The hard won peaceful relationships between Balkan countries should be celebrated by visiting hikers and adventurers. And this is one heck of a way to do it, walking the Peaks of the Balkans, a 190km long-distance trail traversing the Western Balkans, on a circuit that encompasses the heritage highlights (and highlands) of Albania, Kosovo and Montenegro. Depending on the heights that you want to hit, there are options to ascend Mt. Trekufiri, Hajla, Taljanka and Arapi, all promising the most peaceful panoramas. The good news is that our Peaks of the Balkans Trail tours are moderate-level, both self-guided and guided walking holidays where you are on your feet for between five and eight hours every day, with daily ascents of maximum 1,000m. And natural highs at every turn.
Highlights of the Peaks of the Balkans Trail
Valbona Valley National Park
Covering approximately 80km2 of Northern Albania’s mountains, also known as the Albanian Alps or Accursed Mountains, this national park protects all of the precious natural heritage around the Valbona River. These are traditional Albanian highlands, with remote villages, traditional Ottoman tower houses, ancient beech forests, glacial lakes and streams. They are the sort of landscapes where you look up to spot golden eagles or peregrine falcons. Where you greet a local shepherd, stepping aside to let him guide his flock up to higher elevations. Or where you sip an Albanian wine on the balcony of your chalet, watching the stars explode over the surrounding peaks. Nothing accursed about them, you will feel blessed to be here.
Theth National Park
Also in the north, but west of Valbona Valley, is Theth National Park, which covers a smaller area of 26.3km2 but still boasts a pretty package of peaks and treats. The community at the heart of the park is in the village of Theth, where you spend a night on our Peaks of the Balkans holidays. The dramatic landscapes of the Theth River and Valley include the 40m-high walls of Grunas Canyon, Mount Jezercë, the highest peak in the Dinaric Alps (2,694m) and Peja Pass (1,776m), as well as vast forested uplands that are home to deer, wild goats, the Balkan chamois and a few very elusive brown bears.
Valbona Pass (1,811m) in the eponymous national park boasts panoramic views over Theth and Valbona Valleys where, on some of our Peaks of the Balkans holidays, you can follow its ancient trails with a pack horse to carry your bags. Also known as the Grand Crossing, it’s a colossal trek with plenty of rest spots at natural springs, and flower-covered meadows that cross view-tastic valleys. Although this holiday is only walkable between June and October, due to weather conditions, Valbona Pass can sometimes still have snow in early summer. If this is the case, we recommend that you use a local mountain guide to take you on an alternative winter trail, and we organise this for you. Talking of mountain experts, it’s worth noting that these exquisite, elevated landscapes are also home to Albanian Malësori people or highlanders, who still follow a traditional code of conduct called the Kanun of Lekë Dukagjini, with honour and hospitality at its core.
Koman, or Komani Lake is a man-made reservoir, constructed in the 1980s as part of a larger hydroelectric project on the Drin River. Our Peaks of the Balkans holidays include a boat trip on a normal passenger ferry across the waterscape, which loops its way through the fjords of the Albanian Alps, stopping en route at remote villages. Although this ferry ride has been cited as one of the most scenic boat journeys in Europe, it’s still very much off the tourist trail, and is a wonderful addition to the Peaks of the Balkans Trail.
Summiting Mount Trekufiri (2,366m), also called Tromedja, is one of the highlights of the Peaks of the Balkans Trail as its peak forms the border triangle where Albania, Kosovo and Montenegro meet. Not surprisingly, it provides sweeping views of the borderlands. It’s a steep ascent but, after the summit, you can hike along a border ridge, with Montenegro on one side and Kosovo on the other. Heading into Montenegro, you hike around Mount Bogicevica (2,374m) to the well-hidden Lake Hrid. Given the history of the Balkan region, and the wonders of this trail in healing past divisions, Mount Trekufiri really must be one of our planet’s most tranquil triangles.
Rugova Gorge is one of the colossal Kosovan moments on the Peaks of the Balkans trail, located near the town of Peja (also known as Peć). Hike down into the heart of the gorge, where the depth ranges between 650–1000m, where ancient pines cling to rugged cliffs and where the River Peja Bistrica continues to carve its way through the valley.
Do I have to walk the complete Peaks of the Balkans Trail?
You don’t have to take on the whole thing, although we do offer the complete 190km trail as both a self-guided and guided small group tour, over 11 and 12 days respectively. You can also do a shorter highlights version, again as self-guided or walking with a guided, small group, both taking eight days.
When is the best time to do the Peaks of the Balkans Trail?
Our Peaks of the Balkans Trail tours run between June and September, because these are the best conditions for high mountain trekking. Valbona Pass, for example, is closed outside these months, due to snowfall and, on rare occasions, it is also closed in summer if snow falls. Although the average summer high temperature in these mountains is around 26C. In the height of summer, you can forage on your forays for wild strawberries and blueberries in summer, or apples, walnuts and hazelnuts around September.
The Balkans are bursting with secret hiking trails and mountain rambling retreats. They are also still relatively unknown to many tourists, which is why we have written some Balkan blogs to put you in the picture. One we are rather partial to at The Natural Adventure. Take a look at Bigging up our Balkan holidays, Best time to go to Bulgaria, Walking the Via Dinarica Trail and Lesser-known lake districts in Europe.