Remote Albania mountains now drawing the tourists

Fri Aug 14, 2009 9:59am EDT
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By Benet Koleka

THETH, Albania (Reuters Life!) - A century ago, a famed British travel writer fell in love with the rugged villages of traditional stone houses in northern Albania, a region she praised for its magnificent isolation.

Theth is just as rugged and pure today as when Edith Durham visited in 1909. Following a century of wars, Stalinist rule and economic turmoil, the villagers see its remoteness as a lure for foreigners seeking the thrill of escape.

Theth's traditional two-story stone houses, known as "kullas," with steep wooden roofs are nestled in a valley and the lower slopes of mountains covered with beech, pine and other trees below. The peaks tower above at 2,000 to 2,694 meters (yards), where pockets of snow linger throughout the year.

"I think no place where human beings live has given me such an impression of majestic isolation from all the world," Durham, one of the first outsiders to visit the area, wrote in her 1909 book "High Albania."

Westerners seeking pristine nature pass by Durham's portrait carved on a stone relief and bearing the words "Highland Queen" on the road to Theth among a crown of rugged peaks.

On a recent day, Czech tourist Andrej Rapant, whose father organizes tours to Theth, was one of a dozen people who had pitched a tent in a plum tree orchard by the river.

He came to Albania to get away to the mountains but avoid the tourists who crowd the Alps in Central Europe every summer.

"We are looking for pure nature and find it in these mountains, because it is so natural," he said.   Continued...