement-melting, heart-expanding liquid form of generosity.

At Mrizi i Zanave, owners and brothers Altin and Anton Prenga are responsible for Albania’s Slow Food movement—part of their effort to protect endangered endemic ingredients like as mountain-dried mishavinë cheese.
It is in the mosaics of eastern and southern Mediterranean dishes that Albanians are reassembling their broken identity after a generation in recovery—slowly marinating a new sense of pride in their Arcadian nation, now on the brink of E.U. membership. “We’re like the Italians, food is central to our psyche, yet no one’s heard of Albanian cuisine—or even Albania,” chuckles Tani Duka, an architect with droll, wolverine eyes who walks me around the Blloku quarter, the former residential district of the Politburo that’s become a foodie enclave clattering with plates and confidence. Nearby, at Gzona, 28-year-old Bleri Dervishi, a dimpled chemist-chef, formerly of three-Michelin-starred Azurmendi, masterminds seasonal “memory” dishes of the homeland. Having fled to Italy by rubber dinghy at the age of four, he’s now kerpow-ing crab-apple pectin into chewing gum in his lab, chalking up new formulas to crack the nation’s first Michelin star.

It took those who left Albania as child migrants, working up through the kitchen hierarchies of Europe from plate washers to head chefs, to recognize its sustainable farm-to-table potential; by default, a nation of subsistence farmers, artisanal family producers, and foraged bounty. At Pazari i Ri market, women with calves carved by steep inclines sit at stalls stacked with honey, like jars of stolen morning light. Wild gentian and çaj mali mountain teas are neatly weighed out in bundles; loam-scented tables heaped with okra, persimmon, figs, and quince. Beyond Tirana’s rumpled Dajti mountains is the rest of Albania, resounding with the fairy music of free-roaming flocks. Here a stocky build and hooves are still more useful than wheels: with the isolationist regime, civilian cars and access to 280 miles of wild coastline were strictly forbidden. When Hoxha’s allegiance switched to Maoist China at the height of the Cold War, underground nuclear bunkers were built instead of roads. 

When driving toward the Albanian Riviera, travelers are rewarded with ocean views from Llogara Pass.

After communism, confiscated cooperative land was re-apportioned in tiny parcels; gardens like craft patchworks, hand-sewn together by wattle. “There’s a family behind every ingredient I use, and I know them all by their first names. I get really emotional about that,” says Bledar Kola, alumnus of Le Gavroche, Fäviken and Noma, who gifts bottles of wine to people queuing outside Mullixhiu, his restaurant in the Grand Park of Tirana. Fitted out like an alpine hut, it is the perfect spartan stage for his minimalist revival of the northern highlands’ cucina povera, using ancient fermentation techniques, foraged fruits, and medicinal plants such as purslane and burdock.

Kola fled Albania at the age of 15, first by speedboat to Italy, then as a stowaway to England, clinging perilously to the chassis of a truck, at one point getting dragged along the asphalt. “In London, I had to say I was Italian to get work,” he says. “Otherwise, it was ‘But don’t you Albanians all steal cars?’ I felt I was betraying my country.” Now he proudly delivers Albanian history lessons in eight courses, unearthed national heroes served at desk-like bakers’ tables. After a palate cleanser of Cornelian cherry juice—a glass of cloudy papal mauve—comes trahana, a savoury porridge, and dromsa, Balkan pici pasta still served in Arbëresh communities in Calabria. At the end, there’s boza, the Ottoman fermented cereal-based drink—at once creamy, fizzy, sweet, and sour. After hours, Kola pulls out a label-less bottle made from Shesh grapes, the fruit of Albania’s ancient viticulture revival, as weighty as a Piedmontese red and palpably alive. When I leave, the stars above the Dajti mountains look bloated and seem to blur with meteorite tails.

My head is mysteriously clear when I leave the next morning to drive north to Lezhë province, the epicenter of the new food movement, with Kreshnik Topollaj, a chatty Bektashi Muslim who wears a felt qeleshe hat (“half of a cosmic egg”), tilted on his head with the steez of a rapper. As he talks, the clouds dissipate to a faint flock of geese on the horizon. Outside a boy sells rabbits from the back of his car. Fields are flecked with yellow goldenrod; branches offer pomegranates like the arms of expert jugglers. The drive can be slow, even on this main road to Lake Shkodër on the Kosovan border. The Dinaric Alps loom overhead; toppling stacks of rock daggers and glacial fortresses. Cow herds dither before us, their bells momentarily picking up to trotting tempo.

A lone cloud rests like a volcano plume on the hillside as we pass through Fishtë to Mrizi i Zanave Agroturizëm, dedicated to Gjergj Fishta, beloved early-20th-century friar and national poet. Its owners, brothers Altin and Anton Prenga, started Albania’s Slow Food foundation in part to protect endangered ingredients such as mountain-dried mishavinë cheese, then made by only three families in tribal Kelmend. The brothers worked in kitchens in Italy for 11 years before, in 2006, returning to the home they fled as children; they recall men waving Kalashnikovs in their grandfather’s fields, and still find bullet cases in the vineyards. They built a restaurant rock by rock—a temple to heirloom produce, which now supports more than 400 families; its incense, rosemary-infused woodsmoke from the outdoor oven strung with rosaries of drying chilis. “The most fantastic food comes from people looking after three cows and 10 fruit trees,” says Altin, a 40-year-old as flushed as a Cox apple by outdoor work and evangelical zeal. In 2016, they restored the derelict cottage they were born in: “It was like piecing together our identities again. You have to be proud to be a farmer.”

A path marked by wild cyclamen leads to a series of barns that once housed political prisoners. “Our food culture was destroyed by communism; people ate square white bread, square white cheese… In Hoxha’s day this would have been like growing hashish,” he says, laughing, sliding back an iron door to the smoke room, where beef torsos hang before a wood stove. In another barn, shelves of cheeses are catalogued with the care of museum artifacts. Villagers in long black socks nobly push wheelbarrows of produce like artists delivering their latest commission.
The next morning, we drive towards Patok Lagoon, where fishermen throw out nets before stilted huts and flamingos limber up in the water’s reflection. At Mystic Rose, a local institution on the water’s edge, we lunch on flia—crêpes with fermented cream, cooked in a wok-like iron saç in the ashes of a hearth, stoked by men lit like the subjects of an Old Master painting. “The more sacrifice in making the dish, the more hospitality it conveys,” says Diella Loshi, a gap-toothed Sophia Loren in her 60s, who camped in the woods here in the 1990s before building a home and opening a restaurant in her living room. She brings out plates of sea bass—blackened and heavy as pewter trays—and mounds of prawns the size of fists. “Chinese officials went crazy when they came here,” she laughs. Under communism shellfish, considered “insects,” were fed to the pigs—along with plump Albanian oysters, rotten black potatoes (truffles), and toadstools (porcini).

At Rapsodia in coastal Shëngjin, Alfred Marku—a charming beardy man, stocky as an olive trunk—constructs delicate mezze of seafood with wild chicory and sambuca flowers. His stories are as seasoned and well paced as his plates. As a 14-year-old fleeing civil war, he crossed the Greek border on foot and was greeted with a police gun to the head and a night in jail. Octopus and wild fennel scented his perilous moonlit speedboat journey to Trentino where, at 15, he camped in abandoned houses. Chestnut semifreddo sweetens his ascent to accomplished Italian chef, with a triumphant after-rush of oregano.

The next day, I gaze out to the flats of Bari from the Cape of Rodon; the white of the waves now harmless, as if peacefully applied by putty knife on an Adriatic-blue canvas. We follow the coastline south to Northern Epirus: a vision of terraced citrus groves and Kalinjot olives with the open crowns of laurel wreaths. Here, the Adriatic gives way to the Ionian and the Albanian Riviera starts its ascent to Corfu—a rocky shoreline of umbrella pines, shingled coves and sunlit bream-y waters, where locals speak an archaic Greek dialect and roll vine leaves into vinegary cigars. We spend the day on Dhërmi beach, until the afternoon bleaches out like a vintage Polaroid. Then we head out to explore—the menthol of pines our smelling salts—stumbling along makeshift paths that sprout with wild saffron, crunching over the red-spined fruit of strawberry trees to secret coves, where locals spearfish and dive for sea urchins. We prise one open and pick out the spongy tongues from inside; little mouthfuls of ocean, zinc-y and sweet. The fiercest shells protect the softest of hearts.  

14 February 2023

Albania - Awarded Best in Travel 2023

Closed to outsiders for much of the 20th century, Albania has long been Mediterranean Europe's enigma. Until fairly recently its rumpled mountains, fortress towns and sparkling beaches were merely a rumour on most travel maps.But, with the end of a particularly brutal strain of communism in 1991, Albania tentatively swung open its gates. The first curious tourists to arrive discovered a land where ancient codes of conduct still held sway and where the wind whistled through the shattered remnants of half-forgotten ancient Greek and Roman sites. A quarter of a century after throwing off the shackles of communism, Albania's stunning mountain scenery, crumbling castles, boisterous capital and dreamy beaches rivalling any in the Mediterranean continue to enchant. But hurry here, because as word gets out about what Albania is hiding, the still-tiny trickle of tourists threatens to become a flood.

13 January 2023


Cette destination européenne proche de Bruxelles vous donnera l’impression d’être aux Maldives

Le mois de janvier est connu pour être le mois le plus déprimant de l’année. Pour se redonner du baume au cœur, et si on planifiait déjà notre prochain voyage ? Direction l'est de l’Europe pour un dépaysement total garanti! 

Il ne faut pas toujours aller bien loin pour changer d’air, découvrir le monde et déconnecter totalement. Le staycation en a convaincu plus d’un durant la crise - cette tendance qui consiste à voyager au plus proche de chez soi - à tel point que désormais nos habitudes de voyages se sont vu impactées. Plus questions de partir à l’autre bout du monde et d’exploser son bilan environnemental en prenant l’avion, l’heure est à la sobriété à tous les niveaux et revoir sa façon de voyager fait partie des priorités numéro une. Pas question toutefois de se priver de voyage : après deux ans de pandémie, on a plus que jamais besoin de se ressourcer et le voyage nous permet sans aucun doute d’accéder à un état de détente ultime. Mais alors,où partir sans que notre impact écologique ne nous fasse trop culpabiliser? 

Paradis désenchanté 

Si vous rêvez de longues étendues de sable blanc et de lagoons bleus à perte de vue, vous penserez probablement directement aux Maldives. Avec ses 8 256 kilomètres qui séparent cet archipel situé au large de l’océan Indien et ses 10h30 de vol direct depuis Bruxelles, cette destination est pourtant loin de faire l’unanimité auprès des écologistes et ceux qui veulent respecter leurs engagements envers la planète. Car en plus d’être une destination lointaine, l’envers du décor de cette île paradisiaque en refroidit plus d’un, notamment en raison de la mauvaise gestion des déchets qui lui vaut le surnom d’île “poubelle” ces dernières décennies. 

Le joyau de l’Adriatique 

Et si on vous disait qu’il est possible d’en prendre plein la vue et de bénéficier des atouts des Maldives sans quitter l’Europe ? Vous avez du mal à y croire ? Sur Tik-Tok et Instagram, pourtant, une destination fait fureur : il s’agit de l’Albanie, située sur la péninsule balkanique au sud-est de l’Europe. Située à 2136 kilomètres de notre capitale, l’Albanie apparaît alors comme un compromis idéal pour ceux en quête de grands espaces paradisiaques. Sur les réseaux sociaux, elle bénéficie d’ailleurs désormais du surnom de “Maldives de l’Europe”.

C’est surtout la station balnéaire Ksamil, située au sud du pays, qui attire pour ses étendues d'eau à perte de vue. Sa plage est d’ailleurs considérée comme l’une des plus belles de l’Europe. Car la Riviera albanaise, c’est bien plus que 100 km de littoral, ce sont également des criques cachées et des sites archéologiques à couper le souffle. Depuis quelque temps, Ksamil est donc naturellement devenu the place-to-be et de nombreux hôtels de luxe qui rappellent ceux installés aux Maldives ont fait leur apparition. L’un des spots les plus en vogue ? Sans aucun doute la  Pema e Thate beach, avec ses lits de plages à baldaquin qui surplombent la mer.

Si la destination séduit tant les internautes, c’est aussi pour son prix bien plus abordable que les Maldives ; pour une semaine de vacances à l’hôtel, comptez en moyenne 1 043 € pour deux personnes contre 2 718 € pour un séjour équivalent aux Maldives selon les estimations de Ou-et-Quand.net.. de quoi faire de belles économies sur votre budget vacances sans subir de décalage horaire. Alors, on attend quoi pour booker ? 

04 October 2022

BMW Motorrad International GS Trophy 2022 in Albania co-organized by Albania Holidays DMC

This year, the start of the eighth edition of the BMW Motorrad International GS Trophy began in Kavajë, Albania. On the shores of the Adriatic Sea, near the city of Kavaja in the western lowlands of Albania. One of the main links in the organization of the event was Albania Holidays, proud to been part of this large and professional chain in the organization of GSTrophy2022! Albania Holidays DMC was the local DMC partner for GSTrophy, providing services in Albania, Europe's ultimate off-road gem! This year there were 21 international teams, 15 of which were three-man teams and 6 two-man teams – a completely new format for the international GS trophy. The route started from Kavaje to Berat Castle then to Lake Ohrid from Lake Ohrid to Farma Sotira then to Himare and in the end again to Kavaje.

BMW Motorrad bringed the International GS Trophy to Albania between 4 and 10 September 2022. The country, which is considered an insider tip for off-road touring, is incredibly rich in flora, fauna and culture. The unknown beauty of Albania

Rugged mountains, vast valleys, wild rivers, dense forests and a fantastic coastline. The best Enduro riders in the world can look forward to discovering this as yet quite unknown beauty on their GS bikes. Seven days of pure adventure. Seven days that took two years of preparation. Seven life-changing days. Each rider has only had one opportunity to participate in the GS International Trophy. But it wasn't a classic race – these intense challenges, in which participants demonstrate their knowledge and horsemanship, are all about team spirit and skill.

 And the trip was made unforgettable by nights in the tent under the stars, unique landscapes and cultures, and new friends from all over the world. GS Trophy 2022 has findied an almost untouched piece of land with exciting trails. For the Int. GS Trophy 2022 in Europe was a seemingly unrealistic mission for our scouts. But then they discovered Albania with its fantastic landscapes. One thing becomes immediately clear: they have written here new adventure stories this year.


A country with traditions and hospitality

With a population of 2.8 million, most of which lives in the larger cities, Albania is located on the Adriatic and Ionian Seas. On average, it lies at altitudes of 708 metres above sea level and the country’s highest peak is at 2,751 metres. The mountainous, sometimes alpine landscape makes it a paradise for GS riders. The local population is proud of its traditions. Traditional clothing includes the pleated skirt for men, the bell skirt for women or the traditional, white felt cap. An important part of Albanian folklore is the popular dances staged on special occasions. Women tend to dance more lyrical dances, while men demonstrate bravery and pride with their performances. Albania clearly forms part of the Mediterranean in terms of its cuisine. Traditionally, several dishes are put in the middle of the table for everyone to enjoy and share. Thanks to epic trails, Albania offers the perfect backdrop for the Int. GS Trophy 2022. This is where they test own limits, make new friends and cultivate a team spirit.

"I am deeply impressed by Albanians’ hospitality.“ said Ralf Rodepeter Head of Marketing and Product Management

Albania Holidays DMC was the local partner of BMWmotorrrad for organizing this huge event in Albania. Albania Holidays is widely recognized as one of the market leaders offering quality travel services in Albania and neighbouring countries, through exclusively providing incoming services to our clients and partners. Through partnership with the best tourism service providers in the country it made the BMW Motorrad International GS Trophy 2022 a great success.

Participants had the opportunity to experience a diverse landscape and wilderness, delicious food and outstanding Albanian hospitality

Some photos of the event :-) 
International Sport Event DMC Albania

MW Motorrad International GS Trophy 2022

MW Motorrad International GS Trophy 2022

International Sport Event organizing in Albania

Albania DMC event organizer

Source: www.bmw-motorrad.com/

05 March 2020

Albania is the last secret of Europe

Albania is the last secret of Europe. Spanish travelers of a certain age remember that, for many decades, their passports indicated: " valid for all countries except for Albania, North Korea and Outer Mongolia ." To the most restless, that woke up an uncontrollable desire to discover what these forbidden countries hid. Of these banned countries, Albania was the closest, but until very recently it has remained away from the tourist map . Now Albanians want to show themselves to the world and teach their beauties, both cultural and natural. And it should be done before mass tourism discovers it.

This is how El Pais, the biggest Spanish newsletter starts its article about Albania, to recommend this unique place to all Spanish tourists. The article is recommending Albania to Spanish tourists, considering it as a "irresistible mixture of splendid beaches, dense forests and Ottoman cities where the trace of communism is still felt". The article is starting with Tirana, then with UNESCO sites, Berat, Gjirokastra, Butrint and the beautiful sandy beaches of Ksamil, Himara, the museal city of Kruja, then the experiences of other cities Korca and Shkodra.

Decades of isolation have made Albania, a somewhat smaller dimension than Catalonia or Galicia , a country different from the rest of its Balkan neighbors. It is not a destination for those looking for many comforts and a trip without unforeseen events. But perhaps there is the grace: to turn a trip into a little adventure. Thus, we will cross mountainous territories through winding roads; we will look out on a wild coast; we will walk through some towns that are like a Venetian mosaic of Byzantine churches with frescoes and naked mosques, tekke bektashíes (sanctuaries) and Ottoman houses of gleaming white, Kombinat mastodónticos (business conglomerates) of the Soviet era and tiny bunkers. But without a doubt, the most surprising discovery is its 400 kilometers of coastline where the Adriatic sand merges with the stones of the Ionian beaches..

13 January 2020

Berat city, among 10 spiritual places on Earth with the strongest energy field

Berat city is not only known as a beautiful white city, property of UNESCO, but also for good people and hospitality. A new ranking has listed Berat as one of 10 best spiritual places in earth with strongest energy field.  "There are places in the world where you can feel the connection with the divine – one of them is Rila Lake, famous for its powerful energy field. Sensitive people dream of strange things when they spend the night in that place. Such places can give you answers to questions that have been troublesome for you and you can feel concentrated energy on a higher spiritual level" says the article published by "Behind the Illusion" media where Berat city in Albania is number 7. 

Here is what is written for Berat city:  

Berat is a pride of Albanian architecture. The old town is under the protection of UNESCO. Berat represents a wonderful blend of eastern and western culture, traditions and customs. The city is the treasury of Albanian history and the evidence of harmony between faith and culture.
In Berat, people have a very powerful, spiritual energy of healing. Today, behind the city walls there are still people who do not believe in illness, making this place unique and authentic.

The original Article

10 spiritual places on Earth with the strongest energy field
1. Rila – Bulgaria

Some people might be surprised but this mountain range is one of the strongest energy centers in the world.
It is no accident that he was one of the greatest spiritual masters of the 20th century – Beinsa Duno chose this place to transmit his wisdom.

The area around Rila Lake actually has a very strong energy and sensitive people feel it, and they get strange dreams when they stay in that area.

2. Machu Picchu in Peru

The lost city of Inka is one of the places connected with the energy centers in the world. The Inks were built by Machu Picchu in a specific place, high up in the Andes.
This place channels energy and enables people to experience something that simply does not belong to our world.

3. Socotra

Socotra is an archipelago of four islands in the Indian Ocean on the Africa Row. The largest makes about 95 percent of the land.

Its specific landscape as well as the flora and fauna seem to come from a science fiction film and you can easily imagine being on another planet or in prehistoric times.
As a result of isolation, many species of Socotra have been born that are not found elsewhere in the world.
Spiritual energy here connects the human soul directly with the universe.

4. Plato Uluru in Australia
Uluru is the spiritual center of Australia and is in the very center of the continental country. Legends say it is a plateau hollow and it is a source of energy, called Tiukurpa.
The ancient tribes surrounding the plateau have left many painted stories in some of the caves in the area.
In the tribes, the conviction that when a person circles around the plateau, she then receives spiritual visions.

5. Easter Island

This is one of the most isolated places in the world, known for its fascinating stone giants – “moai”, rising everywhere along the rocky shore. Scientists have absolutely no answer to the question “Who made them and how?”, The whole place is a complete stranger.

The whole island is the tip of a large volcano that rises from the ocean floor. The ancient peoples have also called “The belly button of the world” – in the local language known as Te Pito O Te Henu, while the name Rapa Nui prevails today. The second indigenous name for the island is Mata who you rank (“The eyes that look at the sky”).

For “The belly button of the World” is believed to collect the most important spiritual energy of the Earth.
6 Belintash Plato

Belintash Plato is one of the three points (Belintash – Cross Forest – Karadjov Stone), which is one of the strongest energy zones in Europe.
In the area around Belintasha, there is strong energy on it, and hundreds of people testify to frequent paranormal phenomena.

7. Berat

Berat is a pride of Albanian architecture. The old town is under the protection of UNESCO. Berat represents a wonderful blend of eastern and western culture, traditions and customs. The city is the treasury of Albanian history and the evidence of harmony between faith and culture.

In Berat, people have a very powerful, spiritual energy of healing. Today, behind the city walls there are still people who do not believe in illness, making this place unique and authentic.

8. Stonehenge
Stonehenge is the most famous megalithic monument in the world, probably devoted to the Sun, about 5,000 years old. It is located in the center of Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire, UK.

It is known for its huge stone blocks arranged in the circle. He still does not know with certainty what Stoneheng’s purpose is, but many scientists believe the monument was used as a ceremonial or religious center.
According to one theory Stonehenge is an ancient cemetery.

9. Bosnian Pyramids

The Bosnian Pyramids are not far from the city of Visoko, and according to the latest research, they date from far beyond the biblical past. The largest pyramid is the Pyramid of the Sun and is the first of its kind in Europe, while the Pyramid of the Moon and Pyramid of the Bosnian Dragon is considerably less.
Under the pyramids three underground rooms and a little blue lake were found. The lake contains clean, sterile water, without bacteria, algae, fungi, microorganisms, animals, mosses and mud. They are called living water because it cleanses the body.

This means that these objects are actually “healing rooms”. The human body regenerates faster and the disease disappears.

10. Mount Kailash on Tibet

Kailash Mountain is the most divine place of the four religions that originate from that part of Asia, namely Tibetan Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, and the Old Buddhist Religion of Tibet – Bongo.

All these religions have their own legends about this place but are united in the claim that the mountain of the gods is a home of the gods and one of the energy centers in the world where they climb to bring them spiritual bliss.

08 January 2020

Where to go in 2020: an insiders’ guide - Albania is in the list!

Albania is listed by Financial Times as an excellent destination to visit in 2020.

“Montenegro was the star of 2019 but the whole region is on the rise,” says Jonny Bealby of Wild Frontiers, who reports bookings for 2020 up 15 per cent compared with the same point a year ago.

“Visitors are drawn to the mountains, canyons and rivers, the sparkling coastline, ancient towns, Greek and Roman ruins, Ottoman citadels and rural hospitality.”

Trekkers are finding the Accursed Mountains in the north of the country — off limits during the country’s years of communist isolationism and during the Kosovo war — offer an alternative to the Alps with almost no-tourist development.

Meanwhile, historical tours are taking growing numbers beyond the Unesco World Heritage site of Butrint to explore the numerous Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman sites throughout the country.

Read the full article here

Where to go in 2020: an insiders’ guide

By Financial times

1 Armenia

Georgia has enjoyed soaring visitor numbers, and a string of new airline routes, since it was tipped in the equivalent of this article two years ago. Visits by international tourists during the first 11 months of 2019 were up 19.4 per cent compared with the same period in 2017. Meanwhile its southern neighbour Armenia has remained relatively off the radar — attracting fewer than a quarter of Georgia’s visitor numbers — though that now seems to be on the verge of change.
Four members of our panel picked Armenia as one to watch in 2020 (Wild Frontiers says its forward bookings are up 100 per cent compared with a year go) and the country will get its first low-cost airline links with western Europe. Ryanair, Wizz and Air Baltic are all due to launch flights, connecting the capital Yerevan with cities including Milan, Rome, Berlin and Vienna. The main draw for visitors is the country’s extraordinary collection of medieval monasteries and churches, many of them set among dramatic mountains. Geghard monastery, for example, was cut into the rock of the Upper Azat valley and was completed in the 13th century. It is now a Unesco world heritage site, as are the monasteries at Haghpat and Sanahin.
But Yerevan and the wine-lands are also fascinating. “Yerevan is one of the region’s most exuberant and endearing cities,” says Justin Wateridge of Steppes Travel. “Both country and capital are an unexpected delight that you need to discover before the secret gets out.”
Tom Marchant of Black Tomato recommends the newly opened Alexander hotel in Yerevan, part of Marriott’s Luxury Collection, as well as stopping for a degustation at the Ararat Brandy Company.

2 Chad

For travellers who really want to get off the beaten track, Chad is ideal. More than five times the size of the UK, the entire country gets fewer visitors in a year than Tate Modern gets in a week. And that is despite glorious desert and mountain scenery, fascinating ancient rock art and the closest “big five” safari park to Europe.
The bad news is that there is a reason for such a dearth of visitors: the UK Foreign Office advises against “all but essential” travel to most of the country, and “all travel” to the rest, highlighting the potential risk of crime and terrorism; the US State Department suggests potential visitors “reconsider”.
Despite that, several tour operators tip it as a rising destination for the coming year, a recommendation that is largely down to the work of African Parks, a South African-based non-profit conservation organisation. In 2010 it was invited by the Chadian government to sign a long-term agreement to manage Zakouma National Park, a 1,200 sq mile park in the south-east of the country that had been ransacked by horseback-riding poaching gangs.
With the help of EU funding, African Parks restored security (elephant deaths fell from 4,000 in the eight years to 2010, to just 24 since then), opened 17 schools and created employment at the three tourist camps.
In 2017, the government put an expanded area around the park into African Parks control, then in February 2018 the organisation was given responsibility for the Ennedi Natural and Cultural Reserve, a 15,500 sq mile expanse of sandstone mountains in the north of the country, filled with dramatic canyons, cliffs and arches as well as rock art that dates back 7,000 years. “Declared a World Heritage Site in 2016, the Ennedi is a vast wilderness with a savage beauty,” says Will Jones of Journeys By Design.

3  UK

Britain may be preparing to leave the EU, but the British national tourism agency is predicting a record year in 2020. Visit Britain says international tourist numbers will hit 39.7m, the highest ever and almost 5 per cent up on 2018. Particularly important to the growth are emerging tourism markets in the east — Visit Britain’s data shows flight bookings to the UK for the first half of the year are up 33 per cent from China, and 22 per cent from south Asia. 
While the reduced value of sterling has helped make the UK cheaper, the big draw this year is likely to be the country’s literary and artistic heritage. 2020 is the 250th anniversary of William Wordsworth’s birth (marked by a £6.2m project to expand the museum at his former home, Dove Cottage at Grasmere in the Lake District) and the 150th anniversary of Charles Dicken’s death (with a five-day festival in Rochester among many others). Meanwhile the lack of a significant anniversary does not seem to have deterred Jane Austen fans: a 10-day festival is planned in Bath in September, there is a nine-day festival in Hampshire in June, and yet another film version of Emma is due for release in February, starring Anya Taylor-Joy and a string of fabulous stately homes.

4 Norway

A growing awareness of climate change has brought the Arctic regions to the forefront of many minds. On one hand, the vulnerability of the ice caps, wildlife and traditional ways of life inspires an increasingly emotional reaction — the endangered glaciers pitied in the same way as the elephants and rhinos of east Africa. On the other, in a warming world, spending a summer holiday somewhere cold rather than hot seems increasingly attractive.
Above all, the Arctic has become so much more visible: consider, for example, that in 48 hours over Christmas, the BBC’s output included radio broadcasts from Greenland and Iceland, a two-hour “slow TV” programme following a Sami sleigh ride through Arctic Norway, and a film about the disappearing skills of the Inuit, “an elegy to the world that is melting away”.
Even Hollywood is leveraging the appeal of the north: Disney’s new children’s movie Frozen 2 draws heavily on Sami culture, myths and landscapes while the forthcoming James Bond movie No Time to Die, out in April, includes snowy sequences filmed in Norway.
While countries across the north are experiencing growing visitor numbers, Norway is especially well placed to benefit, with infrastructure that makes it straightforward to reach the Arctic, and an abundance of fjords, mountains and islands. Set among them are a growing number of landmark architectural projects by the Oslo-based practice Snohetta, a master at creating buildings that manage to be both appropriate to the stark beauty of their surroundings as well as catnip for social media.
Among them are Europe’s first underwater restaurant, launched in March 2019, the National Opera house in Oslo, a remote pavilion for watching passing reindeer at Hjerkinn, and the forthcoming Svart, a circular hotel just above the Arctic Circle, which isn’t due to open until 2022 but is already generating a buzz.
“Interest in all things Nordic continues to grow,” says Georgina Hancock at Discover the World, who tips Senja Island, to the west of Tromso, as “a quieter, under-explored alternative to the well-trodden Lofoten Islands”.
At Red Savannah, George Morgan-Grenville reports forward bookings for Norway up 33 per cent compared with this point a year ago. Both agree about the appeal of Svalbard, which in 2020 marks 100 years of Norwegian sovereignty, and offers the chance to visit the world’s northernmost city, school, museum, piano and much more. “Nowhere is more wild,” says Morgan-Grenville.

5 Turkey

Tourism in Turkey collapsed in 2015 and 2016 in response to terrorist attacks and political instability, with visitor numbers falling almost 40 per cent. Those security fears have now eased, and tourist numbers are rebounding — helped by a significant devaluation of the lira (a euro currently buys about 6.6 Turkish lira, up from about 2 lira a decade ago).
That exchange rate has made citybreaks more affordable in Istanbul, with its constantly expanding roster of luxury hotels. Recent additions include Sofitel on Taksim square, which opened in November complete with 33 Hermés-designed suites) and the Six Senses Kocataş Mansions, which soft-launched the same month, housed in two 19th-century mansions and with far-reaching views over the Bosphorus. The longer term trend, however, is for adventure-seeking tourists to look beyond Istanbul and the Mediterranean seaside resorts. Steppes highlight the move of the World Nomad Games this year from a remote yurt village in Kyrgyzstan to the Turkish city of Bursa, making it far easier for international visitors to watch events including kok-boru, a sort of central Asian equivalent of rugby, with competitors on horseback and a headless goat in place of a ball (the date for the event has yet to be announced).  
In the far east, the ancient archaeological sites of Upper Mesopotamia are attracting growing interest, with numerous operators offering expert-led group tours. Meanwhile skiers in search of perfect powder and a complete absence of crowds are travelling to Turkey Heliski’s base in Ayder, close to the south-eastern shore of the Black Sea, where visitors this winter are expected to include the star Swiss free-rider Sam Anthamatten.

6 Japan

Data from eDreams ODIGEO, which claims to be Europe’s biggest online travel agency, suggests a surge in the number of European travellers heading to Tokyo in 2020. Across its various websites, forward bookings are up 90 per cent compared with the same period a year ago. There is one obvious reason: the Olympics and Paralympics, due to take place in late July and early August. Some estimates suggest the Games might attract an additional 10m visitors, and there has been a rush of hotel openings in expectation.
Tourism in the country is already soaring: 31.2m foreign travellers visited in 2018, up from 8.6m in 2010. In 2016 the government set a target of reaching 40m visitors by 2020, and 60m by 2030. The downside has been the concentration of visitors in the honeypot sites of Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka, something the national tourist office has tried to counter with publicity campaigns promoting lesser-known regions, and which should be helped by new flight routes including, for example, Finnair’s direct service to Sapporo, on the northern island of Hokkaido, which launched last month.
“Quite apart from the Olympics, Japan is increasingly on the radar of those seeking alternative, experiential travel and a completely unhomogenised cultural identity,” says George Morgan-Grenville of Red Savannah. He suggests 2020 hotspots will include the Samurai districts of Kanazawa, the scenic coastline of Noto, and the art museums of Naoshima Island.

7 Uruguay

“Uruguay has always been considered a seasonal destination, but is just as special outside the December/January rush,” says Harry Hastings of Plan South America. “It’s ideal for ‘slow travel’, with cycling and riding trips through olive groves, vineyards, fishing villages and the open farmland of the south, stopping for sea swims, picnics, wine tasting and visits to artists’ studios.”
Home to fewer than 3.5m people, the country has long been in the shadow of its neighbours, Brazil and Argentina, with only the sceney seaside resorts of Punta del Este and José Ignacio attracting much international attention, and even then only in summer.
Now, though, small numbers of visitors are beginning to look beyond those hotspots, to the remote beaches of Rocha state, the surfer hang-out of La Pedrera, the old Portuguese city of Colonia del Sacramento and sleepy Carmelo, surrounded by vineyards, wineries and tasting rooms and known by some as South America’s answer to Tuscany.
Visitors should explore rich, full-bodied reds made with Tannat grapes, produced from vines descended from cuttings across the Atlantic in the 19th century before phylloxera devastated the originals in southern France.
The journey I’m really excited about next summer is a road trip from Alaska to California. I’ll be in Alaska in August giving a talk on board the QE2 and I’ve given myself a couple of weeks in between jobs to travel down the west coast of Canada and the US to San Francisco before I head to the Burning Man festival with some friends.
I’ve been to California before, but never seen the rest of the west coast so I’m looking forward to exploring, particularly Oregon and the Rockies and seeing Mount Washington in the flesh, spotting bears and experiencing some real wilderness.

8 Dominica
The mountainous Caribbean island has staged a remarkable recovery from the devastation of Hurricane Maria in 2017, while promotional campaigns billing it as “the nature island” seem more in tune with the times than some of its glitzier neighbors.
Rather than white sands and smart restaurants, the draw here is the pristine rainforests, remote mountain gorges and waterfalls. The tourist board is keen to distinguish it as a place for adventure travellers and in particular as a place for hiking: the country is home to the longest walking route in the Caribbean, the 185km Waitukubuli trail and a system of free “hike passports” was introduced in 2019 for visitors to record their walks.
The government has been working to restore trails damaged in the hurricane, while also introducing a string of environmental policies (plastic straws and cutlery were banned last year; plastic bags are due to be banned outright in 2020).
While eco-tourism remains the focus, the accommodation options are moving increasingly upmarket. Secret Bay, a glorious clifftop retreat that closed when the hurricane struck, reopened in November 2018 with major upgrades. It now comprises six villas built from sustainably sourced tropical hardwood, each of which has a private plunge pool and sea-views from the covered terraces.
The Kempinski group’s Cabrits Resort, a five-star beach hotel surrounded by the tropical forest of Cabrits National Park, opened in October 2019 while the Anichi Resort, part of Marriott’s Autograph collection, is due to open in 2020.

9 Albania

“Montenegro was the star of 2019 but the whole region is on the rise,” says Jonny Bealby of Wild Frontiers, who reports bookings for 2020 up 15 per cent compared with the same point a year ago. “Visitors are drawn to the mountains, canyons and rivers, the sparkling coastline, ancient towns, Greek and Roman ruins, Ottoman citadels and rural hospitality.”
Trekkers are finding the Accursed Mountains in the north of the country — off limits during the country’s years of communist isolationism and during the Kosovo war — offer an alternative to the Alps with almost no-tourist development. 
Meanwhile, historical tours are taking growing numbers beyond the Unesco World Heritage site of Butrint to explore the numerous Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman sites throughout the country.
And, on a totally different note, the Kala music festival, a week-long seaside party on the southern coast at Dhërmi, is putting Albania on the map for young travellers, in the same way events such as the Garden, Outlook and Sonus festivals did for Croatia. It is a measure of the Albanian authorities’ enthusiasm for tourism that prime minister Edi Rama attended the first Kala festival in 2018. “People think of it as a place where you get robbed or killed,” Rama told a poolside press conference, The Guardian reported. “But the stigma has helped us. When someone visits and gets out alive, they realise it’s paradise!” The figures appear to back him up: foreign visitor numbers for the first 11 months of 2019 topped 6.1m, up 8.3 per cent on the same period in 2018, and up from 1.9m for the full year of 2009.

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