Why does this small mountain town in Albania have such great tourism potential?

In recent years, English-language media has increasingly covered Albania as an “off the beaten path” vacation destination. Most such stories focus on southern Albania, highlighting its beaches and Ottoman towns. While not as popular as the south, northern Albania has seen a similar boost in foreign visitors, and one of the cornerstones of its nascent tourist industry is the small mountain community of Theth.

View of the Mountains Surrounding Theth

Theth is located in a valley in the heart of the Albanian Alps. Historically known as “The Accursed Mountains,” it was considered to be one of the least accessible parts of Europe at the turn of the twentieth century. While Theth is not as isolated as it once was, getting there can still be a challenge: the drive from Shkoder, the nearest major city, is only about 75 kilometers, but it takes at least three hours since a significant portion of the road is winding, narrow, and unpaved.

Girdled by tall peaks, the valley itself is stunningly picturesque, with a river running through the middle and centuries-old stone dwellings scattered in small clusters along its length. On a typical day during the warmer months, it is now common to find Austrians, Czechs, Poles, and Italians hiking down Theth’s trails and exploring its sites, including a waterfall and a stone tower built to house and protect those involved in blood feuds. While many are enthusiastic about this uptick in tourism, others have expressed concerns about recent developments.

I’ve been going to Theth for a few years now, and it’s one of the most beautiful places in the country. Everything from the nature, to the air, to the food is wonderful. However, I’ve noticed that some ugly new buildings have gone up recently. It concerns me because their ‘modern’ style and has no connection to Theth and its traditional buildings.
— Sales Representative, Albanian, Male, 28

As infrastructure improves, Theth will need to find the right balance between making itself accessible to tourists and maintaining its natural and historical appeal. One of the main things that draws tourists to Theth is that it continues to feel remote and untouched compared to Western Europe. Rather than invest in new structures, perhaps the best thing for Theth to do is to preserve what it already has.