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New walking and cycling adventures for 2019!

Complete Albania Explorer

Overview

One of the least-known corners of Europe, Albania has a fascinating history and dramatic mountain scenery. On our Complete Albania Trek, you will explore the hidden gems of South Albania and then move to the stunning Albanian Alps in the north. Undiscovered national parks, hidden valleys, ancient castles, walled towns, timeless villages, UNESCO World Heritage Sites, wonderful culture and sweeping views of the Ionian Sea, Albania’s charming south has it all. The second part of the trip will take you north to the Accursed Mountains offering breathtaking natural scenery and hiking through some of the last untamed natural locations and wilderness available in Europe.

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Itinerary

Day 1: Arrival at Tepelena or Gjirokastra

Your driver will welcome you at the airport in Tirana for a complimentary transfer to the village of Tepelena or the ferry port at Saranda (in case you arrive via Corfu Airport) for a complimentary transfer to the town of Gjirokastra.

Day 2: Tepelena – Limar | 11 km

A transfer through the Dropul Valley takes you into the Kelcyra Gorge shaped by one of Europe’s last wild rivers and to the village of Peshtan (45min). The Dhembeli-Nemercka and Lunxheri-Bureto Range encompass and shield off the valley. Only on an ancient caravan route, you can reach the highest pass and soon the almost deserted Kala village, where only one family remains. The river below Limar is crossed via one of Ali Pasha’s impressive Ottoman stone bridges, and you can spot remains of a cobbled road. The views to Mt Strakavec, remote feeling and the vernacular stone architecture of Limar leave a lasting impression. Overnight in the local teacher’s house, takes care of the few pupils that remain in the village.

  • Walking for the day: 11 km, 4-5 h, ↑750 m ↓425 m
  • Luggage transfer by car
  • Overnight: homestay (shared facilities)
  • Meals included: Breakfast, packed lunch, dinner

Day 3: Limar – Hoshteve | 15 km

Walk on ancient footpaths to reach Hoshteve. Passing several traditional villages, you will have the chance to experience the authentic rural lifestyle, meet the locals and admire the mountain splendour above as well as the Zagoria River below. Below the village Doshnica a waterfall can be visited at a geologically interesting fold, depending on the water level you may continue along the river or backtrack to the village. Another Ottoman bridge connects Hoshteve with the neighbouring villages Nderan and Zhej. Noteworthy is also the church of the Holy Apostle in Hoshteve, a fine example of Orthodox heritage.

  • Walking for the day: 14.5 km, 6-7 h, ↑725 m ↓575 m
  • Luggage transfer by car
  • Overnight: homestay (shared facilities)
  • Meals included: Breakfast, packed lunch, dinner

Day 4: Hoshteve – Sheper | 13 km

After yesterday’s demanding walk, a shorter and easier route allows for a relaxed walking day accompanied by views of Mt. Cajupi. Nivan is the centre of the commune. Its central square is dedicated to William Tilman, a famed British mountaineer who lived here for a year fighting together with the local resistance in German-occupied Albania during WW2. Tilman was described as “the 20th Century’s last true explorer”. Then the trail takes us to the river, a monastery and the last of Ali Pasha’s stone bridges. Over meadows, you will reach Sheper where the overnight is in a simple guesthouse of an Aroman / Vllach family, nomadic shepherds who were forcefully settled here during communism. Time can be spent with the family or exploring the village.

  • Walking for the day: 12.5 km, 5 h, ↑600 m ↓550 m
  • Luggage transport by car
  • Overnight: homestay (shared facilities)
  • Meals included: Breakfast, packed lunch, dinner

Day 5: Sheper – Permet | 10 km

Over the Dhembel-Nemercke Range, you will walk following an ancient caravan route. Marvelling the peaks of Mt. Cajupi Mountain’s across the valley, you will climb uphill to the summer pastures that serve local shepherds. The alpine valley is flanked by steep slopes and the Dhembel Pass (1450 m) at its end offers views of the Eastern Highlands, across into Greece and to the town of Permet far below. Then a long rocky descent leads to Leuse, another beautiful stone village with an amazing fresco-covered church, probably the most beautiful in Southern Albania. It is then only a 15-minute walk to reach the city centre and your centrally located hotel. For dinner, you have plenty of options to taste the city’s famous cuisine, sample local wines and raki.

  • Walking for the day: 10 km, 6-7 h, 625 m ↓1250 m
  • Luggage transport by car
  • Overnight: Hotel Alvero or similar
  • Meals included: Breakfast, packed lunch

Day 6: Permet – Gjirokastra | 6 km

Another stunning panorama of Nemercka Mountain awaits at the entrance of the Lengarica Canyon, and the thermal pools of Benje are said to have a healing effect on many ailments. The springs are located next to an Ottoman stone bridge with dramatic views of Nemercka, the second-highest mountain in South Albania. Soak and relax in the sulphuric waters or explore the river canyon. Later you stroll to the tiny village Benje where you can sample raki and gliko, a sweet local delight made from preserved fruits. Transfer to Gjirokastra.

  • Walking for the day: 6 km, 3 h, ↑350 m ↓350 m
  • Luggage transport by car
  • Overnight: Hotel Kodra or similar
  • Meals included: Breakfast

Day 7: Tirana

Transfer to Tirana. 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.

  • Overnight: Vila 60 or similar
  • Meals included: Breakfast

Day 8: Shkodra

Transfer from Tirana to Shkodra. 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 to it. Immerse in the buzz of the bazaar, 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!

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

Day 9: Koman Lake | 7 km

You rise early for the transfer through a scenic gorge to the Koman Dam (55 km/1:30h). 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/3h). After lunch, you travel by minibus past traditional villages, composed of wooden shingle-covered stone houses, into the highlands and the Valbona National Park (35 km/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 (90 min)
  • Boat ride through the canyons of the Koman Lake (3 h)
  • Transfer from Fierze via Bajram Curri (optional lunch stop) to the trailhead in Valbona (75 min)
  • Luggage transport by car
  • Warm-up walk with swimming opportunity (3 h)
  • Overnight: Vila Dini or  Guesthouse Kol Gjoni or similar
  • Meals included: Breakfast, lunch, dinner

Day 10: Valbona | 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 a variety of 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 opt to 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 (2694 m) you descent 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 (+2 h)
  • Luggage transport by car
  • Overnight: guesthouse Rragram** (private ensuite).
  • Meals included: Breakfast, packed lunch, dinner

Day 11: 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 both valleys’ sweeping views 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 (2217m) is visible and soon the village houses are reached. Spread below are the different hamlets. On a broad path, you enter another inviting 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
  • Transfer hike on caravan route accompanied by horsemen across the Valbona Pass to Theth
  • Luggage transport on a horse
  • Overnight: Bujtina Polia or similar
  • Meals included: Breakfast, packed lunch, dinner

Day 12: Peja Pass / Meadows above the Clouds | 7-15 km

Today you have the choice between the Peja Pass (at the northern end of the valley below the Matterhorn of Albania, Mt. Arapi) or the panoramic trail to the Meadow of Deneli.

  • For the hike up the Peja Pass we recommend an early start and using transport to and from the trailhead, otherwise, add 4 km or 1h walking time each way. The one-way transfer is 20€, return 30€. The trail starts near the source of the Thethi River and follows an ancient caravan path.
  • To reach Deneli, you start from the guesthouse and walk through the green Ulaj neighbourhood. After crossing the river the ascend leads through light forest and on a path in the cliffs to the football field size plain in the middle of the mountains.

Both routes return the same way, and you stay in the previous night’s guesthouse.

  • Option 1: Peja Pass: Hike on the caravan route to the karst plateau, can be shortened one hour each way with an optional car transfer (not included, payable on-site), 7-15 km, 6-8 h, ↑950 m ↓950 m
  • Option 2: Field of Denelli: Hike on a cliff path to the shepherd hut on a mountain plateau, 10 km, 6-7 h, ↑1000 m ↓1000 m
  • Option 3: Shorter walks up to 4 h within the valley
  • Overnight in previous night’s accommodation (private ensuite)
  • Meals included: Breakfast, packed lunch, dinner

Day 13: Theth – In the Heart of the Albanian Alps | 8 km

A walk through the village and the green gardens reveals the full extent of Theth. Visit the iconic church, well-kept fields and explore the fortified tower that offered protection for men threatened by local blood feuds. It is the perfect place to learn about the highland “kanun” code of Leke Dukagjini, its origins, impact and present-day relevance.

Onward along the water channels, you ascend to the waterfall. On a cliff above the river, archaeologists discovered stone-aged terraces. You can rest there, enjoy picnic lunch and gaze into the adjacent 50 m deep Grunas Canyon. Along the river, a well-worn bridle path leads downstream to Nderlysa where you stay on a farmstead. You can use your free time to sample mulberries, grapes, and plums in the garden, harvest corn and milk sheep with the family, learn to cook a typical dish, explore the surroundings, or swim.

  • Walking for the day: 8 km, 3-4 h, ↑150 m ↓400 m
  • Walk through the village to waterfall, canyon and blood feud tower. Hike on bridle path to Nderlysa. Free afternoon with swimming possibility and many other options
  • Luggage transport by car
  • Overnight: Bjeshka Guesthouse or similar
  • Meals included: Breakfast, packed lunch, dinner

Day 14: 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 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 (3-4 h).
  • Transfer by public minibus (1-2 pm departure) over the Thoria Pass (1645 m) to Shkodra (3 h).
  • Transfer to Tirana or Podgorica airport – depending on flights.
  • City tour with notes and maps.
  • Overnight at Shkoder boutique hotel or Tirana – depending on your flights.
  • Meals included: Breakfast, lunch

Day 15: Departure or 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

Simple, clean family-run guesthouses and homestays and middle-class hotels. Facilities in homestays may be shared. 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

Lord Byron Guesthouse, Hotel Alvero, Hotel Kodra, Hotel Tradita, Vila Dini, Guesthouse Kol Gjoni, Bujtina Polia, Bjeshka Guesthouse, 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 in private rooms, this might not be possible in mountain homestays. Exact accommodation details will be provided to you upon booking confirmation.

Meals

Meals as described in the itinerary: 8 days full board, 3 days with breakfast and picnic lunch package, 3 days breakfast only. 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 good level of fitness. Moderate itineraries may include extended steep ascents and descents along routes. May also include high mountain (alpine) terrain which is rugged and rough underfoot (read more about difficulty grades). You will walk mostly on hiking trails and paths. 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 and maps and you can call our 24/7 local assistance phone number anytime. More detailed info on route navigation will be included in your holiday information pack.

When to go

This trip is available from early May to mid June and from September into mid October. It is too hot for walking in South Albania in July and August, while there might be snow in North Albania too early or too late in the season.

The flexibility of self-guided holidays means that there are no fixed dates and you can start your holiday on any date in the season – so please indicate desired starting date when booking.

Getting there

FCO up-to-date travel advice

Recommended airports for this trip: Tirana or Corfu for arrival, Podgorica or Tirana for departure.

Inclusions

Included

  • Detailed pre-departure holiday information pack including GPS-checked and regularly updated route descriptions and road notes; maps with daily routes and optional hikes marked
  • GPS tracks to use via our smartphone app or on your own GPS device
  • Accommodation for 14 nights in hand-picked 2 to 3-star hotels or family-run guesthouses and homestays as listed in the itinerary
  • Meals as described in the itinerary
  • Daily luggage transport to next hotel of 1 bag of up to 15 kg per person
  • All ground transfers and baggage transfers as listed in the itinerary, including complimentary transfers from Saranda Ferry Port (if flying to Corfu) or Tirana Airport on arrival and to Podgorica Airport or Tirana Airport on departure
  • Arrival meeting
  • 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

  • Flights and airport transfers other than the complimentary ones listed above
  • Travel insurance (required – get a quote online)
  • Personal expenses such as phone calls, extra transfers, tips, etc.
  • Any items not explicitly mentioned as ‘included’ in the programme

Options, extras & supplements

  • Single room supplement: due to limited availability in the mountains, single room supplement for group members is not possible
  • This holiday is available for solo travellers; as costs are not shared, a solo traveller supplement is charged
  • Extra nights in Tirana and/or Shkodra before or after the holiday

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Reviews

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Rating

     

Average rating:  5 stars  from 1 reviews

Albert D5 stars

Great trip and company. Very good guesthouses, great hospitality and food, beautiful trails, perfectly and efficiently organized. I would definitely order from TNAC again.