Hiking in the Accursed Mountains, Albania

In August 2018 I travelled briefly to Northern Albania, a trip which included three days of hiking in the majestic Accursed Mountains.

Recently emerging from 50 years of brutal Communist rule, Albania, with its miles and miles of beautiful coastline and absolutely stunning mountain scenery, will no doubt  attract an increasing number of tourists in the coming years.

Warm up walk in Skhoder

Arriving in the capital Tirana, I was driven to Shkoder, a trip of ~90 minutes. Wanting to stretch my legs after a long day of travel, I headed up to Rozafa Castle, on the outskirts of the city.  Inhabited variously by the Illyrians, Romans and Venetians, the short, sharp climb to the top was rewarded by fantastic views of the city, Lake Shkoder and the mountains beyond.

View of Lake Skhoder from Rozafa castle
View of Skoder from Rozafa Castle

I hadn’t done any research into the best places to eat in Skhoder, so was happy to chance upon Peja Grill, which I  can highly recommend for a taste of traditional Albanian food in a fun, lively atmosphere.

Boat ride on Lake Koman to Fierze

An early morning mini bus ride with locals took me to Koman to catch the ferry to Fierze. The port was busy with a mix of tourists and locals readying themselves for the 3 hour journey that promised scenery similar to Norwegian Fjords.  Having not been to Norway, I’m in no position to compare, but I can say with a high degree of certainty that there is a lot worse ways to spend 3 hours.  It was definitely one of those instances where despite my best efforts, I couldn’t really capture the immense and imposing beauty of the lake and surrounding mountains.



The boat made a number of stops along the way to drop off and pick up locals who live in the mountainous terrain that surrounds the lake.

A local coming down to greet his relatives who had just gotten off the boat
One the few houses along the route

Warm up hike to Valbona (~8 km)

After decidedly ordinary lunch in the town of Bajram Curri, the driver dropped me off at the start of a short hike to Valbona. The trail had been marked by a lady originally from New York who now runs, with her husband, the Hotel Rilindja on the outskirts of Valbona. The trail, aside from a few sections that are a little overgrown, is pretty easy to follow, running for the most part beside the crystal clear waters of Valbona River.

Drop off point for the start of the hike to Valbona
Hotel Rilindja
Bujtina Valbona, where I stayed in Valbona

The owner of Bujtina Valbona mentioned that there are currently only 400 beds available in Valbona, which she suggested was not enough to meet the growing demand.   Another local told me that the Government is providing incentives for people to open up guesthouses to cater for the increased demand for rooms. One can only hope that these are developed in a way that preserves or even enhances the natural beauty of the region.

Hike from Valbona to…somewhere

This requires some explanation. The company that organized my 5 days in Albania provided written instructions for each days hike (e.g. turn right at the old hut), along with maps and a GPS. Most of the time this was enough to keep me on track – today it wasn’t. Early on in the hike I started to climb up a  steep hill, going up, then a little bit down, then up again, hoping to identify one of the landmarks in the description of the route. Increasingly frustrated, drenched in sweat and a little fatigued, I conceded defeat and went down to where I had initially started the climb..only to find the trail I was supposed to turn up at a few minutes later! All of this time I was being followed by a stray dog (who stayed with me for another 8 km!), who must of thought this guy was the most clueless hiker he had ever hitched a ride with!

View from an unknown path a few km from Valbona

Still with the dog in tow, I decided to throw the guide book in my backpack and simply follow one of the many marked paths in one direction until I had had enough, then turn around and go back.

On the way up…to somewhere

Having used more water than I had anticipated (to help keep the dog at least partially hydrated) I was relieved to reach a cafe at a top on a long climb. The views were so spectacular I decided to stay for lunch.

View from the no name cafe on the path to somewhere
Another scene from my day out from Valbona

In this part of Albania, it was a not an uncommon site to see farm animals wandering around in random places. This guy below I saw on the road back to Valbona.

Chillin’ on the road into Valbona

By the end of the day, I had managed to cover 21 km and felt privileged to have been able to observe such an abundance of natural beauty. Now it was time to recover and reflect on the day’s efforts.

Recovery time. The locally produced wine was stored in an old coke bottle – gold!

Hike from Valbona to Theth (~15 km)

This is probably one of the most well known hikes in Albania and was definitely the most crowded I had done in my brief time there. Though relatively short, the elevation change meant it was far from easy. As there is no road transport between Valbona and Theth, any excess luggage has to be transported on horseback. As I was dragging my weary body down to Theth, the horseman who had taken my luggage to the guesthouse there was already coming up with another load of luggage on his way back to Valbona – 30 km with ~1000 elevation change – all in a days work!

Horseman strapping my luggage onto his horse
View from near the top of of Valbona pass
Path down to Theth
The church of Theth

Like Valbona, Theth is a small village that one suspects will continue to grow and develop as more people discover the beauty of the region and the many opportunities for hiking that it offers. While there, I stayed at Bujina Polia, which provided by far the best and heartiest dinner (and breakfast) I’d had in my brief time in Albania.

Walk from Theth to somewhere near Blue Eye

“The Blue Eye is beautiful, isn’t it”, said one. “Yes, it’s definitely one of the best things I saw hiking in the area”, said another. This is part of a conversation between a couple of travelers on the mini bus back to Skhoder, and one that served only to solidify my frustration at having not being able to find the Blue Eye on my pre-breakfast walk from Bujina Polia. Frustrations aside, the 12 km stroll provided yet more stunning scenery that Theth and the surrounding area offers up in spades.

Scene from my search for the Blue Eye

The ride back to Skhoder from Theth is definitely not for the faint hearted – think steep, windy, unsealed roads in a old mini van, with a driver who it seemed was an aspiring Formula 1 driver. From Shkoder it was onto Tirana, where I spent the night before heading home.

My three days in the Accursed Mountains had exceeded all my expectations, but it only  whet my appetite; it left me wanting to come back and explore more of the region, whether on paths suggested in a guide book, or ones less travelled.

Additional Notes

While my tour was organized through the Natural Adventure Company, it was a local tour operator, Zbulo, who organized everything on the ground in Albania. The latter were very professional and organized and more than willing to answer all the questions I had about the tour and Albania in general.  They provided a “Road Book” that provided not only detailed instructions for each of the hikes, but also suggestions for cultural activities and places to eat.

If visiting Tirana, I would highly recommend you visit both the House of Leaves and one or both of the Bunk’Art museums, all of which will give you insight into what life was like in Albania under Communist rule.

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