“Stars and Stripes” has run an extensive article about winter holidaying in Valbona, Albania, where are “no ski lifts, but also no crowds”.
Valbona has been gaining in popularity as a summer hiking destination, but in winter, you’re unlikely to bump into tourists.
The Accursed Mountains at Valbona, Albania — a ski destination like no other — the trail we would cut on our 3,000-vertical-foot climb that day would be the only ski tracks in sight.
With a soundtrack of livestock bells and a landscape of dramatic peaks, the isolated valley of Valbona suggests the Swiss Alps, but without the annoyance of lifts and people. If ski touring in wild mountains is your thing, it’s Mecca.
Albania has opened up greatly since Hoxha’s death in 1985. Evidence of his 40-year reign is plentiful, though, from the blocky monstrosities that make up the skyline of the capital, Tirana, to the tens of thousands of concrete bunkers he ordered constructed, ostensibly to prepare for a war with Yugoslavia that never came.
Albania still feels like the frontier of Europe, but a budding tourism industry has made many of the country’s little-visited wild places more accessible. Much of the country is dotted by the Albanian Alps, a mountain chain that stretches across northern Albania, with some of Europe’s best skiing and not a single chair lift to access it. That means no one to compete with for tracks if you’re willing to put some skins on and work for your turns.
In Valbona, home to roughly 100 families, that trickle of tourism has been a lifeline for farmers who have seen state subsidies diminish since the end of communism. With harsh winters and limited grazing, eking out a living as a herder would be impossible for some without the added income from visitors.
Without après-ski options, gourmet restaurants and cushy hotels, a winter trip here is refreshingly simple: ski, eat, sleep, repeat.
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