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Peaks of the Balkans Complete (12 Days, Guided)

Peaks of the Balkans Complete (12 Days, Guided)

Overview

The Peaks of the Balkans trek stands for everything adventure travel is about: discovering a remote corner of the world, marvel at pristine nature landscapes, get away from the everyday life and experience a simple and authentic lifestyle. This trip will take you through all the essential sites and landscapes of a complex region defined by a rich cultural diversity, century-old traditions, national borders, stunning nature and genuine hospitality.

To enrich the experience we offer you to join an international group led by a local English-speaking tour leader, who will show you the best the region has to offer, guide you through the wild mountain paths and borders of the Accursed Mountains and help you immerse in the complex cultural background and history of local communities.

In case our fixed departures don’t fit your schedule or you would prefer to explore the region at your own pace you can also check our self-guided offerings here and here or the 8-day guided version here

Highlights

  • Boat across the fjord-like Komani Lake to reach amazing Valbona National Park
  • Hike beyond borders through the stunning Accursed Mountains of Albania & Montenegro
  • Experience the local way of life with a memorable overnight in a shepherd’s hut
  • Ascend the panoramic peaks of Mt. Trekufiri, Hajla, Taljanka and Arapi (optional)
  • Marvel across awe-inspiring scenery in Grbaja & Ropojana Valley
  • Meet a colourful selection of local characters

Itinerary

Day 1: Arrival in Albania 

You’re met by our driver at Tirana (TIA) or Podgorica (TGD) airport for a two hour transfer (included) to the hotel in Shkodra. Those getting in earlier during the day, will be provided with recommendations what to do in town. Should you have any questions before meeting your guide, you may contact our local office through the hotel. At 5pm the group gathers for an introduction meeting and tour briefing at the accommodation. Afterwards you can look forward to a sumptuous traditional dinner! But don’t stay up too long, we’re starting tomorrow at 6 am. This is the latest by which you may join the trip.

  • Complimentary transfer from Tirana or Podgorica airport to Shkodra (90 min)
  • Overnight at Shkoder boutique hotel (Hotel Tradita, or similar)
  • Meals included: Dinner

Day 2: Journey into the Accursed Mountains

We rise early for the scenic drive through the Drin Gorges and to the Komani Lake
(55km/1:30h). The picturesque reservoir loops similar to a Norwegian fjord through sheer rock walls and makes for the most attractive route into the Albanian Alps. You’re in for a surprise by the custom-made “boat”, which stops several times to pick up talkative locals from remote villages before arriving at Fierze (46 km/3h). After lunch, we travel by car further into the highlands of the Valbona National Park into a traditional village composed of imposing tower houses. The afternoon warm-up walk follows a crystal clear stream through ancient beach forests speckled with the sweetest strawberries. Along the way, we can enjoy a swimming break at the river or a secluded pond. The walk ends at our cozy guesthouse in upper Valbona and there’s opportunity to explore the vicinity further. Tonight we enjoy a hearty home-cooked meal and well earned rest after your introduction to the Accursed Mountains.

  • ↑250m ↓50m ↔ 7km ⌚ 3h
  • Transfer by public minibus (6:30 am pickup time) or private car to ferry port Koman (90min)
  • Boat ride through the canyons of the Koman Lake (3h)
  • Transfer from Fierze via Bajram Curri (optional lunch stop) to the trailhead in Valbona (75min)
  • Warm-up walk with swimming opportunity (3h)
  • Overnight at Valbone guesthouse / private ensuite (Vila Dini or  similar)
  • Meals included: Breakfast, packed lunch, dinner

Day 3: The Highest Peaks of the Albanian Alps

Refreshed, fed and provided with a lunch pack we tackle the first long ascent of the tour. Winding up our way the mountain side, we are rewarded with views of the highest peaks of the Albanian Alps. Passing by pastures we reach a treeless alpine valley, where surrounded by rock only, the solitary mountains are all ours. The Persllopit Pass (2.039m) marks today’s high point and the border with Montenegro at the country’s highest peak Kolata. Past a so-called snow cave and through a karst labyrinth that requires surefootedness, we return to Albania and meet shepherds on our way to the isolated village Cerem. Without mobile phone signal or electricity, it remains the last outpost before the wilderness starts. Meals here are prepared from what is harvested in the garden and the hospitality of our hosts makes up for the lack of comfort. If the weather doesn’t permit to cross the pass, we will walk a shorter route through a canyon to reach our simple guesthouse (no electricity).

  • ↑1200m ↓950m ↔ 14km ⌚ 8h
  • Overnight at a local simple guesthouse
  • Meals included: Breakfast, packed lunch, dinner

Day 4: High Route into the Remote Border Triangle

The trek into the remote border triangle leads us across flower carpets once more into former Yugoslavia. We enjoy forest fruits, admire plant life and the views back to Kolata (2.534m). Following the high route through conifer forest along the rim of the deep cut river canyon, we notice just how much the landscape changes between the Western and Eastern Alps. In the glacial-shaped valley of Doberdol (1.750m) animals roam freely the grazing grounds. Locals still live in harmony with nature, as humankind did many years ago. This archaic place helps to set our inner compass and grounds our souls. In the simple shepherd huts, we relinquish comfort for one night in return for hospitality. The family prepares our meals and we learn more about the seasonal lifestyle of the shepherds at the campfire.

  • ↑1250m ↓650m ↔ 16km ⌚ 7h
  • Overnight at a local shepherd’s hut
  • Meals included: Breakfast, packed lunch, dinner

Day 5: The Border Triangle of Mt. Trekufiri

Wishing farewell to our hosts, we climb out of the valley towards Mt. Trekufiri (2.366m). On the very top, the borders of three countries merge revealing vistas of the borderlands. To the left lies evergreen Babino Polje, to the right the country’s highest peak Mt. Gjeravica abruptly dives from the heights of the Dinaric Alps into the Dukagjin Plain. The route crisscrosses the border ridge below the 2.500 metre high peaks of Marijash and Rops, opening panoramic views into both Kosovo and Montenegro. Your guide picks between two options, whereas the main path descends into the Valley of Roshkodol, where Kosovars who emigrated to Switzerland return to visit their families during the summer months (prime wedding season). After the longest trekking day, we reach our host in Milishefc. The simple mountain cabin where we stay for overnight offers some of the most beautiful sunsets in the Albanian Alps.

  • ↑1100m ↓825m ↔ 18km ⌚ 7:45h
  • Overnight at a mountain hut
  • Meals included: Breakfast, packed lunch, dinner

Day 6: Rugova Gorge

The Lumbardhi Ridge (2.130m) is the last obstacle that separates Milishefc (us) from the Rugova Gorge. The barely visible route up to the crest is rewarded with good views of the surrounding mountains. Hidden behind the ridge extensive grazing grounds surround the artesian pond at the foot of Mt. Red Rock (Guri i Kuq, 2.522m). Most pastoral grounds were abandoned after the Kosovo war or are now used only for recreational purposes, the Lumbardhi Alps is one of the few exceptions where livestock is still tended to on a greater scale. Beyond this sea of grass, the mountain plunges deep down into the Rugova Gorge. Across, the ridge of Hajla promises us a panoramic hike tomorrow. A steep trail leads through a gully and old grown woods to the bottom of the canyon. Here we stop for drinks and if weather permits go for a swim. At the end of the day, a short transfer on a rugged road takes us to our friendly hosts in Reka e Allages. Enjoy a cold beer when the sun sets on the “Red Rock” across from us.

  • ↑1200m ↓525m ↔ 14km ⌚ 6:00h
  • Overnight at a guesthouse 
  • Meals included: Breakfast, packed lunch, dinner

Day 7: Ridge Hike on the Spine of Hajla

Across meadows and along the blueberry trail we quickly ascent in a thick pine forest to the base of Mt. Hajla (1.800m). Multiple steep and partly trail-less routes lead to the peak that forms the border with Montenegro. The ascend is optional and you may opt-out to keep the day short (<5h). Daydream, read your book or admire the surrounding flora instead. From the top of the 300m high cliff, views reach far into the neighbouring country and city Rozaje. Here you have the best chances to spot rare plants like Edelweiss or the endemic Albanian lily. Back at its base, we continue on high altitude along an abandoned road to the highest of the thirteen Rugova villages and through a rocky gully to a guesthouse in the scenic hamlet of Drelaj. The host family keeps cows and is among the few that remain in the mountains year-round. You will be delighted by another yummy dinner.

  • ↑550m ↓600m ↔ 10km ⌚ 4:30h
  • Overnight at a guesthouse 
  • Meals included: Breakfast, packed lunch, dinner

Day 8: Across the Jelenka Pass into Montenegro

After a short transfer to the trailhead, the route climbs through idyllic pine forest to the two emerald lakes of Liqenat (1.850m) where you can cool your feet, but only in spring for a splash. At their banks flourishes a wide range of alpine flora and above awaits the highest point of the official Peaks of the Balkans route, the Jelenka Pass (2.272m). Caravans used this route since ancient time to move silver and other goods to and from the coast – nowadays it’s almost invisible. The top invites for a rest stop with views to the mountains above Plav, Theth and Valbona. Behind it, shepherds from Roshkodol collect berries and we’re flanked by peaks above 2.500m. The walk to Ravno Brdo Pass (2.178m) is mostly flat, offering dreamy therapeutic walking and good views. The last pass is a magnificent viewpoint towards the rugged peaks ahead of us and into the lush valley of Babino Polje below. In a cabin at the rim of the national park, we stay with a family who returned from emigration in Germany and forages unique ingredients from the forest. If their place is not available we may sleep in Plav or Vusanje instead.

  • ↑1150m ↓1150m ↔ 15km ⌚ 7:30h
  • Overnight at a guesthouse 
  • Meals included: Breakfast, packed lunch, dinner

Day 9: Grbaja Valley – The Highlight of Prokletije

The Grbaja Valley is one of the most awe-inspiring in the Balkans. An hour transfer past Lake Plav leads into a narrow valley, wedged between the karst towers of Karanfili (2.461 m). Arguably one of the most rugged and dramatic peaks in the Prokletije, it’s a dream of many climbers. Ascending through shaded fairy tale beech forest, a last steep climb takes us to the double peak of Popadija and Taljanka (2.056m). Here the walls across seem almost within our reach and views gaze across the border into the Kelmend region of Albania. Your guide will choose the most suitable route, traversing the narrow spine to a series of panoramic viewpoints back onto the shaded forest path, where the balloon hike closes. Reaching a garden on the valley floor, we celebrate the adventure before continuing to our guesthouse in Vusanje at the start of the next days’ trail. The nearby waterfall invites for a stroll, but views from the house are equally beautiful.

  • ↑950m ↓950m ↔ 12km ⌚ 6:30h
  • Overnight at a guesthouse 
  • Meals included: Breakfast, packed lunch, dinner

Day 10: Through the Heart of the Accursed Mountains

Travelling up the Ropojana Valley, formed by a 26 km long glacier, we stop at a pupil-shaped karst spring where an ice-cold river is born from melting snow high up in the mountains. A weathered border stone is the only reminder of the once tightly sealed borders of former Communist Albania. The mountain framed corridor takes us passed a dry lake, shepherd huts, and an abandoned military post to the heart of the Albanian Alps. Here the canine tooth of Mt. Arapi (2.217m) stands high above the Theth National Park forming the largest big wall in the Balkans. Arriving at Peja Pass (1.711m), your guide determines whether the summit can be tackled. The ones who take a pass on the challenging peak, suitable for experienced and sure-footed hikers only, rest at the pass or start the descend with the horsemen. A steep well-trodden caravan path leads to the local watering hole, followed by a short ride to a guesthouse in the centre of the lively village.

  • ↑650m ↓900m ↔ 11km ⌚ 6:45h
  • Overnight at a guesthouse 
  • Meals included: Breakfast, packed lunch, dinner

Day 11: Theth – Tradition in the Albanian Highlands

In Theth we visit the iconic church and lock-in tower (kulla) that offered protection to men threatened by blood feud. It’s the perfect place to dive into the history of the “kanun” and elaborate on the highland law code. Following water channels, we climb to the famed waterfall and descent along a well-worn bridle path to the quieter hamlet Nderlysa for a hearty lunch. Continue the hike to the colourful karst spring called the “Blue Eye” or spend an easy-going afternoon with swimming at the glacier-shaped rock formations. In the late afternoon, we ride across the scenic Terthorja Pass (1.630m) back to Shkodra (75km/3h) and our hotel from the first night. At night we celebrate the eventful trek with our new friends over a somewhat different dinner from the last days. How about drinks at the bustling bar zone of Shkodra? With all the party in mind, please also double-check with your guide for tomorrow’s departure transfers.

  • ↑225m ↓500m ↔ 16km ⌚ 5:30h
  • Overnight at a guesthouse 
  • Meals included: Breakfast, packed lunch, dinner

Day 12: Departure 

After breakfast, an airport transfer is arranged or onward travel plans accommodated. Time allowing you can explore the town, head to the nearby beaches in Velipoja and Ulcinj (Montenegro), experience Albania’s modern side in the capital Tirana or spend your beach holidays at the Albanian Riviera (5-7h travel time).

Hotels

Accommodation is in private en-suite hotel rooms on the first and last night in Shkodra. For the rest of the tour, you will spend the overnights in shared rooms (2-5 people) in simple and cosy guesthouses, where you will be hosted by local families who will take care of you and prepare you a dinner table full of traditional dishes. On day 3 you will spend the night in basic shepherd hut. Exact accommodation details will be provided to you upon booking confirmation.

Meals

Meals are included as described in the itinerary: all breakfasts, 10 lunches and 11 dinners. While in the mountains all the meals will be prepared and served by your local hosts. 

Travel

Baggage Transfers

Baggage transfer is included throughout the trip, and your bags will be transferred by your current hotel (or by private transfer) to your next hotel. Please note that the luggage is transported on horses for some days so hard suitcases are not suitable. We recommend packing in only one piece of soft baggage (duffle or backpack) with a maximum weight of 15 kg. It is not a problem to leave your main luggage in your hotel in Shkodra and collect it on the way back.

Travel Insurance

Travel Insurance WorldNomads

We strongly recommend protecting the cost of your trip and other non-refundable travel expenses with travel insurance. Our Signature Travel Insurance allows you to insure all of your expenses. While a Signature Travel Insurance policy can be purchased at any time, purchasing a policy within 20 days of making your initial trip deposit gives you the widest range of policy options, including a Cancel for Any Reason coverage. For complete peace of mind, we also recommend enrolling with Global Rescue, the worldwide leader in field rescue, evacuation and security extraction services.

Read more and get a quote online

Country Info

Albania

Timezone: GMT +1. Language: Albanian. In big cities, many people speak English, but in remote areas, this might not be the case. However, most of the hotel staff where we stay speak English and are ready to help you. You can always call our 24/7 helpline in case of problems. Electric supply and plugs: 220V, 50Hz, two-pin round plugs. Currency: The official currency in Albania is the Albanian Lek. 1£ is about 190 Albanian Lek. We strongly recommend taking sufficient cash for your daily requirements. Banks and ATMs are available, and credit/debit card payments are widely accepted in towns and cities and big petrol station chains but might be limited at some of the villages we visit. Up-to-date travel advice on Albania is available here.

Montenegro

Timezone: GMT +1. Language: Montenegrin (a variety of Serbo-Croatian). In big cities, many people speak English, but in remote areas, this might not be the case. However, most of the hotel staff where you stay speak English and are ready to help you. Road signs/markers are normally in the Latin alphabet – and you can always call our 24/7 helpline if there are any problems. Electric supply and plugs: 220V, 50hZ, two-pin round plugs. Currency: Euro. We strongly recommend taking sufficient cash for your daily requirements. Banks and ATMs are available, and credit/debit card payments are widely accepted in towns and cities and big petrol station chains but might be limited at some of the villages we visit. Up-to-date travel advice on Montenegro is available here.

Kosovo

Timezone: GMT +1. Language: Albanian. In big cities, many people speak English, but in remote areas, this might not be the case. However, most of the hotel personnel where we stay speak English and are ready to help you. Road signs/markers are normally in Albanian and sometimes in English too – and you can always call our 24/7 helpline if there are any problems. Electric supply and plugs: 220V, 50hZ, two-pin round plugs. Currency: Euro. We strongly advise taking adequate cash for your daily requirements. Banks and ATMs are available and credit/debit card payments are widely accepted in towns and cities and in big petrol station chains but might be limited at some of the villages we visit. Up-to-date travel advice on Kosovo is available here.

Trip Info

Difficulty Grade: Moderate

The tour is suitable for active hikers with a moderate level of fitness. Previous hiking experience is not vital as long as you are confident in your physical condition and sure-footedness. Walking days are usually between 5 and 8 hours, although they can be longer to cross passes or peaks (mostly optional). Daily ascents will likely be around 900m to 1.000m, perhaps with the odd day ascending around 1.100m to 1.300m. The tour also includes high mountain terrain which is rugged and rough underfoot and some sections of scrambling (read more about difficulty grades).

Route Navigation

This is a guided tour, so you will have a local English-speaking tour leader who will guide you throughout the trip, manage the logistics of the trip, and provide you with all the information you might need.

When to Go

This trip is available from June until September, weather is best in July – September. You can see the available departure dates by clicking the See Dates and Prices or Book Now menus.

Weather

Since it has coastlines on the Adriatic and Ionian seas and highlands, Albania experiences a variety of weather patterns depending on the area. Albania has a Mediterranean climate with hot summers and mild winters, especially on the coast. Throughout the year, there is abundant rainfall. Albania also has a lot of mountainous regions, where the winters can be very harsh with snowfall and low temperatures.

The dry period of the year is from June to September while it is predominately cold and wet from October to May. The lowlands have milder winters and milder summers than the coast; in the coastal regions, the daily temperatures fluctuate more. Throughout, the nights cool down significantly; all tourists should bring warm clothing and rainwear during the winter. If travelling during the summer tourists should bring light, cotton clothes but also a light sweater for summer nights.

What to Bring

We recommend that you travel as light as possible – airlines might charge you an extra fee, and during ground transfers, the place might be limited. Ideally, you should bring one piece of luggage weighing no more than 15 kg (due to the limitation in baggage transfers) and a day pack for your daily essentials (snacks, drinking water, camera, etc.). Below is a non-exclusive list of what you should bring to this trip. If you need further advice, please contact a reputable outdoor retailer or us.

  • Good hiking boots;
  • Hiking socks;
  • Several t-shirts (preferably breathable/fast drying);
  • Packable waterproof and windproof jacket with hood;
  • Synthetic mid layer or warm fleece;
  • Trainers and/or sandals – to relax and wear inside accommodation;
  • Sunglasses, sunscreen and lip salve;
  • Hat/Baseball cap;
  • Personal First Aid kit (wet wipes, flu remedies, stomach remedies).

Included

  • English speaking tour leader (plus an assistant if the group is larger than 8 persons)
  • Accommodation for 11 nights in small hotels and family-run guesthouses, as listed in the itinerary
  • All breakfasts, 10 lunches and 11 dinners
  • All ground transfers and baggage transfers as listed in the itinerary, including airport transfers Tirana or Podgorica
  • Luggage transport: one piece up to 15 kg
  • All entrance fees, trekking and border crossing permits

Single Room Supplement

  • Due to limited availability in the mountains, single room supplement for group members is possible only on Days 1 and 11.
  • Please note that if you are a solo traveller who wants to join the group, you will have to book a single room supplement in case there is no other solo traveller willing to share.

Excluded

  • Flights
  • Meals not listed above as well as drinks other than table water
  • Travel insurance
  • Personal expenses such as phone calls, extra transfers, tips, etc.
  • Any items not explicitly mentioned as ‘included’ in the programme

Extensions

  • One extra night in Tirana and/or Skodra before or after the holiday

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Peaks of the Balkans Complete (12 Days, Guided)
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by Chester on King Ludwig Way

Delightful moderate walk building up slowly to an interesting climax over the days. Varied and friendly hotels. Kirchberger in Wildsteig deseerves... Read full review

We are a retired couple of 73 and 70 years old. We enjoyed the trip very much. The trip was well organised; all went smooth, the accommodation... Read full review

This holiday not only had erupting volcanoes, fabulous hospitality and a plethora of dramatic landscapes to walk in, it also featured gorgeous... Read full review

We had a really great holiday and appreciated the good organisation from your company. Everything went to plan, very well organised and good... Read full review

We just completed the Catalan Coast and Mountain week-long self-guided walking tour. February was perfect in the off-season! [The] itinerary... Read full review

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