This is one of the most amazing sequences from the film The Super-8 Years by newly crowned Literature Nobel Laureate Annie Ernaux: that of an organized trip to Albania in the 1960s, at a time when a pervasive dictatorship was toppling the whole country into deadly isolation. Surrounding sadness, inability to move alone …
Today, and despite the country’s equally heavy image from all the traffic the local mafia maintains around its name, Albania is starting a tourist comeback, no doubt hoping to replace Croatia from the Balkan paradise in a few years. His strengths for it? A capital that has offered itself to the color and multiplication of street art works, the cultural cities of the south, the beaches of the Adriatic Sea and the mountains with wonderful hiking opportunities.
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They are called the “Dinaric Alps”. Alps? The term is incorrect because there is no geographical link between the Franco-Italian chain of Mont-Blanc and this massif, mainly made of limestone, which owes its name to Mount Dinara. Moreover, if we had to continue the hexagonal comparison, this formation of 200,000 km2, which includes seven countries, would be more reminiscent of the Pyrenees.
The chain, whose highest point, Maja e Jezerces, 2,694 meters, is in Albania, is a destination that is becoming increasingly popular among hiking enthusiasts, drawn by the beauty of the landscape and the modest cost. Valbona Valley, an 8,000-acre national park, is the most visited of these expanding regions. Hikers come from everywhere: many Europeans, but also Indians and Americans. “I’m here because I love the mountains and the Alps are too expensive at home,” explains a French student.
Hike to the peak of Maja e Jezerces, the highest point in the Dinaric Alps (2,694 meters). EDMOND KOCLI / SHTEPIA BOTUESE PLEJAD / ALBANIAN TOURISM OFFICE
From Valbona, a small town, we reach the best preserved mountain village in the region: Thethi. The ascent to the Valbona Pass (1,759 m) is long. It’s the beginning of autumn. The red of the beeches blazes and gives the ascent a touch of Indian summer. Towering above us are the broad off-white walls, huge slabs of limestone, barely crumpled. The path climbs between walnut trees, chestnut trees, wild apple trees and much of Hormoq trees, a spruce species widespread in Eastern Europe. Blueberries, wild strawberries and pomegranates grow along the roadside.
The fauna is further away, but should we complain? In these forests you can still find wolves, bears and lynxes. The river is home to marble trout, a rare fish. From the pass you can see the “cursed mountains” Bjeshkët e Nemuna. The name comes from an old legend from the 15th century. A woman had fled the Turkish invasion with her two children by climbing the mountain. But her offspring eventually die of thirst and the mother curses the mountain that will give the two peaks their names.
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