Calling all Saudi tourists to Albania

Dhermi beach
Updated 12 May 2016

Calling all Saudi tourists to Albania

Albania’s virgin natural environment and an enjoyable Mediterranean climate are some of the features that make it a top tourist destination of 2016.
Sami Shiba, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Albania to Saudi Arabia, explains in an interview to Arab News why his country should top the list of must-visit holidays spots this year:

1. What can you tell us about the values and tourist resources of Albania?
The tourist potential of the coast and mountain areas of Albania is exceptional. As you may know, Albania has been ranked as the first country to travel to in 2016 by the Gazette Review and many international sites. The magnificent coastline where the Adriatic and Ionian seas meet, the natural beauty, its geographical position and its mild climate make Albania a special place in Europe. Albania should be the first stop for all tourists who are seeking to enjoy the nature, the history or the food of this unique tourism destination.
Albania has a virgin natural environment and a very enjoyable Mediterranean climate making Albania a top tourist destination during the entire year. Recently, Albanian tourism has grown, with the offering of touristic packages that allow its most precious traits to shine, such as: “sun and sea tourism”, “history and culture tourism,” “mountain tourism”, along with other growing fields.
Albania’s seaside has a length of 450 km, with many gulfs, which allows for its great potential in the field of seashore tourism and makes it the main source of tourism in that country. Albania has a considerable number of beaches with fine sand and pines, as well as rocky shores, along the coast of the Adriatic Sea and the Ionian Sea, where within minutes tourists can experience the mountain climate of Llogara and warmth of the coast of Dhermi, a feat made possible by the country’s impressive natural features. Albania is known for its riviera with beautiful beaches, especially Himara, Borsh and Dhermi beaches. In this area, I would like to distinguish the location called “Blue Eye Spring”, (Syri i Kalter), an unexpected oasis in the middle of nowhere, that is a natural spring where crystal clear water bubbles up from 50 meters below the surface. The frigid water gently passes over the white sand producing a stunning turquoise color which turns into a pretty green as it travels around the mountains. I want to mention the wonderful underwater caves of Viroi Lake (Gjirokastra city). It is a natural underwater treasures and has a depth of 249 meters and is surrounded by wild pines on the outside.
Albania has important resources for the touristic enjoyment of its mountainous areas. The Albanian Alps to the North, the mountains along the Ionian Sea, the Kruje, Berat, (called ‘the city of a thousand windows’), Gjirokaster (a historic UNESCO-listed town surrounded on all sides by stunning mountain ranges), Saranda, etc., offer great opportunities to receive tourists during the year, including during the winter, which has a mild climate. Albania offers traditional housing in its mountainous regions allowing for an interesting experience of cultural immersion. Mostly you will stay in old traditional stone houses called “Kulas”, where the local hosts spoil you with homemade bread, honey, cheese and delicious homemade dishes, all stemming from their own domestic produce.
The accommodation units, which are both special and traditional, the rich cuisine, affordable prices, accompanied by the historic Albanian hospitality create a truly wonderful ambience, making Albania a sought after destination by Western tourists who have already visited the country and who frequently return to it.
The Peaks of the Balkans Trail region, which belongs to the Alpine border region between Albania, Kosovo and Montenegro, is a destination that is rising in popularity on the maps of tourists around the world. The transnational Peaks of the Balkans Trail leads the visitor on a unique experience through one of the most remote and wild mountainous regions of the Western Balkans. Using shepherd paths and footways, the trail winds through high alpine mountains up to 2,300 meters above sea level and leads through wild mountain scenery, with a diversity of breathtaking landscapes, varying from green valleys to crystal-clear mountain lakes, waterfalls, rivers and remote picturesque mountain villages, in which time seems to have stopped — a veritable “hidden treasure” for lovers of nature and hikers from around the globe.
Growing interest and coverage around the world is already making the Peaks of the Balkans Trail a world famous destination. In this area, I would like to distinguish Valbona River, one of the most beautiful rivers, which is part of the Valbona National Park, a pristine area in the North of Albania.
Albania, located at the crossroads of two ancient civilizations, the Greeks and the Romans, has a rich historical and cultural heritage recognized as part of the world’s cultural heritage that warrants special protection. This Albanian historical and cultural heritage can be seen and felt in its natural parks, archaeological sites, art galleries, photographs and movie archives, citadels and castles, religious monuments and folk homes, in its old rock-paved streets, as well as in its museums.
Butrint, in Southern Albania, is one of these archaeological sites with an indisputable value, which has already been included in the UNESCO project for the protection of the world’s cultural patrimony. Cities with a long and vast history, such as Berat and Gjirokastra — also under the protection of the UNESCO, not only bring a unique value to the world’s cultural heritage, but are also a beautiful experience for the visitor walking through them. Also, Apollonia, Antigonea, Voskopoja are remnants of a past filled with culture and significance, and have a major archaeological potential. I am sure the rich history will leave any interested foreign visitors pleasantly surprised.

2. How do the authorities in Albania help the tourist sector?
The Albanian government is working with determination on the country’s road infrastructure, in order to further improve a modern road network which would allow Albanian citizens, visitors, and foreign investors to easily and effortlessly experience the whole country. In addition, I want to emphasize that special attention has been paid to the exposure of Albanian tourism through different fairs in many countries.

3. Since it is always good for a traveler to know some words in the language of the country he/she visits, would you please teach us a few common expressions in your language, such as, good morning, good afternoon, good evening, good bye, cheers and thank you?
Yes, in the order you mentioned them, these expressions in the Albanian language would be: mirëmëngjes, mirëdita, mirëmbrema, mirupafshim, gëzuar and faleminderit.
Albanians are friendly and very open toward foreigners who visit their country. If you are lucky enough to be invited to visit an Albanian’s home, you will be treated as royalty. The guest will be shown the highest respect by being offered a seat at the head of the table. The guest is then regaled with the best the family has to offer, usually reserved for the head of the household.
Albania is a safe country for visitors. Its tradition of hospitality affords great respect for foreigners; almost all Albanians will go out of their way to provide assistance when you are in need — whether you are lost or in trouble.
The Albanian monetary unit is called “Lek.” The currency floats freely but is quite stable. Presently, the exchange rate is about 140 lek to the Euro and about 125 lek to the US dollar.

4. Tell us about the Albanian climate.
Albania has a mild, Mediterranean climate. The Ionian Cost, in particular, is very clement; with average winter temperatures of 10-12 °C. The country enjoys a good deal of sunny weather, with an average of around 300 sunny days each year. Most of Albania’s annual rainfall occurs between late autumn and early spring; outside of the mountainous areas, it is unusual for it to rain in summer. In the summer, visitors often find the inland towns to be quite hot, with July usually being the warmest month. In Tirana, for example, temperatures occasionally reach 38 °C. The best places to be in midsummer are on the coast, where sea breeze keeps the average temperatures down to a more tolerable 25-35 °C, or in the high mountains.

5. Tell us about the cuisine and some of the Albanian traditional products.
Every region in Albania has its own unique dishes. Albanian cuisine is characterized by the use of various Mediterranean herbs such as oregano, black pepper, mint, basil, rosemary and more in cooking meat and fish. Olive oil and butter are also main ingredients. There are Albanian specialties that everyone likes plugged into the pizza-pasta menus as if they were in harmony. But there they are along with ferges, the popular Tirana specialty with cheese, eggs and bits of meat or liver and 27 other Albanian specialties including stews originating in Elbasan, meatballs from Korca and, cornmeal spinach mush from Gjirokastra, as well as many Mediterranean specialties. Albania, a traditionally agricultural country may be one of the last countries in Europe to have real seasonality in food, causing prices to be high.

6. How can a Saudi tourist visit Albania? Are there any specific requirements?
For Saudi travelers who want to come to Albania there aren’t any specific requirements. During the summer period, from May 15 2016 to Nov. 1 2016, Saudi citizens can travel to Albania without having to obtain a visa at the Embassy of Albania. Travel can be done with a passport. I want to seize this opportunity to invite Saudis tourists to take Albania into consideration as one of the best options when making their holiday plans. (see www.akt.gov.al).
Thank you, shukran!


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Virgin Galactic reveals futuristic outpost for space tourism

Updated 16 August 2019

Virgin Galactic reveals futuristic outpost for space tourism

  • Critics suggested the project was a boondoggle, but supporters argued that there were bound to be hard and sometimes costly lessons
  • The interior spaces unveiled Thursday aim to connect paying customers with every aspect of the operation

UPHAM, New Mexico: Spaceport America is no longer just a shiny shell of hope that space tourism would one day launch from this remote spot in the New Mexico desert.
The once-empty hangar that anchors the taxpayer-financed launch and landing facility has been transformed into a custom-tailored headquarters where Virgin Galactic will run its commercial flight operations.
Two levels within the spaceport include mission control, a preparation area for pilots and a lounge for paying customers and their friends and families, with each element of the fit and finish paying homage to either the desert landscape that surrounds the futuristic outpost or the promise of traveling to the edge of space.
From hotel rooms to aircraft cabins, the Virgin brand touts its designs for their focus on the customer experience. Spaceport is no different.
Earthen tones help ground visitors on the first floor. The social hub includes an interactive digital walkway and a coffee bar made of Italian marble. On the upper deck, shades of white and gray speak to Virgin Galactic’s more lofty mission.
Company officials, offering the first glimpse of the facility Thursday, say the space is meant to create “an unparalleled experience” as customers prepare for what Virgin Galactic describes as the journey of a lifetime.
Just how soon customers will file into Virgin Galactic’s newly outfitted digs for the first commercial flights has yet to be determined. A small number of test flights are still needed.
Billionaire Richard Branson, who is behind Virgin Galactic, and former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, a Democrat, first pitched the plan for the spaceport nearly 15 years ago.
There were construction delays and cost overruns. Virgin Galactic’s spaceship development took far longer than expected and had a major setback when its first experimental craft broke apart during a 2014 test flight, killing the co-pilot.
Critics suggested the project was a boondoggle, but supporters argued that there were bound to be hard and sometimes costly lessons.
Democratic state Sen. George Munoz has enduring concerns about the business model for commercial, low-orbit travel for passengers.
“You can have all the money in the world and come back and say, ‘Was my 30 seconds of fame worth that risk?’” he said.
Munoz says New Mexico’s anticipated return on investment in terms of jobs and visitors is still overdue, with more than $200 million public funds spent on Spaceport America in cooperation with Virgin Galactic as anchor tenant.
At the facility Thursday, the carrier plane for Virgin’s rocket-powered passenger ship made a few passes and touch-and-goes over a runway.
Behind the spaceport’s signature wall of curved glass, mission control sits on the second floor with an unobstructed view of the runway and beyond.
There’s also space behind two massive sliding doors to accommodate two of Virgin Galactic’s carrier planes and a fleet of six-passenger rocket ships.
Virgin Galactic posted on social media earlier this week that its carrier plane had landed in New Mexico and its main operating base was now at the spaceport. And Branson said the wing of Virgin’s next rocket ship has been completed.
Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides said once the test flights are complete, commercial operations can begin.
Chief Pilot Dave Mackay said the crew in the coming days will fly simulated launch missions to ensure in-flight communications and airspace coordination work as planned. The pilots also will be familiarizing themselves with New Mexico’s airspace and landmarks.
“New Mexico is on track to become one of the very few places on this beautiful planet which regularly launches humans to space,” Mackay said.
Branson will be among them. About 600 people have reserved a seat, according to the company, at a cost of $250,000 a ticket.
That buys them a ride on the winged rocket ship, which is dropped in flight from the carrier airplane. Once free, it fires its rocket motor to hurtle toward the boundary of space before gliding back down.
The latest test flight reached an altitude of 56 miles (90 kilometers) while traveling at three times the speed of sound.