The journey started in pitch darkness on the side of an Albanian dirt road. Luckily, I wasn’t alone; I was in company of a new friend I had met in a hostel. The owner of our guest house in Shkoder had promised a bus would make a detour to pick us up and drop us at the ferry docks. “Just stand by the side of the road around 6 AM”, he had told us the night before, “it’ll pass by”. So there we stood, no bus stop in sight and no other people around, hoping the driver hadn’t forgotten about us. The bus turned up 20 minutes late, just when we were about to give up the wait.
We arrived in Fierze after a few hours of zigzagging up and down the mountains, stopping for coffee and rakija (yes, at 7AM… apparently, it’s the normal thing to do in Albania) and listening to the local passengers have heated discussions about Serbia -that’s as little as my Albanian language skills allowed me to know. Once there, we embarked on a small boat taking us over the majestic Lake Koman, which according to the Bradt guide, is “one of the great boat trips of the world”. Despite the somewhat gloomy weather that morning, I can’t say I disagree.
The last leg of the journey was a short overland haul with 5 other travellers who had also found their ways to this lesser known part of Europe. After an 8 hour jaunt, we finally approached our final destination; the mountain village of Valbona. I had heard it was ravishing, but I wasn’t expecting to get completely taken aback by its beauty and serenity.
After checking into my room, I took a brisk walk through the fall foliage to visit the town which is only a few houses large. I was smitten.
My days in Valbona were all about breathing in some fresh air and getting close and personal with nature.
There are plenty of hikes you can undertake in Valbona. From strenuous, overnight treks to hikes for ‘beginners’ lasting only an hour. Short in time for an overnight trek, I chose to do a 3 hour hike (one way), one that I am not likely to forget. I was out in the Albanian Alps all by myself, finding my way to the top through flower filled pastures, passing by cows grazing freely, picking sweet wild grapes, all the while smiling to myself thinking “how is this real?”.
I arrived at a house/farm where an Albanian family was running their usual chores. Chopping wood, making cheese, cooking, taking care of the animals… I was invited inside for some tea and accepted to share the meal the hostess was preparing. She showed me around the property and I dipped my toes in the world of cheese making- with freshly squeezed milk of course. An American family happened to pass by and ended up joining the fun. We roasted and peeled chestnuts side by side and enjoyed a “family dinner” together.
The evenings in Valbona were all about feasting on home cooked meals and having conversations with the other travellers by the crackling fireplace. The home made wine would flow while our laughter would fill up the cosy wooden chalet.
Spending a few days in Valbona was definitely a highlight of my trip to Albania. If you’re ever in the neighbourhood, I highly recommend you undertake the long but beautiful journey to Valbona.
I stayed in the Rilindja Alpine Rooms with rates from €20 (single) to €30 (double). You can just as well stay in a more expensive deluxe room or in a simple dorm. For more information on the region, hikes, sleeping facilities and activities, check out the ‘journey to Valbona’ website which has very detailed information covering everything you need to know.
What about you, do you enjoy hiking?
The post “Up close and personal with the Albanian mountains in Valbona” first appeared on Travel Cake.