I had discovered last year, at the end of my first long journey through the Balkans, Dhermi and I had fallen in love with it. The crystal clear water, the mountains overlooking the sea, the bumpy roads between the canyons and the villages suspended on the road like in a crib were my last stop in this splendid land that is Albania.Actually, I preferred this experience to many other trips I have already described and I can almost say that my holiday in Albania remained more in my heart than in France, not to mention thewhich are absurdly much less chic than those in Tirana. I had traveled dozens of times up and down the road from Valona to Saranda, which was under construction at the time, but inebriated by Dhermi's magic I had always returned there, on that long, pebble beach where long sunsets colored the clouds that they stopped at the top of Llogara.
I had seen other coves and beaches along the coast, but none seemed to me to equal the beauty of that place. So this year I decided to come back and bring some friends from Rome, giving them the pleasure of discovering a fantastic place.
Compared to last year the road has been completed and now a brand new asphalt is unrolling smoothly down to Saranda through a breathtaking mountain scenery, transformed by the new road, but still intact.
Hairpin bends, steep descents in the hills, high passages overlooking the sea, this road is, I believe, among the most beautiful in Europe.
After a couple of days in Dhermi we moved to another beach further south a couple of kilometers after Vuno, Jal.
Jal (also called Jala or Jalë) is a small beach set among steep hills planted with olive trees in a small bay protected by the mountains.
Unlike Dhermi it is smaller, the sea is calmer and warmer and the sun when setting is hiding just behind a distant mountain ridge that fades into the sea.
The road that comes to us passes first through a small valley covered with olive trees and then descends steep and dirt to the beach following the edge of the hills that slope down to the sea, looking out from time to time on some tiny cove accessible only by boat.
In the sandy clearing at the end of the road there are some recent semi-demolished buildings and a row of wooden kiosks form a small promenade where family-run fish restaurants alternate, some bars and a couple of discos / cocktail bars. On a hill at the bottom there are a couple of four-story buildings. One of recent construction and the other, elegant and sober, is the only pre-existing construction on the bay and is the former Hospital for the elderly General of the Exercise during the Enver Hoxha regime.This territory, like many others here along this stretch of coast, are owned by the state and during communism there were stationed military garrisons none of the population could have access to it unless they had a special permit. Now this building like the one next to it, built no more than a decade ago, has been transformed into a residence for state employees, and the only form of overnight accommodation on the beach is offered by a couple of campsites. You can, like a little 'everywhere in Albania, camp freely but for us who want a minimum of comfort we choose to settle in the campsite in the middle of the beach, behind a half-destroyed building in an olive grove that rises to the hills. The environment is very youthful, the price per night very cheap. With 1000 lek (8 euro) in addition to the tent (in case you didn't have one with you) the campsite offers breakfast and dinner. All included. The showers are icy but invigorating, there are a couple of ping pong tables and numerous tables at the entrance to welcome guys playing cards, chess or backgammon while drinking beer while waiting for dinner. And it is precisely this pleasant surprise of this place.
In a party-like atmosphere of the Unit we eat together the same meal, cooked by a lady and her family in a corner of the camp used as a field kitchen, which consists of a first course (soup or pasta depending on the day) and a second (often salad of tomatoes, cucumbers and cheese or meat) and each table has its bottle of iced cola for free. The simple and jovial atmosphere is very relaxing and, in case you decide not to eat at the campsite, the numerous bar-restaurants along the beach offer a valid gastronomic alternative. At really popular prices (less than 15 euro per person) you can taste local fish cooked mostly fried but also barbecued, drinking the usual local beer.
Small fishing boats supply the caterers of the bay daily, docking on the small pier at the bottom of the beach and unloading crates of freshly caught fish under the eyes of the bathers and this is the greatest guarantee on the goodness of what you eat. In addition to the main beach, two other roads that can be traveled both on foot and (with a minimum of caution) by car lead to two other smaller, less crowded, wilder coves where the equally splendid sea breaks on the pebble beach and where numerous rocks are starfish and polyps. In short, the place is really fantastic and we stop for several days. I ask around why some buildings are semi-demolished while others are in front of me and they reply that those destroyed had no concession to build. "And the others?" I ask with curiosity. "The others yes." "But isn't the land owner the state?" I ask again. "Yes, some may build others not." They answer me again. "So why are the buildings without a concession completely demolished?" I continue to ask with a little insistence. "Those who can't build today, but maybe they will agree tomorrow and then rearrange". "But then what is the law that regulates the possibility of building or not?"
I'm a bit confused but my curiosity drives me to keep asking. "Some may build others do not" the boy repeats to me to whom I ask my insistent questions. "But according to what principle?" I continue. The boy smiles and spreads his arms making me understand that the law is very elastic and certainly not based on written words but on economic agreements of some kind.
I understand what kind of agreement it is and I do not continue with my questioning. It's hot, very hot, I dive into the sea and the arid hills eaten by goats slowly turn pink with the setting of the sun. The beach is really beautiful and it is a shame to see these reinforced concrete skeletons still intact but unusable. Nothing new compared to Italy. In many parts of Calabria or Puglia I have seen similar situations; buildings built and abandoned or architectural havoc in fantastic places, but here, where everything is still wild, it is really a shame to see the same mistakes repeated.
I agree that the State should regulate the building permits in territories where there is a landscape constraint, but a little clarity in the laws and maybe a clear and precise project of building development would not hurt this part of the coast, indeed, above all now that in Albania foreign tourism is starting to appear more confidently than in the past, attracted precisely by the pristine beaches and virgin mountains with their age-old traditions still alive and intact.
Reading the newspaper in fact known as the Ministry of Tourism communicates that compared to 2008, non-local tourism has increased by 36%, and numerous on TV are services on the overcrowding of the beaches of Valona (with consequent car traffic) and on the increase in bed and breakfast in the Thethi mountain ranges stormed by northern European tourists, fascinated by the splendid mountain scenery.
Tourism is an excellent resource for this country and the example of neighboring Montenegro that based on ecology and sustainable development based on its nascent state constitution is an example to be reckoned with. Speaking of this topic with a friend of mine in Tirana, in front of a coffee on a very hot day after mid-August, we agree together on the immense possibilities that tourism can give to this nation and how unfortunately the sinister economic interest is doing more damage than anything else. He who lived there for ten years in Italy understood what errors should not be repeated, what the possible strategies are and how one can build a future in Albania that is not just concrete and asphalt.
Yes, because what makes Albania unique and attractive in the eyes of a Western traveler is precisely its being still "wild". That is virgin, uncontaminated but also in a balance (increasingly rare in Mediterranean countries) between man and nature built over the centuries and remained almost intact until today. This being "savage" is not to be considered at all as a demerit or a sign of underdevelopment but rather, it could be an excellent starting point for a different development, an experimentation on modernity that only some northern European countries seem to follow today with a certain conviction.
A lot of damage has already been done in Albania but many others can be avoided, above all by having a whole generation of children who have studied and lived outside Albania, who have seen with their own eyes what the consequences are of certain errors and certain policies based on speculation and immediate gain.
Unfortunately, the historical course that seems to have been chosen by the nascent Albanian Democracy too faithfully follows the Italian example and this does not leave me a little uneasy about its near future, although there is still plenty of room for improvement. It is still time, if you wish, to change the course of events and therefore, consequently, history.
The marble block is still to be sculpted but who is holding the chisel today? Who will take it tomorrow?
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