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Friday, July 16, 2010

Outdoor Albania's view on local travel

by Lieke van Leeuwen


Laura Payne, co-founder of Outdoor Albania and local travel activist, believes that local traveling is about meeting and connecting with the locals and experiencing their culture, as well as about preserving nature and bringing economical benefits to those who need it most.

Six years ago Laura paid her first visit to Albania and directly fell in love with the country.   She traveled past beautiful deserted beaches in the South of Albania and rough nature in the North. She got to know the passionate people in Southern Albania and connected with the hospitable locals Northern Albania. Traveling through this wonderful country she saw the potential and the opportunities that Albania offers, especially the Albanian Alps in the North took her interest. She realized that most people don't have the means to use these opportunities, and decided that she wanted to do something for the locals.

Together with her Albanian partner Gent she started Outdoor Albania, a travel agency specialized in sustainable travel. From the beginning on their aim has been to give their clients a life-seeing experience rather than a sight-seeing experience. The past 5 years they mainly focused on promoting the Albanian Alps in Northern Albania, you can see the result on their website  www.shkoder-albanian-alps.com. The Albanian Alps have hardly changed over the last 50 years due to the rugged landscape, the 500 year occupation of the Ottoman Empire, the Italian invasion and the many years of communism. Outdoor Albania has a network of local families who run village houses and guest houses in this amazing and untouched region.

One of Laura's favorite areas in Northern Albania is Theth, a village surrounded by a sea of mountains of rough limestone formations, dense forests, canyons, and waterfalls. The ruthless nature has always made living hard for the locals, which left traces in its culture. Opposite to the harsh nature she experienced that the local culture is very warm and hospitable.
One of the families in Outdoor Albania's Thethi-network is the Carku family. None Age, or “Mother Carku”, her son Mehill, and his wife Valbona run a village house. If you want to experience the Albanian culture and rural live you should come and try for yourself to stay overnight in Guesthouse Carcu or any of the other village houses Outdoor Albania is helping to gain a living.
When entering the traditional stone house of the Carcu family, you will smell the thick pinewood planks, and the family will be there to give you a warm welcome. Mother Carku will prepare a delicious meal for you with fresh vegetables from the garden. You can enjoy the delicious smell of her famous homemade bread, while you are drinking homemade raki in the garden of the village house.

Unique to village house Carku is that it was the first one to open its doors to visitors during the late nineties when the first community tourism projects were initiated. The guesthouse became a meeting place where other highlanders gain experience and vision. With their example and by showing effort the Carcu family is able to demonstrate to the community the immense potential they have to offer.

To Laura a stay in a village house ensures a unique cultural experience and it guarantees that the money spend goes directly to those who need it most.

Next to meeting the local people and their culture Laura believes that preserving nature and bringing economical benefits to small entrepreneurs is another important aspect of local traveling. Therefore she and her partner Gent decided to make their tours nature-friendly tours, which promote the protection of landscapes, bio-habitats, traditions and monuments. Furthermore they provide environmental education for local inhabitants, committing them to the protection of their natural and cultural heritage.
In addition they have started the Outdoor Albania Association, for implementing projects for the promotion of sustainable tourism.
Laura and Gent try to involve as many local actors possible in our business, using guides, winemakers, mule/horse porters and more on our tours. For transportation they decided to use local drivers who own a small bus called “furgon”.

Laura enjoys collaborating with the locals and seeing the small benefits brought to them by their cooperation. She loves hearing the enthusiastic, colorful, and amusing stories of her guests after a tour or a stay in one of the village houses. For Laura local travel became the way to show her guests the “real” Albania, the stunning nature, ancient culture, and miraculous traditions.

If you would like to know more about local travel in Albania, please feel free to contact Laura at Laura@outdooralbania.com
 
Mother Carku at her village guesthouse in Theth

4 comments:

  1. Great post my friend....
    I really enjoyed it..Old lady is also looking awesome in the pic..Thanxx for sharing..

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