It is the poorest country in Europe and, for a long time, also the most isolated: Albania. But a lot has changed in the last ten years: the country is stable, open and tourism is starting to take off. Rightly so, because it is a beautiful undiscovered country that has a lot to offer. Like the Albanian Alps.
About the Albanian Alps
Albania is located on the Adriatic Sea and borders Montenegro, Kosovo, Macedonia, and Greece. Tirana is the capital, and from there, it is a few hours drive to the north, where the Albanian Alps – also referred to as the Accursed Mountains – stretch across the borders of Albania, Kosovo, and Montenegro. The ‘Maja e Jezercës’ is the highest point of the massif at 2,694 meters.
The most beautiful area is the Valbona Valley near Theth. Here you will find beautiful routes, dramatic mountain landscapes, glaciers, and untouched nature. You can organize treks yourself, the routes are usually well marked and the people are friendly, hospitable and helpful. Often you have the paths to yourself, and you will only meet a few locals. You can spend the night at guest houses that feel like homestays, or in your tent.
When to visit?
Albania has a Mediterranean climate, with hot summers and mild winters. It can get treacherously cold in the mountains. The best time for a trip to Albania and its Alps is in May, June, and September. Go there!
This is the largest city in the region, an ideal place to start the trip. The mountain view already makes you excited to leave. There is also plenty to do in and around the city. See the ruins of a castle, visit churches and mosques, and hike, bike, or ride along Lake Shkodër.
Not all roads in Albania are easy to drive; fortunately, the government is currently renewing the roads. One of these new roads is the SH20 from Shkodër towards Tamarë. The road is new, easy to drive, and most importantly: beautiful! Ideal if you come from Montenegro or if you are heading that way.
Boat trip Lake Komani
According to many, it is one of the most beautiful boat trips in the world. A ferry takes you from the town of Koman to Fierzë, in the middle of the Albanian Alps. The views are beautiful and this is the only way to see this region properly because there are hardly any roads. Locals use this route daily. And the good news, in the season you can even take your car or camper on the boat!
Hike Valbone – Theth
The best way to experience nature around you is by hiking. The Albanian Alps are ideal for a hike. Hiring a guide is wise, but with some experience or confidence, it is easy to do the hike from Valbone to Theth without one. This day trip takes you along green valleys, a mountain pass and beautiful views.
Although it is useful for this trekking to have some walking experience, the hike is not really difficult. As long as the weather is good, you don’t need ropes or other materials anywhere, and while some of the sections are quite steep, it isn’t scary anywhere.
In terms of route, you don’t have to worry too much either. Basically you can just follow the path or the other hikers. If you have any doubts, go to the red-white mark (which is clearly visible everywhere) or check your route on the Maps.me app. You can’t do much with Google Maps here, but Maps.me shows the full route. If you download the map of Albania beforehand, you no longer need an internet connection.
It is beautiful to drive through the Albanian Alps, the fastest roads are usually not the most beautiful. Between Shkodër and Kukës take the SH5 and enjoy on this slow road. The many curves take you along beautiful views, without other people around you. This road is also ideal for trekking to Kosovo.
Kukës is not a very special city, but it is nice to stop for a cup of coffee (on the way to Kosovo). The city is located near a beautiful blue lake and the road to Peshkopi is a beautiful route.
This city in eastern Albania is an ideal base for exploring the surrounding mountains, such as the high mountain Korab on the border with Macedonia. The town itself is also nice to walk through, it has a pleasant shopping street and sells nice cups of coffee.
How to get there?
The best way to get there is with your own car as there is very little public transport service in this part of the country. To reach the Albanian Alps, you will have to head to Shkodra, as this is the main city for exploring the mountains.
If you are visiting the Alps to hike the popular Theth – Valbona trail than it is possible to do this with public transport. From capital Tirana, there are daily buses heading towards Shkodra. From this main city, you can reach Theth by bus in about three hours. To get back from Valbona to Shkodra, you will need to take a ferry and two buses. A bit unwieldy, but doable.
Where to stay in the Albanian Alps?
There are several options for spending the night in the Alps. Bigger places like Shkodra or Theth have many hostels to choose from, while guesthouses might be the best option during your hike. They feel like homestays and give you an authentic experience.
If you don´t mind the basic nature of wild camping, we have good news for you. Wild camping is allowed in Albania, so you could pitch your tent after a long day of hiking and enjoy the mountain views.
The Albanian Alps are home to some delicious local products. Be sure to try the Mishavine cheese, the natural honey, and mountain tea. Another local delicacy is Maze, a meal that is made of butter, cornflour, and sheep cheese.