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Accursed Tourism

Bjeshkët e Nëmuna, Shqipëria

Accursed Mountains, Albania

May 6th 2024


In December of 2022, I turned up to northern Albania happily lost. At my hostel in the centre of the largest city in the north, Shkodër, no one else checked in during my whole stay. On the streets, I saw no obvious foreigners, and there were no foreigner-specific buisnesses on the highstreet. People were getting ready to celebrate the new year, apparently in absence of tourists. I think back to this time fondly, because this is what I quintessentially love about travelling. It might sound cringy, but there is truly something special about being "off the beaten path". And for this reason, Albania has been my trusted suggestion for anyone asking about where to find those 'real' experiences. Well, fast forward to now, and I am a little bit in shock. Seemingly, a huge transformation has taken place. The number of services catering to tourists appears to have skyrocketed, and just from 2022-2023 alone there was a 40% increase in tourists.


Views from the top of the mountain pass


The most striking place to witness this change is in Theth, a village often seen as the "gateway" to the Accursed Mountains. These are a pretty scary looking mountain range filled with valleys and ridges that separates Albania, Montenegro, and Kosovo. A long time ago, this region could not be mentioned without also talking about tribal law, blood feuds, sworn virgins, and all those types of anthropolgic oddities that Albania had (and still has, by the way). But now, you have to search pretty hard to find anyone living there for any purpose except for tourism. Newly built nordic-style airbnbs have been hastily built, trails are crowded with tourist couples, and everything else is a construction site to build even more facilities.


Probably, this transition came with the road. The path connecting Theth with the rest of Albania used to only be passable with a rugged 4x4. But in 2021-2022, a paved road was built along its entirety. I didn't know this the first time I was here, as, whether it was finished or not, it is not safe to travel along this route in the winter. The road is obviously an amazing lifeline for people living in these isolated locations, but it also facilitated an enormous upsurge in tourist interest. Driving there, we passed shiny rental SUV after shiny rental SUV, apparently only available in three or four different models.


Driving in from Shkodër


Around the same time that the road was finished, international travel and news articles came out about the Accursed Mountains. They added all sorts of buzzwords that help to raise its status and usually attract new-wave tourists, people who are less into beach resorts and more into 'real experiences' (yes, begrudgingly you could include me in this category). Phrases such as "Europe's last true wilderness", "unspoiled landscape", "cheaper than the Swiss alps". The writing was already on the wall I guess.


I understand, complaining about tourists is both easy and hypocritical. Why is it a problem that more people are coming? Sometimes I question why I have such a negative reaction to seeing tourists. But in this case, it is a feeling of loss. At seeing the unique charm of a place you held dear erode, to disappear forever. And it also makes me worry. When will tourism stop? How far will its grip reach? Will it come for my home or yours next?


Path to the 'blue eye' waterfall


A stark reminder that this is still Eastern Europe

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