03 May 2023

 Albania's developing tourism industry could help stop its young people from leaving – and boost its economy

It has been more than 30 years since Albania opened its doors to tourists, but telling a friend that you’re off to Tirana or Dhërmi for a long weekend might still raise some eyebrows.

Despite Albania making Lonely Planet’s 2023 best in travel list, and various travel specialists referring to the country as the Mediterranean’s “hidden gem” because of its pristine coastline and wildlife, Albania remains one of the least visited countries in Europe.

Despite its small size, Albania’s varied landscape offers an array of touristic opportunities. Its Adriatic coastline is home to beautiful beaches, not yet spoilt by hordes of visitors.

The interior of the country is wild and mountainous, boasting 15 national parks, picturesque remote villages and breathtaking alpine scenery. At the crossroads of various Mediterranean, Balkan and Ottoman empires, as well as having a history of communist rule, Albanian culture is a mixture of European and Middle Eastern influences, which remains evident in its cuisine and architecture.

So could tourism be an economic saviour for Albania and mediate the migration of its young people? Although visitor numbers are on the rise, the country is facing economic difficulties.

There are now “ghost towns” throughout the country. Kukësi in the north of Albania has seen more than 53% of its citizens leave, with reports showing that young people feel there are few opportunities for them.

According to a 2021 Gallup poll, 50% of Albanian adults wanted to move abroad, with unemployment, low wages and lack of opportunities being listed as main reasons.

In 2022, the United Nations Development Programme assessed Albania’s tourism trends and performance, finding that mass emigration is a significant challenge to the country’s tourism development. Around 75% of the hotels polled claimed that in peak season they would need at least 35% more employees than they are currently able to find.

Industry professionals in Albania feel that infrastructure, waste management and transport links are not at the level required to attract a large number of tourists.

Transformation through tourism

Many countries have used tourism for economic development. After the second world war, tourism became a crucial way for many poorer Mediterranean countries to kickstart their economies.

In 1951, the Greek National Tourism Organisation embarked on a nationwide development initiative to construct tourist facilities across the country, the Xenia project. Renowned Greek architect Aris Konstantinidis was enlisted to design dozens of hotels, bars, souvenir shops and other attractions across the country, in the minimalist whitewashed style Greece is renowned for.

Greece’s image was transformed into a hub for international travellers. At the start of the project, Greece hosted just 33,000 tourists a year – by the 1960s, that figure had increased by 1,098%. Today, tourism accounts for one-fifth of its economy.

A similar strategy was used in Spain. An impoverished, isolated state at the end of the second world war, tourism transformed the Spanish economy. Not only did tourism provide an invaluable source of foreign currency, but the sudden influx of foreign visitors undermined the Franco regime’s grip on the country.

The arrival of international visitors sparked a cultural transformation, as ordinary Spaniards interacted with tourists they began to question and challenge the authoritarian control of Franco’s government. The introduction of tourism is often cited as the catalyst to the toppling of the authoritarian regime.

A growth in Albania’s tourism might offer young people alternative opportunities to those they seek by leaving their home nation. Travel and tourism employ more young people (14- to 25-year-olds) than any other sector, according to a World Travel and Tourism Council study.

And in tourism-dependent countries, jobs tend to become full time and permanent, appealing to people looking for financial stability.

Stunning landscapes

Albania has many of the elements required to become a successful tourist destination. It’s a beautiful country with good food and a wonderful summer climate. In 2022, a TikTok trend sparked a boom in tourist bookings after people posted images of its stunning beaches.

But there are some challenges. For small and underdeveloped destinations like Albania, which may not have the infrastructure required to extensively develop tourism alone, help from outside investors is necessary - and that can come with its own issues.

While mass tourism can bring tourists, new hotels and restaurants, if developments are not locally owned the financial rewards may have limited benefit to the local economy, although they still provide jobs.

The World Travel and Tourism Council found that the Caribbean’s tourism sector suffered from economic leakage of 27.5% in 2019. Journalist Polly Pattullo said that on some islands this figure could be as high as 90%.

This means that this tourism-generated revenue leaves the Caribbean and does not contribute to the economy, due to hotels and tour operators being owned and controlled by foreign companies.

Perhaps Albania could take inspiration from neighbouring Montenegro, which seems to be successfully welcoming tourism. Like Albania, it is not a member of the EU, and has struggled with economic development.

The country has positioned itself as a niche destination. Tourism now accounts
for around 25% of Montenegro’s GDP (compared to around 8% in Albania).

Albania has a falling birthrate, and a struggling economy. For decades, the country sealed its population inside its borders, but these days many young people are desperate to leave. But an improvement in economic prosperity and jobs in the tourism industry might be a significant factor in changing that, if managed well.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Source: https://uk.news.yahoo.com/albanias-developing-tourism-industry-could-112036715.html?guccounter=1

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 ?