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Classic Peaks of the Balkans: Albania, Kosovo and Montenegro 20

Peaks of the Balkans classic route

Overview

The Peaks of the Balkans is a 190km long-distance hiking 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, on this Peaks of the Balkans Classic walking holiday there are options to ascend Mt. Trekufiri, Hajla, Taljanka and Persllopi Pass, all promising the most peaceful panoramas. Whatever you choose, it is an epic 11-day self-guided walking holiday, along ancient paths used by shepherds for generations, sweeping alpine landscapes such as in Valbona Valley, and exquisite elevations such as Jelenka Pass (2,272m).

If you would like to enrich your experience by joining an international group with an English-speaking local tour leader, you can check our guided itineraries here and here.

  • Accursed Mountains
  • Theth National Park
  • The Grand Crossing – the hike across the Valbona Pass (1811 m)
  • Historic Shkoder

Our co-founder Peter Duncan hiked in Montenegro and Kosovo in 2016. You can read his Mail on Sunday article here

Click to view map

Itinerary

Day 1: Arrival in Albania/Shkodra

We pick you up from Tirana for the two-hour transfer to Shkodra. Here you receive your trip information and have a chance to discuss all the details of your self-guided walk in the Balkans. Afterwards, enjoy a stroll through Tirana’s pedestrian area lined with elegant townhouses, a reminder of the city’s prestigious past. Immerse yourself in the city’s Italian flair, join the buzz of the bazaar to buy dried fruits and other snacks, or visit Rozafa Castle with its fabulous views and hint of what’s to come on your upcoming journey through the Albanian Alps. Choose one of many restaurants for an early dinner, getting a good sleep in preparation for an early start into the mountains.

  • Transfer from Tirana to Shkodra (90-120mins)
  • City tour with notes and maps
  • Overnight at Shkoder boutique hotel (Hotel Tradita or similar)

Day 2: Koman Lake and Valbona Valley | 7km

An early start is followed by a scenic transfer through the Drin Gorges to Koman Lake and ferry (58km/2h). On board, you will see that the picturesque reservoir loops through sheer rock walls and is the most amazing route into the Albanian Alps. The ferry stops several times to pick up local people en route from remote villages before arriving at Fierze (46km/3h). By car you continue further into the highlands of Valbona National Park, stopping for lunch in the town of Bajram Curri. You reach Valbona Valley by early afternoon, a place that is famous for its stone tower houses. This warm-up walk for tomorrow’s higher elevations follows a crystal clear stream through ancient beech forests, speckled with wild strawberries. Along the way, keen swimmers can take a dip in an ice-cold river or a secluded small lake.

  • Walking for the day: 7km, 3h, ↑250m ↓50m
  • Transfer by public minibus (06:30 pickup time) or private car to ferry port of Koman (90mins)
  • Boat ride through the canyons of the Koman Lake (3h)
  • Transfer from Fierze via Bajram Curri (optional lunch stop) to the trailhead in Valbona (75mins)
  • Warm-up walk and optional swim (3h)
  • Overnight at Valbone guesthouse / private ensuite (Vila Dini or similar)
  • Meals included: Breakfast, lunch, dinner

Day 3: Across the Persllopi Pass to Cerem | 14km

Today you tackle the first and one of the longest ascents of the trek. Winding up your way to the mountainside, you are rewarded with views of the highest peaks of the Albanian Alps. The Persllopi Pass (2,039m) marks today’s highest point, and the border with Montenegro is marked by the country’s highest peak, Mt. Kollata (2,534m). Walking past a unique wind cave through a karst labyrinth, you return to Albania, with even more spectacular panoramas, en route to the isolated village of Cerem. Without a mobile phone signal or electricity, it remains the last outpost before true wilderness begins. Hot, home-cooked meals, warm shower, and the hospitality of your hosts make up for the small lack of traditional tourist comfort. If the weather doesn’t permit a crossing of the Pass, you can walk a shorter route through Mt. Kollata Canyon to reach the guesthouse.

  • Walking for the day: 14km, 7:39h, ↑1200m ↓950m
  • Transfer: 5mins
  • Luggage transport
  • Overnight in Cerem (Kujtim Gocaj guesthouse or similar/ shared room)
  • Meals included: Breakfast, packed lunch, dinner

Day 4: From Cerem to Doberdol | 16km

Here you start hiking towards the first border crossing. Enjoy forest fruits, admire colourful flora and breathtaking views of Mt. Kolata (2,534m). Reaching the rim of Gashi River canyon, follow a high route through the nature reserve’s conifer forest. Here mountain slopes are speckled with small alpine pastures, Balqin being only one of many where you can stop for coffee or raki. Your destination is the glacial-shaped valley of Doberdol (1,750m) where animals graze freely and local people still live in harmony with nature. Staying in simple shepherd huts, swap some of the traditional tourist comforts for traditional warm hospitality. After a home-cooked dinner, relax by the bonfire for a view of the stars and learn more about the region’s shepherding lifestyle.

  • Walking for the day: 16km, 7h, ↑1250m ↓650m
  • Transfer from Valbone to Cerem (50mins)
  • Overnight in Doberdol (Leonard Uka Hut or similar/ shared room)
  • Meals included: Breakfast, packed lunch, dinner

Day 5: Doberdol – Three Border Peak –  Milishevc | 18km

Wishing farewell to the hosts, you climb out of the valley towards Mt. Tromedja/Trekufiri (2,366m), where the borders of three countries merge and you have sweeping vistas of the solitary borderlands. To the left lies Montenegro’s evergreen valley of Babino Polje and, to the right, Kosovo’s highest peak Mt. Gjeravica (2,656m). The ancient path at the edge of Bjeshkët e Nemuna National Park crisscrosses the border ridge below the 2,500m high peaks of Mt. Marijash and Mt. Rops, offering panoramic views into both Kosovo and Montenegro. Cross the Roshkodoli Pass and start your descent to Milishevc, a remote summer village located in a peaceful pine forest. The traditional wooden mountain huts provide refreshments, hot meals and a well-deserved rest after a long day.

  • Walking for the day: 18km, 7h 12mins, ↑825 m ↓1100 m
  • Luggage transport
  • Overnight in Milishevc (Lojza Guesthouse or similar/ shared room)
  • Meals included: Breakfast, packed lunch, dinner

Day 6: Milisevac – Reke e Allages – Hajla Peak – Drelaj | 10km

A morning transfer takes you on a bumpy, 1h 30mins ride to the northern part of the Bjeshkët e Nemuna National Park. Today’s trailhead is in Reka e Allages, another alpine village at the edge of the country. Across meadows and blueberry-covered trails, you ascend through a dense pine forest to the base of Mt. Hajla (2,403m). Here follows several steep and trail-less routes to the peak, Multiple very steep and partly trail-less routes lead to the peak that forms the border with Montenegro.  From the top of the 300m high cliff, views reach far into the neighbouring country and city of Rozaje. The ascent is optional, and you may opt out to keep the day short, mellowing in a meadow and enjoying a rest. Chances to spot rare plants like Edelweiss or the endemic Albanian Lily are very high here. From the base, the walk continues at a high altitude along a now unused road, to the highest of the thirteen Rugova villages, Pepaj. Walking through a rocky gully, circled by tall pines, you will catch a glimpse of the scenic hamlet of Drelaj.

  • Walking for the day: 10km, 4h 12mins, ↑525 m ↓600 m
  • Transfer: 1.5h
  • Luggage transport
  • Overnight in Drelaj (Guesthouse Shqiponja or similar/ shared room)
  • Meals included: Breakfast, packed lunch, dinner

Day 7: Across the Jelenka Pass into Babino Polje | 15km

After a 45mins transfer to the trailhead, the route climbs through pine forest to the emerald lake of Liqenat (1,850m), where you can see the highest point of the Peaks of the Balkans Trail, the Jelenka Pass (2,272m). Passing a second lake, you tackle the long ascent towards the Pass. Caravans have used this route since ancient times to move silver and other goods to and from the coast. Take a well earned rest at the top, with stunning views of Plav, Theth and Valbona. Follow the level path to Ravno Brdo Pass (2,178m) with fine views of more rugged peaks as well the lush green valley of Babino Polje below. Descending through the valley, you pass a hut or two before reaching the scattered settlement of Babino Polje. As you descend, the settlement of Babino Polje comes into view, where you will be staying in simple but very welcoming mountain huts with fantastic Montenegrin home-cooking to fill your boots.

  • Walking for the day: 15km, 7h 48mins, ↑1150 m ↓1050 m
  • Transfer: 45mins
  • Luggage transport
  • Overnight in Babino Polje (Eko Katun Hrid or similar/ shared room)
  • Meals included: Breakfast, packed lunch, dinner

Day 8: Through Grbaja Valley to Vusanje | 12km

The Grbaja Valley is one of the most awe-inspiring in the Balkans. A morning transfer past Lake Plav leads into a narrow valley, wedged between the karst towers of Karanfili (2,461m). Arguably one of the most rugged and dramatic peaks in the Prokletije Mountains, it’s a dream for many climbers. Ascending through a shaded fairytale beech forest, you reach an alpine meadow enveloped by multiple peaks. The connected ridge trail has several panoramic viewpoints, culminating in the highest two peaks of Popadija and Taljanka (2,056m). A steep descent takes you back onto the shaded forest path and, once back down at the valley floor, there are many traditional inns with cold beers to celebrate your achievements. You are then transferred to a family-run guesthouse in Vusanje, where a stroll to the nearby waterfall is a fitting finale to an exciting day.

  • Walking for the day: 12km, 6h 30mins, ↑950m ↓950m
  • Transfer: 1.25h + 30mins
  • Luggage transport
  • Overnight in a guesthouse in Vusanje (Vucetaj or similar/ shared room)
  • Meals included: Breakfast, packed lunch, dinner

Day 9: From Vusanje to Theth | 11km

Leaving Vusanje, you start walking up the 26km-long glacier-shaped Ropojana Valley. At a karst spring called Oko Skakavice, an ice-cold river is born from melting snow high up in the mountains. Walking past Gjeshtare Lake, a weathered border stone is the only reminder of the once tightly-sealed borders of former communist Albania. Coming through the forest, the mountain terrain opens onto a large alpine meadow speckled with shepherd shacks and an abandoned military post. Trek up to to Peja Pass (1,711m) and then down to Theth, the valley in the heart of the Albanian Alps. Reaching the bottom of the valley, there’s a local watering hole where you can ask the owner for a lift to your guesthouse. Alternatively, you may continue along the largely traffic-free 4×4 track into the centre of the village.

  • Walking for the day: Hike 1: 11km, 5h, ↑650 m ↓900 m or hike 2: 9.5km, 6h 30mins, ↑1000m ↓1000m
  • Luggage transport
  • Overnight in a guesthouse in Theth (Pavlin Polia or similar/ shared room)
  • Meals included: Breakfast, packed lunch, dinner

Day 10: Via the Grunas waterfall to Nderlysa/Tirana | 8km

A walk through the village and its lush green fields reveals the full extent of Theth. Visit its iconic church and ‘lock-in’ tower or kulla to learn more about the history of blood feuds and Kanun, local traditional laws. This point also marks the trailhead to Nderlysaj. The path ascends to Grunas Waterfall and drops again to a cliff above the 50m-deep Grunas Canyon. A bridle path leads you along the river to Nderlysaj where you can cool down with a glacial swim. A two hours scenic transfer takes you across Thorja Pass (1,630m) into the Valley of Boge and along Shkodra Lake, followed by another transfer to Tirana. The capital city represents a modern and very different side of Albania to the one you have experienced. Bring your day and Balkan Mountains highlights adventure to a close with dinner and a drink out in the chic Blloku district.

  • Walking for the day: 8km, 2h 39mins, ↑150m ↓400m
  • Transfer: 4.5h
  • Luggage transport
  • Overnight at a comfortable hotel in Tirana (Hotel Villa 60 or similar)
  • Meals included: Breakfast, packed lunch

Day 11: Departure

Time permitting, explore the cultural highlights of Tirana. Sip an espresso in one of many charming cafes, or shop for special treats at the lively New Bazaar. To learn more about Albania’s communist past, Bunkart 2 and House of Leaves are excellent and only a five minutes’ walk away from Tirana’s main Skanderbeg Square. Your Balkans Mountains adventure in Albania ends with a 40mins transfer to the airport.

  • Depending on departure time possibility to further explore the capital
  • Complimentary transfer to Tirana airport: 40mins
  • Meals included: Breakfast

What to expect

Accommodation

The accommodation is a mix of simple but welcoming B&Bs, guesthouses, and homestays, most of them with shared bathroom facilities. Some rooms are likely to accommodate between two to five people, and it may be necessary for male and female groups to share the rooms. Sheets and blankets, towels, shampoo, warm water and other basic services are provided, but it’s recommended to pack a travel towel and sleeping bag just in case. Private rooms can be booked at an additional cost, but their availability is minimal. We have tried to choose accommodations that offer friendly service, clean and comfortable rooms and local flavour.

Click to view default accommodations

Guesthouse Polia, Vila Dini, Guesthouse Kujtim Gocaj, Guesthouse Leonardi, Guesthouse Lojza, Guesthouse Shqiponja, Guesthouse Vucetaj, 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 in the itinerary: Three meals on Days 2-9; breakfast and picnic lunch on Day 10; breakfast on Day 11.

Difficulty & terrain

Peaks of the Balkans is a demanding trail where you are expected to walk 7 to 8 hours a day on average. Please check the kilometres and the altitude change in the day-to-day itinerary above (read more about difficulty grades). You will walk mostly on footpaths and mule paths. Before the tour, you can have a skype conversation with our destination manager who will brief you on the tour and let you know about all the trip’s details and specifics. We will provide you with GPS tracks for all possible routes, and you can call our 24/7 local assistance phone number anytime.

When to go

This trip is available from June until September. The weather is best in July – September. 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

Up-to-date travel advice on Albania is available here, on Kosovo here, and on Montenegro here

Recommended airport for this trip is Tirana. A complimentary private return transfer to Tirana airport is included in the trip cost (one arrival and one departure transfer per party).

Inclusions

Included

  • Accommodation for 10 nights in a mix of hotels, guesthouses, homestays and mountain huts. All rooms and facilities are shared (except in Shkoder and Tirana)
  • 10 breakfasts, 8 dinners, 9 lunches
  • Detailed route notes, maps (1 x per room) & GPS device with preloaded tracks, SIM-Card
  • Arranging the issuance of border crossing permits*
  • Luggage transfers: one piece up to 15kg in soft bags only (limited by luggage transport on horse, take a duffel or rucksack, hard cases are not suitable)
  • Transfers as indicated in the itinerary, including complimentary airport transfers from/to Tirana
  • Arrival briefing
  • 24/7 phone assistance by our local office/representative

*Hikers can now cross borders in these mountains at unofficial crossing points, but they must get special permission in advance from the Border Authorities in the respective countries (Albania, Kosovo, Montenegro). We will arrange all formalities for you in this regard. The application should be sent at least 15 days before travelling to the area.

Excluded

  • Airfare and connecting land transfers other than Podgorica and Tirana
  • Lunches and dinners not mentioned in the meal plan
  • Travel insurance (required – get a quote online)
  • Personal expenses
  • Any other items not explicitly listed as included

Options, extras & supplements

  • Single room accommodations are available only on Day 1 and Day 10
  • This tour is NOT available for solo travellers
  • Extra nights in Skodra/Tirana before or after the holiday are possible, upon request

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