Albanian Highlands

Photo by  Tobi Schnorpfeil

Small, tiny huts rush by as we drive down the coastline.
Small, tiny huts left and right of the street, slightly hidden by rich green grass.
Small, tiny huts, painted in bright yellow, ocean blue and in soft pastels

Driving through the highlands on an afternoon in June, we pass countless tiny huts. Albanias roads are curvy. With every turn we take, the car is flooded by wind, blowing in wafts of the peerless variety of Albania’s flora.We smell thyme, heather, ivy and wildflowers. Resinous and sweet.

Those tiny, colored huts are more than small wooden shoe boxes. Serving as bee hives, they might be the smallest and most natural factories on Earth. Supplied by the variety and widespread availability of nectars in Albania’s both mediterranean and continental mountainous outlands, apiculture has been an essential component in the country’s rural economy for more than 2000 years.

And while elsewhere throughout the world, apiarists focusing on traditional farming seem to be on the brink of extinction, Albania’s beekeeping culture keeps growing constantly and has recently tripled in only ten years.Various initiatives aim to support rural farmers in order to stabilize the economical liveliness of Apiculture in Albania. Providing local beekeepers with resources and knowledge on how to improve and complete their output, they help them grow sustainably and build small scale businesses that they can make a living from.

In the highlands outside the city of Permet, we meet Bertie - one of many rural beekeepers in the south European Country. Amidst mountainous fields at almost 2000m of height, he introduces us to his colony of around 50 hives. As two thirds of Albanian beekeepers cultivate less than ten hives, this is a buzzing metropolis.

Inside the hives, combs are stacked for the bees to breed and create their fascinating and perfectly shaped honey ecosystem. Fragile and beautiful. Perfect by nature and impossible to be rebuilt by hand. 

The southern nectars are reminiscent of a wildflower bouquet‘s blooming variety and impart the fresh honey with a mildly sweet taste of spring. Depending on the harvest time and the surrounding Flora in the harvest areas, the sticky golden liquid takes on different tastes. One Albanian speciality is Arbutus honey - also called „mjalte mareje“. Made from strawberry trees, this grade has a tendency to taste strong and bitter, whereas the Chestnut harvest is characterized by an intensive, tart and aromatic note.

It seems that - out here - flora, fauna and humans live together peacefully, working as one. Friendly and natural. Benefiting from one another: Fields blossom and bloom and give nectar to the bees. In return, they benefit from the increased pollination that guarantees their continuity.
Bees produce honey, wax and propolis - products that give us precious nutrients and have antibacterial effects. Farmers provide bees with a safe place to breed in fruitful regions and additional feeding when necessary.
Flora and Fauna give and take from each other. Friendly and compassionate.