Albania, where tourist arrivals nearly doubled last year, is now set to become even more of a hot spot, as the country recently designated one of Europe’s most prominent rivers as a national park.
Advocacy from environmentalists has at last convinced Albanian authorities to protect the rugged and beautiful Vjosa River as a reserve. A truly wild river with a fast-moving current – a rarity in Europe – the 168-mile (270km) Vjosa is poised to draw adventure-seeking visitors for hiking, camping, rafting and more. The river rises in northwestern Greece, before coursing through Albania and meeting the sea at Vlora.
Some 1110 animal and plant species make their home in and around the Vjosa – of which two plant and 13 animal species are globally endangered. In the latter category are such rarities as the Balkan lynx (of which only 15 are said to remain), as well as otters, Balkan zingel fish and the Egyptian vulture.
This exciting announcement is a big win for Albanian tourism, and gives the country a new landmark to begin showcasing to the world – and gives ecologically minded travelers a new bucket-list destination.
To understand the scale of the Vjosa, take highway SH4 from the southern city of Saranda to between the towns of Tepelena and Memaliaj, a stretch that provides magnificent views. Better yet, stop in at Hotel Kalem Kasneci and enjoy traditional Albanian cuisine while overlooking the river. The dining room here offers one of the best views of the Vjosa.
The best spots in Albania for enjoying the new Vjosa River National Park
There are several great places you can enjoy this national park and the beauty of Europe's last wild river.
One of the best ways to experience the full force of the Vjosa is by going rafting on its waters. We recommend joining an adventure tour leaving from the city of Permet; tours can take from as little as two hours to multiple days, depending on your taste for adventure.
Non-thrill-seekers will enjoy exploring Permet, one of the greenest and cleanest parts of the entire country (it’s known as the “City of Flowers”). You can visit the Bënjë Thermal Baths or enjoy a slow-food experience with delicious cuisine and wine that can only be found in this area of the country.
If you want a picture-perfect shot of Vjosa then you need to visit the river bend, a 30-minute drive from Permet. Surrounded by dramatic mountain landscapes, this spot will leave you speechless no matter which time of year you decide to visit – though the snow-capped peaks that rise behind the river in winter make for an especially stunning backdrop.
A third option is the small town of Tepelena, which sits on the bank of the Vjosa and is one of the best spots to enjoy a drink while admiring the view. While you’re there you can see the cold-water spring, a focal point of the city. Tepelena has an abundance of water sources from nearly every direction.
You can also admire the river if you walk toward and along the bridge of Ali Pasha spanning the river. There are also a few cafes and restaurants located right on the riverbank if you want to relax, unwind and sit down to a leisurely meal while taking in the view.