Sunday, February 8, 2015

Valbonë and the Accursed Mountains

Albania may not be that well-known as a tourist attraction in Europe, let alone as a trekking & hiking destination. But its Albanian Alps is not just any hiking destination - it's a truly spectacular one.

Also known as the 'Accursed Mountains', the most popular trek/hike is between the villages of Theth & Valbonë. Unfortunately, I visited Valbonë in early spring, and the mountain pass between the two villages are still closed due to heavy snow, so I couldn't do the trek. In fact, the two days I was there, it was snowing and raining intermittently, and so the day-treks that I could do around Valbonë itself was also limited. Nevertheless, the mountain scenery was still breathtaking even if the canvas was a cloudy grey.

Hiking in the Albanian Alps
Hiking from this..... this! Too much snow for further hiking

Beautiful clear pools too

The best resource for this region is the website Journey to Valbona. Catherine, the driving force behind that setup, is a pot of energy and enthusiasm. Accommodation info, trekking maps, friendly chatter and all-round hospitality is available at her place. When I visited her, she was busy with the preparation for the official start of the trekking season due in a week. (Yes, I was early by 1 week! :( )
She even arrange local volunteers to check the hiking trails to ensure that the signs and markers are still visible. I stayed at the 'Farmhouse' just to savor Nene Sose Selimaj's homecooked food! A truly pleasant stay.

Guesthouse in Valbona

Homecooked food by Mother Sose Selimaj

Local minivan transport is available between Shkodra (a place to visit in is own right) and Theth, while Valbonë is similarly reached via the town of Bajram Curri. The lonelyplanet guide highly recommended the Koman Ferry route from Shkodra to Fierza (on Lake Komani) and then to Bajram Curri by minivan. Otherwise, if you are in Tirana, there are minivans plying between Bajram Curri and Tirana, but note that the route goes through Kosovo (ie you will go through entry and exit immigration to Kosovo!). For me, it worked out great as I planned on visiting Kosovo after Valbonë and it was just 2hours between Bajram Curri and Prizren.

Visitors to Albania would no doubt usually cover Tirana and the UNESCO sites south of it (Berat, Gjirokastr, Butrint) but for those who love nature and hiking, check out Valbonë and the Accursed Mountains up at the north!


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