Though neither Albania’s oldest nor largest national park, Valbonë Valley National Park is one of the country’s most famous sites for ecotourism. Also known as the Gem of Albania and the Albanian Miracle of the Alps, Valbonë Valley National Park was established in 1996.
The park is located in the far north of the country in the heart Albanian Alps near the border of Montenegro to the northwest and Kosovo to the northeast. In fact, those two countries, along with Albania, are planning to create a tri-state international park named the Balkan Peace Park.
The park is designed to protect the Valbonë River Valley, notable for its exquisite alpine landscape and rich biodiversity as well as being the highest of any region in Albania. The valley is the only region in Albania with a climate suitable for spruce trees. A number of species of trees and shrubs native to the Balkans can be found in the Valbonë Valley, including the Bosnian and Macedonian pine trees as well as native chestnut and apple trees. It is also suspected that the Balkan Lynx might be found here, though there have been no official sightings. However, the more common Eurasian Lynx, of which the Balkan variety is a subspecies, has been found in Valbonë Valley National Park.
Four villages are located within the borders of Valbonë Valley National Park: Dragobi, Valbonë, Cerem and Rragam. These villages are seen as essential for developing the tourism industry in the Valley. Unfortunately, the number of people living in the villages has declined drastically in recent years as younger generations migrate to major Albanian cities in the south for greater economic opportunity. Tourists to the park generally stay in the traditional alpine houses and inns located in these villages and villagers often rent out rooms to visitors.