Breathing |  Albania, the other country of la dolce vita

Confidential destination, act VI. Something is happening in Albania. Is it the creative energy of an inspiring youth? Or this powerful desire to become an essential step in the road to business and leisure? In the Land of Eagles, one marvels from discovery to discovery. Unearthed yesterday by globetrotters from all countries, the destination is the ideal candidate for our next city-breaks. Revue.

In the north of Greece, facing the heel of the Italian boot, at the confluence of Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman civilizations, this Balkan state cultivates its singularity between vast virgin areas and its capital Tirana teeming with design buildings and trendy addresses. A land of contrasts which shares the common denominator of hospitality.

© Getty Images

Grandiose landscapes

Three quarters of the territory is carved by mountains. A paradise for trekkers and a permanent spectacle for followers of slow tourism. Dotted with lakes, including numerous thermal springs, carpeted with meadows, surrounded by traditional villages clinging to the slopes, Albania unrolls its majestic picture recounting centuries of peaceful cohabitation between man and nature. In these verdant regions, we fill our lungs and rest our ears. There is also the pleasure of sharing authentic moments with locals full of benevolence during a gourmet stopover in a gîte or during an immersive night. Albanians are very generous to whoever their host is.

© Getty Images

At the southern tip of the country, along the coast, Llogara National Park (the most important in Albania) contains lush and untamed nature. This wall of mountains which rises to more than 2000 meters shelters a fauna and a flora of great richness in the image of the golden eagle, emblem of the country. Unmissable, this scenic route leads to the Ionian coast below.

This historical geotourism is also practiced in the southern region of Berat, known as “the city of 1000 windows”. A designation referring to the stack of traditional Ottoman houses in the old town, the facades of which are pierced with a large number of skylights. Straddling the Osum River and its superb canyon, the medieval city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Berat bears witness to the peaceful coexistence of different religious and cultural communities over the centuries. Its Muslim quarter, very well preserved, conceals remarkable buildings on the right bank, while the Christian district animates the left bank.

© Getty Images

The call of the sea

Winded by kilometers of white and golden sand alternately, listing numerous coves with a thousand shades of blue, the Albanian Riviera is the best kept secret of Russians, Ukrainians, Italians and Britons. The seaside coast begins in Vlorë (located less than two hours from Tirana) and extends to Sarandë on the Greek border, or 472 km postcard along the Adriatic and the Ionian Sea. A scent of dolce vita fills the ever-increasing number of tourists and Albanians who celebrate life with nautical outings, salty strolls, delicious grilled meats, local tastings and festive evenings.

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There are many spots to explore like Gjiri i Akuariumit, Drymades Beach, Palasa Beach, Gjipe Beach or Ksamil, so many reasons to come back. In Vlorë, you can even vacation in a hotel nestled on a cliff! In the age of Instagram, the address sees the arrival of a growing contingent of curious people. This rise of the country on the map of travelers can also be explained by the good management of the health crisis. Albania is one of the nations least impacted by Covid-19. The destination welcomed nearly 6.5 million visitors last summer, a record.

© Blendi Klosi

The government, through the action of its Minister of Ecology and Tourism, Blendi Klosi, intends to ride this wave: ” We are accelerating the construction of hotel infrastructure to be able to support this growth, including many five stars from international brands. Admittedly, the situation is slowing down at the moment but, from now on, Albania is a destination on the radar of many globetrotters who discover the treasures of this country of Europe, so close culturally and so unique at the same time. Thanks to our unspoiled coastal seaside regions, we have the ideal setting to develop blue tourism. », Details the city councilor during an interview.

Head to Tirana, the vibrant capital

Political and economic capital of Albania since 1920, Tirana is a symbolic city as well as a museum city. Every corner of the street bears witness to the vicissitudes of history. A national novel oh so eventful! This window on Europe, also door to Asia, attracted the greatest empires: Romans, Byzantines, Ottomans… The country of Saint Mother Teresa also lived one of the bloodiest communist dictatorships of the XXth century under the tyrannical yoke of Enver Hoxha. Trials which have powerfully contributed to forging the resilient, patriotic and united soul of the Albanian people. Like a Phoenix which is constantly rising from its ashes, and always looking to the future with great optimism, the pearl of the Balkans is today on the right track to integrate the European Union.

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A stroll in Tirana is to go back and forth between tradition and modernity, between kitsch and sophistication. Among the ‘must-see’: the Skanderberg square, the Ethem Bey mosque and its sumptuous frescoes, one of the most beautiful in Albania, and the National History Museum with its facade covered with mosaics to the glory of the Albanian heroes , the colorful district of Blloku, or the studio of the great Albanian artist, Agim Rada. A painter, sculptor, engraver with a prolific work who has dealt more than one artistic blow to the despotism of Enver Hoxha. His creations can be visited in his home in the city center. A memorial place not to be missed for those who want to capture all the complexity and poetry of the Land of Eagles.

© The artist Agim Rada

Tirana, it is above all its young mayor, Erion Veliaj, who speaks about it the best! Verbatim of our vitamin-packed meeting with the city councilor elected in 2015 :

« We are probably the youngest capital in Europe, which is reflected in the city’s dynamic demography, economic and cultural boom. My peers in Europe keep telling me that they deplore the departure of many inhabitants while we are very attractive to us. Tirana is full of cranes, residential and commercial constructions to support this growth. The metropolis also has the largest fleet of taxis in the Balkans. We are doing everything to keep a real estate market accessible to these young students who have become active and decide to stay.

© Erion Veliaj, Maire de Tirana

Growing up, yes, but not in a frantic way to the detriment of sustainable development! Thus, we are leading an intelligent ecological policy by encouraging green mobility, the smart city. This with the dual objective of creating a tech eco-system like Station F in Paris where I sent a delegation to be inspired by this great French success.. We have spent enough time selling t-shirts! Now, we are giving ourselves the conditions to manufacture products with high added value at the source and to imagine innovative concepts.. Like all Mediterranean people, we Albanians love life! Our motto is ‘Work hard play hard’: work hard and have fun just as much!

I am also happy to say that in Tirana, and more widely in Albania, when the Christian community sees its churches destroyed during an earthquake, it is the Muslims who will come first to lend their hands. And vice versa. We have great tolerance for each other. In 2022, we will be the European Youth Capital: this is an appointment that we give you! “, punctuated by an invitation, the mayor of the city.

© Getty Images

Until 2022, the ‘rush’ towards Tirana is already taking place thanks to another phenomenon: medical tourism. Two hours from the continent’s largest capitals, Albania has developed a very competitive industry in this area. The instigator of ‘Travel and Smile’, businessman Dritan Gremi, captures a growing market of Europeans in search of dental and beauty care at affordable prices. ” Thanks to the low cost of living in our country, we can offer economies of scale of up to 60% on dental costs. All this while aligning the same quality standards. », Shares the entrepreneur who started from nothing and is now a millionaire.

Its clinic concept is unlike any other place in this market segment. Here, the traveler from France, Switzerland or Italy finds himself immersed in the life of the district. Objective: to live an inclusive experience that goes beyond dental and aesthetic care. The Italo-Albanian, also a philanthropist, has completely rehabilitated a street around his clinics to build three hotels, medical laboratories, a restaurant, a pizzeria, a tea room … Places that employ hundreds of Tirana employees. In the same space, Westerners and Albanians come together in a friendly way, giving full meaning to the term ‘medical tourism’.

© Entrepreneur Dritan Gremi

Following the waves of patients, at times a ‘Little Italia’ or ‘Little Paris’ is reconstituted in this avant-garde street of the Albanian capital. In the land of Rita Ora and Dua Lipa, stars of global pop, we discover a wind of glamor.

Soon, it will also be possible to try out nomadism with an attractive regulatory framework for digital nomads. The Prime Minister, Edi Rama, has the ambition to build a “Free zone” like what exists in Dubai with a tax-free status. All-round initiatives – shaping the post-Covid era – which bring the destination into a new era. The 2.0 era.

© Edi Rama, Prime Minister of Albania

Surprising Albania which twists the neck to many clichés!

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