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Hidden Gems
Trails and Valleys of South Albania 37

Hidden Valleys of South Albania

Overview

One of the least-known corners of Europe, Albania has a fascinating history and dramatic mountain scenery. 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. This walking holiday offers that rare opportunity to step back in time and hike along footpaths off the beaten track.

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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 village of Gjirokastra.

Day 2: Peshtan – 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 the valley. Only on an ancient caravan route, you can reach the highest pass and soon the almost deserted village of Kala, 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 the remains of a cobbled road. The views of Mt Strakavec, remote feeling and the vernacular stone architecture of Limar leave a lasting impression. Overnight in the house of the teacher who takes care of the 10 pupils that remain in the village and will tell you stories about the turbulent past of the region.

  • Walking for the day: 11 km, 4-5 h, ↑750 m ↓425 m
  • 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
  • Overnight: local 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
  • 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 (1450m) 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 and sample local wines and raki.

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

Day 6: Permet – Gjirokaster | 6 km

Another stunning panorama of Nemercka Mountain awaits at the Lengarica Canyon entrance, 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. Transfer to Gjirokastra.

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

Day 7: Tirana or Saranda

Depending on your flights and the selected airport you can choose to spend the last evening of your trip in either Tirana or Saranda (if flying from Corfu).

If you’d like to spend the evening in 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.

If you’d like to spend the evening in Saranda:

Explore the pearl of the Albanian Riviera, Saranda, a lively coastal resort. You can also make an optional trip to the UNESCO World Heritage site of Butrint (not included). Set in a beautiful forested area that sprawls across the peninsula, the ruins are very well preserved, though the amphitheatre, basilica and castle are the most impressive sights. Buses run every hour between downtown Saranda and Butrint via Ksamil for 100 leks (€0.80). The entrance fee to Butrint National Park is 700 lek (€5.60), and it takes 2 to 3 hours to visit the entire complex.

  • Overnight: Vila 60 (in Tirana) or similar
  • Meals included: Breakfast

Day 8: Departure on Onward Travel

  • Complimentary transfer to Tirana Airport (if staying in Tirana and departing from Tirana Airport) or to Saranda Ferry Port (if staying in Saranda and flying from Corfu Airport)
  • Meals included: Breakfast

What to Expect

Accommodation

Simple, clean family-run guesthouses and homestays in the mountains and middle-class hotels in towns. Facilities in homestays are 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 (Tepelena), Hotel Alvero (Permet),Hotel Kodra (Gjirokastra), Vila 60 (Tirana)

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, 3 days full board, 3 days with picnic lunch package, 1-day breakfast only. Dinner, when not included, 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. 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 late March to early June and from September into early November. It is too hot for walking in July and August. 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. 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 Corfu. Complimentary arrival and departure transfers to these airports are included in the trip cost* (one arrival and one departure transfer per party). Please note that in case you are arriving or departing at/from Corfu airport, the included transfers are from/to Saranda Ferry Port

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 7 nights in hand-picked 2 to 3-star hotels or family-run guesthouses and homestays as listed in the itinerary
  • 3 days full board, 1 day breakfast & packed lunch, 3 days  B&B
  • 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 return transfers Tirana or Saranda on days 1 and 7
  • Arrival meeting
  • 24/7 phone assistance by our local office in Tirana

*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
  • Travel from/to Corfu (Airport) to/from Saranda Ferry Port
  • 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 only possible on Days 1, 5, 6 and 7.
  • This holiday is NOT available for solo travellers
  • One extra night in Tirana and/or Saranda before or after the holiday

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