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Honey Trail impressions from Përmet

Honey Trail impressions from Përmet

In June, a film crew of the Social Travel Network Mapify visited our partner beekeeper Robert in Përmet as part of their Albania-Macedonia film production. We are very happy that the production included the Honey Trail and a short clip featuring the Albanian beekeeping tradition and excited to share the outcome with you: Wonderful impressions from the bees in Përmet!

 

Tickled your wanderlust? Want to meet Robert and his bees yourself? We offer tailor-made Honey Trail experiences that fit your interests and expectations just right, including all-inclusive and self-drive options, bee farm stays during honey harvesting season and day trips to beekeepers.

The Honey-Trail bees and the camera

The Honey-Trail bees and the camera

We had very special visitors! The film crew of the Social Travel Network Mapify met with our partner beekeeper in Përmet as part of their Albania-Macedonia film production: The short film aims to inspire people to discover the beauty and rich culture of Albania and we are very happy that it will also feature the Albanian beekeeping tradition and the Honey Trail. The short film will be presented on the platform in July and we cannot wait to see the outcome!

Hello beautiful spring!

Hello beautiful spring!

Beehives in Gjirokastra
© Honey Trail / Taulant Pjetërgjokaj

 

Happy weekend greetings from this sunny spring meadow in the south of Albania!
Here in the Lunxhëria region in Gjirokastër County live and work the bees of a certified organic beekeeper

Meet Lejla Shehu – Chairwoman of the Albanian Beekeepers Association

Meet Lejla Shehu – Chairwoman of the Albanian Beekeepers Association

Lejla Shehu in Lezhe, Albania
Lejla Shehu - Chairwoman of the Albanian Beekeepers Association    © Sondor Travel
 

Lejla Shehu has been working with and for bees since more than 30 years. She is the chairwoman of the Albanian Beekeepers Association and works tirelessly to promote and support beekeeping in Albania.  She has been providing invaluable guidance and input to the planning of the Honey Trail and we feel so honored and grateful to have her on board. We are very happy to introduce you to Lejla Shehu who took the time to talk to Taulant Pjetërgjokaj about her passion for bees and beekeeping practices and trends in Albania:

 

When and how did your interest in bees and beekeeping begin?

My involvement with bees started after I completed my studies: In 1981, I graduated in biochemistry from the Faculty of Natural Sciences and started working at the silk-producing center. The center included a lab which later became a part of the bee and silk department under the umbrella of the Zootechny Institute. When the department closed in 1996, I started working at the former Veterinary Research Institute (now Instituti i Sigurisë Ushqimore dhe Veterinare - ISUV) until 2006. It was in the lab, that I began working on issues relating to honey bees and bee health, especially on varroasis and others diseases but also analyses of honey, wax and propolis. Over the years, I got involved in many collaborations and projects on these issues where there was a need for our laboratory.

 

In 1991, the Albanian Beekeepers Association was founded. It is based on different local associations.  From 1991 till 2007, I was the General Secretary of the association. During that time I learned a lot from working with beekeepers and their wealth of experience, the exchange of information during trainings and visits to bee farms. Since 2007, I am the Chairperson of the Beekeepers Association. This task has not always been easy, especially in view of limited resources, investment capacities and government support and other difficulties that are present in the beekeeping sector. On the other hand, adressing these concerns has made me love my job even more so!

 

Can you tell us what makes the Albanian honey so special?

We have about 365,000 beehives in Albania and produce 3,200 to 3,400 tons of honey per year. Farmers in Albania breed the Apis mellifera Carnica which fits well in our context: The vegetation in Albania is Mediterranean and Mid-European and 2/3 of the territory is hilly or mountainous. From the western coasts to the eastern borders, the vegetation blooms from January to December. We have 350 hours sunlight in winter and 980 hours in summer. The two climate extremes are in November-January and July-August.  

Beekeeping takes place all over the country. Some bees 'graze' up to 1,000m - 1,500m and find a great variety of medicinal and aromatic plants growing on the mountain slopes: Sage, thyme, oregano, winter savory, clover, small-leaved lime and other herbs or plants as well as trees like the acacia, the strawberry tree or the chestnut help our bees produce high-quality honey. Albanian honey is mainly polyphlore and offers delicious varieties in all parts of the country, for example in Tropoja, Malsia e Madhe, Mirditë, Dibër, Pogradec, Erseke, Përmët, Tepelenë, Vlorë, Sarandë or the mountains of Librazhd! Also, the lack of industrial plant propagation often containing GMOs adds to the quality of our honey. 

 

We notice that there is an increasing interest in honey production in Albania, which seems to continue in the years to come. But besides honey, Albanian beekeepers also produce royal jelly, which is in very high demand as well as propolis, pollen and wax. These bee products bring beekeepers increasingly an additional income and have been traditionally used as or included in medicines.

Lejla Shehu visiting beehives of Lezhe Beekeeper Association
Visiting the regional Beekeepers Association in Lezhe
 

What is your favourite home remedy using bee products?

Since ancient times, honey is also used as a medication. Creams with honey support the healing of burns and wounds. Other ingredients I use in creams are wax and olive oil which together with propolis offer so many healing values. Propolis contains abundant flonoloids and is anti-mold, antibacterial and antiviral. The propolis creams I prepare help improve various health conditions such as eczema, psoriasis or wounds. The combination of wax, olive oil and Lule Basani (Saint John’s Wort) has positive effects not only on skin conditions but also problems such as hemorrhoids. Other creams are made with propylene glycol ingredients to substitute alcohol for those people who for example practice Traditional Chinese medicine.

 

Thank you very much Lejla!

 

More information on our Honey Trail, itineraries and booking details is available here.  We will also be happy to plan your very own tailor-made Honey Trail experience for you!

Treasures along the Honey-Trail: The Gashi River Valley

Treasures along the Honey-Trail: The Gashi River Valley

Lumi i Gashit Riverbed Albania
© Gabriel Schwaderer / EuroNatur
 

Tropoja in the Albanian Alps is famous for its deliciously intense Chestnut Honey. The chestnut massif of Tropoja is the largest of the Balkans and a key destination of the Honey Trail North Tour. Yet, very closeby but well hidden lies another of Albania's many natural treasures: The Gashi River Valley.

The Gashi River (Lumi i Gashit) is in the very Northeastern edge of Albania in the border zone with Montenegro and Kosovo. The river originates below the Dobërdol pass at an altitude of about 1,600m and flows from there 27km through various peaks and a narrow gorge to the Tropoja basin and further south into the Valbonë river. The upper catchment area of the Gashi River is a strict nature reserve of about 3,000ha and an important and most beautiful pearl along the European Green Belt. In 2017, it was declared UNESCO World Heritage Site as part of the Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians and Other Regions of Europe.  The inscription made the Gashi River together with the Rrajce core zone Albania’s first natural site to get UNESCO protection. Albanian experts describe them as the last ‘islands’ of virgin woods in Albania and it is mainly due to the remote location of the Gashi River in the former border exclusion zone that these patches of virgin forests  survived. Since 2016 a 10-year wood cutting moratorium aims at protecting the remaining woods.

The Gashi River retains a wonderful natural beauty: The slopes of the valley are lined with forests, especially coniferous and beech. The beech forest alone covers one third of the nature reserve at an altitude between 700m - 1,900m, with remnants of primeval forest as old as two centuries.

Lumi i Gashit Urwald Albanien
© Gabriel Schwaderer / EuroNatur

The strict nature reserve is also home to a great variety of animal species, among them many who are listed as endangered, such as the brown bear, the lynx, the capercaillie or golden eagles. The valley can only be reached by foot and there is only one small village in the area - Bradoshnica. We will take a full day to discover the beauty of the area together with our local guide who will be able to provide many insights about the valley and its flora and wildlife.

So far, the nature of Lumi i Gashit is well preserved. However, during the last decades the human impact and pressure on the environment and biodiversity of the area has significantly increased: Especially the planned development of hydro power plants in the area presents a serious threat to this treasure and would destroy important ecological values. EuroNatur has worked with Preservation of Natural Environment in Albania (PPNEA) to support the protection of the Gashi River Valley and published a brochure where you can find more information on the Gashi River reserve.

More information on the Northern itinerary and booking details are available here.  We will also be happy to create your own tailor-made tour for you!

Happy New Year Greetings 2018!

Happy New Year Greetings 2018!

Honigbiene auf Messer
 

We wish you all a great start into the new year and lots of love, happiness and health from the bottom of our hearts!

If you have questions or would like to make a booking for our 2018 Honey Trail to the South or North of Albania or our tailor-made offers please don't hesistate and get in touch.

The Armbruster Bee School on the Honey Trail

The Armbruster Bee School on the Honey Trail

Beehives in a garden in Albania
 

We are excited about this very special cooperation: In September 2018 we will be welcoming the Armbruster Bee School from Germany on the Honey-Trail!

The Prof. Ludwig Armbruster Bee School was founded in 2013 on the occasion of the 3rd Weimar Bee Symposium on the future of beekeeping. The name of the school honours one of the most outstanding bee researcher of the 20th century. Ludwig Armbruster was head of the Institute for Bee Biology and Apiculture in Berlin and took up topics that are until today highly relevant for the future of beekeeping. His life was inextricably linked to the political developments of his time: In 1934, the Nazi forcibly retired him for political reasons at the age of 48, and it was only in 2007 when he was officially rehabilitated as a NS-victim. If you want to find out more about this important apiarist and you happen to be Berlin, we recommend a visit to the permanent exhibition at the museum Domäne Dahlem.

Since 2013, the Armbruster Bee School promotes ecological and bee-friendly beekeeping: The school offers beekeeping training courses and workshops for advanced and professional apiarists and for ‚new-bees‘ as well as a number of study tours each year.

It was a great surprise for us when Jürgen Binder - the founder of the Armbruster Bee School - contacted us and we thoroughly enjoyed the planning process for this tailor-made Honey Trail tour. It will take the group to the South of Albania and takes the time for unique insights and spectacular views: In expert discussions with bee researchers and fellow apiarists, during visits with local beekeepers and organic farmers, in a boat on the wild Vjosa and on foot in the Ceraunian Mountains, over a nice cup of mountain tea or a raki from wild berries.  „We will get insights into a world of subsistence beekeeping that is almost history here in Germany “ says Mr. Binder.  And we too look forward to this tour!

The itinerary and details of this study tour can be found here. You can book it directly with the Armbruster Bee School, with an Early Bee rate til March 31, 2018:

E-Mail: sekretariat@armbruster-imkerschule.de     Telephone: 0049 - 170-185 74 24

You are interested in a tailor-made Honey Trail yourself? We also offer them in English and will be happy to discuss your interests and expectations with you!

Api-Philately: A different kind of beekeeping

Api-Philately: A different kind of beekeeping

Albanian stamps, 1995

This colourful find from the archives brightens up our autumn days: Bees have always been a popular subject for postal stamps, because of their beauty but also in order to raise awareness of their ecological importance and vulnerability.

We are happy to share this bee-a-u-tiful honey bee stamp issue from Albania (Shqipëria). And yes, Bleta or Bletë means "bee" ♥

Happy November everyone!

Honey Trail 2018: Planning is in full swing!

Honey Trail 2018: Planning is in full swing!

Sondor Travel team
The marvelous Honey Trail team of Sondor Travel: Dorien and Nardi (missing here is Taulant) discuss the best Honey Trail itineraries.  

The planning for the 2018 Honey Trail is in full swing!

We are very happy to offer two Honey Trail tours next year. Starting from Tirana, one will explore the North of Albania while the second tour will discover the South of the country:

 In May / June, the Honey Trail takes us to the Lezha region, renowned for its sage and heather honey. We continue to Shkoder and, following some first class birdwatching head towards the Albanian Alps.  Tropojë is our destination with its vast chestnut forests, famous chestnut honey and near the Gashi river which recently received UNESCO protection as an extension of the World Heritage site of the Primeval Beech Forests.

In early October, the Honey Trail leads us to Albania's three key honey regions: Korça, Përmet in the heart of the Vjosa Valley, one of the last intact large river systems in Europe and Llogara-Palasë with spectacular vistas along the Albanian Riviera. On the way, we visit the national parks of Butrint, Llogara and Fir of Hotova and delve into Albania's ancient history, visiting historic places such as Gjirokastra  or the ruins of Butrint.

In addition, we offer tailor-made Honey Trail tours: You are a group of min. 5 persons - friends, hobby beekeepers or professional apiarists - and want to discover Albania long tradition of beekeeping? We will be happy to prepare a unique Honey Trail experience for you.

We will finalise and publish the Honey Trail 2018 tour details in early November. Watch out for more information and our early bee rates here and on our Facebook page.

We look forward to welcoming you on the Honey Trail in 2018!

Albanian’s love for honey: Facts & figures

Albanian’s love for honey: Facts & figures

Albania's climate and vastly beautiful landscape  provide ideal conditions for beekeeping and so it is not surprising that Albanian honey, especially the chestnut honey, has enormous (economic) potential:

Since more than 2,000 years, apiculture has been a vital part of Albania's rural economies. Beekeeping is a popular subsidiary industry and very much on the rise, especially in the past 20 years:  Back in 1992, the number of beehives was less than 50,000. According to the Albanian Institute of Statistics (INSTAT) this number has grow from about 260,000 in the year 2014 to 303,000 in 2016.

In 2016, Albanian beekeepers produced almost 4.000t of honey. This is still relatively low compared to other european countries - for example, in Germany more than 21.000t were produced in the same year. Yet, compared to the per-capita income in the country, the price is at average 10 EUR/kg relatively high.

But the long tradition of beekeeping and the love for honey and bees in Albania is also reflected in the language: Two different words are used in Albanian when talking about death - one in relation to all animals (ngordh) and one for human beings and bees only (vdes).

Cheese hearts along the Honey Trail

Cheese hearts along the Honey Trail

In addition to bees and honey specialties the Honey Trail offers a wide variety of gastronomic treasures along the way: These delicious cheese hearts for example are served at  the Kuqi organic farm in Marikaj.

The wonderful strawberry tree (honey)

The wonderful strawberry tree (honey)

Der Latin name of the strawberry tree Arbutus unedo reveals all about its key characteristics: The Celtic „Ar” meaning “sour”, „butus” like the bush and finally „unedo”, which stems from the Latin „unum edo” and means „I only eat one”.

At a time when summer comes to an end and nature is preparing for the upcoming winter, the strawberry tree is flowering - in late fall between October and January. Yet, this is also the time when the bees reduce their activities and start hunkering down for the winter. This makes the Arbutus honey such a rare specialty - aside of the taste:  It has a very strong bitter flavor that is loved by gourmets worldwide - Arbutus honey goes very well with cheese.

In Albania, the Arbutus honey is called „Malte mjare“ and since generations it is produced from October to November in der region of Përmet - there in the Vjosa Valley is one of the very few areas in the country where the strawberry tree is widespread. On the Honey Trail in the South of Albania we will visit beekeepers in this area,  offering the opportunity to get a taste of this unique honey and learn more about this specialty.

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