The best way to start this itinerary to Albania’s glorious hiking and exploring the countryside is coming into Albania across the mountains from one of the bordering countries. Most dramatic is to arrive from Kosovo and the border crossing near the Kosova town of Gjakova.
From here it’s a short drive into the valley of the beautiful Valbona river where there are attractive shingled homestays and hostels.
The strong of thigh or willpower can get from Valbona to Theth (see Day 4) via a stiff but stunning hike through the mountains. You would be best to hire a guide, and donkeys for carrying luggage (or children) are also available. However, the alternative route is less direct but ranks among the best lake journeys in the world – the ferry down Lake Komani. The silent lake flanked by towering limestone crags makes a dramatic journey and from the end point it’s a short journey to Shkodra and the excellent hotel (a destination in itself) Tradita.
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You can spend a pleasant morning exploring Shkodra and its ancient castle. In the afternoon, drive out to Lake Shkodra shared between Albania and neighbouring Montenegro (where it is called Lake Skadar). This is a wetland of international importance, and home to the endemic Dalmatian Pelican.
Make an early start on the journey – by furgon minivan or private car – up to Theth, described as Albania’s Shangri-La. This idyllic village in a verdant plateau surrounded by limestone peaks is a beautiful base for hiking to nearby waterfalls and trails. Homestay with friendly families and take some time to learn about northern Albania’s traditions, including visiting the kulla where families took refuge in times of blood feud.
You may want to spend an additional day in Theth, but at some point you will have to tear yourself away and return to the lowlands. However, if you got a taste for Albanian highland living there is the chance to stay in a kulla – though one rather better appointed than the basic refuge you’ll have seen in Theth. To get to the village of Shulbater you’ll need to go south and the route gives you an opportunity to stop off for an unforgettable lunch at the very special Mrizi i Zanave restaurant using local ingredients and traditional recipes in delicious spreads. From here, continue into the Mat region (from where Albania’s King Zog came, and still a heartland of royalist sympathy) and the authentic village panorama of chickens and donkeys – and stone houses like the one where you can stay the night.
From here it’s an easy drive to Tirana or on to Macedonia.