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High Scardus Trail  The Natural Adventure 79

High Scardus Trail

Overview

Get off the beaten path and become a pioneer on the newest and wildest trekking route in the Balkans – the High Scardus Trail. The entire 495 km hiking path connects Albania, Kosovo, and North Macedonia and can be covered in roughly 20 days. Named after the ancient name for the Shar mountain range, it starts in western Macedonia, passes near Lake Ohrid and leads towards the Macedonian-Albanian border, to finish near Lake Prespa in southeastern Albania.

Our High Scardus Trail itinerary follows the Albanian part of the trail along the most remote region of the Eastern Highlands. You will follow the trek through the isolated border area, staying overnight with local families and shepherds and experiencing authentic Balkan hospitality. Discover Albania’s highest mountain range, climb mighty Mt Korab (2764 m) – both Albania’s and North Macedonia’s highest peak, and enjoy breathtaking views, all at your own pace.

Highlights

  • Be among the first to trek the Albanian segment of the High Scardus Trail
  • Criss-cross the now peaceful and open border between Albania and Macedonia
  • Get off the beaten path and walk the highest mountain range in Albania
  • Climb Mt Korab (2.764m) – the highest peak of two countries
  • Feel warm Balkan hospitality at authentic local homestays

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Itinerary

Day 1: Arrival in Albania/Kukes

Welcome to the Balkans! We meet at the airport or in Tirana for a tour walk-through and to hand over your self guiding materials – a road book, maps, phone, and GPS device. Onward you travel directly to the first overnight location in either Kukes (2:30 h) or Shishtavec (3:15 h). Kukes is a small city in Northeastern Albania that overlooks the confluence of Kosovo’s White and North Macedonia’s Black Drin Rivers. Following the Kosovo conflict in 1999, the town was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for welcoming and sheltering 450.000 Kosovar refugees fleeing the war. The views of towering Mt. Gjallica (2.489 m) are a foretaste of what is to come. You’re staying in a small pension including a restaurant, have the opportunity to stock up on snacks and join the local’s evening stroll to the ruined regime hotel that overlooks the surrounding lake.

  • Overnight at a pension in Kukes or Shishtavec (Oda Kuksit or similar)

Day 2: From Kukes to Caje | 15 km

Starting from Kukes, a 45 min transfer takes you through the mighty Vanave Gorge up a winding road into the Gora (highlands). When nation-states formed at the turn of the 20th century, the formerly nomadic, Slavic-speaking Gorani community spread across the border triangle. Starting near Shishtavec, a gradual ascent leads you to the rocky outcrop of Mt. Kallabak (2.174 m). It’s the very first peak of the Sharr Massif from where one can spot “The Pope’s Hat”, the peak where the borders of three countries meet. Onward, you walk through seemingly endless meadows along a panoramic ridgeline, crisscrossing the border between Albania and Kosovo. A glimpse of Mt. Korab (2.764 m) creates pleasant anticipation of this highlight ahead. Descending into a deep-cut alpine valley, you reach the remote village Caje, possibly Albania’s highest year-round inhabited settlement. Don’t miss out on the “club”, the nucleus of every Albanian village, for a chit-chat with the elders and a glass of strong raki. You just completed the first stage of the High Scardus Trail.

  • Walking for the day: 15 km, 6-7 h, ↑725 m ↓1000 m
  • Overnight in Caje (homestay – Ardian Musai or similar)
  • Meals included: Breakfast, packed lunch, dinner

Day 3: From Caje to Radomire | 17 km

Wishing farewell to your hosts, you leave the simple homestay to start the second, longer hike to the larger village of Radomire. Fairytale-like beauty awaits when the alpine meadows are covered by colourful flower carpets. With some luck, you will spot the endemic Albanian Lily or herds of semi-wild horses peacefully grazing the grounds. Traversing a high ridgeline with minor ups and downs, the rocky peaks of Korab dominate the horizon. Every step takes you closer to the heart of the Korab-Koritnik Nature Park, which’s outstanding biodiversity and pristine nature are part of the Balkan Green Belt. New vistas open, descending into the Field of Korab, a hyperkarstic depression guarded by Albania’s infamous two-man bunkers that pop up in the border mountains like concrete mushrooms. Our destination, Radomire, is a lively village that shelters visitors aspiring to the heights of Korab. Make yourself comfortable in the simple pension you’re staying for the upcoming two nights. Time to put the tired feet up and enjoy the panorama.

  • Walking for the day: 17 km, 8 h, ↑1000 m ↓1075 m
  • Overnight at a pension in Radomire (Bujtina Korabi or similar)
  • Meals included: Breakfast, packed lunch, dinner

Day 4: Climbing Mt. Korab | 17 km

Today you rise early and prepare for the literal highpoint of this trip: Mt. Korab is at 2.764 m, the highest peak in both Albania and North Macedonia. It’s a long and demanding day with much elevation difference but free of technical difficulty. The path sees shepherd huts and mixed terrain, rocky stretches and soft alpine meadows. Reaching the saddle at the border with Macedonia, the path circles the peak and approaches it from the backside, offering another perspective of the rocky giant. Enjoy your picnic and the breathtaking, wide-ranging views from this rooftop across Albania and Macedonia. On your descent, you may take a slightly different route back to Radomire.

The ascent of Korab is optional, you may complete a shorter circuit or only part of the summit return hike – alternatively, you spend the day at leisure around the village. Guests may opt to spend the evening at the “Oda”, a room traditionally reserved for guests or the “VIP area” of every tower-house in the highlands. Tomorrow’s overnight will be a lot different.

  • Walking for the day: 17 km, 8.5 h, ↑1475 m ↓1475 m
  • Overnight at a pension in Radomire (Bujtina Korabi or similar)
  • Meals included: Breakfast, packed lunch, dinner

Day 5: From Radomire to Alp | 16 km

Time to leave your base for the last two nights and head back into the highlands! The walk follows an old military patrol route along the border, where you spot the “brezi i bute”, a stretch of sand created to detect footsteps. The peaceful surroundings one can enjoy carefree today hold a gloomy past: During communism, they were under strict surveillance, and trespassers, if not fatally punished on the spot, would be sent with their families to forced labour camps. From today’s high point, you overlook the vast plain of the glacial-shaped valley and flocks of thousands of sheep roaming free. Passing by the lake, you can dip your feet into the refreshing cold. Tonight, the shepherds of the Kaloshi “clan” welcome you into their modest wooden huts on the “Ladies Pasture” at 1.770 m altitude. There’s no phone signal or electricity, and we’re still working on a shower, but hope that the warm hospitality and unique insights into their daily work and life make up for that. It’s also your best chance to try milking a sheep! Don’t miss out on the endless night sky and enjoy a big bonfire before falling asleep.

  • Walking for the day: 16 km, 7 h, ↑1025 m ↓575 m
  • Overnight in wooden shepherds’ hut (Korabi Mountain Camping or similar)
  • Meals included: Breakfast, packed lunch, dinner

Day 6: Crossing Grama Pass to Rabdisht | 15 km

Parting from the shepherds and their secluded alpine world, separated by time and high mountains, you may admire their happiness but understand the hardship of their modest lifestyle better. Grounded by the experience, you ascend on a mule path towards the Grama Pass (2.300 m) to face sweeping 360° vistas of the surrounding peaks. Looking behind, views of Korab and Grama Lake leave you appreciating the long way you have come and provide strength for the long descent. After zig-zagging down the old border patrol path, a peek back up from some distance makes it hard to believe that you just descended the immense, rocky wall. Circling at ease along the rim of the valley and above the cluster of villages far below, you soak in the panorama. Closing in through the mountain pastures of Rabdisht, you gain a bird’s eye view of the village, with scattered red-tiled roofs and smoke from the chimneys – a signal of your return to civilization. Once down the cobbled alleys, you reach the lovely guesthouse and join the hosts for a firewater/homemade juice toast in their idyllic apple tree garden.

  • Walking for the day: 15 km, 8 h, ↑800 m ↓1550 m
  • Overnight at a guesthouse in Rabdisht (Sabri Shahini or similar)
  • Meals included: Breakfast, packed lunch, dinner

Day 7: From Rabdisht to Tirana | 12 km

Today’s hike through the picturesque villages of Dibra smooths the transition from the simplicity and rawness of the alpine heights to the city’s fast-paced, vibrat life. The trail crosses hills and pastures, connecting the villages you saw from above yesterday. The lack of road access has seen the once prosperous area forgotten. Locals live off their harvest and, faced with lacking opportunities, the youth leaves en masse. Visiting Zagrad, Cerjan and Bellove, you take a closer look at traditional stone houses, meet locals, and are surely invited in for a coffee. A transfer takes you from Bellove via Peshkopi to Tirana in the early afternoon. You arrive in the evening in the modern capital’s turmoil, a big contrast to the previous days of the trek. Tirana showcases the other and very different contemporary side of the country. On an evening stroll along the main boulevard, you discover the origins and influences that shaped the city. Choose a fine restaurant for your last dinner; Tirana is filled with them.

  • Walking for the day: 12 km, 5 h, ↑700 m ↓750 m
  • Overnight at a comfortable hotel in Tirana (Hotel Villa 60 or similar)
  • Meals included: Breakfast, packed lunch

Day 8: Departure or Onward Travel

Time permitting, Tirana invites you to explore its streets and sights on a stroll. Sip an espresso in one of the charming bars, observe the busy morning flow and select special treats as edible souvenirs at the lively New Bazaar. Interested to learn more about the communist past? Bunkart 2 and The House of Leaves provide insights and are only a 5 min walk away from Tirana’s central Skanderbeg Square. Your multi-faceted journey in Albania ends with a 40 min transfer to the airport.

  • Depending on departure time possibility to further explore the capital
  • Complimentary transfer to Tirana airport
  • Meals included: Breakfast

What to Expect

Accommodation

Accommodation includes welcoming pensions, guesthouses, and authentic homestays. Four nights in private rooms with en-suite or private facilities and three nights in shared rooms. 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

Hotels and guesthouses are subject to availability. If 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 close 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

Seven breakfasts, 6 packed lunches and 5 dinners are included.

Difficulty & terrain

The tour is suitable for very fit hikers with previous trekking experience. You should be confident in your physical condition and sure-footedness. Prepare to endure poor weather and to navigate rocky undefined routes, remoteness can also play a part. Walking days are usually between 5 and 8 hours, although they can be longer to cross passes or peaks. Daily ascents will likely be around 900 m to 1000 m, with the odd day ascending around 1100 m to 1300 m (read more about difficulty grades). 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 devise with preloaded tracks, and you can call our 24/7 local assistance phone number anytime.

When to go

This trip is available from June to September.

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 airport for this trip is Tirana. Complimentary private return transfers to the airport are included in the trip cost (one arrival and one departure transfer per party).

Inclusions

Included

  • 7 overnights as indicated in the itinerary in hotels, pensions, guesthouses, one homestay, and one overnight in a wooden shepherd’s hut
  • All breakfasts, 6 lunches and 5 dinners
  • Transfers as indicated in the itinerary, including complimentary airport pick-up & drop off
  • Arrival briefing
  • Luggage transfers: one piece up to 15 kg in soft bags only (limited by luggage transport on horse, take a duffel or rucksack, hard cases are not suitable)
  • Detailed route notes, maps (1 x per room) & GPS device with preloaded tracks, SIM-Card
  • 24/7 phone assistance by our local office/representative

Excluded

  • Airfare and connecting land transfers other than Tirana
  • Travel insurance (get a quote online)
  • Meals not listed in the itinerary as well as drinks
  • 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
  • This holiday is NOT available for solo travellers.

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