• Oct 13, 23
  • Albrafting

We are thrilled to announce that Albania Rafting Company has earned a coveted spot in the prestigious Wizz Air Magazine! This exciting recognition marks a significant milestone for our team and highlights our dedication to providing exceptional outdoor adventure experiences in the heart of Albania.

Wizz Air, one of Europe's leading low-cost airlines, is renowned for its in-flight magazine, which reaches a wide audience of travelers and adventure enthusiasts. In our featured article, readers will have the opportunity to delve into the heart-pounding excitement of white-water rafting and explore the breathtaking beauty of Albania's pristine natural landscapes.

Our journey from a small, passionate group of adventurers to a prominent presence in Wizz Air Magazine has been nothing short of incredible. It's a testament to the hard work and passion we put into every excursion we offer, ensuring our guests experience the thrill of a lifetime.

In the article, you'll find captivating stories, firsthand experiences, and vivid imagery that https://www.jessicagvincent.com/capture the essence of Albania Rafting Company's adventures. Whether you're an adventure seeker looking for your next adrenaline rush or simply someone who enjoys living vicariously through the pages of a magazine, we invite you to join us on this remarkable journey.

We're incredibly proud of this milestone, and we couldn't have done it without the continued support and trust of our loyal customers. This recognition only fuels our commitment to delivering exceptional rafting experiences, and we can't wait to welcome new adventurers to our beloved Albania.

Thank you to Wizz Air for featuring us in their magazine, and thank you to our amazing team and guests for being part of this incredible story. We look forward to sharing the thrilling world of Albania Rafting Company with readers from around the world through the pages of Wizz Air Magazine!

The blue wild heart of Europe The continent's first wild river national park DIs a boon for Albania's growing adventure travel scene.

We travelled to the Viosa to raft its rapids and discover its secrets

© words by Jessica Vincen

E Photography by Ben Redd

 

In southern Albania, you hear the rapids before you see them. It's a soothing sound at first, like thousands of marbles scattering on glass. But as our inflatable raft and my pounding heart quicken, it sounds like we're approaching a motorway. A bend in the river reveals where we're headed: granite-smooth boulders, big as elephants, rise from churning whitewater that snakes its way through the forested valley like a cobra. From the back of the raft, our guide shouts "para, te glither, Albanian for, "all go", I grip my paddle, bracing for impact. This is where my journey along the Vjosa, Europe's first wild river national park, begins. Flowing freely for 270km from the Pindus Mountains in Greece to Albania's Adriatic coast, Viosa Is one of the last rivers in Europe without dams or any other artificial barriers. This is significant, as Europe's largest free-flowing river is a haven for over 1,000 plant and animal species, including the critically endangered Balkan lynx. It's also a lifeline for rural communities who rely on the river for fresh drinking water, agriculture, fishing and, increasingly in the last decade, tourism. Campaigners say that building new hydropower 60 WIZZ MAGAZINE plants, which can flood entire villages while leaving other parts of the river completely dry, would destroy Vosa's delicate ecosystem and drive entire communities from their homes. "A lot of people think that hydropower is green. but in fact, it's one of the worst energy resources in relation to nature and to people," says conservationist Ulrich Eichelmann in clothing brand Patagonia's Blue Heart documentary. And there were worrying signs as the Viosa had been under threat from proposed hydropower projects for years. "Albania is probably the worst country in the Balkans in relation to dam construction," continues Eichelmann. "They want to build more than 500. Every little creek is threatened" In March this year, however, after almost a decade of campaigning by environment NGOs Including RiverWatch, Albania's Prime Minister declared the Vjosa River a national park, the first of its kind in Europe. Today I'm getting the chance to experience the Viosa Wild River National Park for myself, rafting from Kaluth village to Permet city, and we're about to hit a tree trunk the size of a large crocodile. The sun IS blinding, and the air smells of pine and damp soil.

 

In southern Albania, you hear the rapids before you see them. It's a soothing sound at first, like thousands of marbles scattering on glass. But as our inflatable raft and my pounding heart quicken, it sounds like we're approaching a motorway. A bend in the river reveals where we're headed: granite-smooth boulders, big as elephants, rise from churning whitewater that snakes its way through the forested valley like a cobra. From the back of the raft, our guide shouts "para, te githe!", Albanian for, "all go". I grip my paddle, bracing for impact. This is where my journey along the Vjosa, Europe's first wild river national park, begins. Flowing freely for 270km from the Pindus Mountains in Greece to Albania's Adriatic coast, Vjosa is one of the last rivers in Europe without dams or any other artificial barriers. This is significant, as Europe's largest free-flowing river is a haven for over 1,000 plant and animal species, including the critically endangered Balkan lynx. It's also a lifeline for rural communities who rely on the river for fresh drinking water, agriculture, fishing and, increasingly in the last decade, tourism. Campaigners say that building new hydropower 60 WIZZ MAGAZINE plants, which can flood entire villages while leaving other parts of the river completely dry, would destroy Vjosa's delicate ecosystem and drive entire communities from their homes. "A lot of people think that hydropower is green, but in fact, it's one of the worst energy resources in relation to nature and to people," says conservationist Ulrich Eichelmann in clothing brand Patagonia's Blue Heart documentary. And there were worrying signs as the Vjosa had been under threat from proposed hydropower projects for years. "Albania is probably the worst country in the Balkans in relation to dam construction," continues Eichelmann. "They want to build more than 500. Every little creek is threatened." In March this year, however, after almost a decade of campaigning by environment NGOs including RiverWatch, Albania's Prime Minister declared the Vjosa River a national park, the first of its kind in Europe. Today I'm getting the chance to experience the Vjosa Wild River National Park for myself, rafting from Kaluth village to Permet city, and we're about to hit a tree trunk the size of a large crocodile. The sun is blinding, and the air smells of pine and damp soil.

Tourists made us see that our country is beautiful. That it is worth fighting for? Right go, left back!" shouts our guide Zamo Spathara, who with his wife Alma Spathara Founded Albania Rafting Group in 1999, the country's first adventure tourism company. Zamo and Alma have been fighting for Albania's wild rivers ever since, *When we started rafting on Vosa, there were zero tourists in Albania," says Alma. "Everyone thought we were crazy. After Communism, Albanians didn't see the beauty of their country. Life was very hard then. People would say to us: "Why would tourists come here? We have nothing." During its Communist period (1944-1985), Albania was one of Europe's most isolated countries, with very few people allowed in or out. This led to antigovernment protests and widespread poverty, but for Albania's rivers and wild spaces, the effects were surprisingly positive. "The reason our rivers are still wild is because we were cut off from the world for almost 50 years," explains Zamo, who as a teen would raft the Osum river in Albania that he and Alma fought to protect from hydropower - in old truck tyres, using his hands as paddles. "Now Albania is open, we must not make the same mistakes as the rest of Europe. We must fight to keep Viosa free from dams" Protecting Vjosa is part of "Save the Blue Heart of Europe', an international campaign to save waterways from dams across the Balkans, including Mavrovo National Park in North Macedonia and rivers in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia, which campaigners say are threatened by over 3,000 new hydropower projects. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), Vjosa's category Il national park status will protect it from harmful industries like dam building and gravel extraction, while allowing low-impact activities like kayaking and rafting to help boost Albania's tourism industry. When tourists started coming, things changed," says Alma. "Tourists made us see that our country is beautiful. That it is worth fighting for. Now many Albanians who left after Communism are returning to

Following Zamo's command to turn the raft, our team of eight paddlers jab desperately at the whitewater, but to little effect - the raft is heading straight for the tree trunk. Luckily Zamo, who trains Albania's national rafting team, has it under control, and we miss the driftwood with millimetres to spare. My trip to Viosa was booked as part of a multi-adventure tour through southern Albania with Much Better Adventures, a B-Corp adventure company that joined the efforts to save Vjosa in 2018. They partner with Albania Rafting Group to promote adventure tourism as the antidote to dams. "It's about building nature-based economies," says Much Better Adventures co-founder Sam Bruce. "Adventure tourism is a much more sustainable way to extract value from a river than building a dam. It also protects the cultures and communities that exist there rather than decimating them." We emerge from the whitewater soaked to the bone, but unscathed. The river quickly calms to a mirror-like stillness, the surrounding mountains reflecting on the tea-coloured water. Viosa is famous for its dazzling turquoise-green colour, but a storm last night has turned the water a milky brown. Still the river is a glorious sight, its banks smoothed into

waves by mighty currents. Leaves sprout between the hotel balcony, where a call to prayer is sending cracks in the rock; nesting swifts flit between trickling hundreds of swifts flitting across the pale blue sky. In waterfalls. On the banks, a young eagle circles above a restaurant below, tourists clink glasses filled with local rakia (a grape spirit); forks clatter over plates a fisherman, waiting for trout. The next morning we're back on Vosa, this time in of barbecued lamb. Above it all is the rumble and two-man inflatable kayaks. We're paddling a calmer rush of the river, the familiar soundtrack to my week stretch of the river through Kelcyre Gorge, finishing in Southern Albania. close to the city of Permet. The day starts with clear As I sit here, the setting sun turning the river and skies, but a thunderstorm soon rolls in. sky a candyfloss pink, I can't help but think how Raindrops the size of golf balls crash into the river. empty this place would seem without Vjosa, its wild. Then lightning strikes, lighting up Vjosa in a strange free-flowing blue heart. silvery-purple glow. For a moment, I'm mesmerised. "There is no life without rivers," Zamo told me when But then I remember that water is a conductor, and he outlined his hopes for the future of river tourism in head back to shore as fast as I can possibly paddle. Albania. "We've had to climb to get to this point. But Luckily we survive and make it back to Permet now we must fly." just before dark. I look out onto Vjosa from my * Wizz Air files to Tirana