Albania's Wild, Blue Heart: A Triumph in Habitat Protection

By Ivan PetrenkoMay 27, 2024 11:30 AMNews
houses near body of water during daytime in Albania
houses near body of water during daytime in Albania. Source: unsplash

A new generation of passionate locals is putting southern Albania on the map, offering unique experiences like dining with shepherds, exploring hot springs, and rafting in Europe’s first wild river national park.

At the end of a long, dry summer, the Vjosa River, often called the 'Paradise of a Thousand Springs,' has calmed. Navigating the ancient Këlcyrë Gorge by kayak reveals the river’s unspoiled beauty, a result of a successful campaign to protect its natural rhythm from developers. The Vjosa, Europe’s last wild river, was declared a national park in March 2023, a victory celebrated by locals and supported by global brands like Patagonia and celebrities such as Leonardo DiCaprio.

Rafting guide Zamo Spathara, a key figure in the fight to preserve the Vjosa, shares his story. After leaving Albania post-communism, he returned to introduce rafting, founding the Albanian Rafting Federation. Zamo's efforts have helped change perceptions of Albania, showing its beauty and potential for sustainable tourism.

Traveling through Albania’s southern regions, visitors encounter lush valleys, historic sites, and the warmth of local hospitality. The UNESCO city of Berat exemplifies this, with its well-preserved Ottoman architecture and the tradition of besa, an Albanian oath of hospitality and generosity. Historical guide Bona Xhafa explains how this tradition helped save many lives during World War II.

In the rugged landscape of Mount Tomorr, visitors hike through breathtaking scenery, ending with a picnic prepared by local shepherd Durim Azizaj. Such experiences highlight Albania's unique blend of natural beauty and cultural heritage.

Albania's tourism is on the rise, with a 30% increase in visitor arrivals in the first half of 2023 compared to the previous year. This growth is driven by viral social media showcasing Albania's pristine beaches, historical sites, and vibrant local culture.

As Albania continues to open up to the world, it offers a rare glimpse of a place where nature and hospitality come together, providing an authentic and unscripted travel experience. The efforts of individuals like Zamo Spathara are ensuring that Albania’s natural treasures are preserved for future generations, fostering sustainable tourism and local pride.

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