The Albanian Alps
Also known as the Accursed Mountains, the Albanian Alps border Northern Albania, Kosovo and eastern Montenegro and are the highest section of the entire Dinaric mountain range, one of the most rugged and extensive mountainous areas of Europe, stretching from Italy in the northwest to Albania in the Southeast and separating the continental Balkan Peninsula from the Adriatic Sea.
The Albanian Alps contain 10 peaks over 2,500m, separated by deep, dramatic valleys. The highest peak of the range, Maja Jezerca (2,694m; 8,832ft), is actually situated in Albania. Historically, the local communities (clans) that inhabit the valleys of Albania’s remote highland areas have survived through a mix of agricultural and live-stock farming, using mountain passes and trails to travel and communicate with each other. It is these trails, linking valleys, communities and criss-crossing Balkan countries, that are starting to attract adventurous travellers from all over the world.
Within Albania, the most famous valleys are Theth and Valbona.
Theth is a small village in the Shala Valley, situated within Theth National Park. It is justly renowned as an area of outstanding natural beauty – the sweeping valley encircled by towering, jagged peaks and vertiginous rock-faces, many still unscaled. The village has been declared a Protected Historic Centre by the Albanian Government and contains a number of preserved buildings from previous centuries, including the famous lock-in tower — a hangover from the days of Blood Feuds that were a regular part of Albanian highland life in years gone by.
Theth has attracted adventurous travellers and journalists since the 18th Century, two of note being: the British artist, anthropologist and writer Edith Durham; and the Austrian diplomat and philologist Johan Georg Fon Hahn, both of whom wrote accounts of the life of Albania’s remote mountain communities, including the custom of Kanun (traditional Albanian law) and Blood Feuds.
Of Theth, Edith Durham wrote in 1909: “I think no place where human beings live has given me such an impression of majestic isolation from all the world.”
Covering a total area of 80km2, Valbona Valley is the largest national park in Albania encompassing the Accursed Mountains and the entire 22km basin of the Valbona River, the largest river in the Albanian Alps. The stunning beauty of Valbona, its rugged mountain peaks, its many lakes, waterfalls, abundant forests and rich variety of flora and fauna, as well as the warm hospitality of the local community, attract visitors from all over the world.
The walking trails of the Albanian Alps are generally marked and meander up the slopes of the mountains, often near springs where one can refill water bottles. The most well-established trail links Theth and Valbona and is 12km in length. Other trails vary in length and level of difficulty.
The best periods to hike in the Albanian Alps are: May-June and September-November.
During spring, the highlight of any trip is the mass of wild flowers that carpet the alpine meadows and fill the woods: wild peonies, irises, anemones, primulas, violets, Albanian lilies, rock plants in bloom and unexpected bursts of scarlet wild strawberries flood the land with colour, the melting snow of the high peaks contrasting spectacularly with the vivid green and fresh life of the lower climes. It’s magical. In autumn, the green of the forests turns to swathes of burnished red and gold as far as the eye can see – a stunning sight!
During summer the temperatures can get uncomfortably high for hiking while during winter, most of the mountain trails are blocked by thick snow.
The local communities living in these regions have always been very connected to their land and have been keen to play an active part in the development of tourism in the area. Their warm hospitality and detailed knowledge of the terrain and general area make the locals who live here the ideal guides to introduce visitors to the best views and activities of the region. At Limitless Albania, we are proud to have trained and to work with guides from the local community who share our commitment to providing the best possible visitor experience for our guests with the highest levels of the customer service.
With the growing popularity of the Albanian Alps in recent years, many local people have begun to renovate their houses and adapt them into guesthouses. Constructed mostly from wood and respecting the traditional alpine architecture of this part of the Balkans, the cosy guesthouses used by Limitless Albania provide comfort and a friendly, personal service. The guesthouses have a restaurant where guests can order their meals and packed food to take on their daily treks. The food is home-produced, regional, organic and delicious.
The Albanian Alps are located in the north of the country and, geographically as well as culturally, feel quite removed from the rest of Albania. One can reach the Alps in two ways: via a spectacular ferry ride through mountains on Komani Lake; or by vehicle, crossing the majestic Thore Pass into Theth village.