Интервю на Магдалена Гигова, част от което е публикувано в списание „Бакхус“ на български
Albania is the discovery of Bulgarians as a place for tourism and recreation in recent years. What would you intrigue those who have not yet visited your country?
Albania is considered a hidden gem in the Balkans and Europe and this because of enormous attractions. The progressive growth of the tourists number from Bulgaria in the last years is a clear indicator that nature value, the cultural heritage, food quality and traditionalism are aspects that offer a different experience for those, who aim to explore Albania.
From the north to the south, in every point of our country, you can be fascinated by the Albanian beauties. Young people are part and give life to our beautiful Albania promoting it through social media or friends. They make a great contribution to a new environmental culture in Albania.
Albania offers many activities for the tourists, from mountains to sea, from archaeological parks to UNESCO heritage towns, from contemporary art museums to incredible hikes. Albania has it all.
A good reason why most tourists visiting Albania is Albanian Riviera, that has some of the finest stretches of coast in Europe. These pebbly and sandy shores line crystal waters and offer a breathtaking scenery and an unforgettable vacation. All Albanian beaches are fantastic, but I would single out the beaches on the Riviera like Drymades, with clear water, live music and beach bars, and Ksamil, which also has clear-blue water and is part of Butrint National Park.
Besides the Riviera and its stunning beaches, Albania has so much more to offer, mountains, archaeological sites include prehistoric mounds, as well as ancient Greek and Roman temples and forts and medieval bathhouses. Albania is also rich with lakes and rivers, forests and ancient towns that will take engage your full interest.
Significantly, compared to other neighbouring countries, tourism in Albania is very affordable. You can spend a phenomenal week travelling through the country without breaking the bank. The capital, Tirana is the most expensive city, but you still won’t spend too much compared to other Eastern European destinations.
When it comes to activities, parks are free, and while museums require tickets to enter, the fees are really very low..
In Bulgaria, the most popular Albanian resort is Durres. Are there other „hidden“ treasures on your shores?
Durres is undoubtedly a beautiful, sandy and long coast that offers a lot in terms of history and nature. But, as I mentioned above, Albanian Riviera is wonderful, nothing to envy to the most beautiful beaches in Europe and beyond. It is one of the most amazing travel destinations, home of gorgeous turquoise beaches, coastal towns and part of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
The Riviera stretches from Dhermi to Saranda and is home to some of the most beautiful beaches in Europe, considered less crowded than other European hotspots. During summer season, particular from July to August, the Albanian Riviera is increasingly popular with foreign tourists.
The best time to visit the Albanian Riviera is during Spring (April – June) and Autumn (September – October), where the weather is a little bit more manageable with the temperature hovering around 22°C – 31°C. Some places to enjoy in the south are:
Himara, a small town located right on the coast of the Ionian Sea. Due to its central location, you will have access to many of the beautiful beaches along the coastline without having to travel very far. You can even reach many of them with a kayak from Himara.
Ksamil is another base that should be included in the itinerary. Ksamil is close to Butrint National Park, which is best seen in the early morning.
Saranda is just a big bustling coastal city that is the central hub of Southern Albania.
On the other hand, Durres is about an hour’s drive from Tirana and also the closest beach from the capital. But besides the long stretch of beach, the coastal city also has a rich past with several Roman remains and other ancient constructions that can be visited as well as a very interesting Archaeological Museum.
Durres was an important ancient port and was first founded by the Greek in the 7th century BC. It then became part of the Roman Empire in the 3rd century BC and it grew and expanded as a key naval and military base.
After the city walls were destroyed in an earthquake in the 4th century, they were rebuilt thicker than ever and subsequently rebuilt several more times and some parts still stand today. Now, Durres is still recovering from the earthquake of 2019 and the complexes are renovated and ready for tourists. Bulgarians mostly prefer Durres and this year for sure Durres will amaze the guests.
Albania is also a mountainous country, but we know nothing about the opportunities for tourism and exploring the historical heritage in the mountains.
The most famous, and perhaps most beautiful hiking trail in Albania is the one from Valbona to Theth, through the Accursed Mountains. It is one of the most spectacular landscapes of the Balkan Peninsula where you can experience the beauty of the Albanian Alps. The hike, called Peaks of the Balkans follows an old mule track and is almost 20 km long and can be completed in one day. Both Valbona and Theth have been declared national parks of Albania and are two of the most beautiful areas of the country.
Grunas Canyon is one of the most incredible natural places you will see in Albania. It can be found on the south side of the Thethi National Park and can be visited only with expert guides that will lead you to admire this gorgeous 2 km long and 60 m deep canyon.
The path that leads to the canyon is simply gorgeous and offers incredible views over the Thethi River, which with its crystal clear water is the most beautiful river in the country. Luckily, the river has enough water for canoe sailing year-round, so if you are keen of this kind of activity, do not miss the chance to try it.
Theth is perhaps the most famous place in Albania to hike, surrounded by gorgeous natural landscapes. You can visit the gorgeous Blue Eye of Kaperre (Albania has two blue eyes, the other is near Saranda in the south), one of the most incredible places to see. The Blue Eye is a natural pool formed by the erosion of the cliff by the river that created several waterfalls and swimming holes.
A hike in the south of Albania is one of the most gorgeous adventures to try in life. It offers spectacular views over one of the most beautiful coasts of the Mediterranean Sea, lapped by turquoise waters, from one side and surrounded by great mountain panoramas on the other side. The hike includes Tomorr, Mount Çika, and the Ceraunian Mountains in the west, two mountains that are close to Llogara National Park, the most famous mountain pass in Albania.
In the Balkans, it’s hard to say that there is typical cuisine in a country, but I hope you can tell us „delicious“ about Albanian dishes.
Albanian food is a sumptious blend of Mediterranean and Balkans cuisine. The produce is rich and colorful while the meat is tender. With foods characterized by the rural areas, mountainous regions and coastline, there are so many exciting flavors to try in Albania.
Combining the warmth of Balkans food and the delights of Mediterranean ingredients is always going to produce a delicious cuisine. Albanian food is rife with citrus fruits, Mediterranean staples like olive oil and wheat, and tender fish and meats. From there, the Balkan influence has brought a range of wonderful pies, pastries, and desserts, to Albanian cooking.
Across the country, the terrain has a huge influence on the types of food served. You can find so many new dishes if you travel to different places. Similarly to Latin American countries, the fresh fish of the coast and the succulent meats of the mountains give you a varied range of flavors.
Fergesa is, without a doubt, one of the most traditional foods in Albania. The dish consists mainly of tomato sauce, cottage cheese, green peppers, and garlic. The main reason why this dish is called a summer stew is that many Albanians like to eat it after it has gone cold.
The best way to eat this dish is to wait for it to cool down for about 2-3 hours. This gives it a thicker consistency and makes the ingredients stand out more.
Albanian pies (byrek, similar to the Bulgarian banitsa) remain one of the most preferred traditional foods. People love them because they can take the pies on the go for a quick meal or snack. There are many different types of fillings that can go into a byrek. These include meat, spinach & feta cheese, onions & tomatoes, or cottage cheese, which is the most popular of them all.Not only does this dish have different types of fillings, but it can also come in different shapes.
The older generation usually eats byrek after the main course. Others eat it most frequently as a quick snack or as a closing plate.
It is still common for Albanians to make byrek at home, although you can also find them in local restaurants and shops that specifically sell these pies.
In Albania, chicken baked in yogurt is a beloved traditional dish, commonly served at lunchtime. It is call “tave kosi”. It is widely known throughout the Balkan as Elbasan tava. It has been named from the Albanian city from where the dish originated. Tave Kosi is usually made with lamb meat but some Albanians also use chicken as an option. The yogurt is mixed with rice and eggs and baked together with the meat. This dish has a very unique taste.
Flija – This dish is common in the northern region of Albania and Kosovo. It is a simple recipe that is usually made in Albanian homes or served in local traditional restaurants. Flija is an easy crepe-like dish that has a crispy texture at the top and softer texture at the bottom. The added butter gives Flija its delicious taste. The dish is usually served with fresh dairy such as cheese or yogurt.
Sarme is featured in many Eastern European and Balkan countries as a traditional dish. However, each country has its own unique way of preparing this dish. In Albania, sarme is made mostly in the northern region. It is simply cabbage rolls filled with rice and shredded meat. These cabbage rolls are either boiled alone or made into a stew. In most cases, sarme is served with yogurt or dhalle.
It is mostly cooked by the older generation, and it is a traditional dish that is slowly fading away. However, you can still find this dish in some northern traditional restaurants in Albania.
What is your favorite local dish?
In Albania, I prefer the byrek my mother cooks at home. And in Bulgaria as well I like banitsa and mekitsi. They remind me of how we used to cook at home when I was a little girl.
What about Albanian wines
Albania has one of the oldest wine-making traditions in Europe. Archaeological evidence near the capital of Tirana suggests that traces of tannic acid, which produces the bitter taste in wine, date back to a 6,000-year viniculture. During the Roman and Byzantine periods, the country’s wine production increased significantly, although under Ottoman rule there was a decline in production.
During the communist dictatorship, there were several operating wineries and grape production sites handled only by the regime. In 1972, during Communist rule, Albanian wine production reached its peak, expanding to approximately 49,000 acres.
Development of the viniculture industry is proving to be a challenge. Before socialism, there was a lot of disorder; no rules, high taxes and chaos in terms of building. The Communists tried to restore order, but their efforts did not help to reestablish a good economy. Now, the situation has been improved and the Albanian wines are entering the foreign markets. Winery production has been featured in different major magazines around the world, promoting the Albanian wines and giving the tourists some suggestions and recommendations for their holiday in Albania. Unfortunately, Albanian wines has not reached the Bulgarian market, a close and friendly country.
Albanian wine has been characterized by a unique sweetness since ancient times. Ancient Roman writer Pliny described Albanian wine as “very sweet or luscious”.
Whether your choice is white or red, you won`t be disappointed by the Albanian wines. The best are Merlot and Cabernet and also some wines produced from local grapes. In villages is common that families produce their own wine. Even though, this wine is bitter, authenticity lovers will be delighted.
In the Balkans, every village house also makes „exclusive“ brandy – kind of rakia. What is this drink called in Albania and what is it made of?
Rakia is a very popular local alcoholic beverage and traditionally the first drink to be served to the guests. Although rakia was imported from Turkish cuisine, it remains a widely preferred beverage amongst Albanians. This is because, unfortunately, Albania is not very well-known for its other alcoholic beverages such as wine or cognac.
Rakia contains an average of 40% alcohol and can be served with various dishes. It is most commonly served with meat-based dishes. Another way to drink rakia is with coffee. Many people, mainly men, drink their morning coffee with a small glass of rakia as it is believed to have many health benefits.
The most well-known rakia in Albania is the one from Skrapari. In certain regions like Korҫa, Pogradec or Diber, the plums’ rakia is very famous. The country is famous for the grape rakia.
In Albania, the production of homemade rakia has long been a family tradition. This distilled spirit is typically consumed daily and during various social and festive occasions.
Don’t forget to say “Gëzuar” (cheers) before drinking it down.
Covid-19 imposed a new economic initiative – to save the tourist season. How will you save it in Albania?
Albania is one of the fewest countries that remains opened for all tourists since 1st of June 2020. As per now, there is a daily curfew from 10:00 pm to 06:00 am. Bars, restaurants, fast food, and other similar activities are prohibited from operating between 10:00pm and 6:00am, except for delivery services. Public movement is restricted during these hours except for work reasons, health care emergencies, or urgent needs. Wearing a mask in public, indoors and outdoors for any individual 11 years old and above is mandatory.
Recently, the evolution of the pandemic is in low rate and the vaccination process is being carried out according to all safety and quality parameters by trained vaccination teams. The Albanian authorities plan to ease the restriction in the upcoming days for a free summer season. Mass vaccination for the elderly has begun in health centers and centralized vaccination centers across the country.
Since the beginning of vaccination, a total of over 300.000 doses of COVID vaccine have been administered and 10% of the population is vaccinated.
For the summer season, the Government of Albania has eased the rules for entry for some countries, whose citizens can enter in Albania without a visa. According to the decision of the Albanian Government, can enter in Albania without visa:
a) foreigners holding a valid Schengen multi-pass visa, which has previously been used in one of the Schengen area countries, or who have a valid residence permit in one of the Schengen area countries;
b) foreigners holding a valid US or UK multi-pass visa, which has previously been used in one of these countries, or who have a valid residence permit in the US or the UK.
c) foreign citizens from Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt, India, Qatar, Oman, Russia and Thailand, can enter in Albania without visa for short term stay, with the passport document, from 01 April 2021 until 31 December 2021.
d) „foreign members of the family of EU citizens“, when traveling with an EU citizen spouse, as well as in addition to a valid passport, have a document (residence permit) which cites their status as a family member ”
e) foreign citizens who have a valid permit of stay, issued by the competent authority of the United Arab Emirates.
Of course, all EU citizens enter Albania without a visa and most of the citizens from neighboring country can enter with their national ID.