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

Peaks of the Balkans Classic Route

Overview

Peaks of the Balkans is the first transnational long-distance hiking trail traversing the Western Balkans, taking you on an unforgettable 190-km circuit in the mountains of Albania, Kosovo and Montenegro through some of the finest scenery this corner of Europe has to offer. It is an epic walk along shepherd paths and footpaths winding through alpine scenery up to 2300m above the sea level, with a diversity of breathtaking landscapes, varying from green valleys to crystal-clear mountain lakes and rugged peaks.

In case 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.

Highlights

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

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Itinerary

Day 1: Theth

A complimentary private transfer will pick you up from Podgorica or Tirana airport and bring you to the valley of Theth. We advise you to book an early flight as the transfer is long (approx 4 hrs). Otherwise, it would be best to book an extra night in Shkoder.

Day 2: Theth – Valbone | 20 km

Today you will do one of Albania’s most iconic hikes from Theth (728 m) over the Valbona Pass (1759 m) to the town of Valbona (995 m) in the heart of the eponymous national park. This 14-kilometre route follows the path of an ancient mule track linking the tribal regions of Shala and Nikaj. The trail goes through a narrow crest that reveals a view to both valleys and the most southern glacier in the northern hemisphere. After a demanding ascent, you will reach the village of Valbona. You will be walking between the catholic valley of Shala and the Muslim valley of Valbona. The Albanian Catholics are descendants of pro-Venetian Albanians living in the city of Shkodra. These are the most southern Roman Catholics in Europe – the Albanian Catholics have moved to these mountains to preserve their religion from the Ottoman rule.

  • Distance for the day: 20 km, 7-8 hrs,­ ­↑­­­­1068 m ↓850 m
  • Accommodation: Vila Dini or similar
  • Meals: breakfast, lunch box and dinner

Day 3: Valbone – Cerem | 14 km

There are two possible routes from Valbone to Cerem: the low (valley) route and the spectacular high route via Prosllopi Pass (the one we recommend). The high route is quite demanding but also rewarding, revealing views on the steep rocky mountains of Kollata, which are popular among climbers. The low trail is mostly a tractor road offering less in terms of scenery but is suitable for those who would like to have an easier walking day.

  • Distance for the day: 14 km, 6-7 hrs ­ ­↑­­­­1200 m ↓950 m
  • Accommodation: Gueshouse Kujtim Gocaj or similar
  • Meals: breakfast, lunch box and dinner 

Day 4: Cerem – Doberdol | 16 km

Today you will walk between two shepherds’ villages which are inhabited only during the summer because of the abundant pastures. Doberdol is a village connected to the world only by small tracks, and it is not reachable by car. The village is situated below the triple-border point between Albania, Kosovo, and Montenegro. On the way, you will pass through the village of Balqin where you can stop for a glass of fresh milk served by the local shepherds.  This part of the mountains is under strict protection, as they are also home to the glacial lakes of Sulbica plateau. Gashi Valley was included in UNESCO’s Natural World Heritage list in 2017.

  • Distance for the day: 16 km, 6 hrs ­ ­↑1030 m ↓440 m
  • Accommodation: Guesthouse Leonardi or similar
  • Meals: breakfast, lunch box and dinner

Day 5: Doberdol – Three Border Peak – Milisevac | 16 km

You will be hiking again between two shepherds’ villages in two different countries, sharing the same traditions and language. These two valleys have been connected by culture but disconnected by political borders. Around one hour walking from the guesthouse, you will reach the narrow pass on the border with Montenegro, offering spectacular views. From here you will be climbing the 2366 m Tromedja (Three Border Peak).

  • Distance for the day: 16 km, 8 hrs , ­↑915 m ↓980 m
  • Accommodation: Guesthouse Lojza or similar
  • Meals: breakfast, lunch box and dinner

Day 6: Milisevac – Reke e Allages – Hajla Peak – Drelaj | 14 km

Begin with an easy 10-km hike to the village of Drelaj. This beautiful stretch will give you further insight into mountain life in Kosovo as you will pass several more villages along the way. The hike is easier than previous days as the elevation gain (1100 m to 1820 m) is gradual, especially if the climb to Hajla Mountain is skipped. Upon your arrival in Drelaj, you will stay with the family of Osman Shala. The hike’s variation extends to the top of Mount Hajla, a beautiful crest on the border between Kosovo and Montenegro. From the crest, one can see the mountains extending through all three counties. The climb of Hajla is optional, and you decide to do it or not on the day of the hike.

  • Distance for the day: 14 km, 6 hours,­ ­↑1150m ↓1110m
  • Accommodation: Guesthouse Shqiponja or similar
  • Meals: breakfast, lunch box and dinner

Day 7: Drelaj – Kuqishte – Babino Polje/Plav | 11 km

This day will begin with a short 4×4 transfer to the village of Kuqishte (20 min to avoid asphalt) where you will begin your hike over the border into Montenegro. This intense 11.2-kilometre hike offers some of the region’s most breathtaking views, passing several glacial lakes. This part of the mountain offers spectacular views at the city of Peja and the rest of the Accursed Mountains. A short transfer will bring you to the village of Plav for overnight.

  • Distance for the day: 11 km, 4-5 hours ­ ­↑720m ↓1250m
  • Accommodation: Apartmani Ambiente or similar
  • Meals: breakfast, lunch box and dinner

Day 8: Plav – Vusanje | 27 km

Today’s section in Montenegro is quite long; it can be done in one day, still, when you reach Katun Grlata, which is after 15 kilometres, you can cover the rest of the route with an optional car transfer (not included, payable on-site). Starting from Plav, the route climbs up to Bor Peak (2106 m). From Bor summit, follow the ridge north-west and head down from the saddle where Kolendarsko lake lies.

  • Distance for the day (full route): 27 km, 10-11 hours ­ ­↑1025m ↓450m (shorter option: 15 km, 6-7 hours)
  • Accommodation: Guesthouse Vucetaj or similar
  • Meals: breakfast, lunch box and dinner

Day 9: Vusanje – Theth/Shkoder | 21 km

From Vusanje Prokletije, you will begin the 21-kilometre hike to the historic Albanian village of Theth. The path passes along the craggiest part of the Accursed Mountains or Prokletije (Albanian Alps), which was a forbidden zone during the Communist era, so nature is entirely preserved. In addition to the dramatic cliffs that form the backdrop for the day’s hike, you will also see a military bunker and the old border crossing signs as you cross into Albania. After the hike, you will be transferred to Shkoder.

  • Distance for the day: 21 km, 8-9 hours ­ ­↑1110m ↓1440m
  • Accommodation: Hotel Rose Garden or similar
  • Meals: breakfast and lunch box

Day 10: Departure

This day private transfer will be arranged for you to take you to the airport for your flight back.

  • Meals: breakfast

What to Expect

Accommodation

The accommodation 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, Apartmani Ambiente, Guesthouse Vucetaj, Hotel Rose Garden

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: dinner on Day 1; three meals on Days 2-8; breakfast and picnic lunch on Day 9; breakfast on Day 10.

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. 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 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

  • Accommodation for 9 nights in a mix of hotels, guesthouses, homestays and mountain huts. All rooms and facilities are shared (except in Shkoder)
  • 9 breakfasts, 8 dinners, 8 lunches
  • Maps and GPS tracks to use via a smartphone app or on your own GPS device (please note that for this tour we do not provide detailed paper road notes as the GPS and map guidance is very accurate)
  • Arranging the issuance of border crossing permits*
  • Daily luggage transport to the next accommodation of one soft bag of up to 15 kg per person
  • All ground transfers and baggage transfers as listed in the itinerary, including airport transfers (valid for Tirana or Podgorica)
  • 24/7 phone assistance by our local office/representative

*Hikers can now cross borders in theses 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 not available on this tour
  • 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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