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Monday, October 22, 2012

ALBANIA Mountain and Rural Tourism

ALBANIA Mountain and Rural Tourism

archaelogical-parks For more info visit http://www.albaniantourism.com/


Albanian Mountain and Rural Tourism

The territory of Albania has several regions where mountain and rural tourism is well-developed. Among the most important are:

Albanian Alps:  Western Alps - Razëm - Bogë - Theth - Vermosh
RazëmThe alpine tour of Albania is not complete without a visit to the Western Alps (Alpet Perëndimore). Here you will enjoy something unique: you will walk, breath, sleep and eat amidst the legends starting from Homer and ending with the modern tales of our days. This tour gives you the chance to enjoy a unique place at the heart of the Albanian Alps, Gropa e Thethit.
The journey to this mountainous area begins from the city of Shkodra and leads to the closest stop – 41 km away from Shkodra – the city of Razma, situated on a blackberry hill at the feet of the Veleçik Mountain. Razma stands amid infinite forests of pines and birch trees. There are also many meadows and amazing alpine pastures. The journey to Razma is possible even in the winter when the snow is at its highest level. There are several hotels already and others are on their way to completion. The most common activities are excursions, mountain climbing, skiing, and. during the summer, camping.
The road will lead you from Razma to the village of Dedaj and then onto Boga, a village surrounded by the Alps and described by Edith Durham in her book The Burden of the Balkans. Boga is the perfect place for mountain climbing, skiing, and spelunking. Among the most famous caves, you can visit the Cave of Mulliri (“Mill”), Akullore (“Ice Cream”), and Njerëzve të lagun (“Wet People”). The Cave of Puci is one of the most attractive, situated at 1,087 m above sea level.  It is 5 km long and rich in stalactites, stalagmites, and wall veils. The cave has many levels, five alone in the center. By passing through its galleries you can connect with another cave, the Cave of Husi.
After Boga, you will reach the main tourist center of the entire area, Thethi, located 70 km from Shkodra. Before arriving at Thethi you must pass Qafa e Tërthores at 2,000 m above sea level. From here, you descend to Gropa e Thethit, crossed by a stream with the same name.
The area is rich in attractive sights like the Cascade of Grunas, 25-30 m high. You will be amazed by the cold-water sources of Okol and the caves "Birrat me rrathë" (“Round Holes”) and "Arapi". In the park, you can amuse yourself by trekking, mountain climbing, skiing (especially on the eastern slope), or fishing, mountain biking and exploring caverns. The flora is impressive: the most common tree of the area is the beech, which covers almost 90 percent of the surface of the park. There are different types of flowers such as Eulfenia of Baldachi discovered by the Italian botanist Baldachi, which can be found only in Theth. The fauna is just as rich, distinguished by the Golden Eagle and Rreqebull. The waters of the Stream of Theth are home to marble trout.
While in Theth you can stay in local hostels with traditional alpine architecture. The characteristic dish of the area is "fërliku" (baked meat) and different plates of trout.  From Theth, the trip continues to the valley of the Shalë River approaching the heart of the Alps.
Another interesting spot of the Western Alps is Vermosh, part of the northern-most region of the country. Vermosh is 95 km away from the city of Shkodra. Vermosh is part of the region of Kelmend, a name that originates from the Roman word "Clemens", meaning gentle, simple, and good. The first thing that catches the eye during this journey is Qafa e Rrapshit where you can see the crystal-clear waters of the Cemi River that create a beautiful contrast with the surroundings. During summer, the ponds of the river are perfect for sunbathing.
Vermoshi stands in an alpine field at 1,100 m above sea level surrounded by high slopes. You can entertain yourself by trekking, mountain climbing, skiing, or fishing for trout. If you want to try something special from the traditional cuisine, be sure to taste the diary products of the area!
The journey to this part of Albania will give you not only the chance to live between a mythical atmosphere and the contemporary world, but will also let you taste the proverbial hospitality known and mentioned by every foreigner who has visited this place.
Albania Eastern Alps: Valbona River Valley – Canyon of Shoshan – Dragobia – Selimaj – Rragami
The Valbona River Valley lies in the eastern part of the Albanian Alps. A national park of 8,000 hectares, it is one of the most beautiful natural areas in Albania. The park lies at 20-30 km from the alpine city of Bajram Curri. Before entering the valley you will find the water source (vrellen) of Shoshan located only 3 km away from Bajram Curri. This karstic source heads to the Valbona River creating an attractive canyon 2-3 m wide and 50 m deep.
After entering the valley, you will pass several picturesque villages. The first, with alpine style houses, is called Dragobia, and it is where the valley narrows. Past Dragobia, at the foot of a mountain where the Cerremi stream joins Valbona, there is the famous cave where the national hero Bajram Curri was besieged and killed. The city than took his name. Valbona (or Selimaj) is located 25 km away from the city of Bajram Curri and is the most important inhabited center of the valley. It is full of traditional houses that create a picturesque view in symmetry with the natural wonders of the valley, which widens again at this point.

In Selimaj, you will find a comfortable and traditional hotel, or you may have the opportunity to stay at a village home, for the inhabitants' generosity and hospitality are well known. The zone is also known for its characteristic regional cooking, with specialties such as mazja, flija, and pitja masterfully prepared in traditional village kitchens.
Beyond Selimaj, the road continues through the valley among marvelous views of nature with rich colors of both springtime and of the snow that covers the peaks of the craggy mountains. The final village before you arrive at the source of the Valbona River is Rragam. Rragam is a remote village surrounded by virgin and intact nature. The whole valley has such rare colors and beauty that one may think a divine hand made it. On one side, you see the crystal-clear waters of the Valbona, and on the other the sharp but verdant mountain edges. Up until May you can enjoy the contrast of the clean white snow on the treetops against the blue sky. The flora of the national park includes a variety of plants and trees, the most wide-spread formations of which are the Hormoq tree. The rest consists of beechwoods, arnen, walnuts, chestnut trees, and wild apple trees. There are also many forest fruits such as bilberries and strawberries.

The animals in the park include bears, wolves, and wild cats, while on the rocks there are herds of wild goats. Down in the river there is the so-called "marble trout", a rare fish of the crystal-clear waters of the Valbona with an exquisite and special taste.
The valley, the park, and all the surroundings are known for snowfall, which starts in early November and lasts almost until May. The average level of the snow in this region is 100 cm. There are lots of outdoor activities that can take place in the national park, such as fishing, excursions and trekking throughout the valley and the streams (Cerrem, Kukuaj), canoeing along certain parts of the river, and skiing or mountain climbing. Valbona may also serve as a starting point if you wish to climb the Jezerca Mountain, the second highest mountain in Albania.

Ionian and the “Albanian Riviera”: Llogara – Palasa – Dhërmi – Vuno – Himara – Qeparo – Borsh – Lukova

Llogara (The National Park)
The Llogara National Park lies approximately 40 km south of the city of Vlora. It is situated in the Llogara Mountain and has a surface of 810 hectares, with heights of between 470 and 2018 m above sea level. It combines the beauties of a mountain and seaside climate. You can enjoy part of its magical natural beauty while traveling along the Vlorë-Sarandë National Highway at Qafa e Llogarasë, 1025 m above sea level. Here, medicinal and decorative plants mix with masses of pine trees.  The park also is home to many different kinds of animals.
After 20 minutes of driving along the National Highway, you will be able to see the Albanian Riviera. You can stay overnight in the park and enjoy the restaurants, contemporary clubs, and different activities and excursions. The park is also a good place to enjoy aerial sports (it is known for international aerial sports events) like parachuting and hang-gliding.

After passing Qafa e Llogarasë through a road that dates back to the Pompey period, you descend into the Albanian Riviera. This warm Mediterranean zone has nearly 300 sunny days a year, and the average temperature of July is 25°C (77° Fahrenheit). The list of places to visit begins with the beach of Dhraleo (Palasë) known for its clear waters. Pompey and his army stopped at this beach in ancient times, when it was known as Palestra.

Dhërmi Dhërmi is famous for its crystal-clear waters, and small, intimate pebble beaches like Jaliksari, Shkambo, and Gjipea. Gjipea is a rare beauty, for it is situated at the foot of a 70 m high cliff. Close to Dhërmi is the legendary Cavern of the Pirates.
Dhërmi is a picturesque village of a particular atmosphere. It is thought to have first been inhabited in 49-48 B.C. In Dhërmi there is the Monastery of Shën Mëria, the Church of Shën Todhri, the Church of the Ipapandia and the Church of Shën Mitri with its frescos from the 12th -14th centuries.
The main entertainments in Dhërmi are swimming, water sports, and diving. There are many hotels, restaurants, pubs, discotheques. The restaurants combine traditional and foreign cuisines, and serve many seafood specialties.

VunoEight km south of Dhërmi there is the village of Vuno, well known for its traditions and patriotism. From here, the road goes to the wonderful beach of Jala, whose fantastic gulfs are distinctive from those in the rest of the Riviera. Vuno is a unique village, built on a hill facing the sea. Here you can visit old churches like the Church of Shën Spiridhoni, built in 1778, and the Church of Mesodhia with paintings from 1783. There are also several architectural landmarks such as the ruins of the House of Odise Kasneci and the tower-like House of Shane Kote.

Continuing your tour towards the south, you will come across the small city of Himara, which has two neighborhoods: Old Himara built on the hill, and New Himara in the gulf of Spille. The beaches of Himara are Spille, Llamani, Potami, and Livadhet. They are all gravel beaches with deep, clear waters. Himara comes to life during the summer tourist season, when visitors take up residence in the hotels or in rented houses.
Himara is the ancient residence and city of the Illyrian Kaon clan. It was settled in the fifth century B.C. and its name is of Pellazgë (pre-Illyrian) origin.  There are several religious sites to visit such as the Church of Shën Mëria e Athalit, the Church of Cassiopeia, the Church of All Saints, and the House of Lilo Llazari, which has been turned into a cultural monument.
Another site to visit is the Castle of Ali Pashë Tepelena, built on a small peninsula in the tectonic gulf of Porto Palermo. The castle is built like a triangle with walls 20 m high. It is said that this castle was built on top of the ruins of an ancient castle.

QeparoClose to the gulf of Porto Palermo stands the village of Qeparo with its own distinctive beach. Old Qeparo, built on the hillside, has several objects worth seeing, such as the three-story Towers of Ali Pasha, the Monastery of Shën Dhimitri, and the House of Minella Gjika.

BorshThe village of Borshi is situated a few hundred meters away from the shore, nearly 20 minutes from Himara. This is the largest beach of the Albanian Riviera, almost 6 km of clear water. Built along the length of the beach are many hotels, clubs, discotheques, and restaurants of all types. The hospitality of the villagers and the traditional dish of grilled lamb are distinctive features you will find in Borsh.

LukovaThe last seaside village on the Albanian Riviera is the village of Lukova, well known for its terraces of citrus and olives. Nearly 2 km further you will find the popular Bunec Beach with its beautiful stream of crystal-clear water flowing directly to the Ionian Sea. South of Lukova and toward the Gulf of Kakome, there stretch several kilometers of gleaming white flint stones, a characteristic of the area. You also can find a number of underwater caves. 

Mountainous areas of Korça: Voskopoja, Dardha, Vithkuqi
The next surprise after the rare city of Pogradec is the city of Korça, one of the biggest urban centers in Albania. During the spring, the main avenue fills with the fragrance of the sturgeon flowers, while during winter you will enjoy a walk under the snow-filled trees.
In 1887, the first Albanian school opened in Korçë. During the First World War, the French invaded the city and it became the “Autonomous Region of Korça.” In 1917 the French Lyceum opened; one of the most noted schools in Albania. But besides its history, what attracts attention in this traditional city is the architecture with the villa-like houses encircled by banisters and flowery gardens. The zone between the Republika and Shën Gjergji boulevards is very interesting: here you can visit the Medieval Art Museum and the Prehistoric Museum, located in two traditional buildings of the city that will give you the chance to see nearly 1,200 objects from archeological excavations from the prehistoric, Hellenic, Roman and Paleo-Byzantine eras.

Another interesting location is the museum house of the master artist Vangjush Mio, and the Museum of the Bratko Collection, opened in 2003, presenting art objects from the Far East. You might also want to visit the bazaar (dating from the turn of the 20th century), the Mosque of Iliaz Bej Miharori (the oldest monument in the city, dating back to 1484), and the Kathedral Ngjallja e Krishtit (“Resurrection of Christ”), one of the biggest in the Balkans.
At night it is not unusual to hear the traditional bands of the city singing sweet serenades with guitars under the balconies. In the taverns of the city you will taste dishes you have never tried before. You can sample them all, but remember not to miss lakrori me qepë dhe domate, and tava e korminës. And don’t forget the Festival of Carnivals, the biggest celebration of its kind in all of Albania.

VoskopojaVoskopoja was one of the most important centers of the Balkans. It has been known as a city since 1330, but life here was in full bloom by 1794, when the city had 30,000 inhabitants and maintained contacts with Leipzig, Budapest, Venice, and Vienna. The city also had 27 churches, an academy, a library, and the first printing house in the Balkans, in 1720.

You will not want to miss visiting the Monastery of Shën Prodhom and the Church of Shën Kolli (1721), which is full of pictures of famous Albanian iconographers such as David Selenicas and the Zografi brothers from Korça who also worked in the Saint Mountain of Athos, in Halkidiki, Greece. Besides the healthy climate and the air filled with pine fragrance, Voskopoja offers comfortable hotels and private houses for family tourism as well as a natural ski-run for all skiing enthusiasts.

Dardha Another unforgettable mountain spot is the village of Dardha, 20 km southeast of the city of Korça, at 1,350 m above sea level. There is snow during the three months of winter, the air is crystalline, and the water of the village’s many natural fountains is pure and cold. Enjoy the unique folk women’s costumes dominated by black and red, the colors of the national flag, visit the stone houses that offer hospitality to travelers, and don't forget to taste the traditional plum raki and the lakrori në saq (a traditional pie made with cabbage between two sheets of dough, and baked in a wood-fired oven).

VithkuqiThe mountain village of Vithkuq, birthplace of the Albanian Renaissance pioneer Naum Veqilharxhi, stands 25 km southwest of the city of Korça. It has been a population center and a well-known economic and cultural center since medieval times. During your stay, you absolutely must drink the water of the Bellovoda and visit the Church of Shën Pjetër and the Church of Shën Pavël. If you have enough time, you also should climb Rungaja (1,750 m above sea level) by foot or horse. Don't worry about the accommodation, for the people of the area will surely invite you to their comfortable and characteristic houses.
Shores of Lake Ohrid: Pogradec - Lin – Drilon
You will enter the region of Pogradec via the national highway where the road from Macedonia crosses Maja e Qafthanës. This crossroad offers exceptional views worth photographing of Lake Ohri, a real pearl “shelled” between Mali i Thatë (“Dry Mountain”) in the east and the highland of Mokra in the west. A few meters further down, you might stop at the peninsula of Lin and in the village with the same name, 25 km away from Pogradec. It is said that in ancient times, this was the favorite holiday destination of the parents of the Roman emperor Justinian. Besides the magical view, you can also see the mosaics of the Bazilika e Linit that date back to the 7th-6th centuries B.C., which show an amazing ensemble of zoomorphic, floral, and geometric decorations resembling the mosaics of ancient Durrës.
The road to Pogradec passes close to the shore of the tectonic Lake Ohri, the deepest lake in the Balkans (285 m). This 2-4 million-year-old lake (under the protection of UNESCO because of its unique value) houses 17 species of water animals, 70 percent of which are native and 30 percent migrant. The sponge of Ohri is found only here and in Lake Baikal.
On the edge of the lake you will find many restaurants, clubs and comfortable hotels. You must not miss tasting the traditional fish dishes, especially the baked speckled trout (koran in Albanian), as well as the famous pickles and kollofacet. You can also try different types of wines, but don’t miss the traditional unique wine of Buti, or the famous Perla and Muskat raki of Pogradec.
The city of Pogradec was settled in the neolithic period, and it later became home to the Illyrian Enkelejdë and Desaretë clans, who built the Castle of Pogradec on a hill at 870 m above sea level. You can visit the city at any time during the year, for it has a wonderful climate.
Before leaving Pogradec you will not want to miss seeing Driloni and Tushemisht, 4-5 km south of the city. The waters of the source of the Drilon form a small lake, surrounded by beautiful greenery that turns the area and the nearby village of Tushemisht into a unique oasis of calmness and rest.

Shore of Lake Prespa: In the last few years, development policies have made several areas on the shores of Lake Prespa suitable for this type of tourism: Pusteci, Small and Large Gorica (Gorica e Vogël and Gorica e Madhe), Gollomboçi.

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