16 June 2016

The Guardian Travel: The beautiful sceneries of North of Albania

Staggering scenery, deserted landscapes – crossing Lake Koman in northern Albania provides an insight into a country that's still off the tourist radar. This is how “The Guardian” describes the Northern Albania, dedicating a great attention to Lake Koman, Valbona Valley, Albanian Alps and city of Shkodra. “The Guardian” compares the city of Shkodra that looks like a city in Italy. Albania it’s not only known for its beautiful sceneries and culture, but also for its hospitality, mentioned as well on this article “If helpfulness and hospitality were a marketable resource, Albania would be rich.”

The surface of the lake is perfectly still. The steep hills on either side and the high mountains beyond are empty of human life, save for the occasional lonely farmstead embedded in the hillside. There are no visible roads, no telephone wires to connect this place to the outside world. It's not difficult, on the ferry journey along Lake Koman in northern Albania, to imagine you're drifting through a landscape that has lain undisturbed for centuries.

It's the height of summer but there aren't many people on the ferry either. Most of our fellow passengers on this hulking cargo ship are down below, smoking and drinking lethally strong coffee in the bar. They've seen it all before. Those who haven't – my girlfriend and I, a few backpackers and some tough-looking Czech bikers – are on the upper deck drinking in the staggering scenery.

Anywhere else in Europe, this two-hour journey (which our guide book describes as "one of the world's great boat trips") would be hopping with tourists, but Albania is not a big draw – at least not yet. The last century has been hard on this little country, just across the sea from Italy and just north of Greece. More than 40 years of communist rule under the isolationist dictator Enver Hoxha, followed by a ruinous period of extreme capitalism in the mi
d-90s, have left the country struggling to find its feet in the new millennium.

Our first port of call had been Shkodër, the largest city in the north, overlooked by an impressive medieval castle built by Venetians, and crisscrossed by wide communist-era boulevards. When its population emerges in the evening to promenade and gather outside cafés, you could imagine you were somewhere in Italy – until you hear a muezzin's call from one of the city's many mosques, or fix your eye on a building that looks like it was transplanted from 1950s Moscow.

We planned to strike out the next morning for the Albanian Alps in the north-east. The best way to get there, if you want to avoid a long, precarious road journey, is by the Lake Koman ferry. But we had no idea how to get to the lake, couldn't find an information office, and even the guidebook was sketchy on the subject. Eventually a taxi driver with a few words of English called a friend and arranged for us to be picked up early the next morning. This was typical of our experience. Ask someone on the street and, even if they can't help, they'll find someone whose second cousin definitely can. If helpfulness and hospitality were a marketable resource, Albania would be rich.

See full article: http://www.theguardian.com/travel/2012/apr/15/albania-lake-koman-killian-fox?CMP=share_btn_tw

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