The area around the Cijevna river (in Albanian: Cem river) has always attracted me, so the information that a Joint action plan for its ecological defense and the sustainable environmental development of the cross-border area was started this year made me quite curious. A draft feasibility study on eco-tourism development in the surrounding villages of this river has already been prepared. As you can often find us in the Kučka krajina or in the Cijevna canyon, we know how the situation looks like in Montenegro. But what has happened in Albania in the meantime?
This weekend we decided to pass the Montenegrin-Albanian border and follow the 65 km long SH20 road from Hani i Hotit to Vermosh, which is now under reconstruction. The newly built asphalt road has reached the village of Tamarë in the Kelmend region. Until recently, this road was mentioned by the website www.dangerousroads.org as one of the most dangerous roads in Eastern Europe. It was a dirt road without any protection rails, very steep and very winding. Two years ago we succeeded in driving the complete route with our camper (see blog post: Discover Kelmend Valley in Albania), but this time we could only reach Tamarë with our small car.
The first sign of change we saw was the huge white cross on the slopes of the mountain, a clear sign that this area is predominantly inhabited by Catholic Malissores. It was very quiet on the new asphalt road. Driving uphill, we left the Skadar Lake plain behind us and at the top we arrived at a magnificent panorama point, where we had a great view of the Cijevna canyon and the surrounding mountains (photo 1). We were surprised to find a new glass panorama terrace near the parking lot (photo 2) and standing on it we had the feeling as if we were on the top of the world.
Then we slowly continued downhill along breath-taking serpentines to the valley of the Cijevna/Cem river and finally we arrived in the village of Tamarë, where the asphalt road stopped. The reconstruction will continue next year and in 2016 the asphalt road should reach the village of Vermosh and the Albanian-Montenegrin border near Gusinje. In this way, it will be possible to make a round trip from Podgorica through Kelmend valley and the Prokletije mountains and back through Montenegro (Plav-Kolašin-Podgorica). A great nature tour!
Tamarë (photo 4) is the administrative center of the Kelmend region. The name of the village comes from Tamara, the name of the wife of the Shkodra Vizier who ordered the construction of the Vukli bridge on the Cem river in the second half of the 18th century. The bridge was given her name and the village was called the same. Tamarë has around 500 inhabitants. There is a secondary school, a hotel, policlinic, shops, bar-restaurants, etc. Everything is connected with the green river. Wild pomegranates can be seen everywhere.
We passed the bridge and made a walking tour along the river, where we discovered many springs coming from the mountains. Concrete canals and hoses lead the current water to the houses and agricultural properties. The irrigation systems are used for agriculture, but also for fish farming.
The Kelmend region is famous for its so-called “trout with red points” (trofta me pika te kuqe), which has its entire body covered by small red points and can have a size of up to 50 cm. This trout has become a tourist attraction for visitors of the Kelmend valley, particularly if it is prepared as tave peshku (fish casserole), where the trout is baked in the oven together with onions, peppers and potatoes. The wild fish is sweeter than the farm-raised versions, but I am sure that the products of the big fish farm we visited are excellent as well. What do you think of the giant trout the owner of the place showed us (photo 5)?
Unfortunately, Tamarë is already losing its authenticity. Big modern houses are under construction. Are the inhabitants expecting tourism development? Do they want to create accommodation facilities or are they building for their own families? I really hope that Albania has the power and the will to prevent uncontrolled development of this magnificent environment, particularly after finishing the asphalt road to Vermosh.
P.S. The new Kelmend road SH20 was opened in December 2016 (see: The new Kelmend road (SH20) in Albania.)