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Trails of Albanian Alps 8

Accursed Mountains Walking Break

Overview

The Albanian Alps Short Break is a 6 days (5 nights) tour for intrepid travellers who are eager to explore the highlights of the Albanian Alps on their own but have limited time. For those who would like to experience the Albanian Alps in full, we recommend the 8 days (7 nights) version of this itinerary.

The Albanian Alps & Accursed Mountains hikes include rugged mountain terrain but also take you through beautiful mountain valleys, alpine meadows, and remote villages surrounded by the majestic peaks of the Albanian Alps.

The return journey includes a panoramic drive over the Terthoria Pass to the low lands and onto Albania’s capital Tirana for sightseeing.

Highlights

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Itinerary

Day 1: Arrival in Albania/Shkodra

Your driver will welcome you at the airport in Tirana or Podgorica. During the transfer to the hotel close to Shkodra’s centre, you can gather first impressions. If the weather allows it, you have the choice to swim at the Balkans’ biggest lake or visit the Rozafa Castle. Learn about its legend and enjoy fabulous views which excite your curiosity for the days of travel through the Albanian Alps. In the city, the cafés burst with people who flock for a stroll on the pedestrian area. Lined with bourgeoisie townhouses, a reminder of the city’s rich past, it has a certain Italian atmosphere. Immerse in the bazaar’s buzz, at the Marubi photo library in Albania’s past, visit the museum, or enjoy an espresso with the locals. When daylight fades, you can choose between restaurants that offer carefully crafted traditional meals. On the next day, you are heading off to the Albanian Alps!

  • Complimentary transfer from Tirana or Podgorica airport to Shkodra (90 min)
  • Check-in at a boutique hotel in Ottoman Villa, bicycles available free of charge
  • City tour with notes and maps
  • Overnight at Shkoder boutique hotel (Hotel Tradita)

Day 2: Koman Lake / Into the Accursed Mountains | 7 km

You rise early for the transfer through a scenic gorge to the Koman Lake (55 km/1:30 h). The picturesque reservoir loops similar to a Norwegian fjord through sheer rock walls and is considered a highlight of the Alps. The custom-made ferry stops at several points to pick up locals from remote villages before arriving at Fierze (46 km/ 3 h). After lunch, you travel by minibus past traditional villages, composed of wooden shingle-covered stone houses, into the highlands and the Valbona National Park (35km/1:15h). On a first warm-up walk, you continue on foot along the crystal-clear stream and quiet berry-lined trails through the forest to the secluded Xhemes Lake for a swimming break. The walk ends at your cosy accommodation in a small hamlet. You will have itchy feet when you see the jagged peaks from the terrace; the next day will be “the day”.

  • Walking for the day: 7 km, 3 h, ↑250 m ↓50 m
  • 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)
  • Luggage transport by car
  • Warm-up walk with swimming opportunity (3h)
  • Overnight at Valbone Hotel / private ensuite (Vila Dini or  Guesthouse Kol Gjoni)
  • Meals included: Breakfast, lunch, dinner

Day 3: Valbona – Queen of the Mountains | 12 km

You start your hike to Kukaj, an isolated hamlet where only two families reside, below bunkers that once protected the border and are now scattered in the riverbed. The windy path takes you over lush meadows ablaze with the colours of various spring flowers to a shepherd hut at 1650 m. In the communist period, this was a no-go area and the building used as a military barrack. Admire the wild and romantic jagged mountain scenery, sample fresh milk products should the shepherd be present, or climb higher to an old crossing at the Montenegrin border.

At 2040 m a weathered border pyramid is a reminder of the isolation Albania once endured, from here views reach to the most dramatic parts of Montenegrin Prokletije. Catching the last glimpse at the Alps highest peak Jezerca (2694vm) you descend on a different path to another guesthouse. When daylight fades, you can watch the alpine glow over dinner in the idyllic garden.

  • Walking for the day: 12 km, 5-6 h, ↑750 m ↓700 m
  • Hike to hamlet Kukaj and over flower-rich meadows to shepherd hut on 1650m, return on another trail to the guesthouse in Rragam – extension to Montenegrin border (+2h)
  • Luggage transport by car
  • Overnight at guesthouse Rragram** (private ensuite)
  • Meals included: Breakfast, packed lunch, dinner

Day 4: The Grand Crossing: Valbona to Theth | 15 km

Accompanied by a local and a mule that carries your load you set out for the transfer hike across Valbona Pass (1811 m) – another highlight and the highest point of your journey. After passing the village Rragam few steep segments need to be tackled. You can pause regularly near springs and on colourful meadows to enjoy the splendid views. Reaching the pass, the surrounding peaks appear on par, and sweeping views of both valleys fascinate even the seasoned traveller. Enjoy the picturesque landscape during a lunch break ahead of the descent to Theth. The fairy-tale beech forest provides cover from the sun in the afternoon for you. By the time the woods thin out Mt. Arapi (2217 m) is visible and soon the village houses are reached. Spread below are the different hamlets. On a broad path, you enter another charming guesthouse in the centre of the village.

  • Walking for the day: 15 km, 6-7 h, ↑750 m ↓1125 m
  • Short transfer by car to the trailhead
  • Hike on a caravan route accompanied by horsemen across the Valbona Pass to Theth
  • Luggage transport on a horse
  • Overnight at Guesthouse Theth / private ensuite (Bujtina Polia)
  • Meals included: Breakfast, packed lunch, dinner

Day 5: The Blue Eye. Tirana or Shkodra| 9 km

The hike through the canyon leads to a karst spring called “Blue Eye”. The bravest can take a dip in the icy waters while butterflies swirl around you – truly a hidden oasis to relax at. Without mobile phone coverage, electricity, and road access, busy everyday life seems completely forgotten. After a meal at the guesthouse the minibus takes you to the Edith Durham Memorial, over a scenic pass road to the Boga Valley and Shkodra (3 h).

Depending on the time of your flights (and the selected airport) you can choose to spend the last evening of your trip in either Shkoder or Tirana.

If you’d like to spend the evening in Tirana:
You change cars in Shkodra and continue for another 90 minutes. In the capital, you can visit museums, admire historic buildings and explore the “blloku” district. Once the living quarters of politburo élite it turned now into a chic upmarket neighbourhood packed with boutique shops and cafes. Tirana stands in stark contrast to the rural areas of Albania you explored in the Accursed Mountains. Your day concludes with a dinner, you recall the past week of travel and celebrate a successful and memorable journey through Albania.

  • Walking for the day: 9 km, 3-4 h, ↑275 m ↓275 m
  • Return hike along the river to a karst spring
  • Transfer by public minibus (1-2 pm departure) over the Thoria Pass (1645 m) to Shkodra and eventually to Tirana
  • City tour with notes and maps.
  • Overnight at Shkoder boutique hotel or Tirana – depending on your flights (Hotel Tradita or Vila 60)
  • Meals included: Breakfast, lunch

Day 6: Departure on Onward Travel

  • Depending on departure time possibility to further explore the capital
  • Complimentary transfer to Tirana or Podgorica airport (1.5 h – 2 h)
  • Meals included: Breakfast

What to Expect

Accommodation

Accommodation includes a boutique 3-star hotel in Shkoder, a welcoming hotel in Valbone, and several characterful guesthouses in the mountains. We have carefully hand-picked all places and regularly monitor their quality. We have tried to choose accommodations that offer friendly service, clean and comfortable rooms and local flavour.

Click to view default accommodations

Hotel Tradita, Vila Dini, Guesthouse Kol Gjoni, Bujtina Polia, Vila 60

Hotels and guesthouses are subject to availability. In case a particular hotel is fully booked for your desired dates it will be replaced with a hotel of equal value and quality level; sometimes you will need to spend the night in a different building in close vicinity to the main building. While we try to arrange accommodations with en-suite bathrooms, this might not be possible on this particular trip on all days, especially in the high mountain. Exact accommodation details will be provided to you upon booking confirmation.

Meals

Meals as specified, mostly full board with picnic lunch package. When not included, dinner is available either from the restaurant in your hotel or restaurants and taverns in the village/town near your hotel.

Difficulty & terrain

The tour is suitable for active hikers with a moderate level of fitness. Some stages include extended steep ascents and descents and terrain, which is rugged and rough underfoot (read more about difficulty grades). Most – but not all – of the trails are well marked and signposted. We strongly advise you to follow only marked trails and never try to shorten the path through the unknown and unmarked terrain. We will provide you with detailed road notes, maps and GPS tracks, and you can call our 24/7 local assistance phone number anytime.

When to go

This trip is available from June till end-September. The best time for walking is between July and mid-September when the weather is generally stable. Earlier in the season, there may be some residual snow patches, but this will not require any special equipment or skills. On request, snow cover permitting, we could also organise this trip during the second half of May. The flexibility of self guided holidays means that there are no fixed dates, and you can start your trip on any date during the season.

Getting there

FCO up-to-date travel advice

Recommended airports for this trip are Tirana or Podgorica. Complimentary private return transfers to these airports are included in the trip cost (one arrival and one departure transfer per party).

Inclusions

Included

  • 5 overnights as detailed in the itinerary (2 nights in hotels, 3 nights in guesthouses)
  • 3 days full board, 2 days B&B
  • Luggage transfers when changing hotels (one piece of luggage per person*, max 15 kg)
  • Complimentary airport transfers (Tirana or Podgorica, one arrival and one departure transfer per party)
  • Arrival briefing
  • Detailed route notes, maps (1 x per room) & GPS tracks
  • 24/7 phone assistance by our local office/representative

*Please note that suitcases are not suitable for transport on horses and only one piece of soft baggage (duffle or backpack) with a maximum weight of 15 kg is permitted. We can safely store your extra luggage in Tirana or Shkodra.

Excluded

  • Airfare and connecting land transfers other than Podgorica and Tirana
  • Lunches on days 1 and 6, dinners on days 1, 5 and 6
  • Travel insurance (required – get a quote online)
  • Personal expenses
  • Any other items not explicitly listed as included

Options, extras & supplements

  • A supplement applies to members of a group who require a single room in Tirana or Shkodra
  • This holiday is available for solo travellers; a supplement will be charged as accommodation and luggage transfer costs are not shared (solo travellers will be accommodated in single rooms wherever possible)
  • Extra nights in Tirana or Shkodra before/after the trip

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