Adventure in albania kayaking in one of europe’s final frontiers travel the guardian f gas regulations ireland

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‘Go, go, go!” The white-water rafting guide shouted orders from the back of the boat and our five-strong crew paddled hard to stay on course. We were tackling a stretch of the Vjosa, a 270km river that begins in Greece (where it is called the Aoös) and flows through Albania and into the Adriatic just north of the city of Vlora. I was on a recce trip for a new southern Albanian break with Much Better Adventures, which specialises in long weekends to wild places in Europe and North Africa. But this trip was not just a fun adventure – rather just part of a campaign to save the river, which is under threat from proposed dams. A documentary film, Blue Heart, out this month, will highlight the fight to protect Europe’s last wild rivers, with help from ecotourism.

From May to October, the Vjosa’s canyons are navigable by raft – at thrilling speeds and with waves well over a metre high. We were there in early March, when these narrow stretches of water were too dangerous, so rafted a wider, gentler section: it offered less adrenaline, but gave a flavour of the full trip. Swirling downriver, we seemed to be journeying through an untouched land.

New river-based ventures are springing up, such as the Albanian Adventure Resort on the River Osum near Çorovoda, which will offer canyoning, riverboarding and more from next spring. And Albania’s mountains, soaring to 2,800 metres, have huge potential for hiking and climbing. The hope is that sustainable adventure tourism will offer a viable source of revenue for the country.

But the environmentalists have a battle on their hands. The government plans to build eight major hydropower plants on the Vjosa, and another 20 or so on its tributaries as part of a massive Balkans hydro project. More than 500 hydropower plants are planned for Albania, among about 3,000 in the wider region. The consequences include loss of habitat and rare species, flooding, coastal erosion and compulsory resettlement, said Nika. “So 2018 is a crucial year for the Vjosa. There will be lawsuits, lobbying, scientific studies and artist-led protests.” As part of the battle, Much Better Adventures is working with Albanian activists and local operators such as the Albania Rafting Group to encourage people to book a trip.

Besides rafting, we explored plenty of the rest of the country, taking in coast and historic sites. A highlight was the ancient city of Butrint, a Unesco world heritage site on a spectacular wooded peninsula, between a lake and a channel leading to the Straits of Corfu. After seeing the theatre, baptistry and other remains, we kayaked down the channel to Ali Pasha’s Castle, an island fortress named after the Ottoman ruler.

Albania’s 426km of Adriatic and Ionian coastline offers excellent hiking, too. Saranda, the main resort on the Albanian Riviera, is very built-up but you don’t have to go far to find unspoiled beaches and clifftop hikes. We started 20km up the coast at Lukova, which has a few summer beach bars and restaurants, and walked for 90 minutes along the cliffs to Krorez Bay. This beach has golden sand, turquoise water and no tourists. We enjoyed a swim and snorkel, then scrambled up the sheer cliff and hacked our way through undergrowth to the next beach, dramatic Kakome, backed by thickly forested cliffs. (This beach is now privately owned, so walkers need permission to visit – our guides had phoned ahead.)