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Hidden Gems
Peaks of the Balkans Complete (12 Days, Guided)

Peaks of the Balkans complete

Overview

The Peaks of the Balkans trek stands for everything adventure travel is about: discovering a remote corner of the world, marvel at pristine natural landscapes, get away from the everyday life and experience a simple and authentic lifestyle. This trip will take you through all the essential sites and landscapes of a complex region defined by rich cultural diversity, century-old traditions, national borders, stunning nature and genuine hospitality.

To enrich the experience, we offer you to join an international group led by a local English-speaking tour leader, who will show you the best the region has to offer, guide you through the wild mountain paths and borders of the Accursed Mountains and help you immerse in the complex cultural background and history of local communities.

In case our fixed departures don’t fit your schedule, or you would prefer to explore the region at your own pace you can also check our self-guided offerings here and here or the 8-day guided version here

Highlights

  • Boat across the fjord-like Komani Lake to reach amazing Valbona National Park
  • Hike beyond borders through the stunning Accursed Mountains of Albania & Montenegro
  • Experience the local way of life with a memorable overnight in a shepherd’s hut
  • Ascend the panoramic peaks of Mt. Trekufiri, Hajla, Taljanka and Arapi (optional)
  • Marvel across awe-inspiring scenery in Grbaja & Ropojana Valley
  • Meet a colourful selection of local characters

Click to view map

Itinerary

Day 1: Arrival in Albania 

Join our group transfer from Tirana to Shkodra (90-120 min). Those getting in earlier during the day will be provided with recommendations on what to do in town. Should you have any questions before meeting your guide, you may contact our local office through the hotel. At 5 pm the group gathers for an introduction meeting and tour briefing at the accommodation. Afterwards, you can look forward to a sumptuous traditional dinner! But don’t stay up too long, we’re starting tomorrow at 6 am. This is the latest by which you may join the trip.

  • Complimentary group transfer from Tirana to Shkodra (90-120 min) – two options available:
  • Option 1: 14:00 Tirana city centre (near Skanderbeg Square / behind Opera house)
  • Option 2: 15:00 Tirana airport (minibus parking outside Arrivals)
  • Overnight at Shkoder boutique hotel (Hotel Tradita, or similar)
  • Meals included: Dinner

Day 2: Journey into the Accursed Mountains | 7 km

We rise early for the scenic drive through the Drin Gorges and the Komani Lake (55 km/1:30 h). The picturesque reservoir loops similar to a Norwegian fjord through sheer rock walls and makes for the most attractive route into the Albanian Alps. You’re in for a surprise by the custom-made “boat”, which stops several times to pick up talkative locals from remote villages before arriving at Fierze (46 km/3h). After lunch, we travel by car further into the Valbona National Park’s highlands into a traditional village composed of imposing tower houses. The afternoon warm-up walk follows a crystal clear stream through ancient beach forests speckled with the sweetest strawberries. Along the way, we can enjoy a swimming break at the river or a secluded pond. The walk ends at our cosy guesthouse in upper Valbona, and there’s opportunity to explore the close surroundings further. Tonight we enjoy a hearty home-cooked meal and well-earned rest after your introduction to the Accursed Mountains.

  • 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)
  • Warm-up walk with swimming opportunity (3 h)
  • Overnight at Valbone guesthouse / private ensuite (Vila Dini or  similar)
  • Meals included: Breakfast, packed lunch, dinner

Day 3: The Highest Peaks of the Albanian Alps | 14 km

Refreshed, fed and provided with a lunch pack we tackle the first long ascent of the tour. Winding up our way up the mountainside, we are rewarded with views of the Albanian Alps’ highest peaks. Passing by pastures we reach a treeless alpine valley, where surrounded by rock only, the solitary mountains are all ours. The Persllopit Pass (2039 m) marks today’s high point and the border with Montenegro at the country’s highest peak Kolata. Past a so-called snow cave and through a karst labyrinth that requires surefootedness, we return to Albania and meet shepherds on our way to the isolated village Cerem. Without mobile phone signal or electricity, it remains the last outpost before the wilderness starts. Meals here are prepared from what is harvested in the garden, and our hosts’ hospitality makes up for the lack of the standard accommodation’s comfort. If the weather doesn’t permit to cross the pass, we will walk a shorter route through a canyon to reach our simple guesthouse (no electricity).

  • Walking for the day: 14 km, 8 h, ↑1200 m ↓950 m
  • Overnight at a local simple guesthouse
  • Meals included: Breakfast, packed lunch, dinner

Day 4: High Route into the Remote Border Triangle | 16 km

The trek into the remote border triangle leads us across flower carpets once more into former Yugoslavia. We enjoy forest fruits, admire plant life and the views back to Kolata (2534 m). Following the high route through conifer forest along the rim of the deep cut river canyon, we notice just how much the landscape changes between the Western and Eastern Alps. In the glacial-shaped valley of Doberdol (1750 m) animals roam the grazing grounds freely. Locals still live in harmony with nature, as humankind did many years ago. This archaic place helps to set our inner compass and grounds our souls. In the simple shepherd huts, we relinquish comfort for one night in return for hospitality. The family prepares our meals, and we learn more about the shepherds’ seasonal lifestyle while enjoying the campfire.

  • Walking for the day: 16 km, 7 h, ↑1250 m ↓650 m
  • Overnight at a local shepherd’s hut
  • Meals included: Breakfast, packed lunch, dinner

Day 5: The Border Triangle of Mt. Trekufiri | 18 km

Wishing farewell to our hosts, we climb out of the valley towards Mt. Trekufiri (2366 m). On the very top, the borders of three countries merge revealing vistas of the borderlands. To the left lies evergreen Babino Polje, to the right the country’s highest peak Mt. Gjeravica abruptly dives from the heights of the Dinaric Alps into the Dukagjin Plain. The route crisscrosses the border ridge below the 2500 metre high peaks of Marijash and Rops, opening panoramic views into Kosovo and Montenegro. Your guide picks between two options, whereas the main path descends into the Valley of Roshkodol, where Kosovars who emigrated to Switzerland return to visit their families during the summer months (prime wedding season). After the longest trekking day, we reach our host in Milishefc. The simple mountain cabin where we stay for overnights offers some of the most beautiful sunsets in the Albanian Alps.

  • Walking for the day: 18 km, 7:45 h, ↑1100 m ↓825 m
  • Overnight at a mountain hut
  • Meals included: Breakfast, packed lunch, dinner

Day 6: Rugova Gorge | 14 km

The Lumbardhi Ridge (2130 m) is the last obstacle that separates Milishefc (us) from the Rugova Gorge. The barely visible route up to the crest is rewarded with good views of the surrounding mountains. Hidden behind the ridge extensive grazing grounds surround the artesian pond at the foot of Mt. Red Rock (Guri i Kuq, 2522 m). Most pastoral grounds were abandoned after the Kosovo war or are now used only for recreational purposes; the Lumbardhi Alps is one of the few exceptions where livestock is still tended to on a greater scale. Beyond this sea of grass, the mountain plunges deep down into the Rugova Gorge. Across, the ridge of Hajla promises us a panoramic hike tomorrow. A steep trail leads through a gully and old grown woods to the bottom of the canyon. Here we stop for drinks and if weather permits go for a swim. At the end of the day, a short transfer on a rugged road takes us to our friendly hosts in Reka e Allages. Enjoy a cold beer when the sun sets on the “Red Rock” across from us.

  • Walking for the day: 14 km, 6 h ↑1200m ↓525m
  • Overnight at a guesthouse 
  • Meals included: Breakfast, packed lunch, dinner

Day 7: Ridge Hike on the Spine of Hajla | 10 km

Across meadows and along the blueberry trail we quickly ascent in a thick pine forest to the base of Mt. Hajla (1800 m). Multiple steep and partly trail-less routes lead to the peak that forms the border with Montenegro. The ascend is optional and you may opt-out to keep the day short (<5h). Daydream, read your book or admire the surrounding flora instead. From the top of the 300m high cliff, views reach far into the neighbouring country and city Rozaje. Here you have the best chances to spot rare plants like Edelweiss or the endemic Albanian lily. Back at its base, we continue on high altitude along an abandoned road to the highest of the thirteen Rugova villages and through a rocky gully to a guesthouse in the scenic hamlet of Drelaj. The host family keeps cows and is among the few that remain in the mountains year-round. You will be delighted with another yummy dinner.

  • Walking for the day: 10 km, 4:30 h, ↑550 m ↓600 m
  • Overnight at a guesthouse 
  • Meals included: Breakfast, packed lunch, dinner

Day 8: Across the Jelenka Pass into Montenegro | 15 km

After a short transfer to the trailhead, the route climbs through idyllic pine forest to the two emerald lakes of Liqenat (1850 m) where you can cool your feet, but only in spring for a splash. At their banks flourishes a wide range of alpine flora and above awaits the highest point of the official Peaks of the Balkans route, the Jelenka Pass (2272 m). Since ancient time, caravans used this route to move silver and other goods to and from the coast – nowadays it’s almost invisible. The top invites for a rest stop with views to the mountains above Plav, Theth and Valbona. Behind it, shepherds from Roshkodol collect berries, and we’re flanked by peaks above 2500 m. The walk to Ravno Brdo Pass (2178 m) is mostly flat, offering dreamy therapeutic walking and good views. The last pass is a magnificent viewpoint to the rugged peaks ahead of us and into the lush valley of Babino Polje below. In a cabin at the rim of the national park, we stay with a family who returned from emigration in Germany and forages unique ingredients from the forest. If their place is not available, we may sleep in Plav or Vusanje instead.

  • Walking for the day: 15 km, 7 h, ↑1150 m ↓1150 m
  • Overnight at a guesthouse 
  • Meals included: Breakfast, packed lunch, dinner

Day 9: Grbaja Valley – The Highlight of Prokletije | 12 km

The Grbaja Valley is one of the most awe-inspiring in the Balkans. An hour transfer past Lake Plav leads into a narrow valley, wedged between the karst towers of Karanfili (2461 m). Arguably one of the most rugged and dramatic peaks in the Prokletije, it’s a dream of many climbers. Ascending through shaded fairy tale beech forest, a last steep climb takes us to the double peak of Popadija and Taljanka (2056 m). Here the walls across seem almost within our reach and views gaze across the border into the Kelmend region of Albania. Your guide will choose the most suitable route, traversing the narrow spine to a series of panoramic viewpoints back onto the shaded forest path, where the balloon hike closes. Reaching a garden on the valley floor, we celebrate the adventure before continuing to our guesthouse in Vusanje at the start of the next days’ trail. The nearby waterfall invites for a stroll, but views from the house are equally beautiful.

  • Walking for the day: 12 km, 6 h, ↑950m ↓950m
  • Overnight at a guesthouse 
  • Meals included: Breakfast, packed lunch, dinner

Day 10: Through the Heart of the Accursed Mountains | 11 km

Travelling up the Ropojana Valley, formed by a 26 km long glacier, we stop at a pupil-shaped karst spring where an ice-cold river is born from melting snow high up in the mountains. A weathered border stone is the only reminder of the once tightly sealed borders of former Communist Albania. The mountain framed corridor takes us passed a dry lake, shepherd huts, and an abandoned military post to the heart of the Albanian Alps. Here the canine tooth of Mt. Arapi (2217 m) stands high above the Theth National Park forming the largest big wall in the Balkans. Arriving at Peja Pass (1711 m), your guide determines whether the summit can be tackled. The ones who take a pass on the challenging peak, suitable for experienced and sure-footed hikers only, rest at the pass or start descending with the horsemen. A steep well-trodden caravan path leads to the local watering hole, followed by a short ride to a guesthouse in the centre of the lively village.

  • Walking for the day: 11 km, 6:45 h, ↑650 m ↓900 m
  • Overnight at a guesthouse 
  • Meals included: Breakfast, packed lunch, dinner

Day 11: Theth – Tradition in the Albanian Highlands | 16 km

In Theth we visit the iconic church and lock-in tower (kulla) that offered protection to men threatened by blood feud. It’s the perfect place to dive into the history of the “kanun” and elaborate on the highland law code. Walking along water channels, we climb to the famed waterfall and descent along a well-worn bridle path to the quieter hamlet Nderlysa for a hearty lunch. Continue the hike to the colourful karst spring called the “Blue Eye” or spend an easy-going afternoon swimming at the glacier-shaped rock formations. In the late afternoon, we ride across the scenic Terthorja Pass (1630 m) back to Shkodra (75 km/3 h) and our hotel from the first night. At night we celebrate the eventful trek with our new friends over a somewhat different dinner from the last days. How about drinks at the bustling bar zone of Shkodra? With all the party in mind, please also double-check with your guide for tomorrow’s departure transfers.

  • Walking for the day: 16 km, 5:30 h, ↑225 m ↓500 m
  • Overnight at a guesthouse 
  • Meals included: Breakfast, packed lunch, dinner

Day 12: Departure 

After breakfast, an airport transfer is arranged, or onward travel plans accommodated. Time allowing you can explore the town, head to the nearby beaches in Velipoja and Ulcinj (Montenegro), experience Albania’s modern side in the capital Tirana or spend your beach holidays at the Albanian Riviera (5-7 h travel time).

  • Complimentary group transfer to Tirana airport or city after breakfast – at approx. 9-10 am (1.5 h – 2 h)
  • Meals included: Breakfast

What to Expect

Accommodation

Accommodation is in private en-suite hotel rooms on the first and last night in Shkodra. For the rest of the tour, you will spend the overnights in shared rooms (2-5 people) in simple and cosy guesthouses, where you will be hosted by local families who will take care of you and prepare you a dinner table full of traditional dishes. On day 3 you will spend the night in basic shepherd hut. Exact accommodation details will be provided to you upon booking confirmation.

Click to view hotel photos

Meals

Meals are included as described in the itinerary: all breakfasts, 10 lunches and 11 dinners. While in the mountains all the meals will be prepared and served by your local hosts. 

Difficulty & terrain

The tour is suitable for active hikers with a moderate level of fitness. Previous hiking experience is not vital as long as you are confident in your physical condition and sure-footedness. Walking days are usually between 5 and 8 hours, although they can be longer to cross passes or peaks (mostly optional). Daily ascents will likely be around 900 m to 1.000 m, perhaps with the odd day ascending around 1.100 m to 1.300 m. The tour also includes high mountain terrain, rugged and rough underfoot, and some scrambling sections (read more about difficulty grades). This is a guided tour, so you will have a local English-speaking tour leader who will guide you throughout the trip, manage the trip’s logistics, and provide you with all the information you might need.

When to go

This trip is available from June until September, weather is best in July – September. You can see the available departure dates by clicking the See Dates and Prices or Book Now menus.

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 (as indicated in the itinerary).

Inclusions

Included

  • English speaking tour leader (plus an assistant if the group is larger than 8 persons)
  • Accommodation for 11 nights in small hotels and family-run guesthouses, as listed in the itinerary
  • All breakfasts, 10 lunches and 11 dinners
  • All ground transfers and baggage transfers* as listed in the itinerary, including complimentary group airport/city transfers from/to Tirana
  • Luggage transport: one piece up to 15 kg
  • All entrance fees, trekking and border crossing permits

*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

  • Airfare and connecting land transfers other than the complimentary group airport/city transfers from/to Tirana
  • Meals not listed above as well as drinks other than table water
  • 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

  • Due to limited availability in the mountains, single room supplement is possible only on Days 1 and 11
  • Please note that if you are a solo traveller who wants to join the group, you will have to book a single room supplement in case there is no other solo traveller willing to share
  • One extra night in Tirana and/or Skodra before or after the holiday

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