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,