The following is a re-posted portion of an article by Lonely Planet. 


Europe is a treasure trove of incredible travel experiences, which can make deciding where to go a challenging task. Thankfully Lonely Planet’s travel experts have been on the case to bring you the best spots to add to your bucket list for 2017.

If these ancient wonders, coastal escapes and off-the-beaten-track adventures have you reaching for your passport, sign up for our free Zagreb ebook chapter to find out more about why this dynamic city made number one.

4. Northern Montenegro

If the cruise ships queueing by Kotor’s bay are anything to go by, the cat is definitely out of the bag for Montenegro’s stunning Adriatic coastline. Fortunately, overlooked Northern Montenegro is brimming with off-the-beaten-track adventures – without the crowds. What’s more, the country’s compact size and good roads make this remote region more ripe for exploration than you might have thought.

Adventure hunters can raft through Europe’s deepest canyon at Tara, or cycle through lunar landscapes around the Durmitor ring. Foodies are catered for in highland towns where you can savour Montenegro’s growing slow food scene with mountain cheeses and hearty beef stews; while history buffs can take a pilgrimage to stunning monasteries etched into cliff faces at Ostrog or nestled in breathtaking valleys at Morača.

Epic experiences are writ large in Northern Montenegro's rugged landscapes © dellaliner / Getty Images

Epic experiences are writ large in Northern Montenegro's rugged landscapes © dellaliner / Getty Images

8. Moldova

This country of secret wine cellars and cliff-perched monasteries is truly Europe’s final frontier: little visited, lost in time and always surprising. In Moldova’s capital city Chişinău, leafy boulevards interlace with looming concrete. Its unexpectedly Parisian-style cafe and bar scenes brim with local wine, which continues to rise to acclaim as Moldova plays host to 2017’s Black Sea Wines and Spirits Competition as well as the annual ExpoVin.

Sip the best drops in Mileștii Mici’s gothic-attired cellars, housing the world’s largest wine collection. Explore sacred Orheiul Vechi, encircled by chalk cliffs, or lonely riverside monasteries like Saharna and Tipova. East of the Dniestr River is the self-declared (though unrecognised) republic of Transdniestr, a region locked in the Soviet past. Even experienced travellers to Europe will be amazed and disoriented by Moldova.

Orheiul Vechi's dramatic, rocky perch seems befitting of such a magical site © Uladzik Kryhin / Shutterstock

Orheiul Vechi's dramatic, rocky perch seems befitting of such a magical site © Uladzik Kryhin / Shutterstock

This is an article originally posted on dronedeploy.com

These companies are supported by REG AgTech partners BioSense Institute Novi Sad, who are in the process of implementing 2 huge EU funded projects, one supporting AgTech startups from the whole region and the other establishing the organization as an AgTech Center of Excellence.


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Drone-Based Stand Counts Offer Accurate, Cost-Effective Alternative to Ground Sampling

It’s May. In fields across the northern hemisphere, corn and soybean crops will soon emerge in full force. As we enter this year’s growing season, stand counts are on the mind of every farmer. Evaluating plant emergence through stand counts is an important early season management question. Accurate counts and early intervention can mean the difference between a successful harvest or major crop losses. But traditional ground sampling is imprecise and often involves a high margin of error. AgriSens Plant Insights, available on the DroneDeploy App Market, offers a cost-effective alternative to traditional stand counts that is proactive and accurate. Drone-based stand counts let growers pinpoint areas of potential yield loss and take corrective action at key times during the growing season.

Agrisens is an ag-focused technology company whose research and development team includes PhDs in Agriculture, Bio-technical Science and Data Science. They leverage their expertise to develop new technologies that improve agriculture production through remote sensing solutions.

“AgriSens is about making agriculture better and more in line with what today’s technology has to offer. Our ultimate goal is to help farmers achieve higher outputs with high-end technology that is easy to use, easy to grasp, and easy to run.” -Rastko Carapic, AgriSens Chief Operating Officer

Thanks to AgriSens’ partnership with DroneDeploy, the company’s powerful stand count tool — as well as its sowing quality and weed stress reports — is available on the DroneDeploy App Market. With the app, users can count plants across an entire field using maps produced in DroneDeploy. In a matter of hours, growers receive a detailed report with information on plant counts and sowing quality. This level of data, delivered quickly and easily, has made AgriSens the most popular agriculture app on the DroneDeploy App Market among growers and ag-focused drone service providers alike. Read more about the most popular apps in our recently published Commercial Drone Industry Trends report.

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This stand count report allowed a corn grower to take action quickly to avoid major yield loss.

This stand count report allowed a corn grower to take action quickly to avoid major yield loss.

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AuthorNicolas Segura
CategoriesArticle

The following is an article originally posted on SuperFounders.com by Gabriela Delova.


Photo credit: Netokracija.com

Photo credit: Netokracija.com

Serbian American startup Frame has closed a $16 million funding round from Bain Capital VenturesMicrosoft Ventures and In-Q-Tel, with participation from previous investor CNTP, the company announced. Reportedly, as part of the investment, Salil Deshpande, managing director from Bain Capital Ventures, joins the Frame board of directors, too.

Frame will use the investment to enlarge their team and to promote the company in new markets, especially Europe and Asia.

Nikola Bozinovic, founder and CEO @ Frame / Photo credit: Nikola’s LinkedIn Profile

Nikola Bozinovic, founder and CEO @ Frame / Photo credit: Nikola’s LinkedIn Profile

Nikola Bozinovic, founder and CEO @ Frame / Photo credit: Nikola’s LinkedIn Profile

Founded in 2012 Frame is a revolutionary cloud platform that lets enterprises deliver Windows apps to users on any device, anywhere. According to their company profile on LinkedIn, they built it from scratch for the cloud age, and there’s no legacy code, nor capacity limits. Even the most complex visual applications run smoothly, every time, the company notes.

“Until now, desktop virtualization was a powerful idea that rarely delivered a great user experience. It was too slow, complicated and inflexible,”said Nikola Bozinovic, founder and CEO of Frame, EIN News reported.

“Frame is the first solution that truly delivers on the promise of desktop virtualization in the cloud. We built it from day one to take full advantage of the cloud, so it’s faster, simpler and more scalable than anything that came before it.”

According to Istok Pavlovic, Marketing Executive at Frame, the very fact that Microsoft invest in Frame is the greatest confirmation that their solution is very important.

Istok Pavlovic, Marketing Executive @ Frame / Photo credit: Istok’s LinkedIn Profile

Istok Pavlovic, Marketing Executive @ Frame / Photo credit: Istok’s LinkedIn Profile

Istok Pavlovic, Marketing Executive @ Frame / Photo credit: Istok’s LinkedIn Profile

“We are especially happy that Microsoft is among the newest investors in Frame. This is a company that up to mid-2016 developed a cloud computing solution on their own, but without success”, Pavlovic, told Netokracija.

“From the very beginning, while Frame was only an idea, many estimated our idea just as one more Remote Desktop. But the fact that Microsoft invests in Frame is the greatest confirmation that the solution that we develop is very complicated and important”.

“Frame delivers unparalleled business value to enterprises worldwide, giving millions of applications the most direct path to run from the cloud to a diverse set of browser-equipped endpoints,” said Nagraj Kashyap, corporate vice president at Microsoft Ventures to EIN News.

“We look forward to supporting Frame in their growth as they transform the end-user computing industry.”

According to the prominent Forbes “there’s a lot of things happening for Frame right now, and judging by this flurry of growth and investment, this is a company that is right in the middle of picking up significant momentum”.

In the article with topic ‘Why Frame Scored $16M Investment from Microsoft and Bain Capital Venture”, the contributor to Forbes, Patrick Moorhead also ranked as #1 tech industry analyst in US, UK and Europe, concludes the following:

“VDI and app streaming is gaining steam based on the increased security need and using the public cloud adds scalability and flexibility. Frame ticks off all of these boxes and allows companies to bring their own identity schema and enables multi-public cloud to improve performance and potentially lower costs. With these factors considered, coupled with the new investment announced today, I think Frame is well-positioned to attract more customers and investment. Competition isn’t standing still, but Frame has a head start with their cloud-native app streaming platform.”

According to Frame’s LinkedIn profile current users of Frame platform include companies such as Siemens, HP, Adobe, and Autodesk transition to the cloud. Frame is head quartered in San Mateo, CA, with additional offices in Washington, DC and Europe.

The following is a reposted portion of an article from Wanderlust travel magazine written by Graeme Green.


From Australia to Brazil to Macedonia, there are incredible cities all but ignored by travelers. Here are the 8 most underrated cities and what to do in them, selected by the world's top travel bloggers.

5: Skopje, Macedonia

Anna Phipps (Global Gallivanting- global-gallivanting.com)

Statues lining bridge in Skopje (Dreamstime)

Statues lining bridge in Skopje (Dreamstime)

Macedonia is a small but beautiful and diverse country that’s also one of the cheapest and best value destinations in Europe. But it usually gets overlooked by travelers.

The capital, Skopje, must be one of the most under-rated destinations in Europe. 

This quirky, fun, unpretentious and multicultural city has undergone a unique transformation in recent years as huge civic buildings and hundreds of huge, quirky and kitsch bronze statues have been built as part of Project 2014, a controversial attempt to attract more tourism and increase patriotism and national identity.

This has made Skopje a fun, interesting city to explore, with brand new, neo-classical architecture that wouldn't look out of place in Athens or Rome, historic Ottoman-era mosques and Albanian-influenced bazaars, a Parisian style 'Arc De Triomph’, red London-style double decker buses that ply the streets, a huge 66 meter-high cross on top of a hill that is Macedonia's version of Rio's Christ the Redeemer, and even a London Eye-esque Skopje Eye in the pipeline.

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AuthorNicolas Segura
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The following is a reposted version of an article from Paste Magazine written by Nevena Bosic.


The chase to discover the next new thing is a constant in the travel industry. For many travel experts, the Balkan Peninsula—in Southeastern Europe—is that thing: largely untouched, incomparably beautiful, and still clinging to old-world customs.

Balkanvibe is the premier travel platform for the Western Balkans, offering the widest range of tours for the region as well as a seamless booking and credit-card payment system. In a partnership with Paste Travel, Balkanvibe will bring readers a biweekly, insider look at the ways in which this magical corner of Europe retains its authenticity and undiscovered charm.

The Western Balkan region is an amalgam of cultures, languages, ethnicities and biodiversity. Despite these differences, there is one characteristic all Balkan countries share: No matter what you say, Grandma will remain convinced that you haven’t eaten enough.

Though architecture and museums might provide a glimpse into a new culture, nothing is quite as revealing as food. In the last 150 years, Bosnia and Herzegovina has been part of six different empires, kingdoms and republics. As can be expected, the impact of these influences is reflected in the country’s culinary customs.

Everybody knows that when visiting Sarajevo, you absolutely must not leave without a taste of the legendary cevapcici, grilled sausages served with pita. However, though Sarajevo is the Grill Capital of the Balkans, meat is not the only food for which the city is known.

Bujrum in Bosnian loosely translates to “you’re welcome to join me,” especially in the context of eating. So, bujrum as we dive into, and uncover, Sarajevo’s gastro world.

Top Image: Maggie Cormack
Lead ImageAida Ibisevic


Nevena Bosnic is the co-founder and business development manager at Balkanvibe. She is also a first-generation American—now living in Sarajevo—passionate about exploring, maintaining and investing in her Balkan roots.

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AuthorNicolas Segura
CategoriesArticle

The following is a reposted version of an article from agroweb.org  


From left, Stephen Little, Economic Growth Office, USAID Europe & Eurasia, Tim ter Stege of GreenYard, Dennis Wesner, USAID Albania General Development Officer, Ardian Çitozi of LEA 2011. Photo: AgroWeb

From left, Stephen Little, Economic Growth Office, USAID Europe & Eurasia, Tim ter Stege of GreenYard, Dennis Wesner, USAID Albania General Development Officer, Ardian Çitozi of LEA 2011. Photo: AgroWeb

The success of each business is based on a special law. It is called the law of supply and demand. It can make you a billionaire or leave you empty handed. The whole business world goes around this axis. Sometimes, Albanian merchants face higher offer and low demand, or a surplus in production and a small market. Merchants are forced to lower prices and as such their margins move closer to zero.

If Albanian farmers sell their produce solely to domestic market, they would be able to meet the demand of merely 1.5 million consumers. That is all. If they were to export to Balkan countries, they would supply a market of 40-50 million consumers.

Imagine a market much bigger than Balkans that gathers nearly half a billion consumers. Imagine a bigger market, greater demand, higher production rate, guaranteed sales, job openings and huge profits. We are not talking about a distant future. The future has already started now.

Golden export opportunities to EU through European giants.

These are the golden days for Albanian and Balkan farmers. The EU giants that supply large supermarkets in the union are here. Representatives of GreenYard based in Belgium are eyeing agricultural products from Albania, Macedonia, Serbia and the entire region to export to Europe and provide a direct supply to international famous supermarkets such as ALDI, BILLA, etc.

They have a strong condition: quality products! They have arranged meetings in Durres and Divjaka with representatives of Lea 2011, AgroDivjaka, ELKOS and AgroCon Albania. Those farms are certified in line with standards of quality through the regional USAID’s B-Redi regional project for Global GAP, HACCP and ISO 22000 certifications, project implemented from CBS organization in Albania.

The project has marked significant progress in the certification of Albanian and regional products and as a result, USAID’s highest representatives for Europe and Eurasia will be part of these important meetings.

The first meeting was held at the village of Shën Vlash in the district of Durrës. Tim terStege and Mihai Rades Sales Managers of GreenYard, Stephen Little, Economic Growth Office, Europe and Eurasia, USAID and Dennis Wesner, USAID/Albania General Development Officer together with representatives of CBS organization visited the premises of ‘Lea 2011’ company headed by Ardian Çitozi.

He is a businessman with a clear vision. Çitozi exports chestnuts and watermelon, mostly to the Czech Republic and Italy. The HACCP certification awarded through the B-Redi project means that chestnuts exported by Lea 2011 have received the seal of quality.

The upcoming Global GAP certification for watermelons will boost export opportunities to other EU countries.

“You can not enter big markets without the Global GAP certification. Supermarkets in Germany, Austria, Slovenia and Italy demand such certified products,” GreenYard representatives told Ardian.

The chestnuts processing unit is the next stop. Ardian exports roughly 2,000 tons of chestnuts to Italy. The produce is collected mostly in Tropoja and Kukes. After they are delivered to Italy, the chestnuts are processed by steaming and packed.

Albania suffers from lack of processing structures, therefore Ardian sells his Albanian chestnuts to an Italian brand and has been able to sell them in the local market as well. Nevertheless, Ardian’s success does not rely merely on chestnuts.

Just few kilometers away, he takes pride on the watermelon farm, the biggest in Albania. Ardian Çitozi’s 25 hectares farm is the biggest one in Albania. He grows watermelons of Krispie variety (4-5 kg) which delivers 300-400 tons of produce, Bostana variety which delivers 150 tons of produce and Zucchero variety (4-7 kg) which generates 100 tons of produce.

The farm provides 50-80 tons of produce/hectares. This is a satisfactory output. May 20th will mark the beginning of harvesting the very first watermelon that has been planted mid-February. The crops that have been planted later on will be harvested until August. Ardian aims to boost his production but above all he is interested to diversify his produce. Growing chick peas is his next experiment.

“I have planted 3 hectares of chick peas. I plan to plant another 500 hectares due to high export demand,” Ardian told AgroWeb.org. “Albanian farmers do not know the European market,” he says.

“We should know more about what they are looking for, competitors and exact demands,” he adds. GreenYard representatives are experts when it comes to knowing what the market wants and needs.

Market Drive as a magic key

Do you have small watermelons weighting 2-3 kg? Do you have small cucumbers? What about broccoli and cauliflower? Do you grow avocados?

These are some of the questions asked by GreenYard representatives. Albanian farmers raise their shoulders and keep notes. These are the products that are mostly sought after in Europe. These markets demand quality products in line with standards that can be consumed by households.

This is the reason why USAID’s B-Redi project goes beyond certification. The objective is deliver market orientation, or a guideline on what to grow so that their offer meets the demand of EU countries.

The current interest is mostly about produce such as watermelon (small and seedless), cauliflower, broccoli, peppers, small cucumbers, seedless grapes, cherries, figs and melon.

The project helps farmers to understand the importance of selecting and packaging keeping in mind the preset weight of the product.

The latest freeze in Europe’s main suppliers, Italy and Spain caused shortcomings in the supply of agricultural produce. This is an extraordinary opportunity for Albanian and regional exports.

The Balkan great potential. 

Safety and Economy – these are the two most important matters involving the present and the future in Balkans.

The region seems free of conflicts of the past, but economy is still a challenge. Investors and exporters would rather prefer a big joint market, rather than addressing each market one by one.

This is a key mission for representatives of GreenYard. They plan to bi direct supplier of products from Albania, Macedonia and Serbia to large supermarkets, by guaranteeing a safe market that delivers competitive prices. Furthermore, GreenYard aims to provide a shortcut enabling the farmer and consumer to meet halfway.

The increase of quality is beneficial to Albanian consumers. They will reach the market that offers similar quality products such as Germany, Austria and Italy. This is the time for Albania and Balkans to no longer export conflict but original and quality products so they can march towards a solid economic growth./AgroWeb.org

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Following the trade mission coordinated in October 2016 through UNIVEG’s distribution centers in Poland, Czech Republic and Austria, REG continued to work with UNIVEG GROUP (now re-branded to GREENYARDFOODS) https://greenyard.group/en and participating companies that are competent to fulfill their requirements and committed to long term partnership.  In order to secure that companies are ready to supply products to GREENYARD, from 7-10 May 2017, REG is coordinating an inbound visits for purchasing managers responsible for GREENYARD‘s centers Bekker in NL& CZ and GREENYARD AUS to visit companies in AL and MK to help with necessary adjustments in the preparations of products and shipments per required specifications. 

On Monday, they visited and had B2Bs with four leading Albanian companies, producers of spring cabbage, tomatoes, cucumbers, watermelons, had a chance to observe the early season operations, discuss quality requirements and estimate yield throughout the forthcoming season. Later in the day they traveled to Macedonia and today continued inbound visits to five MK companies. On all meetings GREENYARD buyers provided expected product specification, confirm varieties, packaging and agree expected shipping dynamics. 

Before the season, REG will work with the companies selected by GREENYARD as most prospect suppliers and assist them in adoption of BSCI standard for social compliance.  This will enable the companies to fulfill the requirements, at the moment mandatory for exporting to GREENYARD in the Netherlands and Czech Republic and increase their capacity to become sustainable suppliers to one of the biggest global trading networks for fresh fruits and vegetables.

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AuthorNicolas Segura
CategoriesTrade Misson

The following is a reposted article from PASTE magazine written by By Knox Henderson on May 1, 2017. Knox Henderson is a freelance writer based in New Orleans. He focuses on adventure travel.


Images: Shutterstock/Vaclav Volrab (top) & Boris Stroujko

Images: Shutterstock/Vaclav Volrab (top) & Boris Stroujko

A cycling tour from Dubrovnik, Croatia, to Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, is, on the surface, a chance to get on two wheels and ride approximately 35 miles a day across the Balkan Peninsula in Southeastern Europe. And make no mistake, this excursion—a partnership between Chattanooga, Tennessee-based BikeTours.com and Green Visions, an adventure outfitter located in Sarajevo—is a heck of a trip. But putting one foot in front of the other is just one small part of the journey between two of the region’s most historic and famous cities. Easily as important as counting down the miles are the many powerful moments that make up each day.

Rolling from village to village. Ducking into centuries-old homes. Listening to stories with local hosts while drinking thick, stove-cooked coffee (or something stronger) and eating farm-fresh meals at the end of each day.

This eight-day journey starts on the shores of Croatia’s Adriatic Sea in the walled, living museum that is Dubrovnik. After walking along the ramparts to explore the ancient city, the journey shifts to a bike saddle and heads downcoast toward Montenegro. On day three, the route will turn east and over the Dinaric Alps into Bosnia and Herzegovina with a stop at the Tvrdos monastery and an overnight in the town of Trebenje—famous for its relaxed Mediterranean style and its delicious red wine.

Images: Shutterstock/Vaclav Volrab (top) & Boris Stroujko

Images: Shutterstock/Vaclav Volrab (top) & Boris Stroujko

The road points north to Mostar, home of the one of region’s calling card monuments: the Ottoman-era, and reconstructed, bridge. From here, cyclists tuck through majestic valleys and power over the Prenj, Visocica, and Bjelasnica Massifs to Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina and renowned for its multi-cultural character and its bazaar, which operates much as it did hundreds of years ago.

“Bicycling between Dubrovnik and Sarajevo lets you savor every mile, every hill, every descent,” says Jim Johnson the president of BikeTours.com. “You see rolling farmland, soaring mountains, and distant church spires marking the way to towns and villages few travelers have seen. You smell the sea, the hay, the flowers. You hear the wind through the trees, the bleating sheep that cross the dirt road in front of you, the calls of the children as you pass through their village. And somehow you feel history more richly when you’re on a bike; it’s just the right pace.

“But more than that,” continues Johnson, “it’s the people you meet. You’re not in a protective bubble of glass and steel. You’re exposed and open, which leads to encounters most motor tourists will never experience.”


Expedition Logistics:

Type of tour: Guided
Level: Moderate to Difficult
Duration: 7 nights
Distance: Approximately 35 miles/day
Dates: Jun 3, Jul 22, Aug 26, 2017; Daily, upon request: May 1-Sep 30, 2017 (minimum 4 participants)
Price: €1,625 (guided)
Start city: Dubrovnik, Croatia
End city: Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina

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AuthorNicolas Segura
CategoriesArticle
20170428_101648.jpg

REG started the implementation of B-REDI Competitiveness Acceleration Program Activity for Agriculture and Food Processing in Albania.

The first training, Module 1 was organized today in Tirana in cooperation with the local partner CBS. Participating companies were equipped with tools for structured Marketing planning, how to select markets, analyze potential, establish export objectives and define key competitive advantage for the target markets.

The Program targets primarily SECOND TIER (3-10 years old) and relatively inexperienced AG SMEs in accessing international markets with some participation of well-established companies that have export growth potential. It will offer a long term assistance (6 months) composed of 2 training Modules paralleled with “one-on-one” tailored technical assistance to selected 10 + 10 companies.

The Competitiveness Acceleration Program will result in each company developing its own Strategic Export Marketing Plan, improving internal capacity for analyzing and approaching markets and increase readiness for establishing linkages with regional and international buyers, particularly in EU.

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AuthorNicolas Segura
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The following is a reposted article from PASTE magazine by Francesca Masotti  |  April 27, 2017. Francesca is a journalist and blogger based in Florence, Italy, with a love of travel and an addiction to the Balkan countries.


MAIN IMAGE_tirana_skanderbeg square_francesca masotti.jpg

For travelers looking for in-the-know street cred, the Balkan Peninsula is the place to be. And, Tirana, Albania’s capital, is a great place to start your journey across this corner of Southeastern Europe. Easily explored on foot, the city is a dynamic tangle of streets crowded with art galleries, museums, cafes, restaurants, chic locals.

1. Sheshi Skenderbej

Skanderbeg Square is Tirana’s main orientation point. It and the namesake statue are dedicated to the national hero Gjergj Kastrioti, a military commander who led a rebellion against the Ottoman Empire. Take a moment to gaze at the Mosque Et’hem Bey (across from the statue), City Hall, and Kulla e Sahatit, the clock tower. Climb it for impressive views over the big square.

tirana_mosaic of the national historical museum_francesca masotti.jpg

2. Muzei Historik Kombetar

Take a tour in the Muzei Historik Kombëtar or National Historical Museum, the largest museum in the country, with a terrific mosaic adorning the facade entitled Albania that shows Albanians victorious from Illyrian times to WWII. The excellent collection (almost entirely signed in English) takes you chronologically from the ancient times to post-communist era. It holds many of the country’s archaeological treasures, a replica of Skanderbeg’s massive sword and an interesting exhibition of icons by Onufri, the greatest Albanian artist of 16th century.

3. Bunk’Art

This Contemporary Art Museum is located in a underground bunker built on the outskirts of Tirana. The structure was once meant to accommodate the former Communist dictator Enver Hoxha and the elite class in case of war. Today, Bunk’Art, hosts exhibitions that combine the modern history of Albania with pieces of contemporary art. The Bunk’Art 2 is another recently opened museum dedicated to the victims of Communism. It is located in a bunker, built in the centre of Tirana between 1981 and 1986, used to shelter interior ministry staff in the event of a nuclear attack.

tirana_tanners' bridge_francesca masotti.jpg

4. National Art Gallery

The Galeria Kombetare e Arteve, or National Art Gallery, traces the history of Albanian painting from the early 19th century to the present day, this space hosts temporary exhibitions. After the visit, take some time to admire the Cloud Pavilion out the gallery designed by Japanese architect Sou Fujimoto. Behind the museum you’ll find the 6m-high walls of the Fortress of Justinian, the last remnants of a Byzantine-era castle, and the 19th century Ura e Tabakeve, Tanner’s Bridge, a well preserved Ottoman stone bridge.

5. Blloku

Take a break from art in Blloku—the Block—which is the most famous neighborhood in Tirana. During the Communist era, the district was reserved for the political elite. Today it is a vibrant neighborhood with trendy bars, cafés, restaurant and nightclubs. One must-stop spot is the Colonial Café. Stop here for a menu full of innovative cocktails and nice place where to drink good and cocktails. Just on the border of Blloku, Komiteti, is a must if you are in Tirana. This café-museum is the perfect place to taste one of 25 varieties of craft raki, the local fruit-based liquor.

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AuthorNicolas Segura
CategoriesArticle

The following is a reposting of an article from The Guardian (link) written by Liz Dodd.


The Ciro trail, from Dubrovnik to Mostar in southern Bosnia, is encouraging tourists back to the empty green landscape that was largely abandoned during the 1990s wars in the former Yugoslavia

Balkan bliss … cycling the Ciro Trail in the Neretva valley. Photograph: Goran Prskalo

Balkan bliss … cycling the Ciro Trail in the Neretva valley.
Photograph: Goran Prskalo

It had become routine, after a hard day’s cycling, to check our Bosnian wild camping spot for landmines. So I carefully tapped the area with a six-foot branch, as I’d been taught on a security course, to make sure the stubby grass was safe. Then I gave the all-clear to my companion, who bounded over – and straight into the path of an enormous black snake.

But we were used to surprises on the Ciro trail. The new 100-mile paved track, between Dubrovnik on the Croatian coast and the old town of Mostar in southern Bosnia and Herzegovina, follows the route of the old Austro-Hungarian railway line. Closed in the 1970s after the abolition of the narrow-gauge railway, its proud station buildings stood empty until they – and the towns they linked – were obliterated by war in the 1990s.

Fighting – first between the Bosnian Croats and the Serb-run Yugoslav army in 1992, then between Bosnian Croats and Bosnian Muslims in 1993-4 – laid waste to the area the Ciro trail passes through. The track, which opened last December, is part of an EU-funded, cross-border drive to encourage tourists back to the region. It faces an uphill struggle, as there are still some 120,000 unexploded landmines in Bosnia. I was just being hyper-cautious: the minefields, which run alongside the trail for 12 miles between Ivanica, on the border near Dubrovnik and Ravno to the north, are marked and the trail itself, a mix of tarmac and gravel, is clear.

The trail follows the route of the old Austro-Hungarian railway line, which closed in the 1970s.

The trail follows the route of the old Austro-Hungarian railway line, which closed in the 1970s.

The Ciro website describes the trail as an “open-air museum”, because from the Croatian border it runs north through long-abandoned towns before ascending into the Dinaric Alps and the Vjetrenica caves.

We flew, taking our own bicycles – a tourer and a hybrid – to Dubrovnik airport, which is a lovely 10-mile coastal ride from the start of the trail, though it’s easy to hire bikes in Dubrovnik: try adventuredubrovnik.com.

Crossing an old railway bridge. Photograph: Goran Prskalo

Crossing an old railway bridge. Photograph: Goran Prskalo

The first hotel of the route, Stanica Ravno (doubles from £45 B&B) is a converted railway station about a third of the way along the trail. As well as great local food – such as wild asparagus foraged in the woods – it offers a chance to appreciate how splendid the old stations are.

The stretch between Dubrovnik and Ravno is remote – the towns almost all abandoned – so it’s essential to bring food and water. After Ravno, the trail drops through Hutovo into the Neretva valley, which is much more populated, and with plenty of shops. For those who don’t want to camp, there are hotels in Čapljina, 75 miles in.

Up, up and away ... cyclists on another part of the Ciro trail.

Up, up and away ... cyclists on another part of the Ciro trail.

At Hutovo there’s a chance to go off piste in Hutovo Blato nature park (a 13-mile gravel path over viaducts and through old railway tunnels).

The Ciro’s signposting, which had been flawless for more than 100 miles, petered out somewhat on the way into Mostar. But we were almost there by then, and explored its cobbled old town and famous bridge before setting off to ride back to Dubrovnik.

Those who don’t want to retrace their ride can take a train or bus to Sarajevo and fly on from there.
• ciro.herzegovinabike.ba

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AuthorNicolas Segura
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The following is an article posted by National Geographic on April 5th, 2017 and written by Lois Parshley.


Journey Across 7 Countries on the World's Newest Long-Distance Trail

Hiking this 1,200-mile-long trail along the Dinaric Alps is worth the trek.

Captivating sunsets are only one of the natural treats hikers experience along the Via Dinarica.  PHOTOGRAPH BY SEAN MCDERMOTT, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

Captivating sunsets are only one of the natural treats hikers experience along the Via Dinarica. 
PHOTOGRAPH BY SEAN MCDERMOTT, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

By Lois Parshley
PUBLISHED APRIL 5, 2017

The mountains have vanished in swirling mist. Deep in the highlands of Bosnia and Herzegovina, peaks roll under a wet blanket of fog. Each step is a good faith effort to believe the summit is in blind reach. My hiking companion has a dying cell phone in one hand, eyes glued to a faltering map app. In the other is a Garmin with an inadequately detailed GPX track. In front of us the hillside drops off into pearly space.

THE WORLD’S NEWEST LONG-DISTANCE TRAIL
The Via Dinarica, one of the world’s newest long-distance hiking trails, spans seven countries, 1,200 miles, and thousands of years of history. This area of the Balkans—mostly in the region formerly known as Yugoslavia—has long been the border between the east and west. Its complex history fueled a war in the 1990s as Yugoslavia disintegrated and these mountains became places of strategic advantage.

This new trail aims to move beyond that. Mountaineer Kenan Muftić has spent the last four years scouting out routes in the region’s mountains. He and the Via Dinarica team have been hard at work developing the White Trail, which follows the highest peaks of the Dinaric Alps. Muftić’s goal is to create three distance trails spanning former Yugoslavia. The White Trail—comprised of old shepherd routes, existing trails through national parks, logging tracks, new paths, and paved roads—officially opened in June 2016, the same week we started walking. (Based on reports from hikers, the team announced in August that “although plenty of information for those daring the trail are available,” the route would only be considered officially open only in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where work has been done to cut new paths.)

Picture of a hiker on the Via Dinarica trail in Slovenia A hiker looks out to the Adriatic Sea from the summit of Slovenia's Snežnik mountain.  PHOTOGRAPH BY LOIS PARSHLEY, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

Picture of a hiker on the Via Dinarica trail in Slovenia
A hiker looks out to the Adriatic Sea from the summit of Slovenia's Snežnik mountain. 
PHOTOGRAPH BY LOIS PARSHLEY, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

Muftić’s fieldwork is supported by the diplomatic efforts of American Tim Clancy, a Via Dinarica team member who came to Bosnia and Herzegovina with an aid group during the war in the 1990s and never left. By physically connecting people across this divided region, Clancy hopes to help conserve some of the last wild places in Europe. “We have a chance to preserve what much of Europe lost long ago,” Clancy says.

THE ODYSSEY BEGINS
The first stage of the Via Dinarica begins in Postonja, Slovenia, where a gleaming white castle looms over a moss-streaked cave. The trail leads from the castle under train tracks, over a highway, and up a hill, where pavement gives way to gravel and thick pine forests close in. As the day heats up, what it means to hike across the world’s largest karst field finally sinks in: This spectacular limestone formation drains like a sieve—there is almost no surface water.

The first marked water source, a small hut with a plastic rainwater cistern, is off the trail on a small mountain. Throughout the Dinaric Alps entire towns live on collected rain. It tastes stiff with plastic and a smoky barbecued flavor.

We’re wondering where to pitch our first camp when a passing Jeep directs us to Jože Meze, who is puttering in his garden about a mile down the road. Meze worked here as a cook at a partisan camp during World War II, where he later built his summer house. Dimpled with a stub nose and pink cheeks, Meze says we can have water—but first, rakija. The homemade brandy is ubiquitous in the region. He bobs back with a liquor bottle, brimming shot glasses, and beer. The next day, the same Jeep driver again leaves us half a bottle of rakija for liquid encouragement at the top of the next hill.

The Predjamski Grad castle sits tucked into the mouth of a cave near the start of the Via Dinarica in Postonja, Slovenia.  PHOTOGRAPH BY SEAN MCDERMOTT, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC  

The Predjamski Grad castle sits tucked into the mouth of a cave near the start of the Via Dinarica in Postonja, Slovenia. 
PHOTOGRAPH BY SEAN MCDERMOTT, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC
 

A daily pattern emerges: our constant preoccupation with water, frequent confusion, and the incredible kindness of strangers. While many long-distance trails have become a kind of trophy, an experience to be collected rather than savored, the Via Dinarica isn’t about speed records. The trail stretches across rugged and isolated landscapes that give any other backcountry a run for its money, but it also crosses farmers’ fields and threads through villages. While logistics and terrain can be challenging, the deviations and obstacles often bring gifts like the golden comfort of honey brandy or a warm fire in a tiny cabin. The beauty of this project is in the in-between places.

HUNKER DOWN AND WAIT
In the southern reaches of the Velebit mountains of Croatia, the wind begins to blow. The tops of the beech trees rustle, then groan. Scorching heat made the day’s hiking a thirsty affair, but now sweat is quickly turning cold. Nestled into the bowl of a little valley perched over the Adriatic coast, we stumble on an emergency shelter that hums with the energy of the coming storm. Though not yet full-fledged, the wind is strong enough that it’s necessary to grasp at rocks to stand upright, and using the bathroom becomes difficult when going in any direction means pissing into the wind.

This breeze has a name: the bura (or bora). Its name may stem from the Greek mythological figure Boreas, the north wind. It’s a katabatic wind that can start suddenly, whipping the Adriatic with devastating effect. Although bura occurs along many areas of the Mediterranean coast, the gales can reach speeds of up to 156 miles per hour around Velebit, where mountains sharply divide pressure systems. It’s one of the reasons emergency shelters are scattered throughout the mountains—once bura begins there’s not much to do but hunker down and wait.

Schlosser Dom gleams in evening light after a thunderstorm. The hut is maintained by the Croatian government and offers refuge to hikers in Risnjak National Park.  PHOTOGRAPH BY LOIS PARSHLEY, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

Schlosser Dom gleams in evening light after a thunderstorm. The hut is maintained by the Croatian government and offers refuge to hikers in Risnjak National Park. 
PHOTOGRAPH BY LOIS PARSHLEY, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

The next day dawns calm and ruthlessly hot. A full day’s ration of water weighs nearly nine pounds—hopefully enough to get to the next rainwater cistern. Built in the 1930s, the 35-mile Premužić Trail in northern Velebit is a meandering masterpiece of trail work, winding past jutting limestone teeth and skirting thick pine and beech forest. But past the Premužić Trail and down the littoral slope of Velebit, the next section of the Via Dinarica runs through Paklenica National Park, a popular stop for rock climbers. In the mountains the political complications of the region take physical form. Though the violence is long over, the consequences remain.

In the nearby highlands of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), for example, the trail runs through Lukomir, the highest village in the country and one of the only Muslim villages in the area to survive Serbian attacks during the 1990s. Just a few kilometers away, the Serbian village of Blace was burned to the ground by Bosnian soldiers. Muftić is quick to point out there were crimes on all sides of the conflict—a reason why resentments linger.

Today, meadows have begun to reclaim Blace’s crumbling ruins, and flowers sprout over the tumbled concrete. On a Sunday morning, a one-room church bell tolls over the empty ruins, and a slow trickle of vehicles bounce over the open grassland as people arrive to attend service. The simple grace of the ritual is at odds with the visible remains of destruction.

A hiker soaks in the view from an overlook above Rakitnica Canyon in the central mountains of Bosnia and Herzegovina.  PHOTOGRAPH BY LOIS PARSHLEY, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

A hiker soaks in the view from an overlook above Rakitnica Canyon in the central mountains of Bosnia and Herzegovina. 
PHOTOGRAPH BY LOIS PARSHLEY, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

Over the pass, Lukomir is not only still occupied but a tourist destination. The danger Lukomir now faces is one threatening rural populations all over the world: young people are leaving in search of work, leaving an aging population.

CONSERVATION AND CLIMATE CHANGE
Dušan Simović bursts into the room draped in the skin of a bear that he’s shot. Its splayed paws are the size of dinner plates, with claws the length of fingers. A tall, wiry man, Simović lives in the Treskavica mountains in southern BiH, and when we materialize off the trail above his barn, he invites us inside his smoky kitchen and dishes up deer steak, foraged mushrooms, and fresh milk from his cows. He laughs at our “lucky” hand-carved bear necklaces—a gift from an old woman in Slovenia. “For a real bear charm you need a real bear,” Simović says, cutting off one of the claws as a gift.

Despite longstanding fears over the decline of Europe’s large carnivores, a recent study in Science found that the brown bear population has actually stabilized. There are now around 17,000 in Europe, and reintroduction programs are working to reestablish bears in areas where they’d previously been wiped out. We encountered one such project, the PirosLIFE Catalunya Programme in southern Slovenia.

For years the Pyrenees have been dominated by Pyros, an alpha male bear who was live-trapped near Mašun, Slovenia, in 1997 and brought to the Spanish-French border. Today, about 75 percent of bears in the area are his offspring, and his reproductive prowess has earned modest fame. Scientists now fear that inbreeding will increase the risk of disease, so in 2016 a team returned to Mašun for Goiat, a second male bear that will hopefully introduce more genetic diversity.

Although the success of the Pyrenees program may be in no small part thanks to Pyros, large mammals also depend on the health of their ecosystems to survive. Because of historically isolationist policies, the Dinaric Alps are not as well studied as their neighbors, but they contain some of the last undisrupted forests in Europe.

We spend several days sloshing through these forests toward Sutjeska, the oldest and largest national park in BiH. At a summit near Prijevor we met Miroslav Svoboda, a professor of forestry and wood sciences at the Czech University of Life Sciences, who invites us into a small mountain hut for rakija. He is part of an international group that is investigating the health of some of the last old-growth stands in Europe.

Two hikers pause along the trail near the Velebit mountains.  PHOTOGRAPH BY LOIS PARSHLEY, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

Two hikers pause along the trail near the Velebit mountains. 
PHOTOGRAPH BY LOIS PARSHLEY, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

Socks steam dry above the wood stove as Svoboda explains that we don’t know much about how humans affect the forest dynamics. As part of a team doing long-term monitoring of ecosystems in Velebit, Croatia, one of the few places in the Mediterranean where Norway spruce survives, Svoboda’s trying to fill in that gap. He hopes that by learning more about the health of these ecosystems scientists will learn how they are being altered by climate change.

THE END OF THE ROAD
The final descent of the Via Dinarica spills into Valbona Pass, where trees and greenery seem to lose their enthusiasm partway up bare stone pinnacles. Crags hide small patches of last winter’s snow. While there’ve been few hikers on the Via Dinarica, the handful of people on this more popular summit speak half a dozen different languages—a sign that the universal language of hiking is returning to the region.

The Via Dinarica is a remarkable feat considering its political and geographical challenges, though, like any new trail, information about resources and routes are still being compiled. As some of the first through-hikers, we had the privilege of being alone in a stunning landscape—and all the hurdles that entailed.

Looking out over Valbona Pass, I finally begin to understand why, as Muftić says, those along the route have something in common. “We may have huge challenges from the past, but we must be together.”

Lois Parshley is a journalist, photographer, and National Geographic Young Explorer. For more from Via Dinarica and other adventures, follow her on @loisparshley on Twitter and Instagram.

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AuthorNicolas Segura
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Discussion on safety and risk management led by Jean Calude Razel.jpg

The Phase II of the AdventureEDU Business Training was launched in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina on March 28, 2017.

The AdventureEDU Business Training is the specialized program developed by ATTA (Adventure Travel Trade Association, www.advetnuretravel.biz) providing key skills training for adventure travel operators and service providers.  The program is delivered in two stages, overall addressing six key areas of: Adventure Travel and Trends, Business Management, Operational Excellence, Safety and Risk Management, Product Development, and Marketing Trends and Tactics.  The Phase II currently underway in Sarajevo, is a 2.5 day training that follows the Phase I delivered in Belgrade, Serbia in December 2016, and focuses on the latter three topics.

The training is delivered by experienced practitioners who are leaders and in the adventure travel worldwide.  The Sarajevo session is attended by a group of 58 participants from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia.   

National geographic highlights Montenegro as one of "the best spring trips of 2017". The following is an excerpt of an article posted by National Geographic by Maryellen Kennedy Duckett. http://www.nationalgeographic.com/travel/best-trips/best-spring-trips-2017/


Eastern Europe by Balkan Flexipass

The scenery on this trip is just as stunning as Switzerland's for half the price.

Left: The sun shines off the water near Our Lady of the Rocks church off the coast of Perast in the Bay of Kotor, Montenegro. Right: Children swim off the coast of the village of Rose, Montenegro. PHOTOGRAPH BY ERIC MARTIN, FIGAROPHOTO/REDUX

Left: The sun shines off the water near Our Lady of the Rocks church off the coast of Perast in the Bay of Kotor, Montenegro. Right: Children swim off the coast of the village of Rose, Montenegro. PHOTOGRAPH BY ERIC MARTIN, FIGAROPHOTO/REDUX

For first-class vistas on a bare-bones budget, ride mainly by rail (partly by bus) from Serbia to the Adriatic coast. The original train route—completed in 1976 and undergoing its first major upgrade—dramatically winds through mountains and briefly passes through Bosnia and Herzegovina on its way from Belgrade, Serbia, to Bar, Montenegro. Due to construction, the first leg of the 10-hour (one-way) trip currently is by bus. To add more train travel, buy a Rail Europe Balkan Flexipass (starting at $108) for three, five, seven, 10, or 15 days of unlimited rides on national rail networks in Bulgaria, Greece, Montenegro, Macedonia, Romania, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Turkey.

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The following is a reposted version of an article from Adventure Travel News. http://www.adventuretravelnews.com/cuba-portugal-and-albania-added-to-top-adventure-travel-destinations


(SEATTLE) March 14, 2017 – The Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA; www.adventuretravel.biz) is releasing findings this week from its 2017 Industry Snapshot, a comprehensive look at the adventure travel industry through the eyes of adventure travel tour operators. The ATTA has been involved in original and collaborative research for more than a decade as part of its mission of educating and professionalizing the adventure travel industry. Since 2006, the ATTA has invited companies to share anonymous information about their businesses from the previous year.

The 2017 Industry Snapshot focuses on trends including information about destinations, activities, and industry business practices. Mid-year, a second Snapshot will be released with an emphasis on the financial perspective on the industry. The Snapshot is offered for free to ATTA members and can be purchased and downloaded by anyone in the travel community.

Example key findings in this year’s report include:

Tours, Activities, and Destinations:

  • The most in-demand adventure activities mentioned were ecotourism, cultural, environmentally sustainable, hiking, and culinary. Also popular for specific regions were cycling and safari activities.
  • Adventure tour operators say destinations receiving interest from adventure travelers are Scandinavia, South America, Southern Africa, and the Mediterranean.
  • Trip types receiving more interest from clients included “shorter duration” and “long haul/overseas” trips, along with “custom itineraries” and “family/multi-generational” trips.

Favored Destinations from the Top Adventure Traveler Source Markets:

North America and Europe continue to lead as the primary source markets for adventure travelers. For North Americans, the United States, Peru, Ecuador, and Canada have been in the top five the past two years. In 2017, however, Cuba made the top five, displacing Italy, a top five destination since 2014.

For Europeans, Italy, Spain, and France receive the most bookings year after year. A surprise for 2017, however, is the appearance a new country among the top five destinations for Europeans: Albania. The spark of interest in Albania is noteworthy, as a spotlight has been on the region since 2014 with AdventureWeek Western Balkans, Balkans-focused AdventureEDU trainings, and the recent AdventureNEXT Balkans industry event.

Destination Benefit:

Tour operators estimate 67 percent of the per guest trip cost remains in the local region, and this is up two percent from 2016. However, they also estimate customers traveling with adventure travel companies spend approximately $142 USD per trip on local handicrafts or souvenirs. This is down three dollars from 2016.

Customer Profile:

  • Couples are the most prevalent group type, making up 37 percent of clients. Eighteen percent of clients are solo travelers, and 19 percent are families. Groups make up 26 percent of guests. Families were up three percent over last year and solo travelers were up one percent.

  • Clients are slightly more likely to be women – 51 percent of clients – than men. This has gone down 2 percent since 2016, when tour operators reported 53 percent women clients.

  • In terms of adventure traveler demographics, the largest group of adventure travel tour operator clients (40 percent) are between the ages of 50-70. The average age of the adventure traveler reported is 47 years old.

  • The report also reveals details about increased trip prices and average trip price per region as well as feedback on online booking trends and tour operators’ average audiences per marketing channel.

The ATTA Industry Snapshot offers those working in adventure travel with a useful benchmarking tool, and those outside the industry with perspective on the health, outlook, and characteristics of this dynamic industry.

About Adventure Travel Trade Association
Established in 1990, the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA) serves over 1,000 members in 100 countries worldwide. Members predominantly include tour operators, tourism boards, specialty agents and accommodations with a vested interest in the sustainable development of adventure tourism. The ATTA delivers solutions and connections that propel members towards their business goals and the industry toward a responsible and profitable future. Through its regional AdventureConnect and AdventureNEXT events and annual Adventure Travel World Summit and AdventureELEVATE trade conference, the ATTA excels in professional learning, networking and partnering services. With expertise in research, education, adventure travel industry news and promotion, members of the ATTA receive competitive opportunities that help establish them as leaders in adventure tourism.

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The following is a reposted version of an article from Paste Magazine by Alex Crevar.

https://www.pastemagazine.com/articles/2017/03/the-western-balkans-via-dinarica-mega-hiking-trail.html


The Western Balkans' Via Dinarica Mega-Hiking Trail

A trekking route acts as cultural corridor across Old World Europe

By Alex Crevar  |  March 15, 2017  |  10:05am

Photography courtesy of Aleksandar Donev/Mustseedonia.com

Note: This piece is the Essential travel article in Paste Quarterly #1, which you can purchase here, along with its accompanying vinyl Paste sampler.

From the ledge atop the day’s final pass, a grassy, amphitheater-shaped clearing, encircled by mountains, appeared beneath us. The Albanian Alps rippled behind, marking our path from the last several days along the 1,200-mile Via Dinarica mega-hiking trail, which traverses all eight countries in the western half of the Balkan Peninsula. To the north, peaks towered above and lined the border with Montenegro. Directly ahead and to the east, a jagged collection of summits faded into Kosovo. On the valley floor below—the size of several city blocks—multiple flocks of sheep occupied quadrants of the expanse and moved with a balletic unison perfected over centuries in this corner of Southeastern Europe. They drifted like fluffy schools of fish or lethargic marching bands. Instead of music, however, the sound echoing up to our ridge was a cacophony of bleating and the clanging of atonal bells. Hyperactive herding dogs ran circles around the animals and nipped at band members breaking formation.

In the distance, and on the apron of the plateau, we could make out the nomadic shepherd village of Doberdol, our destination for the evening. The cluster of impromptu lean-tos, temporary shelters, and thatched-roof huts built of stacked flagstone was abuzz with families bringing in horses and filling jugs with stream water. Smoke curled from chimney pipes as villagers began feeding wood into iron stoves in preparation for dinner.

Over the past couple of months on the Via Dinarica, our Balkans-based crew of hikers—the number waxed and waned as we crossed borders and welcomed new friends or said goodbye to others—had grown accustomed to stumbling upon such Edenic locales. This trail, which traverses and connects Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Albania, Kosovo, Serbia, and Macedonia, had, in fact, been created, from 2010 to 2015, for just this kind of discovery. The route provides an authentic avenue to some of Europe’s last remaining Old World settlements and a corridor to an embarrassment of cultural riches. The path summits the region’s highest peaks, dips into valleys, passes lakes and rivers, and strolls along the cobbled streets of remote villages. It can be walked for three months, three days, or three hours, depending on the stretch of land an adventurer has time to cover. As importantly, the trail unfurls like a variegated quilt, the squares stitched together across epochs and empires with the heritages, gastronomies, music and traditions of the South Slavs, Albanians, Greeks, Illyrians, Romans, Byzantines, Ottomans, Venetians and Austro-Hungarians all on display.

Our expedition team descended into the pasture. It was impossible not to feel overwhelmed by the majesty of the landscape—even for mountaineers who make a living hiking throughout the Via Dinarica region. Just as powerful though, was the palpable sense that we were part of a Balkans-wide, philosophical sea change in adventure tourism.

“Just look at this spot—it’s incredible,” said Thierry Joubert, the director of Green Visions, an adventure tourism company based in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. Green Visions is part of a group of operators across the Western Balkans, the Via Dinarica Alliance, which leads trips along the entire trail. “We are getting a chance to travel back in time to a perfectly preserved shepherd community,” he continued and pointed with one of his hiking sticks as we walked down the steep path framed by craggy limestone outcroppings and under the weight of packs loaded for the long-distance trek. “And to think that because of past politics, we wouldn’t have even been allowed in Albania 25 years ago. What this shows is that with the right concept—like a cross-border trek in the mountains—even countries with complicated histories can build peaceful relationships. Beauty and nature are more important than petty differences.”

As we crossed the pasture, the shepherds called in their dogs for our safety. The dogs panted and begged for attention around their owners’ legs, and each man smiled in turn and waved us on to the settlement. When we reached the edge of the structures, a stocky Albanian bounded over and shook our hands with weathered self-confidence. He informed us in broken English that they weren’t expecting us. “But you relax,” he said. “We will make all okay.”

He turned to leave, calling out directions to villagers in every direction. His brother came over with a recycled plastic bottle filled with rakija, homemade schnapps made of herbs. Another man ambled over and offered cigarettes and thick, hot Turkish coffee. Another was sent into the field to retrieve a sheep for our dinner. Behind us a woman got to work consolidating two families into one shanty so we would have a hut to sleep in and spread out gear to dry. She shooed chickens out of the dirt-floor dwelling, lit the stove, and motioned us over.

When the sun disappeared behind the peaks, we sat on wooden benches around a table crowded with our dinner: grilled meat, young cheese, beans, and more rakija. We wiped our plates clean with dense, farm-made squares of bread. Maps were soon spread out across the rough-sawn surface.

We rolled cigarettes, sipped schnapps, and inspected the route. Shepherds and hikers alike hypothesized about the weather over the coming days and the time it would take to reach the next villages across the border in Kosovo. “The places you are going are good. Good for trekking,” our host said and then stood. “But here is better. This is life.”

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"Via Dinarica, the Western Balkans’ Path to Tourism Development" article was published in the USAID FrontLines (March/April 2017) - https://www.usaid.gov/news-information/frontlines/march-april-2017/dinarica-western-balkans-path-tourism


frontlines-masthead.png

Via Dinarica, the Western Balkans’ Path to Tourism Development

By Erin McGown

Alex Crevar stands in front of Trnovačko Lake in Montenegro near the Bosnia and Herzegovina border. - Thierry Joubert

Alex Crevar stands in front of Trnovačko Lake in Montenegro near the Bosnia and Herzegovina border. - Thierry Joubert

The Via Dinarica hiking trail was recently named one of National Geographic Traveler’s Best Trips of 2017. It was a journey to reach that important recognition.

In 2008, a group of passionate outdoorsmen and women began the journey to turn a big dream into reality. They wanted to develop a 1,200-mile hiking trail that would wind its way through the Dinaric Alps and Šar Mountains in the Western Balkans. The idea, which had gained traction with several groups of mountaineers in the Balkans, led to the creation of Via Dinarica, a trekking route that connects Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Albania, Serbia, Kosovo and Macedonia.

Kenan Muftic walks along the Via Dinarica on Prenj Mountain, Bosnia and Herzegovina - Elma Okic

Kenan Muftic walks along the Via Dinarica on Prenj Mountain, Bosnia and Herzegovina - Elma Okic

Today that trail is one of the region’s biggest tourist successes.

The highly publicized period of conflict after the breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s and continuing ethnic tensions in the early 2000s left a lingering misperception that the Balkans are unsafe for travelers, which damaged the tourism industry.

Kenan Muftic has been involved with Via Dinarica since 2012, and is currently the head of Terra Dinarica, an organization that, with funding from USAID and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), supports the trail in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

This boy’s family herds livestock in the summer in Livadhet e Gjarpërit, Valbona valley, Albania, where they also provide accommodation to trekkers along the Via Dinarica. - Elma Okic

This boy’s family herds livestock in the summer in Livadhet e Gjarpërit, Valbona valley, Albania, where they also provide accommodation to trekkers along the Via Dinarica. - Elma Okic

“Bosnia and Herzegovina is a complicated country that has a lot of challenges and bad history,” he explains. “My position when I started working on Via Dinarica was that we simply focus on the trail. We disregard our differences and disagreements. We don’t discuss politics. Amazingly, everything works well. We are becoming friends with the people we were enemies with yesterday with no special effort. If we can work together, then everyone in this region can work together.”

Alex Crevar agrees. He has been involved from the beginning, and currently works to promote the trail on behalf of USAID. He also authored the National Geographic Traveler’s Best of 2017 article on Via Dinarica. Crevar believes the region has distanced itself from its troubled past and has the potential to become the next adventure tourism hotspot. “To have cross-border tourism with this many countries in a post-conflict situation is nearly unheard of; there are really only two or three other places on the planet where this has happened,” said Crevar.

Individuals, tour operators and governments are building up regional networks and beginning to improve regional cooperation to change perceptions. A group of tour operators and individuals called the Via Dinarica Alliance organizes activities around training, trail upkeep and international promotion.

A woman in Bosnia and Herzegovina makes traditional bread - Elma Okic

A woman in Bosnia and Herzegovina makes traditional bread - Elma Okic

With respect to Western Balkans tourism, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts: Although relatively small in area and population, individual countries along the trail provide spectacular experiences on their own. Promoting the Western Balkans as a region, beyond the country-specific promotional activities that are typically undertaken by tourism programs, further enhances the attractiveness of Balkan countries for European and American tourists. Such regional integration broadens and deepens the economic development impact of individual countries and associated communities and revives cross-border relationships that suffered or were severed following the breakup of the former Yugoslavia.

When Trail Meets Town

The completion of the trail in 2016 came at a serendipitous moment for adventure tourism. But, according to Crevar, the Via Dinarica offers something special: an authentic cultural experience. “The Balkan allure is the combination of adventure and authenticity,” he says, “and the Via Dinarica brings them both together.”

The trail winds its way above tree lines, through dense forest, across ancient farmland and medieval villages, and past stunning views of the Adriatic Sea. The trail rises and falls with the flow of the Dinaric Alps, and makes its way through natural wonders like the primeval forests of Sutjeska National Park in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Montenegro’s wild Prokletija National Park. It takes visitors deep inside the Šar Mountains in Macedonia—one of the biggest and highest ranges in the Balkans—before continuing to Mt. Korab, the highest peak on the trail. Via Dinarica reaches its end at the stunning Lake Ohrid in Macedonia.

Aleksandar Donev operates Mustseedonia, a sustainable development and adventure travel promotion agency in Macedonia. He says the Via Dinarica is about more than just its diverse and captivating scenery, but also about the energy of the trail. “Adventure travel is mostly about the places, but what stays is the energy and the emotions that we exchange,” explains Donev. “Here you discover the roots of our culture and our identity. The essence of the whole experience is the welcoming and warmhearted people who share this beauty.”

Hiking the Via Dinarica, whether taking the entire summer to walk its length, or an autumn weekend to explore a small section, exposes visitors to Balkans traditions, but also helps to preserve unique cultural practices. Crevar believes that tourists can help preserve traditions by embracing local culture. “Things they didn’t give mind to one way or the other, like making bread and herding sheep, are suddenly being held with great value,” he says.

Via Dinarica hikers trek in Macedonia along the Šar Mountains. The range forms the border between Macedonia and Kosovo. Left to right, Alex Crevar, Miroslav Donev (Aleksandar's father) and Uta Ibrahimi - Aleksandar Donev

Via Dinarica hikers trek in Macedonia along the Šar Mountains. The range forms the border between Macedonia and Kosovo. Left to right, Alex Crevar, Miroslav Donev (Aleksandar's father) and Uta Ibrahimi - Aleksandar Donev

Cultural exchange and preservation aren’t the only positive outcomes from the trail. It also brings important economic opportunities to small, rural communities. “Showing somebody that tourists will come from far away just to see the things, and also spend money, we make a reason for people to stay,” Muftic says.

The Smiljanic Farm in Kupres, Bosnia and Herzegovina, owned by Ilija and Danka Smiljanic, is the only facility near that part of the trail that offers food and accommodation to hikers. The couple is educated in agronomy and decided to return to their hometown after the war to open a farm.

“It took us seven years to put the farm in order. Today, we breed sheep and cows (both indigenous breeds), have two riding horses, produce our own food for the cattle as well as organic fruit, vegetables, two types of cheese and cream for the household and our guests,” said Ilija Smiljanic. “We also have a tavern where we serve our products and, as of last year, and thanks to USAID and UNDP, which supported us with the provision of a small grant, we can now accommodate 10 people.” The couple believes that the Via Dinarica helped put their farm on the map, figuratively and literally as it’s listed in Via Dinarica promotional materials.

The Via Dinarica hiking trail in the Western Balkans spans 1,200 miles and eight countries—Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Albania, Kosovo, Serbia and Macedonia.

The trail is supported by the USAID Europe & Eurasia Bureau’s Regional Economic Growth program(link is external) throughout the Balkans region. This project works to promote the trail as a regional destination.

USAID’s Bosnia and Herzegovina mission and UNDP work together to promote and develop local communities and small businesses, preserve cultural heritage and connect the communities of the Dinaric Alps through the burgeoning tourism industry.

In Kosovo, the Via Dinarica is being developed with support from the EMPOWER project, which receives funding from USAID’s mission in Kosovo.

Along the trail, nature preservation goes hand-in-hand with economic development. “There is no Via Dinarica without conservation. And there is no protection of nature without Via Dinarica, or economic growth,” said Muftic. His organization, Terra Dinarica, helps maintain, protect and promote the portion of the trail in Bosnia and Herzegovina, with a particular focus on ecotourism and conservation.

A Little Support Goes a Long Way

The Encijan Co., a tour operator from Bosnia and Herzegovina, benefited from trainings, seminars and workshops supported by USAID. With a $2,700 grant, the company purchased new rafting and mountaineering equipment, which was followed by a 10 percent increase in customers. Promotion efforts supported by USAID have also helped the company to grow.

“With the appearance of Via Dinarica in our region and enlisting our geographical area into its official composition, we have gained a lot in terms of credibility of our region and locality, while its promotion and marketing in the world significantly helped development of our business and influx of new tourists from around the world and the region,” said Milan Supic, the owner and general manager. In addition to providing small grants to local businesses along the trail, USAID has also supported trail marking, infrastructure improvements, and training to help strengthen civil society and tourism operators along the trail.

Aleksandar Donev prepares traditional pindzur, a type of relish, in the village of Galicnik after a long day of horseback riding on Bistra Mountain, Mavrovo National Park, Macedonia - Novagenus

Aleksandar Donev prepares traditional pindzur, a type of relish, in the village of Galicnik after a long day of horseback riding on Bistra Mountain, Mavrovo National Park, Macedonia - Novagenus

Uta Ibrahimi, owner of Butterfly Outdoor Adventure in Kosovo, says that “The largest support [from USAID] is promotion of the region and helping to create place for me to run a business that can offer great tourism options for Kosovo.”

Crevar says that USAID saw the potential of the trail early on: “There’s absolutely no way that we would be where we are right now without USAID facilitating, sponsoring, supporting—everything that we have done has been supported by USAID in one way or another. From the very beginning, the support made it possible for us to do everything we have done so far. USAID as an office wasn’t necessarily sitting in the room when I was talking with National Geographic Traveler, but USAID facilitated the chance for that conversation.”

For those whose livelihoods center around the trail, it’s become more than just a job.

“Via Dinarica has given me a sense of belonging,” says Ibrahimi, the tour company operator. “Kosovo is a young country and everyone has heard about Kosovo due to the war and ethnic tensions. Both Kosovo and the region are more than that. If you get up in the mountains, you can feel the peace coming through you and this is how it should be remembered.”

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AuthorNicolas Segura
CategoriesArticle

Posted
AuthorNicolas Segura
CategoriesArticle
TagsTravel

Activity Background

Gulfood Dubai, UAE is the world’s biggest international food and hospitality trade show that gathers leading food importers, trade agents and buyers. As a result of USAID REGs assistance and contacts and meetings established last year at GulFood Dubai, one company AgrarCo (MK) managed to sign a contract with UAE distributor from Dubai and exported 5 trucks of stuffed pepperoncini peppers worth over 100.000 USD. Another company Yumis from Serbia continued intensive communication and got a contract with a distributor in UAE, started selling its soups and cooking spices products. Many other companies submitted product offers and sent samples, negotiated potential sales…

Following last year results, this year, REG Project continued its assistance to leading Balkan food companies interested to differentiate target markets and explore new market prospects to participate in the trade mission and market visit to Dubai (UAE). The Project facilitated a trade mission and visit to GulFood Trade Fair from 26th Feb to 2nd March 2017 for analyzing the competition, understanding the trends and meeting potential buyers. (Annex 1 – Map of GulFood Trade fair 2017) REGs activity also encouraged USAID/SIDA Project from BiH and Bosnia and Herzegovina Chamber of Commerce to support a group of Bosnian AG companies as well as USAID Empower Project to assist 2 Kosovo companies to visit GulFood. 

In order to address better some of the recognized constrains and identify optimal strategy in approaching UAE markets, REG Project continued its cooperation with and contracted Mr. Feda Saimua, a senior expert in Dubai, working as Deputy General Manager of Transmed Company, one of the largest importers and distributor for many international brands in UAE. He worked on detecting potential interest from buyers, facilitated visit Gulfood Trade Fair and scheduled meetings with potential buyers in Dubai including larger AG/food importers and retailers. REG AG Team leader/consultant worked with regional stakeholders to identify leading AG companies interested in exploring opportunities to trade with Middle East. The Balkan group included 2 companies from MK, 4 from SRB, 7 from BiH, and 2 from KS, producers and exporters of fresh and processed/frozen fruit and vegetables, confectionary products, poultry, meat and dairy products. (Annex 2 – List of Balkan companies participating at GulFood 2017.

All companies were represented by their owners/CEOs and/or export/sales/brand managers.
Based on the profiles of participating companies, AG Team leader worked with the UAE expert on developing a detailed agenda (Annex 3 – Program for Trade mission at Middle East and visit Gulfood Trade Fair 26Feb-2Mar 2017) for B2B meetings and visits and shared some basic recommendations for the companies as prerequisites for the trade mission. The group was accommodated at the IBIS One Central hotel, near the Trade fair at the World Trade Center in Dubai.

Activity Specifics

On the first day, the group joined at a conference room of IBIS One Central Hotel for the introduction training and strategic meeting one-on-one sessions with the expert. Mr. Feda Saimua gave a presentation on the UAE market trends, introduced the opportunities and challenges for doing business in UAE. He presented key players, market channels and options for entry strategy in accordance with company size, product profile and sales opportunities…from opportunistic trading, through working with licensed trade agents, joint venture to exclusivity and long term partnership contract.

He shared best practices from across the region in branded vs. commodity products and recommended list of leading importers and traders in UAE for fruits and vegetables, confectionary and chocolate industry as well as poultry and dairy.  Mr. Saimua also presented his personal experience in developing a new branding concept for bakery products.

In the afternoon, Mr Saimua had an individual meeting sessions with the Balkan companies. Each company presented its product portfolio and export outlook and directly discussed individual interest in particular market segments. He shared his expertise and provided recommendations on the optimal way to enter the UAE market and based on the type of products, provided specific recommendations for importers/stands to be visited at the fair.

Later, guided by the REG Team Leader, the Balkan group visited the GulFood Trade Fair. The companies had a chance to get familiarize with the concept of the fair, understand the division of exhibitors and presence of National pavilions of major food exporting countries.

In coordination with the Serbian Chamber of Commerce and Industry it was arranged for the Balkan group to participate at the Gulfood Breakfast Briefing 2017 organized on 27th Feb by Dubai Chamber of Commerce & Industry. The briefing took place in the Auditorium -1st Floor from 8:30am – 10:30am. The presentations and briefing was very useful to understand the trends and opportunities on the UAE Food and beverage market, required standards and certifications and the role of bodies under Dubai Chamber of commerce. The links to the presentations as follows:

Presence of Excellences, the Ambassadors of the Republic of Macedonia in Abu Dhabi Mr. Sasho Tashevski, of the Republic of Serbia in Abu Dhabi Mr. Milos Perisic and of Bosnia and Herzegovina in Abu Dhabi Mr. Zoran Milicevic at the briefing was of great benefit. This was the excellent opportunity for companies to present their intentions to explore opportunities for selling products in UAE as well as to hear opinions and recommendations from Ambassadors on pros’ and cons’ they need to consider while looking for importers in Dubai.

The experience from the previous two years, companies’ feedback and discussions with importers reinforced the opinion that it would be very advantageous for companies to start participating at the trade fair as exhibitors. This would enable much greater visibility and credibility of Balkan companies to enter ME market. Although, officially there is a long waiting list for stand space (500-600) companies…so getting a stand can take up to three years, REG coordinated a meeting with the senior event management of GulFood trade fair. At the meeting participating REG companies expressed serious interest and commitment to exhibit at Gulfood trade fair next year at a joint Balkan stand. REG already shared the interest with the Serbian Chamber of Commerce and Industry and Foreign trade Chamber of Bosnia and Herzegovina and will follow up with GulFood event management on possibilities for securing stand space at GulFood 2018.

In the afternoon, Balkan companies met the representatives of Euro Balkan Trading LLC www.eurobalkantrading.com The Company is operating for 12 years and for the last 3 years entered into a joint venture with Al Ahli General Trading www.alahligeneraltrading.com and is present in all Emirates states with access to more than 250 accounts including largest retail chains. Euro Balkan Trading LLC import and distributes brands from the largest Balkan companies like Krash, Kolinska, Atlantis Group, Podravka etc. They provided detailed outlook how they operate and offered full service assistance to Balkan companies. Last year, the company opened another (second) own Balkan shop selling exclusively food and beverage products from the Balkan countries. www.eurobalkanshop.com. They had very productive discussions to expand portfolio and importing and selling different products from the Balkan (pepper based pickled products, confectionary and frozen fruits and veggies. 

During the trade mission to GulFood trade fair companies also visited several leading supermarket chains present on the market in Dubai and UAE. The Balkan group had an observation tour to the biggest of all five Carrefour stores in UAE with daily turnover of 1,5 -2 mil USD as well as Waitrose supermarkets. Companies analysed product categories and learned on main competitors in different product categories, packaging, sizes and formats, product mixes and positioning on the shelves.

On the third day Mr. Saimua pre-arranged a meeting with Mr. Sasha Marashlian, managing director for Middle East of Imagine Company (www.imagine-intl.com). Imagine operates as a consultancy agency under a specific fee model, providing the precise support and expertise for brands growth in the Middle East and Africa (MEA) region but also as a Licensed Agent that operates under a commission base model. At the meeting he presented the role Imagine can play in opening the UAE market for Balkan products, network of distributors they work with as well as their relation with some of leading retailers. As a Food sector expert and an importer of a large portfolio of products he presented their experience in food trade development as well as explained all requirements for serving HoReCa market segment (hotels and restaurants). Each participant presented its company, product portfolio and their specific interest for partnership. It was agreed for Imagine to do an internal review of product offers and consultations with the network of distributors and based on the specific market opportunities to select companies from the Balkans they can cooperate with and introduce their products on UAE market.

Based on the their specific interest for processed vegetables, condiments and frozen fruits, on the last day, Mr. Saimua prearranged meeting for AgrarCo, Polimark and ITN with the management of Union Coop, second largest retailer in UAE. Union Coop already imports processed products from Podravka (Croatia) and imported several containers of frozen berries from Serbia. They were particularly interested for products that can be introduced under private label and it was agreed for them to provide detailed product specifications so REG companies can submit their offers. Participating companies observed displaying similar products throughout the Union Coop market.

REG coordinated two group meetings with Al Islami Company www.alislamifoods.com.  The company has 35 years’ experience in trading with frozen food in UAE. They’ve discussed with ITN (SRB) on introducing of frozen berries into their product pallet. ITN Company fulfills all advanced export standards and already has vast experience in supplying larger supermarket chains in EU. It was agreed for ITN to prepare and submit detailed product offer and send samples in different packaging that will be tested on the market. Poultry producers from BiH, Ovako and Madi (both are certified and are operating according HALAL standard) met with Al Islami sales director for UAE. Al Islami imports 8.000 tons per month of full chicken and chicken parts from the largest supplier from Brazil.  However, they expressed very strong demand for ORGANIC poultry and discussed opportunities to supply from the Balkans. It was agreed for BIH companies to check the procedures if they can get the certificate for ORGANIC poultry.  Having in mind the significant number of Bosnian people leaving in Dubai, another option discussed was for companies to offer whole chicken and/or any of the chicken parts under the most competitive price branded as “Bosnian” chicken, obviously as a differentiation strategy to get some premium price.  

While at the fair companies also had individually targeted and/or already pre-arranged meetings with importers, distributors exhibiting at the Trade Fair. List of major matching importers and distributors was provided to the group. Companies managed to visit stands and have multiple meetings with many potential buyers, presented their programs, export profile, certifications and corporate strategy and discussed opportunities for export sales. (Annex 4. List of recommended stands/companies to be visited at the GulFood)

Additionally, before the GulFood trade fair, Mr. Saimua provided market lead, product specification and quantities for sunflower oil from a big buyer in UAE. Bimal Company from BiH confirmed interest to supply the products and continued communication. Euro Balkan Trading Company submitted a request and provided detailed specification for a set of processed products (champignon mushrooms, baby carrots, sweet corn etc). REG secured a list of several potential suppliers from the Balkan countries. Euro Balkan selected Bonum and continued to negotiate products offer.

Posted
AuthorNicolas Segura