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Summer in the Balkans: Albania Discovered – The Future Is Looking Bright

  • Luke Ford
  • 10 June 2009

Setting Your Responsible Sights on the Southern Balkans

Once a well-kept secret, Albania is on the verge of being ‘discovered’ by tourists. Until 1992 a communist country closed off to the rest of the world, Albania has only recently seen greater numbers of foreign travellers venture down to its southern Balkan corner of Europe, bringing with them suitcases of western brands and influences. Not to be discouraged though, and despite a growing number of Mercedes-Benzes, Coca-Colas and Mai Tai cocktails, the country remains very Albanian. Quaint mountain villages indifferent to modern development in the cities, which also retain their own unique charm, give rise to incredible travel experiences that you would be hard pressed to find elsewhere in Europe.

A look down Lake of Koman on the way to the Valbona Valley

Neighbouring countries have therefore already started flocking to Albania, with holidaymakers from Greece, Macedonia, Bulgaria and Serbia tempted by the beautiful coastline and, of course, very low prices. As reported by the Albanian national media: In 2008, over 400,000 more foreign tourists visited Albania than in 2007, an increase of about 23%. So while the tough economic times of 2009 are expected to hit other summer destinations hard, tourism in Albania may experience a big lift as people look for affordable memorable holidays.

Going Local

In Albania, already off the beaten track, you can really enter another world. Begin with a meander along the turquoise waters of the narrow and twisting Lake Koman flanked by jaw-droppingly steep cliffs (think Lord of the Rings). Follow this with a moderate-to-strenuous hike through the Valbona River Valley, the gorgeous jewel in the crown of northern Albania. Then descend towards the Theth Valley where you can enjoy extraordinary overnight hospitality in the traditional houses of Albania’s best-preserved alpine village. The surroundings could hardly be more stunning.

The Village House Salimaj, stunningly situated in Valbina valley

The Village House Salimaj, stunningly situated in Valbona Valley

This guided trek to local village houses is just one of many unique experiences offered by Outdoor Albania, a local Albanian adventure-travel company. Although one of many tour companies in Albania, Outdoor Albania is one with its heart in the right place. “We love our city and our country and want to show travellers the true side of Albania and for them to see and do as much as possible!” said the director of Outdoor Albania, Laura Payne, Dutch-born but now considered Albanian by many. “We want to promote the protection of the natural habitats of Albania whilst also supporting the small local communities economically. We try to involve as many actors as possible in our business, using drivers, guides, craft makers, mule/horse porters, winemakers, etc., on our tours.”

Acting Responsibly

Evident in tours like the trek to local village houses, Outdoor Albania believes in responsible tourism. This community-minded approach saw Outdoor Albania selected for a project sponsored by the International Finance Corporation (part of the World Bank Group) to develop tourism infrastructure in the Balkans. One valuable outcome was the creation of the first locally-owned and -operated accommodation- and tour-booking Web portal for Tirana and a travel portal covering the Albanian Alps, both part of the whl.travel global grassroots network of travel websites.

Rafting down the Osumi kanyo, one hour south of Berat in south-central Albania

Rafting down the Osumi kanyo, one hour south of Berat in south-central Albania

It doesn’t stop there, though; Outdoor Albania has been working to improve the local environment and alleviate the pressures from social issues felt by certain groups in Tirana. Outdoor Albania continues to promote a recycling initiative to hotels, one outgrowth of which is a programme for Romany woman to collect the discarded aluminium cans as a source of small income. Alongside this, Outdoor Albania is convincing hotels to showcase the artwork of local disadvantaged youth so that travellers can purchase a unique souvenir, the proceeds of which directly benefit the community.

With tour operators like Outdoor Albania helping lead the way in Albanian tourism, no wonder their future looks bright. When considering your next holiday destination, keep Albania in mind and, especially, organizations like Outdoor Albania who work responsibly for the benefit of both guests and hosts.

British Airways has up to seven direct flights each week from London to the Albanian capital city of Tirana; a return ticket costs around 200 GBP. Alternatively, you can connect through Budapest with Malev Airlines from most major European destinations.

Outdoor Albania is your local connection and the whl.travel partner in Albania. For more information about Albania, including hotels, tours, activities and a lot of insider tips, Laura Payne and her team are standing by at www.travel-tirana.com.

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Want to learn more SUMMER IN THE BALKANS? Read about Bosnia & Herzegovina and Montenegro.

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adventure travel, Albania, Europe, local knowledge, mountains, outdoors, responsible travel, Southern Europe, whl.travel,

One Response to “Summer in the Balkans: Albania Discovered – The Future Is Looking Bright”

  1. HarryTS says:

    Jamie your totally right…Let me introduce myself…My name is Harry i am 15 years old…i was born in Thessaloniki Greece and now i live in Albania….this country after living under democracy about 20 years…has not a lot of things to offer to tourists as accomodation, entertainment and travelling…but although you think that this country is a total dissaster…i may say that i have seen pozitive and negative things…when i first came here i was going around in cyrcles asking myself….”what am i gonna do here?”…you see, the way of living in Greece its not quite the same as it is in Albania…Albania its full of rubbish etc….and about the currency problem…don’t you ever think that the shoppers doesn’t know how to use their own currency….they do….but every time in the turist season….they think how they can steal from turists as much money they can….i don’t have why to mention other problems related with Albania….but there also as you saied many great places here to visit….castles,parks and as i saw in your profile…you’re a photographer so…you can take photos from many beautiful places in Albania….btw add me on facebook

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