Although the scorching Albanian summer heat is causing many tourists to move towards the coast, the Valbona valley and the trail to Theth offer an adrenaline-filled alternative and a picturesque vista for active tourists.
Are you in search of an adventure and want to break with the tradition of spending hours on end under the sun at the seaside? The fresh mountain air and craggy landscape combining aquamarine rivers and lush, snow-capped peaks might be what you are looking for.
The journey to the Valbona valley from the south pleasantly merges bus and ferry travel, as well as routes which can be traversed by foot.
Within Albania you can reach Lake Koman by car or bus via Shkodra and cross the lake in a two and a half hour long ferry ride during which you can witness the majestic beauty of the surrounding nature and enjoy the company of the other passengers.
Alternatively, Valbona is a three hour drive from Kosovo’s capital Prishtina.
If you are lucky enough, the distinct sounds of the local music will make the passengers join one another for valle – a traditional Albanian dance – as a perfect way to make new friends to share memories with.
After disembarking in Fierza, the town of Bajram Curri is about 30 minutes away by car (you can also get to Bajram Curri from Kosovo). A quick stop at a cafe or a light lunch in the city is a good chance to see the peaceful daily life of the locals.
From there, it takes another 40 minutes of driving along the Valbona river – one of the purest bodies of water in Albania – to reach the eponymous valley. (For a comprehensive guide of Valbona you can check out this website.)
As an attractive tourist spot that has lately gained much popularity among local and international tourists, the Valbona valley is a paradise of tranquility, fresh air, natural beauty and native hospitality.
There are many possibilities for accommodation. They vary from outdoor camping to guesthouses and the most luxurious hotels.
Constrained by the Koman ferry which leaves from Shkodra at 9 AM and 12 PM you will arrive at Valbona in the afternoon and will be able to experience the freshness of the mountain climate while enjoying beer or rakija as traditionally garbed local musicians dance the valle and beat their drums or sing about the history of the region accompanied by the two-stringed, plucked instrument called çiftelia.
The fresh cuisine will make the experience even more enriching. The local traditional menu includes meat cooked in coal fired ovens, flija – a dish made of multiple layers of batter daubed in cream – and simple recipes like oven-cooked dough doused in butter and cream.
If you want to add the element of adventure to your vacation, prepare for the moderately challenging yet exciting six-and-a-half hour long trek along the Valbona-Theth trail.
In order to get most out of the day and avoid the searing midday sun, it is advised to leave your inn at 5 or 6 AM after eating a delicious breakfast of locally-made butter, jam, eggs, white cheese and fresh milk.
The hike begins at the Gjese field and can be completed unaccompanied thanks to the signs placed along the trail. The highest point in the trail is the Valbona Gorge, at 1815 meters (~5954 feet) which can be reached only after about 3 hours of walking.
Even though the difficulty of the hike is above moderate, the area is rich in spring water, which makes it much easier, as you don’t have to schlep a lot of water with you. It is recommended to have appropriate hiking footwear due to the rough terrain and the occasionally slippery descents.
You will find that the exertion is worth at after you witness the panorama of the Valbona valley in the south-east and Jezerce – the highest mountain in the Albanian Alps – north-northeast of the valley from an altitude of 1800 meters (~5905 feet). The descent towards Theth, which will also last a few hours, is also rewarding due to the shadow provided by Theth National Park’s trees.
If you are lucky, the quick summer rain showers will make the journey even more interesting and will quench your eagerness to reach the destination. You will meet adventurers of all ages and nationalities who amicably greet and wish one another an untroubled trip.
Theth, a village located in the northern side of the Shala valley, requires at least a whole day to see all of its natural beauties like the waterfall or the Blue Eye. Although it takes about one hour and a half to reach those natural attractions, it is absolutely necessary to see them. Inside the village, you will be able to learn about the history of the area, visit the fortified tower which served as a hiding spot for people who were involved in blood feuds or stay at one of the local guesthouses or hotels.
The fresh dishes and local recipes, each with a ‘secret’ ingredient, along with the local spring water served in glass jugs will sate your appetite and satisfy your thirst. A good night’s sleep at one of the multiple guesthouses and a stroll around the most beautiful spots in Theth the next morning will top off an amazing experience in the mountains during a hot summer.
The infrastructure might not be a strong point, but the locals say that it the price necessary for protecting the unspoiled nature of the village.
This story was originally published in Reporter.al, published by BIRN Albania.