10 November 2013

Albanian Riviera – Revealing The Secrets of Europe’s Cheapest Beach Paradise

Really great article about Albania, heart felt emotions from the stunning beach views to meeting with friendly locals, Albania as it is. Thank you Nate at yomadic.com. We are happy that our country gave you such a great inspiration. 

 in #Albania Nov 4, 2013

The landscape is absolutely stunning. Beaches stretch for miles. Mountains abound. There are UNESCO listed towns, filled with Greek, Illyrian, Ottoman, and Albanian history.

There is so much to see, there really is.

But, Albania is not for everyone. It is however, for me.
Just like the last time I visited, I say again -  I hope I will return to Albania.
And I have a feeling there will be a few more people joining me next time.
albanian sunset
photo: Nate Robert

08 October 2013

Postcard from… Albania

 A very nice article, warning travelers that Albania is the next big thing:-) Cute

Albania, 7 September 2013
Imagine a European country with a solid GDP growth rate. Imagine if this country’s second languages were English, Italian and Chinese. Then imagine if this country had hundreds of miles of undeveloped beach-lined coast.
Imagine if this country had a vibrant youthful population, without the pension time bombs of Germany and Japan. And finally, imagine if this country sat at the economic crossroads of Europe, equidistant from Istanbul, Vienna and Rome.
Welcome to the Republic of Albania. This NATO member has the rosiest outlook in all Europe. Furthermore, I humbly suggest that this Adriatic nation will be the superyacht must-see of 2014. If it takes a glass of Albanian Trebiano in Tirana’s Bogdani district to convince you of that fact, then so be
So, why plan a sailing trip to Albania next summer? I’ll give you three reasons.
Firstly, the country is essentially one long beach, all the way from Corfu to Porto Montenegro. Ksamil Beach pairs crystal clear waters with Caribbean sands. Gjipe Beach is a triangular wedge of white sand encircled by an Ionian Sea of blue.
Secondly, Albania is a beacon for cultural tourism. Those who have stepped off a superyacht at Knidos in Turkey, Syracuse in Sicily or Leptis Magna in Libya will be astounded here. The Via Egnatia once linked Rome with Constantinople and littered Albania with forts and en-route. The finest cultural sights lie at Apollonia and Butrint.
Thirdly, think of the cachet. Do your colleagues think they’re on trend at the Hotel Splendido or Harry’s Bar? For a killer reaction casually mention: “Albania, haven’t you heard? It’s the next big thing.” They’ll wonder what you’ve been putting in your Bellinis.

 Read the full article here:

02 September 2013

Prespa: Endless Natural Wealth

Prespa Lakes (big and small) are natural heritages of three countries, Albania, Greece and Macedonia, and  the threw should be united to protect, develop and promote these area. Tourism will benefit from it. We  at Albania Holidays particularly like this motto: Three Countries, Two Lakes, One Future

Prespa: Endless Natural Wealth

Prespa is the name of two freshwater lakes in southeast Europe, shared by Albania, Greece and FYROM. They are the highest tectonic lakes in the Balkans, standing at an altitude of 853 m (2,798 ft).
The Great Prespa Lake, also known as Limni Megali Prespa, is divided among Albania, Greece and FYROM. The Small Prespa Lake is shared between Greece and Albania.
“Three Countries, Two Lakes, One Future” is the motto of Prespa Park, the transnational park protecting Prespa Lake. The area included in Prespa Park is of breathtaking natural beauty and great proof is the fact that it draws ever increasing numbers of tourists and eco-tourists.
Moreover, Agios Germanos is a village in the Prespes Municipality in West Macedonia. It is the only village in the Prespes region that has preserved all of the old stone houses. There, you can find the Information Center for everything you need to know about sightseeing.
From the settlement of the Fishermen (Psarades), someone can also rent one of the traditional wooden boats and take a ride in the calm waters of the lake. Anyone who ventures it, will be undoubtedly impressed by the painted rocks with Christian images in the southern part of the lake, given that in the 14th and 18th century hermits used to live in the area.
Furthermore, for gastronomy lovers, except for the fish and Florina peppers, the beans of the region which are cooked in many different ways, are very famous as well. The experience of the direct contact with the natural environment of exceptional beauty and biodiversity, fills the visitor with tranquility and evokes memories of a life away from big cities and stressful activities.

31 August 2013

Travel in Albania- travel writing winner essay at Telegraph.co.uk

A genuine travel writing and sincere emotions. Feeling like a travel pioneer not like a tourist, this is the effect of Albania on visitors.  Come to Albania before every body does :-)

Just Back: travels in Albania

Jane Byrne wins our weekly travel writing competition for her account of a hike through a rarely seen corner of Europe.

Just Back: travels in Albania
"I sat on the rock in the sun and listened to the silence." Photo: ALAMY
"Jane – you walk." Obediently I slid off the mule that had carried me to the top of the mountain pass. I should have walked the whole way with the group who were still toiling up through the forest, but the previous day had exposed my limitations and I had been presented with the alternative of riding on the second mule while the first mule carried all our bags. As there was no road or track, walking or the mule were the only options.
The ride had been an experience – the mules clattered up the mountain unerringly, following a path invisible to my eyes and often stepping along the very edge of the precipice. Their owners, Zek and Murresh, strolled behind, occasionally practising their English. "Jane – you OK?" I was, although I had no stirrups and no reins and was balanced on top of a wooden frame. The only alarms came when crossing the mountain streams, when the mule had to be restrained from flying leaps. Here I realised that I also had no riding talent.
But now I was at the top. Ahead the land dropped almost vertically for hundreds of feet – snow, rock, scrub and then lush forests. We walked along the ridge for five minutes and then down a gentle slope. The mules, one still laden with the group’s luggage, ambled a few feet more and stopped by the edge of the cliff.
"Jane – you wait, you sit." Zek and Murresh unloaded the bags and sat down. Two heads appeared from below. There was a rapid exchange of Albanian and our bags and all four men disappeared down the cliff. Peering over the edge I saw them hurtling down the cliff like goats with our bags, and in a clearing far below two fresh mules.
Later we would see many facets of Albania – the mighty castle of Krujë rising out of the bazaar sprawled around its base, ancient Apollonia, whose treasures are largely unexcavated, and the historic higgledy-piggledy streets of Berat with multicoloured lights twinkling in the dusk. Later there would be fun-filled evenings with the group and hours of cheerful companionship during our daily travels.
But at that moment, and for the first time in my life, I felt not like a tourist but like a traveller, even a pioneer. All too soon the group arrived and we moved off – more cliffs to scramble down, more paths to negotiate and, for me, another mule waiting at the bottom.


31 July 2013

The new Riviera: Albania tackles 'badlands' image with parasols

This article is the typical feeling of people hearing bad news about Albania, and people who don't know the country. Julia Langdon who has been visiting Corfu for 30 years, is surprised when she finds "sun umbrellas" on the beach, promenade with cafes, bars, fairy lights, restaurants and tourist shops. YES, Albania is all that. Come and explore!

bbc.co.uk reporter Julia Langdon on 26 July 2013

Sunbeds in Albania

Albania is the latest Balkan country to want to join the European Union. To do so, it will have to convince Brussels it has tackled corruption and organised crime. After decades of holidaying on neighbouring Corfu, Julia Langdon took the hydrofoil to see how formerly Communist Albania was shaping up.

For 30 years I have been visiting the north-east coast of Corfu. And for all that time I have been looking at Albania, often with a shiver at what little we knew about it.

Its bare coastline and forbidding mountains seemed to represent the isolation of the country, cut off by communism for half a century, home to the mafia - the badlands of the Balkans.

In the old days, the Straits of Corfu were raked by Albanian searchlights trying to catch those desperate enough to risk a night-time swim, or a paddle in the inner tube of a car tyre to escape its hunger and brutality.

When communism collapsed, I had heard the putt-putt of outboard engines at night on piratical missions. "The children usually sleep through the early-morning gunfire," I used to joke, but it was true.

Albanians hoping to escape to Italy 1997
Thousands of Albanians tried to flee the unrest in their country in the early 1990s

I had watched the tracer bullets light up the night-time sky over Saranda, the small city in the south of Albania where the last violent rebellions occurred as the country struggled to secure some sort of democracy 20 years ago.

Sun umbrellas in Saranda
Now I am approaching Saranda for the first time. I am on the hydrofoil, the Flying Dolphin, prepared for heat and poverty and boys begging for biros.

And what was the last thing I expected to see? Sun umbrellas on the beach. Welcome to the Albanian Riviera.

There is a promenade with cafes, bars, fairy lights, restaurants and tourist shops selling universal tourist tat.

There are oleanders and palm trees and hibiscus and solanum. There are sunbeds. A water playpark. Carefree children diving from a platform on a jetty. And holidaymakers, although few of them apparently foreign visitors.

There are also cars. Expensive ones. And in the middle of this very small city: nice-looking apartment buildings. Smart hotels.

Jetski passes a beach in Albania
The new Albanian Riviera

Era, a pretty, dark-haired Albanian in her 40s, is a tourist guide who wants to boast as much about the new Albania as describe the archaeological site of Butrint that I plan to visit.

Where once the second language in schools was Russian, now it is English and Era speaks it enthusiastically. She also relishes the freedom to say what she wants without fear.

They have just had an election here and Era - whose name means "wind" - is very pleased with the result.

"Albania is making a big progress on the road of democracy now," she tells me. "Before if we would complain, we very soon would find ourselves in police station. A lot of things are changing here."

She is old enough to know about the bad old days. When she was a girl, the youth of Albania were forced to work in the fields on Sundays. In this area they planted olives and oranges.

Agriculture and fishing are still hugely important to the economy but the average monthly wage is only just over £200 (it sounds better in Albanian lek, where it converts to 32,800) and the old age pension is less than half of that.

Supporters of the opposition Socialists celebrate in the Albanian capital Tirana after the party's victory.
There is to be a new government after last month's elections

People are helped by their children, says Era, and also by the informal - ie black - economy and by money sent home by the four million Albanians who live elsewhere.

There are problems in this transition economy. There is building work everywhere. The infrastructure is far from adequate.

There are cars. But no car parks. There are limited consumer goods but no rubbish collection. There is fly-tipping at every turn.

There is only one airport - named after the country's most famous native, Mother Teresa - but that is in the capital Tirana, six hours' drive away - if you are lucky. Most of the roads are frightful.

None of this dents Era's optimism. "We hope new politicians will do better things for us in future."

A beach in Albania in 2003
In transition in 2003 when illegal coastal developments were demolished

She believes the government can secure membership of the European Union and will assert the rule of law over the traditional culture of revenge, which still holds sway in what she calls the "backward" north.

Tony Blair at a refugee camp in 1997
Can Tony Blair help Albanians again?

"This problem is a priority of the government," she tells me.

Along with nepotism, corruption and organised crime, it is also one reason why Albania has so far failed to join the European Union.

But things are moving. And what's more, the new leader, Edi Rama, has a secret weapon.

There are 13-year-olds running round this country called "Toniblir" in tribute to the former British Prime Minister Tony Blair's support in 1999 for the beleaguered Albanian population in neighbouring Kosovo.

He is very popular here and he has offered to help the country towards EU membership.

Somehow, however, I still suspect it will be a long time yet before Era's optimism echoes through the corridors of Brussels.

Source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-23452125

04 June 2013

Tourism in Albania: a building site with potential

Our country Albania is now featuring in Swiss media as potential tourism destination. A very realistic article about Albanian tourism highlighting advantages and disadvantages- "With its stunning coast, its history, its ancient ruins, his mountains and its unspoiled nature mean that it has a lot of potential but also a bad reputation is associated with corruption, criminality and blood feuds ".

Gaby Ochsenbein in Tirana, swissinfo.ch
June 3, 2013 - 11:00
Image Caption:
May 2013 in Vlora: a seaside holiday awaits (swissinfo)Albania, sealed off for decades, and only open to visitors for the last 20 years, is trying to promote itself as a tourist destination. But it is not well known, and is by no means a tourist hotspot, even if visitor numbers are climbing.
May 2013 in Vlora: a seaside holiday awaits
"Albania is not yet on the radar, but with its stunning coast, its history, its ancient ruins, his mountains and its unspoiled nature mean that it has a lot of potential,“ says Alexander Wittwer, since January 2013 the Swiss ambassador in Tirana.

Albania may have potential, but it also has a bad reputation: it is associated with corruption, criminality and blood feuds. No wonder that for the moment it doesn’t feature among the holiday destinations offered by the two big Swiss travel agents Kuoni and Hotelplan.

When asked why, they say there is little demand. Most visitors go on special hiking, cultural or educational tours. Nevertheless, the number of Swiss visiting Albania has risen from about 6,000 in 2005 to more than 40,000 last year.

The biggest rise in visitors are those from its neighbours, Kosovo, Macedonia and Montenegro. But tourists from Greece, Italy, Germany, Poland and other countries can also be seen, usually in tour groups. Occasionally a cruise liner anchors on the Albanian Riviera. But individual travellers are few and far between, even if the Lonely Planet guidebook company named Albania as a top tourist destination in 2011.

Foreign Visitors to Albania


Switzerland: 6150/42,546
Kosovo: 336,322/1,708,743
Macedonia: 141,160/399,281
Greece: 47,776/225,175
Montenegro: 105,636/186,536
Italy: 62,520/147,018
Britain: 33,163/78,593
Germany: 23,391/70,060
US: 30,108/58,621
France: 9984/30,128
Austria: 6230/22,562

Dangerous potholes and kind people

Anyone wanting to explore the country by public transport needs their share of patience, but learns a lot about the way people live. There are few railway lines and the trains are very slow. There is quite an extensive bus and minibus network, but timetables are not always available. And car drivers are faced with bumpy roads full of potholes, especially on the cross-country routes. Even the pavements are full of lurking dangers: open gullies and unprotected building sites await the unwary pedestrian.

But such problems are quickly forgotten in the face of the kind, helpful and curious people, who are happy to talk to foreign visitors. You meet herdsmen with their cows, sheep or goats, fishermen auctioning their catch at the edge of the road, elderly people ploughing by hand, or leading their mules or donkeys laden with wood, straw and much else. Food is good and cheap, hotels as a rule clean and inexpensive, and the rivers and mountains are magical.  

Bunkering down

Reminders of the Cold War

In Albania they are impossible to miss or ignore: the bunkers from the time of the dictator Enver Hoxha. They can be seen in towns and villages, in gardens and vineyards, in the hills, in the mountains, by the sea - and even in cemeteries.

Mercedes and concrete

Something that strikes every new visitor to Albania is the large number of Mercedes, which are omnipresent in the towns and villages. It is impossible not to wonder who can afford such an expensive car in one of the poorest countries of Europe, and how many of them are perhaps stolen. It’s as if people have an immense urge to catch up – in the forty years of the old regime under Enver Hoxha all private transport was forbidden.

Something else that is impossible to miss are the concrete bunkers of various sizes, which the regime put up all over the country in the 1970s and 80s for fear of invaders. These relicts of the Cold War can be found on beaches, in the mountains or among houses – there are said to have been a hundred thousand of them in all.

There’s plenty of concrete being used today: Albania looks like one huge building site. Roads and motorways are being constructed everywhere, while houses are shooting up along the coast and in the cities. But not all of them get completed, whether because the money runs out, or because the illegal work is halted by the government. The result is that the countryside is disfigured by countless ugly shells of buildings.

The natural surroundings are also spoiled by rubbish dumped in picturesque spots: plastic bags and trash of all sorts is to be found by rivers, in fields, at the back of houses. And when the wind is in the wrong direction, the stink coming from burning rubbish dumps forces the guest to close his hotel window.


The two countries have had diplomatic relations since 1921. Switzerland has had a head of mission in Tirana since 1991.

The State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (Seco) and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) have an annual budget of about CHF13 million ($13.6 million) for their programmes in Albania.

Economic relations are at a low level: Swiss exports to Albania in 2011 were worth CHF36 million, and imports CHF3 million.

There are 69 Swiss nationals registered in Albania. Some 200,000 Albanians from Kosovo live in Switzerland, but only about 1,000 from Albania.

A business under construction

The Albanian tourism agency is also still in the process of construction, as government spokesman Enton Derraj admits. For two years he was an advisor at the ministry of tourism.

"Our biggest problem is waste management. All foreigners mention this. We are working on our waste disposal system and every year we conduct anti-litter campaigns. Basically, it’s not to do with the system or the infrastructure, but with mentalities. It will take time to raise people’s awareness of the issue."

To promote itself as a tourist destination, over the past few years the country has been investing in building and improving the infrastructure in tourist areas: road building, water supply, health. In some cases it has received help from abroad.

Two years ago a law on spatial planning was passed, aimed at preventing illegal building such as had taken place on a grand scale in coastal cities like Saranda, Durres and Vlora. Major projects like holiday resorts must now get the approval of the national planning commission.

"We want to avoid seeing the entire coast built up, in the way that happened in Montenegro, for example."

No mass tourism

Derraj maintains that Albania is not looking for mass tourism.

“It’s true that we want to develop beach tourism, but not like in Spain or Greece, but bearing environmental considerations in mind," he said.

The new strategy, due to be approved this year, will promote hiking, mountain tourism and agrotourism, and also cultural tours. Albania has three Unesco World Heritage sites: the ruins at Butrint and the Ottoman cities of Gjirokaster and Berat.

It has only been possible for outsiders to travel freely to Albania for the last 20 years. That means that foreign tourism and the hotel industry are relatively recent branches of the economy, and the country lacks experience in the area, Derraj says. It has not collected tourism statistics, only entries and exits, with no way of knowing whether the visitors are tourists or businesspeople.

Nor are there any statistics about hotel overnights.

“For tax reasons hotels are unwilling to cooperate with the data collection system of the tourism ministry,” he explains. “Since they still need to invest and grow, we aren’t putting any pressure on them at the moment. We are fairly tolerant."


21 May 2013

Albanian Riviera-Best-value destinations in Europe for 2013 by Lonely Planet

Great news about Albania, the fourth best value destination in Europe for  2013, after Greek Islands, Lisbon and Iceland. Thank you Lonely Planet

4. Albanian Riviera

Getting Mediterranean beaches to yourself can be a mission anywhere in Europe, let alone getting them at a decent price. Even Albania’s Ioanian coastline, long a backpacker magnet, has become pricey and crowded in parts, as new roads and hotels have been constructed along what is certainly some of Southern Europe’s most beautiful coastline. But there are still bargains to be had: Vuno and Drymades are still development-free and boast access to superb slices of idyllic beach. Elsewhere Albania offers superb mountain walking, ancient mountain towns and a plucky, fun and cheap capital city, Tirana.

Empty coastline of the Albanian Riviera. Photo by Tom Masters / Lonely Planet.

09 May 2013

One Insane Day in Albania. (Yes, Albania.)

Another article about Albania tourism. Good? Informative! It is good when people talks about!

One Insane Day in Albania. (Yes, Albania.)

Huffingtonpost,  Peter Mandel

It is early morning in the MS Oosterdam's Vista Lounge. Passengers cluster. Curtains sway with the sea. I am awake, but thanks to the softness of the lounge's velour chair, I keep remembering sleep.
"You on the Kickin' Corfu tour?" asks a man with a backpack and an aluminum-and-rubber cane.
"Um, no," I say. "Shore excursion No. 6. I'm going to Albania."
"Albania?" he repeats. It's a country that always seems to come with a question.
"That's right," I say. "Albania."
"Well, better git with your group," he says, giving me a suspicious stare.
I don't tell him more, but in fact I've always been curious about this tiny Eastern European nation. Maybe it's from reading the comic strip "Dilbert," with its made-up outpost "Elbonia." Elbonia mirrors Albania in seeming wildly out-of-the-loop.
Albania lived under the thumb of a communist dictator named Enver Hoxha from the end of World War II until his death in 1985 (and the fall of communism there in 1991). A 1950s map I looked at showed it as a blank area, not a country.
But color is coming back to the now-independent free-market democracy. A bit of the Balkan Peninsula, it's only slightly larger than Maryland. But there's variety inside that space, including a mountain-studded interior and an unspoiled Adriatic coastline. Travelers like me who long for places that don't yet have a Starbucks are starting to take notice.
Since this is a Mediterranean cruise and Albania has popped up as one of Holland America Lines' tour options in the port of Kerkira, Corfu, it's my chance, I think, to fill in the blank.
As soon as I leave my velour chair on the ship, things start happening fast. I'm told to go get my passport. We're the only shore excursion tour group that's changing countries. And I'm tagged with an orange sticker that says "Holland America Lines Oosterdam #6." Is this in case I get lost? I feel like Paddington Bear.
My "Albanian Adventure" tour is listed as lasting seven hours. "Strenuous," warns the cruise line brochure. "Roads are bumpy. Insect repellent is strongly recommended." All this makes me think that maybe three other passengers will leave the clean and comfortable cocoon of the ship and sign up. But as we roar out of the port, my orange No. 6 bus is completely full.
Up front is our Albanian tour guide, a tanned middle-aged man with gold edges around his upper teeth. When he tells us his name, we nod. But it's a difficult sound. Later I sneak a look at his badge: Vangjel Xhani of SIPA Tours. Xhani lives in the capital city, Tirana. He has two backup careers. "I am also," he tells us, "a professor and a doctor."
The bus is already stopping. "Okay," says Xhani, "now we get on board hovercraft for next leg." Ionian Lines' Flying Dolphin says the hand-painted sign.
Everyone seems nervous settling in on the Flying Dolphin, in part because the upholstered seat backs flop forward if you touch them. We tourists are crammed in next to local commuters who have brought knapsacks full of groceries aboard. When the Dolphin starts its engines, it makes a noise similar to a blender on "pulse."
As we hum and bounce our way across the water, two government officials wearing caps and T-shirts work their way through a rainbow stack of passports, stamping each and calling out the name of its owner. You're supposed to get up from your floppy seat to collect it. To lazy passengers who only shout out their names, the passports are tossed.
Soon we are seeing Albania for the first time through a churning mist created by the Flying Dolphin. It's not easy to describe. We're in the resort town of Saranda, which means "number 40," according to Xhani. "Forty what?" shouts out someone in the back of our group. Xhani doesn't answer.
When we land and load up another bus, I am grinning as I look around. There is a "Mad Men" 1960s look about the simple glassy structures and the pictures on the signs. Saranda reminds me of a building set I had as a kid. And just as with my set, a lot of the buildings are unfinished.
"It's a boom town," I say to my seatmate. "Or not. It almost looks like they gave up on some projects."
"It is the second thing," says Xhani, who has overheard me.
We are on our way to the ancient town of Butrint. In truth, we are at a standstill. It is mid-morning rush hour in Saranda. The bus feels like the interior of a pizza oven.
"Somebody ask," says Xhani, "why the buildings empty. Well, I tell you. You see, some investment companies have created pyramid fraud. In the 1990s, the pyramid collapse. People are bankrupt. Do you understand?" We do.
"We are former communist country," he announces. "It make some people lazy. But not now." Xhani waves his hand proudly at the trucks and buses that make up the traffic jam just outside. "Only few years ago, we have 800 cars in all Albania," he adds. "Now our favorite car? Mercedes!" I don't see any around, but I take Xhani's word for it.
Just as we pull into Butrint, Xhani fills us in on a few more facts. It's an hour earlier in Albania than in Corfu. Mother Teresa was Albanian, and John Belushi was of Albanian descent.

Visiting the ruins in Butrint National Park is like getting a private tour of the Acropolis or the Roman forum. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but there are no tickets or lines. In fact, there's no one else around. Xhani guides us past the remains of Greek temples from the 4th century B.C. and leftovers from the Roman colony that Julius and Augustus Caesar founded.
It is so eerily quiet at the Lion Gate, a famous doorway with its relief of a lion ripping into part of a bull, that for a second I have the sense that what we're seeing isn't dead. Someone will appear in the doorway. Motion us away. Or, invite us in.
Sandals are shuffling on gravel. Frogs are peeping from somewhere back in the bushes. A steady humming comes from the mimosa trees above. Xhani motions us to stop and listen. The hum is just a bass note. Above it is a snappy beat that sounds like it's being tapped out by castanets.
Listen, says Xhani again. "Many kind of insect here!" The group is eager to move on. "Wait, wait!" urges Xhani. But passengers are slapping and scratching. A cloud of gnats is rising out of the grass. Something is biting me on the side of my foot, just above my flip-flop.
Finally, by waving shirts and jackets, we get away from the swarm. "What was that?" asks a woman waving a spray can of all-natural repellent.
"Bugs!" exclaims Xhani with excitement. "But it is not more than usual," he adds. He seems slightly disappointed.
We get to an ancient theater that everyone takes pictures of. Only the Greek gymnasium is disappointing: It is under water. I can see a fish darting between two submerged stones. Back on the little walkway, we encounter a group of locals sipping coffee. Some are resting on benches. All raise palms to greet us. Why are they here? No one is sure.
A ray of sun picks out a rim of stones in another ruin that looks worth exploring. But we are late for lunch. An Albanian meal is set out for us in a nearby restaurant along with bottles of Tirana beer. First comes a salad that looks Greek, with cucumbers and goat cheese plus the freshest hummus I've ever tasted.
"Wait!" says Xhani as two or three people push back from their plates. "It isn't finish. Here come the fish!" We end up with two more courses, plus bowls of fruit for dessert.
"You will come back?" says our waiter in slowly perfect English. He is gravely concerned. "Come tomorrow," he suggests. "For special soup."
"I'd like to come back," I say. "I'd like to try it."
Most of all I am hoping to do my part to fill an empty hotel.
On the bus, we see a pair of men saluting us from distant tractors. Another time I would like to meet them. To raise my palm. To shake their hands.
But it cannot be today. Xhani is speaking. Passengers are dozing.
The Flying Dolphin awaits.

08 May 2013

Europe's last corner: Beaches and beauty in Albania, the hidden bargain of the Balkans

Great news for Albania at the right time.  Thank you Daily Mail. We need this promotion in such big British media

Europe's last corner: Beaches and beauty in Albania, the hidden bargain of the Balkans


Remember Albania? The crackpot Communist country where they used to cut your hair at the airport if it was too long? Where they hated everything Western, but went crazy over Norman Wisdom films?
Well, it has changed. 
Tirana, Albania
Bright lights, small city: Tirana is Albania's intriguing, somewhat hotch-potch capital
Bright lights, small city: Tirana is Albania's intriguing, somewhat hotch-potch capital
Once upon a time, the only tourists it welcomed were serious-minded students of Stalinism. Today, it is bucket-and-spade families in search of a bargain beach holiday, and a lot more besides.
Albania is a little like Spain 50 years ago, with prices to match. Take a break on its Adriatic coast, and as well as enjoying miles of sandy beaches, you have timewarp prices that will bring a smile to your lips, too. Coffee at 40p per cup, beer at 90p per pint, wine at £4 a bottle.
What’s more, you don’t have to fly over several different time zones to get there. From Gatwick, there are four British Airways departures per week to the Albanian capital, Tirana, and you’re in the air for just under three hours. Which is less time than it takes to travel to Greece.
And once you have landed, there are no long, stomach-churning coach transfers across the mountains: just a quick, 30-minute drive down the motorway.
Two of the biggest destinations are the holiday town of Durrës (ancient Dyrrhachion), and the nearby resort of Golem. Of the two, Durrës is the more built up. For many years, this was just about the only holiday destination available, both to Albanians and their landlocked cousins in Kosovo and Macedonia.
This makes it the Blackpool of the Balkans, only with dancing bears on the prom instead of  illuminations. Like its Lancashire counterpart, the Durrës seafront is wall-to-wall hotels, bars and restaurants, which means you enjoy a front-row view of the ocean wherever you are staying, eating or drinking. The fact that a steak-and-wine dinner costs just 1,000 Albanian lek (around £6) tends to add yet more lustre to the sunsets.
One thing you cannot expect in Durrës, though, is solitude.
It is busy to bursting in the summer months, so if you find yourself casting envious glances back up to the top of the hill, where the summer palace of Albania’s former King Zog (ousted in 1939) stands in splendid isolation, you might prefer to stay a few miles down the waterfront, at the resort of Golem.
Tirana, AlbaniaTirana, Albania

In the pink: The Lana River is channelled through the heart of Tirana (left), while Skanderbeg Square - named after national hero George Kastrioti Skanderbeg, a 15th century Albanian lord - is the central plaza (right)

In the pink: The Lana River is channelled through the heart of Tirana (left), while Skanderbeg Square - named after national hero George Kastrioti Skanderbeg, a 15th century Albanian lord - is the central plaza (right)
This pleasing hotspot is no less popular than Durrës, but it is not as built-up and more leafy. A £3 taxi ride will take you to lovely Lalzit Bay, where, apart from miles of unspoilt sand, the only building in sight is the Insifa beach restaurant, serving seafood spaghetti at £2.50 a time, with a bottle of surprisingly nice Albanian white wine for £4.20.
Be warned, though, because this state of pre-bulldozer paradise will not last for ever. Already, construction has started on a big, new upmarket apartments-and-villas development in Lalzit Bay, with British buyers on board.
One of them is 65-year-old Chris Esdale-Pearson, a retired ship’s pilot from Harwich, in Essex, who bought a one-bedroom apartment with his wife a year before the development was due to open.
“As I see it, we’re getting in on the ground floor,” he says. “The beach is beautiful, we’re near the mountains, and there’s plenty of places to explore that are off the beaten track. There’s no doubt about it, Albania is an emerging market.”
Some consider it Europe’s last secret spot. Hardly surprising, since for most of the second half of the 20th century, the country was cut off from the rest of the world, ruled by paranoid Communist dictators who brainwashed the nation into believing that Western invasion was a daily threat.
Those brave tourists who did visit the country found themselves subjected to all sorts of indignities, from being tailed by the secret police, to having their hair cut on arrival (Beatle mops were seen as a sign of decadence).
Things did not really improve after the Berlin Wall was puled down. Strikes and demonstrations were followed by a disastrous get-rich-quick craze, in which half the country invested their homes and life savings in schemes paying unfeasibly high interest rates, and lost the lot in 1997, when they collapsed.
Sixteen years ago, then, this was a land in which the streets were ruled by armed gangs and desperate, poverty-stricken mobs. Today it’s a holiday destination which has the winning combination of being both affordable and undiscovered; most Brits only know it from having made day trips from the Greek island of Corfu to Sarande, Albania’s southernmost port (100 miles south of Tirana).
Undiscovered: Away from the city, Albania offers peace and tranquility in one of Europe's last hidden corners
Undiscovered: Away from the city, Albania offers peace and tranquility in one of Europe's last hidden corners
It is not only the beaches that make Albania appealing. It is well worth incorporating  a couple of days in the capital, Tirana.
Despite the decades of economic hardship, the city turns out out to be a metropolis of elegant avenues, boasting plenty of parkland, plus an array of attractively marzipan-coloured buildings, deployed around grassy Skanderbeg Square.
As for the choice of places to stay, you can opt for the upmarket Rogner Hotel, near the Prime Minister’s residence, with gardens, tennis court and swimming pool, or else go for the smaller, homelier Villa Tafaj, a clean and prettily-arcaded hotel in Mine Peza Street.
Either way, you are only a five-minute walk from the city centre, and the lovely, almost Alpine-looking Sarajet Restaurant, in Abdi Toptani Street. Here you can sip a glass of beer in the shaded courtyard, or eat vast veal chops (berxolla vici), beneath intricately carved wooden ceilings. After which, a trip to the top of the (slowly revolving) Sky Tower provides a panoramic view over the rooftops to the surrounding mountains.
At the same time, though, the full force of globalisation and commercialism has not steamrollered into Tirana, ironing out the local peculiarities. Pirimida, the crumbling old ‘International Centre of Culture’, was once a museum to the feared dictator Enver Hoxha, and now awaits demolition.
The fast food outlets retain their own unique identities: there’s AFC (Albanian Fried Chicken) instead of KFC, and there’s Kolonat, which serves burgers, but has as its symbol an exploded version of the McDonald’s M-shaped yellow arches.
What’s more, the language has an identity all of its own. When you’re attempting to say “thank you”, the phrase is 'faleminderit'. As for “goodbye”, it’s not 'ciao' or 'au revoir', but 'mirupafshim', which sounds more like a sneeze than a farewell.
Undiscovered: Away from the city, Albania offers peace and tranquility in one of Europe's last hidden corners
In bloom: Albania offers some fine areas of shore, especially near Sarande, where you can see over to Corfu
This is Europe, then, but not as we know it.
Nevertheless. with a million expatriate Albanians pumping money back into the homeland, and with tourist numbers increasing all the time (four million last year), you cannot help feeling that if you want to catch the authentic Albania, you had better go there soon.

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/travel/article-2320892/Albania-holidays-Beaches-bargains-Europes-hidden-secret.html#ixzz2SjxBFaPg 

06 May 2013


Such amazing article and video about Albania coastline and marine. We enjoyed reading it.


OCEAN71 magazine/ Julien Pfyffer   12 February 2012

July 24, 2011. It is one o’clock in the afternoon and the rocky coastline of southern Albania is white-hot in the blazing sunshine. We are three kilometres from Corfu, the popular Greek island, and after two dives, I’m feeling hungry. I peel the top of my wetsuit down to my waist and wander over to the restaurant perched on the edge of the beach.
Albania's South moutains. At firt glance, the coast does not offer any shelter © Philippe Henry / OCEAN71 Magazine
Albania's South moutains. At firt glance, the coast does not offer any shelter © Philippe Henry / OCEAN71 Magazine
A young Albanian family on holiday comes and sits at a neighbouring table and the father, in his thirties, turns to me and in English says: “Do you mind me asking what you are doing here?” I was slightly taken aback, but quickly gathered that his question was motivated by curiosity related to my strange attire rather than anything more sinister and explained that we were diving. This gentleman had the very latest mobile phone, was wearing a smart polo shirt, jeans and a pair of trendy moccasins – he looked a thoroughly modern man. “What do you see in the water?” he asks. “The seabed, fish, marine vegetation…” I answer. He tells me that he has never heard of diving. Odd, but intriguing… Later I discover that aside from a couple of very rare exceptions, no one dives in Albania
The two naighbourint countries are so close that from Corfu it is possible to see clearly the first Albanian city, Saranda © Philippe Henry / OCEAN71 Magazine
Pananoiac dictator Enver Hoxha forced the population to build about 700 000 bunkers all over the lands of the communist country © Philippe Henry / OCEAN71 Magazine
A month earlier: towards the end of June.“Do you think that is Albania?” asks Lorraine, one of the OCEAN71 Magazine journalists… We are in the middle of the Ionian Sea that lies between southern Italy and Greece and off the bow of our 12-metre expedition yacht a mountain range is emerging from the haze. It looks wild, almost hostile, and plunges into the sea to form an impregnable natural fortress. Shortly we pass an island with a softer, greener landscape. “Look! That must be Corfu,”she says.
Five hours later we nose into a channel that forms a natural frontier between the great Greek island and Albania; the border lies in the middle of the three-kilometre stretch of water. I ask Lorraine, who is helming, to hug the Corfu coastline as I don’t want the Albanian military descending on us just yet. Of course they never did, but like the flock of tourists that visit Corfu every summer, I imagined the armed forces would appear at the slightest intrusion and had that uneasy feeling of entering unknown territory as we got closer to the ‘Land of Eagles’.
During our journey around the Mediterranean from the Cote d’Azur to Corsica, Sardinia to Calabria, Sicily to Lampedusa and Malta, we were repeatedly warned against going to Albania: “Albania? You’re not serious! The country was recently a very dangerous place…I read somewhere that it is still unstable,” said one naysayer.“The waters around Albania are mined! Charts show active minefields that will make an approach by boat very dangerous, and that is before you consider the traffickers and smugglers that cross the channel to Italy at night,” said another. “Aren’t you afraid of having your boat stolen? The country is so poor that you will stand out like a sore thumb. If I were you I wouldn’t leave my boat unattended for a moment,” said yet another.
Pananoiac dictator Enver Hoxha forced the population to build about 700 000 bunkers all over the lands of the communist country © Philippe Henry / OCEAN71 Magazine
Pananoiac dictator Enver Hoxha forced the population to build about 700 000 bunkers all over the lands of the communist country © Philippe Henry / OCEAN71 Magazine
Of course few people have actually travelled to Albania to verify these allegations, most of which are the result of a total lack of information about the place. During our preparations for this trip the information vacuum became very apparent, but we eventually managed to find a meagre tourist guide and some general charts of the area. Google Earth satellite images gave us a little more insight, but even those dated back to 2005, so armed with very little data, we felt like pioneers.

Source: http://ocean71.com/chapters/albania-limit-known-world-expedition-discovery-culture/


Secrets in the black eagles’ land

Albanian Beauty & its 700,000 Bunkers: Profiling a Man Who Built Them

Thank you Tricia for the nice and emotional article and the wonderful look inside everyday life in our beautiful country Albania!

Albanian Beauty & its 700,000 Bunkers: Profiling a Man Who Built Them

As our minibus chugged through the Albanian countryside during our 6-hour trip, my husband and I inadvertently created a new car ‘game’ to pass the time: who could first spy a bunker as a new one appeared in the ever-changing panorama?
With nearly 700,000 bunkers still dotting the southeast European nation’s landscape even today, the game didn’t prove challenging. We saw a man leading a donkey past a mammoth-sized bunker, and then small ones clustered at the tops of hills, plus another pair nestled beside a home.......
bunker in albanian countryside
Just one of 700,000 + bunkers scattered across the Albanian landscape.
Read full article here:
Also in this article don’t miss Shawn’s video below,


21 March 2013

Tirana is one of four Europe’s secret cities recommended by Sunday Times as short break destination

Tirana, our capital is one of four Europe secret cities recommended by British newspaper- The Sunday Times as short break destination. Malmo in Sweeden is in the first place, followed by Zaragoza in Spain, Basel, Switzerland and Tirana, Albania the fourth. Tirana is described as unconventional and surprising city with trendy bars and restaurants and together with Durres and Kruja make a nice short break destination in Europe. The journalist and the photograph were guests of Albania Holidays. 

This way to Europe’s secret cities -The Sunday Times

17 March 2013
Fancy something different for the weekend? You’ve found it. Bypass the usual suspects with our guide to four short breaks that will leave the crowds behind. Malmo

Tiana, Albania
Far from pedestrian: enjoy a pre-cocktail stroll in quirky Tirana (Christian Kober)


Why go?
If you’d like to try somewhere decidedly different, the Albanian capital has friendly locals,
fascinating history, quirk galore and jaw-droppingly low prices: half a litre of beer costs £1, museum entry £1.25 — the opera is only £1.75, for heaven’s sake. It’s not the prettiest of cities, but it has Ottoman, Italian and communist-era highlights, and there are several fabulous day-trip options.

By day: the giant Skanderbeg Square, started by the Italians and finished by the communists, belongs in a far larger city. In a non-monumentalist corner is the little Et’hem Bey Mosque, a real treat with a gorgeous prayer room. And there’s a tremendous collection of socialist-realist art at the National Gallery of Arts (Bulevardi Deshmoret e Kombit; gka.al; £1.25) — look out for the statues of Lenin and Stalin at the back.

Enver Hoxha was the dictator of Albania from 1944 until his death in 1985. His legacy includes a pyramid structure built as a museum to him (now derelict) and, on Ishmail Omera street, a one-man concrete bunker — a reminder of his “bunkerisation” project, which saw the country pebble dashed with 700,000 pillboxes.

For lunch, you could opt for traditional Albanian cuisine in a shaded courtyard at Sarajet (Rruga Abdi Toptani 7; sarajet.com; mains £3.50). Or, for more sophisticated food, decor and service, try Vila Alehandro (Rruga Asim Zeneli 2; vilaalehandro.com; mains from £4.50). It’s in a grand white mansion that was formerly the Romanian ambassador’s residence.

 Now head up to the mountain fortress of Kruja, where the weavers make kilims. The smooth-stoned main alleyway leads past dozens of carpet and souvenir shops, where you can haggle rugs down to about £30 and Hoxha mugs to 50p. Beyond, you enter the 5th-century castle walls that the national hero, Skanderbeg, defended stoically against the Turks — there’s a reverent museum dedicated to him (£1.25). Get to Kruja, 20 miles north of Tirana, by taxi (£25 return) or bus (90p). Or make for the ancient seaside capital, Durres, which sees Albanians in beach mode — it’s a £14 taxi ride.

By night: the Blloku neighbourhood shows a metaphorical two fingers to the former dictator. Albanians were barred from the area in his day, but now it’s as good a nightlife centre as any in the Balkans, with boutique shops, restaurants, pavement bars and clubs surrounding the 17 oversized villas where Hoxha and his coterie once slept. The incongruous Sherlock Holmes bar (Bulevardi Bajram Curri) is trendy, with white furniture, arty lighting and a beau monde clientele. Radio (Rruga Ismail Qemali 29/1) is a quirky bar with marvellous cocktails.

In low-rise Tirana, the 15th floor feels giddying, but that’s where you’ll find the revolving restaurant Sky Club (skyhotel-al.com), with great views, cheap beer and hesitant rotation.

The hotel: the friendly Theranda (00 355 42 273766, therandahotel.com; doubles from £42, B&B) is on a quiet street a short walk from Blloku.

The flight: travel from Gatwick with British Airways (0844 493 0787, ba.com) or Stansted with Belle Air (belleair.it).

Richard Green
Richard Green was a guest of Cox & Kings (0845 154 8941, coxandkings.co.uk), which has three nights at the Theranda from £455pp, B&B, including BA flights

Source URL: http://www.thesundaytimes.co.uk/sto/travel/weekends/city_breaks/article1229798.ece

13 March 2013

Lonely planet: Albania is in top ten Traveller’s Choice destination of 2013

Lonely Planet Traveller’s Choice: the top destinations of 2013, part 3

Albania is one of 10 countries chosen as Traveller's Choice by Lonely Planet in the category “Off the beaten path”, in other words, it is still a secret to be discovered. Even the most visited continents have hidden gems, three countries in Europe, Albania, Moldova and Iceland, made it to the top 10 ‘off the beaten path’ list. More than 3000 people where asked to vote their favourite destinations by 16 criteria in the survey carried out by Lonely planet. Thank you very much to all travellers who voted Albania.
Off the beaten path
Proving that even the most visited continents have hidden gems, three countries in Europe made it to the top 10 ‘off the beaten path’ list. But Bhutan was the clear winner, capturing 45.2% of its visitors’ votes for this category, which is nearly double the second-placed, Moldova.

1. Bhutan
2. Moldova
3. Mozambique
4. Algeria
5. Ghana
6. Albania
7. Bolivia
8. Burma
9. Iceland
10. Azerbaijan

Introducing Albania

Awaking Sleeping Beauty–like in the 1990s from her hardline communist isolation, Albania was a stranger from another time. Her cities weren’t choked by car fumes, her beaches were unspoilt by mass tourism, her long-suffering people were a little dazed and confused. While things have changed a lot since then, this ancient land still offers something increasingly rare in Europe these days – a glance into a culture that is all its own. Raised on a diet of separation and hardship, Albania is distinctly Albanian.
Albania nature
You’ll continue to find beautiful pristine beaches on parts of the Ionian Coast (try the charming town of Saranda), fascinating classical sites like ancient Berat, and dramatic mountain citadels, but the mad traffic of Tirana is symptomatic of a bustling, bright city shrugging off its Stalinist grey patina. Squat toilets are no longer the norm and you can even sip cocktails at hip bars while listening to rock bands. Meanwhile, Northern Albania keeps the country's reputation as a wild frontier alive and well, with bleak mountains and the occasional blood feud.
Not just the preserve of the adventurous, Albania is a warm and sincerely hospitable country – with enough rough edges to keep it interesting.

Read more about Albania : http://www.lonelyplanet.com/albania#ixzz2NSVw9tFe

Read full article of Lonely Planet: http://www.lonelyplanet.com/blog/2013/02/26/lonely-planet-travellers-choice-the-top-destinations-of-2013-part-3/#ixzz2NSONQXXk