When talking to Albanian acquaintances about our planned trip to Albania, one of the places they all mentioned we should try to get to was Valbonë. Billed as the real Albania wilderness, it is a land of mountains, rivers and forests. So we added it to our itinerary, and planned to hike there.
The main source of information about hiking in Valbona is the website Journey to Valbona (make sure to go over and have a look at it – after you have finished reading this post of course!) If you are looking for English language information about the area, this is the go-to place. We also chose to camp with these guys, at Rilindja, though if your idea of camp grounds is a grassed area to pitch (like we thought it would be) be prepared for something a bit different:
Getting to Valbona was also a bit of an adventure – you drive up some steep, winding and often badly maintained roads to get there. Make sure you stop at the closest ‘town’ (as opposed to hamlet) of Bajram Curri for supplies. It is not a particularly attractive town with much to recommend it, but it is the closest place to get fuel if you need it, and there are supemarkets (though they are of the variety where everything is kept behind the counter and you are meant to ask for it. The people running the place we went to soon realised it was just easier to let me roam around and get stuff off the shelves directly). And try to get to the camp ground early as possible as frankly not only is it rocky but there are not a lot of flat pitches. But the ablutions block is clean and there is hot water. There is also a great restaurant that I highly recommend – after our walk (and having had showers) we spent an afternoon there eating, drinking and availing ourselves of the free wi-fi.
The campsite/restaurant also sells maps of the hiking trails with instructions in English, and there are people who can advise you on what is around, what is open and what will suit your interests. We saw some people who refused to pay for the maps (which are really laminated brochures, and very good quality), choosing to take a photo on their iphone rather than pay a few euros. Don’t be those people – the money for the brochures goes towards the upkeep of the trails, as it is a volunteer group that looks after them.
We chose a day hike up the mountains. After making sure we had enough water, we drove to the trail head and set off.
We walked part of the Maja e Rosit trail. Note that ‘trail’ is as much an idea as a well defined path – you need a map with instructions or a compass and a plan of what direction you are going in. But we found most of the way points easily enough. Except for the shepherds hut. For that you need instructions: it is literally hidden behind a rise, and if you didn’t know what to look for you would miss it. Which is a problem, as that is the only place for much of the trail (at least until you get in to the high mountains) that you will find water. When we were there in the Summer the river was mainly dry, and there were no streams on the lower part of the trail – make sure you take enough water.
The unseasonably dry weather meant that there were not as many wildflowers as usual, but the walk was very pretty never the less. Admittedly it was less awe-inspiring than our recent hike in Montenegro, but it was still a decent half-day hike. On the way we encountered one lone hiker (who didn’t have any water …) a group of French hikers with an Albanian guide, and one family with two younger children.
– you bring water
– you are prepared for all eventualities – wet weather gear (storms can blow in), first aid kit, emergency overnight kit (it could be some time before someone finds you if you get lost or injured …)
– you have good hiking boots/shoes
– you have sunscreen
– you have a map. You can get a map and instructions for many of the trails at Rilindja.