King Zog's Albanian summer palace gets timeshare makeover

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The Independent Online

The former summer palace of the king of Albania is being turned into a timeshare villa as his impoverished nation takes its first steps into the world of second home investments.

The palace is in Durres, the Adriatic port city not far from the capital, Tirana. Built for King Zog in the 1930s in art deco style, it was trashed 10 years ago when the collapse of a pyramid savings scheme drove crowds of infuriated investors to loot and pillage.

Now the Durres municipality has given permission for it to be restored, and it is to become the hub of Albania's first luxury resort, developed by Alban Xhilleri, a Tirana-based developer, with a British consultancy, HLL Humbert's Leisure. Investors who buy a share in one of the 50 apartments to be built around the restored palace will have the right to live in it for six weeks a year. The palace itself will be remodelled as a spa, but the only son of King Zog, the pretender to the Albanian throne who styles himself King Leka, will retain a penthouse suite.

Zog, the first and only king of Albania, died in exile in 1961. He was born of a feudal family and claimed descent from Skanderbeg, Albania's medieval hero. Elected president in 1925, he was crowned king in 1928, and set up a constitutional monarchy modelled on Italy's across the Adriatic.

The palace was built in the 1930s and has parquet floors, a main ceiling covered in frescoes and a grand marble staircase. The focus of attention in the main drawing room is a throne of gilded walnut wood, a gift from the king of Italy, who supposedly sat on it after Italy invaded Albania and Zog was forced into exile.

Zog survived more than 50 assassination attempts while on the throne, and is celebrated as the only monarch of modern times to have returned fire when attacked by assassins (he always carried a revolver). But in his Durres palace, life was quiet to the point of torpor: the main diversion was poker, which the king played with his sisters, and perfumed cigarettes, of which he smoked 150 per day.

The palace was used for wedding parties under communist rule, and more recently a mobile phone antenna was installed. "King" Leka, who fled with his parents when he was only two days old, returned to Albania in 2002, and is likely to be a regular resident of the palace, having withdrawn from public life last year.

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