On the trail of the unexpected – a trip through Albania

Experiences. Trekking in Albania’s Cursed Mountains

Maria Kiseleva is an energy engineer and active traveler who enjoys photography and has traveled almost all over Europe. She also loves trekking – and this fall she tried out one of the routes in Albania.

When my future husband and I were planning our wedding trip in January, it never occurred to us that we would end up in the mountains in Albania. Of the five countries open to Belarusians in August, Albania seemed to us the best option for an active vacation. This mountainous country is a paradise for trekkers like us. Of all the routes that we passed, the most picturesque and popular in Albania is the trek from the village of Valbonë to Ses and back.

There is no need to be specially prepared for the route: you can walk 9.5 km without any special equipment, taking only water, a snack and a warm jacket. Our trip to the mountains began in the northern town of Shkodër. Here you can spend a great evening in local cafes, book a transfer and leave unnecessary things behind.

There are two ways to take this trek: from Valbona to Ses or the other way around. I recommend the first option, as the part of the trail near Valbona is open and uneven, and is best hiked in the morning to avoid the scorching sun.

You can get to Valbona itself either by taxi or by car, making sure to take the ferry from Koman to Fierze. The transfer costs €22 per person. It includes transfer from Shkodra to Koman, ferry Koman – Fierze, transfer from Fierze to Valbona, transfer from Ses to Shkodra. We, on the other hand, got to Valbona by our own car via the same Koman – Firz ferry. Ferry tickets, if you’re traveling on your own, it’s better to book in advance. We booked through komanilakeferry.com. If you buy it online, the ticket costs €5 per person, the same for the m2 car. If you pay on the spot, it’s one euro more. The ferry takes two and a half hours: during this time you can enjoy incredible views, something like the fjords in Norway. The same company offers a transfer Shkoder-Komani-Firz-Valbona for € 15 or a tour with accommodation and meals in Valbona, Ses, all transfers and personal guide for € 215 per person.

We arrived in Valbona in the afternoon and hiked a small but challenging trek to a lookout point near the village of Cucay. The entire trek is about seven kilometers, it is circular, and compared to the main Valbona-Sas route, it is much more difficult. The first two kilometers to the village of Kukai are easy to walk, the elevation gain is about 150 meters. For the remaining one and a half kilometers to the first observation point we had to gain 600 meters of elevation, and the whole way we were practically crawling uphill. The last fifty meters of ascent were especially difficult for us. Here begins the open terrain, and you practically have to crawl along the abyss, jumping over fractures in the rock.

“It’s open terrain, and you practically have to crawl along the abyss, jumping over fractures in the rock.”

The next step is a kilometer of relatively flat terrain to the second observation point. Here the road goes through the forest, and the main thing is not to lose the track and not to go to Montenegro, the border with which is only 5 kilometers. The entire route is marked in a pleasant way for the Belarusians – with white-red-white flags. We thought that the ascent was the most difficult part of the route, but almost three kilometers of the descent was as hard as the ascent. Every step we took could have sent us into the abyss. On this trek, I recommend picking up some trekking poles at the hostel.

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In Valbona, it’s very important to choose lodging close to the start of the trail, otherwise you have to walk a couple of extra kilometers before the start of the trail. We stayed at Hotel Margjeka, which is right at the beginning of the trail. The night cost €45 including breakfast. Here you can have dinner for 10-15 € for two with a nice homemade wine.

We set out on the trek early in the morning to cover as much of the road as possible before the heat. Breakfast at our hotel started at 7 a.m., but you can ask to take it with you to save time. The first four kilometers of the route to the village of Pragam, the road follows a dry river bed with almost no ascent. You can walk this section in an hour or you can book a transfer to the village at your hotel for 10-15 € to save time on the trek.

The next two kilometers of the road is a solid climb up to Café Simoni (this is the last stretch of civilization before Ses). In two kilometers you have to climb to 315 meters of height, and the ascent took us about an hour and a half with stops. At the cafe you can drink coffee or tea and refill your water supply: in the mountains, unlike in most of Albania, you can drink water from the tap. Even if the cafe is not open, the water tap will be open. Finally, the last section of the road for us, a kilometer to the river valley, we passed in half an hour. The valley has the most beautiful view of the Cursed Mountains and the river valley.

The next part of the route up to the lookout point marked on the maps is the most difficult: you have to gain 220 m of altitude for one kilometer. In practice, this means that you have to climb continuously up the mountain. After this you will descend to another observation point and climb up to Café Zef Rrgala, after which you will walk about three kilometers through pine forest to your destination, the village of Ses.

The village of Ses is not as elongated as Valbona; here the guesthouses are close to the trail. I recommend staying overnight in Ses at the Flodisa, Marashi or Bujtina Polia farmhouse if you want something more exotic. And at the Jezerca mini-market, you can buy something for the evening and use the local Wi-Fi. You can also pitch a tent along the route: there are places for this in Valbona, Prahama and Ses. You can rent a tent here for €5 per day.

From the village of Ses you can go on a trek to the Blue Eye, an underground spring with crystal clear blue water. Few people know that there are two of them in Albania. The more popular one is near Saranda; the other is in the heart of the Cursed Mountains. The trek to the Blue Eye takes about four hours one way (about 10 kilometers, 300 meters elevation gain). Entrance to the area is free, unlike its southern counterpart, you can bathe in the spring, but the water temperature, even in summer, is about 10 °C.

Unfortunately, we drove up into the mountains in our car and couldn’t make the entire trek: halfway through we had to go back to Valbona to the car. We still had a long ten-hour drive back to Xamil. Better to set aside an extra day to spend the night in Ses and leave the car in Shkodra to go all the way in a day and see both villages.

Was it worth the 500 km trip for the mountains? Definitely, the Cursed Mountains are one of the most beautiful places we saw in Albania.

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ITINERARY IN ALBANIA BY YOURSELF

In this article you will find a ready-made itinerary in Albania, for those who travel by car. The article will help you not to miss the most interesting places and sights. I will give travel timings, tips, recommendations and these itineraries can be the basis of your dream trip in Albania.

Table of Contents:

  • Itineraries in Albania: general points and legend
  • Self-guided itinerary for 7 days
  • Itinerary for 10 days.
  • The Grand Circle of Southern Albania 13-14 days
  • Mega itinerary for the coolest – 3 weeks in Albania!

Northern Albania itinerary map

Map of the secret route in northern Albania. Information at the very end of the article.

Itineraries in Albania for your own car trip

Below are a few general things you need to know:

  • All routes in this article are for car travelers only. It is difficult to travel in Albania without a car.
  • Also, all routes start and end in Tirana. Since most come and go from the country through the main airport. And the car is immediately taken for rent.
  • Details on car rental in Albania and all the pitfalls.
  • Each route I drove personally and more than once. Therefore, its optimality and timing is proven in practice. But this does not mean that there are no other options. You can take it as a basis, to remove places that are not interesting to you and add your own.
    • Someone likes to lie more by the sea, then more days do on the beach.
    • Want to go to the mountains faster, so we plan that would be more mountains.

    It is interesting to know:

    Those who are just gathering information about Albania and have doubts about their choice, read the article: is it worth to go to Albania I hope it dispels all your fears.

    And remember, Albania has a large number of cool sights, where it is difficult or almost impossible to reach without a car. Public transport does not reach every corner of the country.

    Itinerary for 8 days in Albania: a 600 km drive

    So you have only a week of vacation. Not enough for such a cool country, but don’t be sad. You will get your share of impressions.

    • Day 1. We fly to the airport of Tirana, rent a car and go straight to Vlora.
    • Day 2. You spend the whole day in the city: the beach, the sights, the market. This is the best city of the Adriatic coast of Albania.
    • Day 3. You leave Vlora in the morning, through sights such as:
      • Logara Pass and the lookout point at the junction of the two seas
      • The castle at Himara, there is also a bunker for submarines in the rock
      • The Village of Borscht. Slavs love to take pictures with the town sign at the entrance
      • After lunch you come to either Saranda or Xamil. Two towns that are quite close to each other.
      • Then the beach, rest, restaurants.
      • Blue Eye Spring.
      • Gjirokastra Museum City.
      • Albania’s most beautiful highway SH75 (or rather a piece of it).
      • You’ll be in Berat by dinner.
      • It takes 4-5 hours to the waterfall and winery with the road.
      • After lunch you return to Berat. You still have a couple of hours till the evening to walk around the sights. And there are some.

      It is important to know:

      There are separate reviews of all the cities and attractions from this route and the following ones in this guidebook.

      Itinerary for 10 days in Albania: distance of 700 km

      In this itinerary we take the previous version as a basis. You have all noticed that in the 7-day itinerary, well, very few days at sea, actually 2.5. Well, what do you want, when there are only 7 days in reserve. Therefore, the route in Albania remains unchanged, but we add one location.

      And the rest is up to you to choose:

      Here you have already taken the itinerary for 8 days, added Permet and thermal springs and already 9 days. You have one more day to spare. Here are two options for you to choose: either spend 1 more day at the sea, for example in Saranda or Xamile. Or 1 more day in Tirana, because half a day in the capital from the previous itinerary is very little.

      Permet Albanian trip

      Permet

      Itinerary for 2 weeks in Albania: 900 km

      two week itinerary for Albania by car

      Itinerary map for 2 weeks

      2 weeks is already good. It’s not enough to drive the whole country, but you can drive the whole south. And you will have time to relax on the beach, and a few resorts to change. By the way, to choose a resort for a holiday in Albania, read the article on the link for a detailed description of each resort.

      • Day 1. We arrived at the airport of Tirana, took a car and immediately drove to Durres. 90% of the flights to Tirana are in the evening, so you will have time only to check in, have dinner and walk along the promenade.
      • Day 2. Although I don’t like Durres, it’s one of the oldest cities in Albania and also has the largest and oldest amphitheater in the Balkans. All day 2 we walk around the old town and swim in the sea.
      • Day 3. There is nothing to do in Durres for a long time. We go straight to Berat, by the afternoon we are there. Remaining half a day will be enough to see the whole city, the fortress and the old neighborhood.
      • Day 4. The whole day either to the Bogove waterfall or Sotira.
        • About both waterfalls in detail written here. Bogove will take 4 hours, Sotira the whole day.
        • On the way back, be sure to stop at the coolest private winery in the country. There you can buy and taste wines.
        • The second night in Berat.
        On the 5th day of the route you have a beach break in the Ionian Sea.
        • Day 5. In the morning we drive to the coast and drive to Himara. A great resort town already on the Ionian Sea.
          • On the way you can stop for a coffee at the promenade of Vlora and walk for an hour.
          • You will also pass the pass of Logara at the junction of the two seas.
          • In Himar you must rent apartments with a view to the sea, it’s very beautiful.
          • In the evening we walk along Himara beaches and have dinner. The town is small, but there are many beaches.
          • Someone goes for the whole day, someone for half a day. But in any case, there is a steep Livadi beach and a place, where you can jump from a rock – Cliffjumping, within 3-4 km. Detailed information about all these beaches is in the article: the best beaches in Albania.
          • Also in Himar there is a bunker in the rock for submarines.
          • On the way we visit the fortress of Porto Palermo.
          • Also to the village of Borsch. There is a fortress on top of a hill with a beautiful view. But our tourist is more attracted by the sign with the name of the city. Everyone makes a photo with it.
          • After lunch you will already be in Saranda drinking beer on the beach.
          • After lunch you will return to Saranda for rest.
          Or maybe you will go to Greece for a day, it takes 25 minutes to sail here.
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