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Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Exploring the Albanian Alps: A Free Ride Trip



This is not an original article of invest-in-albania.org. The article was written by Sabine Aigner and first published at FreeSki DownwaysThe Interview was conducted by Harry Putz and photos captured by Carlos Blanchard. 

The Albanian Alps presented themselves as skiing terra incognito to five Innsbruck freeriders who crossed the Balkans in February and March 2015 to discover unskied lines in the little-explored Valbona Valley. Their film “When The Mountains Were Wild” (showing at the Freeride-Filmfestival in Germany, Austria and Poland in November) shares the experiences of the two snowboarders and three skiers as they come face-to-face with the recent history of the Balkans, and find a place in Europe where time still seems to stand still. Harry Putz of the Freeride-Filmfestival interviewed Mitch Tölderer and Klaus Zwirner about their expedition into the unknown.
Though it’s quite reachable by car from central Europe, Albania is still terra incognita, especially for freeriders.
Mountain life in Albania hasn’t changed much in the past 100 years.
Why did you choose the Albanian Alps as a destination?
Mitch: I wanted to do a freeride trip outside of the busy central European area, but still within Europe. The destination needed to be reachable by car. Klaus suggested Albania because it’s a place he’s been interested in for some time. I did some hard research – naturally we were looking for a place that had potential for good snow conditions, and far away from the beaten path. We started to imagine a trip “back in time” when the mountains were still wild and untamed.
Klaus: I’d heard that there were great climbing possibilities in Albania. And where there are big walls and mountains, you can usually find some very steep ski runs too. Albania is actually the highest country in Europe overall, with an average elevation of 700 meters.
The unknown beckons in the Albanian Alps.
Which criteria did you use to pick your location?
Mitch: We looked at the elevation of the mountains and the snow depth. Albania is on the Mediterranean Sea, and the Albanian Alps are only 80km away from the coast. That makes the area interesting, because the wet climate in winter means you can expect a lot of snow. We finally decided on the Valbona Valley.
Is researching a trip like this difficult?
Klaus: There wasn’t much useful information available and we had hardly any details to help us plan. Our contacts – a woman from New York who ran a guest house together with an Albanian guy – helped as best they could, but their main business was in the summertime for hiking tourists. So we had only hiking maps, which didn’t show relief and were totally unusable for freeriding. I dug up some old Russian map material, but that’s all we had. I already felt like I’d traveled to pre-Internet times…
On Russian map, topography reads YOU!
Are the Albanian Alps comparable to the Austrian Alps?
Mitch: The Valbona Valley looks like a mix between the Karwendel and the Dolomites, similarly steep and jagged, and the hikes to the interesting slopes are long. There are gravel roads up to the higher mountain villages, but they’re only accessible on foot in the winter. The people there live fully cut off from the outside world during the wintertime. We got a feeling for what it must have been like living in the Alps fifty or a hundred years ago. This isolation had a special attraction.
How did you finally get onto your skis and boards?
Mitch: Since we didn’t know what would be awaiting us, we were packed for an expedition with everything from tents to bivouac sacks to sleds. We made several scouting tours; it was very warm at the beginning, the snow was very wet, and we had to wait for better conditions. Since our focus was freeriding, we had a clear idea of what terrain we were looking for. This kind of terrain was too for a day trip from the valley, so we had to rely on an advanced post. We spent several days sitting out a snowstorm in a shepherd’s hut, but in the end we were rewarded.
Five-star accommodations.
Risk and reward: Mitch scores exposed goods in the Valbona Valley.
Klaus: It was especially difficult to make decisions because we didn’t have any information about the current conditions. There weren’t any snow measurement stations or local weather services. We were recommended a weather report that predicted the weather close to the coast. But the weather near the coast is more like in the steppes… in our pension in the valley we had Internet access with our hostess’s phone, but only when it was charged, and that only worked by running a generator.
What are the people like there, their culture and history?
Klaus: The people are very friendly to guests and are happy to see visitors. They haven’t experienced much of the changes in the country in the past 20 years after the end of the communist dictatorship. But progress is coming their way, and they are ready for it however and wherever it comes. The few new buildings that have been built in the last few years don’t really fit into the landscape, and aren’t built sustainably.
A local farmer.
Mitch: The people in the mountains still live very humbly as subsistence farmers who have to live through the winter with what they produce in the summer. But accompanying development, a lot of plastic garbage has started to pile up in the more remote areas. It’s been such a new development, and the people don’t know how to handle it yet.
Albania was a dictatorship in the 1980s. Did you feel the effects of this still?
Klaus: The Hoxha dictatorship ended in the late 1980s, during this time Albania was totally isolated from the world. Before the mid 1990s there were no private automobiles allowed, which is pretty unimaginable for a European country. The farmers were distributed plots of land to work, and when the dictatorship ended they were able to register the land as their own. But many never got word about this, and now have no official property, and maybe are living on grounds that on paper belong to someone else.
This turn was another moment when time seemed to stand still.
You traveled through the Balkans via automobile. How long is the drive?
Mitch: First, we wanted to avoid flying, and hopefully get everything into one car. In our youth we all heard about the Balkan war in the media, and now our travels brought us past some of the well-known sites of the war. Ruins and destroyed buildings everywhere still show the scars of the war. With a few stops in between, we needed five days for the drive from Innsbruck through Croatia, Bosnia, Montenegro and Kosovo to Albania.
- See more at: http://invest-in-albania.org/exploring-the-albanian-alps-a-free-ride-trip/#sthash.LkE5V3Z9.dpuf

Friday, November 20, 2015

Albania part of European interesting destinations to try for 2016

We have been traveling intensively for 4 years and visited many European destinations during our travel. We have mostly focused on less traveled European destinations, as we like to travel off the beaten paths and get to know the real local life and traditions.
Expedia.com asked us to share out top 6 European destinations to try in 2016, and we did not have to think long. There were many European destinations extremely beautiful and interesting, but not all did manage to catch our attention in such a big way than the following six.

6 European destinations to try for 2016

1. Pomurje region, Slovenia

Even though we come from Slovenia, which is a really tiny country, we are always surprised how beautiful and diverse the country is. Slovenia is mostly known for Ljubljana (the capital), The Lake Bled and Postojna Cave, but there is much more to it than these three popular destinations.
If you like good wine, good food and stunning views, which you will have only to yourself, visitPomurje and indulge yourself with its unique culinary, friendly people and natural spas. Climb up to Vinarium, the highest viewing tower in Slovenia, and enjoy the views to 4 different countries – Austria, Hungary, Croatia and Slovenia.
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Pomurje, Slovenia (European destinations to try for 2016)

2. Berat, Albania

Albania has not been on travel maps often, but that is why it is even more beautiful and wild. Southern part of Albania is reach in Ancient Roman ruins and crystal clear waters, when the inner side of the country is untouched and rarely visited. We loved the town of Berat, which is under UNESCO heritage protection and is best known as The Town of A Thousand Windows. It is built in typical Ottoman style and strolling around its narrow streets will take you back in time. In vicinity there’s also Čobo vinery, which offers delicious and local wines, so make sure to put it on your agenda too.
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Berat, Albania (European destinations to try for 2016)

3. Wadden Sea, Germany

Who doesn’t know Germany, right? This interesting and rich in tradition destination is visited each year by many foreign travelers and tourists. Unfortunately not many head up to Wadden Sea at the North-West of the country, where you find amazing nature. Wadden Sea is part of a bigger area – the Schleswig Holstein Wadden Sea National Park, which is under UNESCO heritage protection. Take part of the organized mud walk and feel like a kid again.
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Wadden Sea, Germany (European destinations to try for 2016)

4. Chisinau, Moldova’s capital

Moldova is the least visited EU country, but that does not mean you have to overlook it as well. Well, Chisinau is far from typical EU capitals, but it is a nice example to get some of the formal Soviet Republic filing. The city itself has not much to offer, but is still nice to stay here for a day or two. Don’t forget to try Moldova’s delicious cognac or if you are more into wine, visit the world’s biggest vine cellar Milestii Mici as a half-day trip outside of Chisinau.
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Chisinau, Moldova (European destinations to try for 2016)

5. Novi sad, Serbia

Serbia in general has been long avoided among tourist, but it has been opening up to the world and is becoming more and more interesting to travelers. No surprise, if you know, that Serbia is home of hospitality and delicious food. Most people focus only on Serbia’s capital – Belgrad, but if you are already there, stop at Novi Sad too. Due to being smaller, Novi Sad is much cuter to explore. Walk around the old city center, visit the fort from where you have great views over the Danube River and try its cuisine. We recommend a local dish “fish paprikash” in one of its many riverside local restaurants.
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Novi Sad, Serbia (European destinations to try for 2016)

6. Cesenatico, Italy

If you are traveling to Europe, you will probably visit Italy too. Italy is a cradle of Ancient Romans and that is why it is extremely rich in history. Nevertheless, don’t forget to take time for a little bit lesser known places, like Cesenatico. This beautiful and picturesque coastal town lies in Italian region Emilia-Romagna, between the more known cities of Rimini and Ravenna. Cesenatico is perfect for everyone enjoying good photography motives and local Italian »Dolce Vita« lifestyle.
The old part of the town is actually a Marine Museum and what many don’t even realized; the canal was surveyed and drawn by the great master Leonardo da Vinci.
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Cesenatico, Italy (European destinations to try for 2016)
Europe has much more to offer than these 6 destinations, but in our opinion, these are surely the best places to start with in 2016. Some of these European destinations are still far from being touristic, what makes them even more appealing and beautiful, when the others are becoming more popular. Make sure to visit them ASAP and still enjoy them without bigger tourist crowdshttp://www.nina-travels.com/eu-destinations-to-try-for-2016/?utm_campaign=shareaholic&utm_medium=twitter&utm_source=socialnetwork

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Op/Ed: I survived Albania on a bicycle!

This is not an original article of invest-in-albania.org. The article was first published at YoloNathan
“I had no choice but to go through Albania in order to get to Greece. My friends, family and locals in the neighbouring countries all warned me of the dangers that I face, that I should secure all my gear, that I am very brave and must cycle through the country as quickly as possible.
Had they visited Albania before, no.
Had they really got to know any Albanian people before, no.
Had they listened to the media and opinions of others, yes.
My time in Albania was an absolute pleasure. I felt extremely welcomed and at no point felt unsafe. The country may be less developed outside the main cities but I saw a lot of large-scale infrastructure works taking place, albeit slowly… I did feel that they should split the works into stages as opposed to trying to do it all in one go. If I return in a few years, I expect this country will be completely different, especially the more semi-rural areas.
My vlog shows you outside the big cities and away from where the tourists go. Why… because I want to show you the real Albania, the true culture and what you are missing by not going there. I ended up getting so much awesome footage that I wasn’t able to combine it into one video so this will be made up of two-parts! The second one to follow has some of the greatest roads I’ve ever seen – Top Gear eat your heart out!”
In another post “Cycling in Albania”, Nathan says: 
“I have discovered that Albania is indeed safe, the people are awesome and it has some of the best roads I’ve ever cycled on since starting my adventure in London. In my video I have an Albanian lunch with a view, cycle into Greece and nearly get attacked by killer swans.
I hope to return again soon for a longer period, relax by the beach and have some beers with the locals. I honestly cannot recommend this place enough and if you visit you will undoubtedly have the best holiday.”
- See more at: http://invest-in-albania.org/oped-i-survived-albania-on-a-bicycle/#sthash.CHvHdYQ3.dpuf

Sazan Island to become part of the Mediterranean Islands’ network

sazani 2
The National Agency of Coastline is participating in a meeting organized by Conservatoire du Littoral to discuss on the creation of a network of islands located in the Mediterranean area with the purpose to have a sustainable development of the renewable energy in these islands and an eco-cultural tourism.
The NAC has been invited to present the tourism potential of Sazan Island, opened for the first time for tourists this summer. Once a military basis, Sazan Island is the only island of Albania and immediately draw the attention of Albanian and foreign tourists. According to the head of the National Agency of Tourism Auron Tare, the island will remain untouched and will be a ‘live museum’ of the communist era of Albania, a live proof of history.
Tare says the Agency is making efforts in applying modern management policies for the Sazan island and to implement projects in order to develop the renewable and solar energy in the island.
News source/photo credits: ATA
- See more at: http://invest-in-albania.org/sazan-island-to-become-part-of-the-mediterranean-islands-network/#sthash.Vs2PlOgC.dpuf