Rich Albanians Breathe New Life into Forgotten Village

Feature 03 Sep 14

Tourists and second-home owners have discovered the picturesque village of Dardhe – providing its mainly elderly residents with welcome new job opportunities.

Ola Mitre
BIRN

Dardhe

Luljeta Necka | Photo by : Ola Mitre

Nineteen years after Luljeta Necka lost her job as an agronomist in a Communist-era collective farm in her home village of Dardhe, she had lost hope that a new job might come her way – beyond doing her daily chores as a housewife.

However, in 2009 opportunity came literally knocking at her door.  A businessman had just bought a house in the village, and he needed someone to look after it while gone.

“For the last five years I have gone to his home every Friday, sweeping, cleaning and keeping the house in order,” the 66-year-old says, holding a pot in her hands.

“It had been years since I had seen a salary… so we are lucky that people love Dardhe and that more of them are buying houses here,” she added.

About a half-hour drive from the southeastern city of Korca, at about 1,300 meters above sea level, Dardhe was established in the 18th century by Christians fleeing persecution at the hands of Ottoman officials.

The village blossomed in the early 20th century, when it had nearly 400 homes and a population of around 1,000.

A number of famous writers, painters and politicians, including Albania’s current Prime Minister Edi Rama, trace their origins from Dardhe, which has added credo to its reputation as a cultured village.

Famous for its wide, cobbled streets dotted with ornate fountains, large, two-storey stone villas with small windows and rose gardens, the village fell into disrepair during the Communist era, when many of local residents moved into cities and towns.

The village elder, Urim Seferi, explains that during the last parliamentary elections in 2013, only 40 people were registered in the electoral roll, the vast majority of them pensioners.

Urim Seferi | Photo by : Ola Mitre

“Only a quarter of the population here are young people, but they don’t stay in the village,” he said.

However, in the last decade, some have returned and the village is experiencing a small-scale property rush.

Seferi says that more than 50 houses have been sold in recent years to nouveaux riches Albanians as vacation homes, and these second-home owners have created a labour market from scratch.

According to Seferi, a house that a decade ago would have sold for 15,000 euro now fetches at least three times that price.

Seferi says that there about 110 houses in Dardhe, not counting ruins, but only 12 families live there all year long, while the others come and go.

“They are a bit like swallows; everyone leaves in the winter and comes back in the summer,” he notes.

Niko Balli, head of the agricultural tourism organization for the region of Korca, says Dardhe became a tourist destination in 1937, when one of the sisters of King Zog, Albania’s former monarch, visited the area and lauded its beauties and the climate.

“Since then tourists numbers have been growing and in 2013 more than 30,000 tourists visited Dardhe and they are expected to reach 35,000 in 2014,” Balli said.

Balli explains that while most tourists in Dardhe are Albanian, Germans, Italians and even visitors from Israel also come.

“The village is currently building a museum, which will narrate its rich history and will bring many artifacts under one roof,” Balli said.

Nestled in a valley in the Morava Mountain, Dardhe is famous for its natural attractions as well, like the “The Fall’s Rock”, the “Grove of St Peter” and its ski slopes.

The village is also celebrated for its cultural tradition, rich traditional costumes, songs and serenades.

Every year on St Mary’s Day, on August 15, women dress in the traditional “Xibuni” costume, as they celebrate with traditional dances. When the dancing is over, they get back to work.

Sofika Keko | Photo by : Ola Mitre

Sofika, who looks well into her seventies, but frowns on revealing her age, is no traditionalist. Wearing a pair of sneekers, she knows every palm of her village and often dubs as a guide for tourists.

During the Communist regime she worked in a smoking pipes factory in Tirana but decided to return home to her village after she retired.

“In the winter, [when snow covers the village] we are like prisoners without guardians, so I decided to get job,” she says.

The family she worked for, Sofika explains, had a beautiful home decorated with heavy wood furniture, carpets and antiques.

“Quite classy but a bit stingy,” she laments. “However, what else can I do with all my time in the village – not to mention a small pension of only 13,000 lek (worth 90 euro),” Sofika added.

Sofika and Luljeta are not alone. Other women in the village have found some sort of employment as more people buy vacation homes in Dardhe and tourist numbers grow exponentially.

“The retired women in the village will be always happy to take a job,” Sofika says. “The more rich people come this way, the better it is,” she concludes.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *