Tag Archives: travel

ALBANIA: #1 in Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2011 Survey!!

With a big thanks to my wife, Jane, who found this tidbit, here’s GREAT news for all travelers who want the best bang for the travel buck!!

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Lonely Planet’s top 10 countries for 2011

Where in the world should you go next year? Our in-house travel experts, including Lonely Planet cofounder Tony Wheeler, have chosen their top 10 countries for next year based on scores for topicality, excitement, value for money and…that special X-factor. Here they are, in order of rank, from Lonely Planet’s latest book: Best in Travel 2011.

1. Albania

Not so long ago, when the Balkans were considered an ‘only for the brave’ travel destination, only the bravest of the brave trickled into Albania. Since backpackers started coming to elusive Albania in the 1990s, tales have been told in ‘keep it to yourself’ whispers of azure beaches, confrontingly good cuisine, heritage sites, nightlife, affordable adventures and the possibility of old-style unplanned journeys complete with open-armed locals for whom travellers are still a novelty. Sick to death of being dismissed with blinged-up crime-boss clichés, Albania has announced ‘A New Mediterranean Love’ via its tourist board. The jig is almost up – Albania won’t be off the beaten track for much longer.


Here’s Lonely Planet’s website for the complete list:

http://www.lonelyplanet.com/albania/travel-tips-and-articles/76164?affil=lpemail

Remote Albanian mountains drawing tourists

I probably should have provided just the URL so visitors to the Frosina Blog could read this great Reuters story of how a small mountain village in northern Albania is being slowly transormed into a mountain climbers paradise. I don’t really believe that Reuters would object if I published its unusual and interesting story about Albania below.

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Reuters Aug. 14, 2009

Remote Albania mountains now drawing tourists
by Benet Koleka

THETH, Albania (Reuters Life!) – A century ago, a famed British travel writer fell in love with the rugged villages of traditional stone houses in northern Albania, a region she praised for its magnificent isolation.

Theth is just as rugged and pure today as when Edith Durham visited in 1909. Following a century of wars, Stalinist rule and economic turmoil, the villagers see its remoteness as a lure for foreigners seeking the thrill of escape.

Theth’s traditional two-story stone houses, known as “kullas”, with steep wooden roofs are nestled in a valley and the lower slopes of mountains covered with beech, pine and other trees below. The peaks tower above at 2,000 to 2,694 metres, where pockets of snow linger throughout the year.

“I think no place where human beings live has given me such an impression of majestic isolation from all the world,” Durham, one of the first outsiders to visit the area, wrote in her 1909 book “High Albania.”

Westerners seeking pristine nature pass by Durham’s portrait carved on a stone relief and bearing the words “Highland Queen” on the road to Theth among a crown of rugged peaks.

On a recent day, Czech tourist Andrej Rapant, whose father organises tours to Theth, was one of a dozen people who had pitched a tent in a plum tree orchard by the river.

He came to Albania to get away to the mountains but avoid the tourists who crowd the Alps in Central Europe every summer.

“We are looking for pure nature and find it in these mountains, because it is so natural,” he said.

SCEPTICAL START

After generations of rugged self-reliance, local highlanders were sceptical about the tourist potential of their region.

Three years ago, locals told an expert from Germany’s GTZ agency which encourages international development that his talk of tourism here was that of “an alien from another planet”.

In fact, many local landlords had already abandoned the region, citing the lack of power, the absence of schools and doctors, a road blocked by winter snow and other woes.

GTZ official Ismail Beka issued a televised appeal to discuss tourism, and agency experts advised locals how to spruce up their stone houses to receive guests and treat them to local meat, dairy products, honey and tea.

Seven families accepted GTZ’s offer of 2,000 euros ($2,855) worth of beds, toilets and showers. Three years on, everyone now wishes they had done the same.

“Money was the smallest thing we invested there,” Beka said. “We spent time and energy to win hearts; a big thing was achieved with little. Some 5,000 people came last year.”

Beka calculates the initial 14,000 euro cash investment has already translated into 100,000 euros in tourism spending in Theth, sums beyond the dreams of most locals.

“Some 90 percent of tourists are foreigners, unlike the rest of Albania,” Beka said. “Theth guest houses have a much higher occupancy rate than the seaside resorts.”

Showing his no-frills but clean house with Western style bathrooms funded with a mix of GTZ and his own money, host Prek Harusha said locals felt they were not fully ready for tourism, but “having the best climate in the world” helped a lot.

Harusha’s children have picked up English and serve as his translators. His 50 sheep and two cows assure tourists paying 20 euros for board and food that they have a choice of fresh meat, milk, butter, home-made bread and vegetables.

“Communism delayed our development by 100 years. It has always been our tradition to welcome guests, but times have changed and we are now doing it for money,” Harusha said.

REAL ESCAPE

Tourists can trek mountain peaks, visit a waterfall, church, water-run grindstone mills and a tower that served as jail for those awaiting trial by elders, after killing rivals under the ancient blood-feud code of the Albanian mountains.

“Because there are not many people in the mountains, people are very nice and they give us bread and (local brandy) raki,” said Czech backpacker Jiri Kubec.

The drive from Tirana takes three and a half hours, the last hour and a half of which is on a dirt road. One of two auto routes is a mix of stone and dirt which and dates back to the Italians who annexed Albania during World War Two.

Such isolation has its rewards and risks. Three young Czechs vanished while visiting the area eight years ago. But Dutch hiker Pieter Ovenduin revelled in the remoteness of it all and the thrill of reaching a pristine mountain top.

“Here you really escape. You reach the top by yourself and do not discover a road and a cafe and parking on the other side.”

Unexpected holiday paradise in southern Albania !

It warmed the cockles of my heart while, at the same time, sent a slight shiver down my spine, that a still-pristine, sun-drenched, beautiful seaside beach locale in southern Albania might be trampled by hordes of worldwide sunworshipers desperately seeking an innovative – but affordable – holiday site in which to frolic and have fun. So, check out the remarkable (and very temporary!) personal discovery of paradise by a first-time visitor to Albania in his own words at the link below:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/travel/2009/apr/26/backpacking-best-holidays-albania-beaches