The Albanian Alps in the north of the country were the first place we visited during a two week stay in Albania. And what an introduction to this off the beaten path destination in Europe it was. The scenery in the so-called  ‘accursed mountains’ was absolutely stunning. And the best of it all: it can be explored on a easy to arrange DIY three day loop from the city of Shkodër.

Three day loop Albanian Alps

Albanian Alps

Village of Theth

The focus of this three day loop is the hike on day two from Valbona to Theth, crossing the 1.759 meter high Valbona Pass. The only way to do this is by taking public transport from Shköder to Valbona, hike to Theth and then take a minivan back to Shkodër.

Albanian Alps

The easiest way to do the loop is by booking an organized tour, but then you’ll be paying much more for a trip that essentially is fairly easy to organize by yourself. Actually our biggest worry was finding a secure parking space for our car while we were gone. Pemaj Hostel in Shkodër was kind enough to let us park our car in their fenced-off courtyard while we were away.

The hostel owner also made a call for a taxi-van to pick us up the next morning at 6 AM and we were ready to go. Furgons (minibuses) also leave from the bus station, but ask around for the exact departure times as these seem flexible. The standard price for the trip is 5 euro pp (which seemed the preferred method of payment instead of the Albanian Lek).

After picking up some other passengers in the center of Shkodër and stopping for a quick cup of coffee it was time for the first leg of our three-leg journey to Valbona: a 1,5 hour drive over sometimes bad, but very scenic roads to the ferry landing near the Koman Hydroelectric Power Station at Koman Lake. The last few hundred meters went through an eerie, dark tunnel and then suddenly we were at the small ferry landing.

Koman Lake ferry

In the summer months three ferry companies offer the trip across the lake to Fierzë, all departing within twenty minutes of each other. We’d bought tickets for the Rozafa car ferry (again 5 euro is the standard price). At 9 AM it was the first to leave, but also the slowest, so we arrived last at Fierzë.

The ferry ride took a little over three hours, but this was no punishment as the scenery around Koman Lake is beautiful. The narrow lake was formed in the 1970’s after the completion of a hydroelectric dam and is surrounded by gorgeous karst mountains and scenic gorges. It was sad to see, though, that halfway through the ferry ride a lot of garbage was floating in the water.

Getting to Valbona

At the Fierzë ferry landing minibuses and taxi-vans were waiting to take passengers for another 1,5 hour ride on a new tarmac road to Valbona (you guessed it: 5 euro). We had no reservations in Valbona, but this was no problem. Actually it’s better not to reserve in advance: our 20 euro room (after negotiating) at the Jezerca Guesthouse cost 34 euro on On the other hand: the mediocre dinner was expensive here.

Since Valbona is not much more than some clusters of lodging options, there’s not much more to do here than admire the mountain scenery or go hiking. Arriving early afternoon in Valbona we planned on doing a short hike to warm up for the next day, but with a thunderstorm brewing in the distance we decided to return after half an hour and just rest a little and go to bed early.

Starting our hike

The next day we started walking around 8.30 AM and it was already pretty warm. Albania was experiencing 35-40 degree temperatures at the time and in the Albanian Alps it was not much cooler. We also wanted a relatively early start because we were unsure about how long the hike would be and how long it would take. The various resources we consulted came up with wildly differing distances and times. Even the signs along the way didn’t seem to agree on the length of the hike.

Albanian Alps

We suspect that much depends on what is taken as a starting point: your accommodation in Valbona, the end of the tarmac road or the official start of the trail head near the village of Rragami where you can be taken by 4WD.

Albanian Alps

We started at our accommodation, which was centrally located in Valbona. From here it was about a 50 minute walk to the end of the paved road. A sign points you in the direction of the dry rocky riverbed you have to follow for about another hour to the start of the trail head at Rragami. You won’t get lost here: just follow the 4WD tracks and the white-red-white striped trail markings.

Rragami: now it gets serious

Albanian Alps

At Rragami you’ll have to pay attention though. At the trail head the trail splits into a lower trail to the left and a higher trail to the right. We met people who took the wrong left turn here, ending up at a waterfall. We took our chances with the right trail, which turned out the be the correct one. We checked with a local first, though, before walking all the way up.

Albanian Alps

Until Rragami the trail was not hard, but after that the real climbing began to ascend the 700 meters to Valbona Pass. The trail was very steep at some sections and it was hard work in the blazing sun, Eugénie cursing me several times for making her do this hike.

After the steepest section we took a rest and drink stop at Simoni Kafe at Valbona Spring. This temporary pit stop is here from May to September, mules carrying cans of soft drink and beer up the mountain from Theth. It’s also possible to refill your water bottle with fresh and cold spring water and there’s even a western toilet. Simoni told us that 20-70 people per day stop by on their hike.

To Valbona Pass

From Valbona Spring it was another hour of climbing to Valbona Pass. Steadily climbing above the tree line we finally got rewarded for all our hard work. The views across the Albanian Alps were really fantastic on this beautiful day. After about five hours we reached the pass.

After eating our prepacked lunch of dry bread, cheese, tomato and cucumber we still had a 1.000 meter descent ahead of us. We’d read that this would be more gentle, but still there were some pretty steep sections. An hour into the descent there was another nice temporary wooden café to have a soft drink or beer or refill on spring water, which was very welcome.

Descending to Theth

The scenery on the way down to Theth was less spectacuIar than on the Valbona side, which made the descent seem very long. In the end it took us nine hours total (including many rest and photo stops) to get from our guesthouse in Valbona to our guesthouse in Theth.

We’d read that locals would approach you for a place to sleep, but somehow we were completely neglected. Almost at the end of the village we decided to just walked up to a place that looked more like a local bar, but it turned out to be a guesthouse as well. Charging 20 euro per person for a room, a great dinner and breakfast it seemed like a decent deal.

Lock-in tower in Theth

Albanian Alps

The location was perfect too, looking out to the very scenic village church and close to the village museum (not much to see here) and the so-called ‘lock-in’ or ‘isolation’ tower (kulla). It’s one of the few remaining isolation towers in Albania, a remnant of the tradition of blood feud that in a not so distant past was common practice in northern Albania. Those condemned by family ties could find protection from being killed in these towers.

Albanian Alps

Getting back to Shkodër again was easy. Our guesthouse host, who only spoke a little English, arranged for a minibus to pick us up at the guesthouse around noon so we’d have enough time to look around the village. Departure was on Albanian time, though, in the end leaving 1,5 hours later for the three hour ride back to Shkodër.

Ayone can do itAlbanian Alps

Looking back the Albanian Alps loop was one of our greatest experiences in Albania. The hike was tough, but we think that anyone that’s reasonably fit can do it. We’re both not in great shape and Eugénie is scared of falling on rocky descents, so our going was pretty slow. We saw families with children passing us so easily we almost felt ashamed of our pace.

Albanian Alps

The trail is pretty well marked, but at some points you have to look closely for the trail markings. We’re unexperienced hikers and just navigated on these markings without getting lost. However, we also met a German couple who managed to take a wrong trail twice navigating mostly through a hiking map and an app. Lesson learned: keep your eyes on the trail markings not on a map.

Fast changes

Comparing our experiences with pretty recent blogs and reports about this trip we found that things are changing fast in this part of the Albanian Alps. There’s a prefect asphalt road to Valbona now and the road from Theth to Shkodër has been partly paved as well. Driving out of the Theth valley the sometimes hair-raising road up was still very bad (kudos to the 30-year old Mercedes-Benz minibus), from the top of the pass down it had brand new asphalt.

Albanian Alps

It’s just a matter of time before the entire route is paved and Theth can be reached in comfort. The village – that now still has some traditional charm – is already preparing for the future, with new guesthouses being built, wood picket fences being replaced by (barbed) wire fences and the building of a bar/restaurant right next to the lock-in tower (a very bad idea). So, get here while you can!

Albanian Alps

If you liked this post then the following posts are also worth checking out:

12 must see places in Albania

Përmet and the VJosë river: A senic Albanian drive

World trip week 6: Albania

World trip week 7: Albania

About the author

Roel Kerkhof

Restless wanderer, retired cyclist and triathlete, geographer and writer. Man with a mission impossible: to visit all countries in the world.


    • Hi again Zoe,

      Thank you very much! we hope to post regularly, but we’ve already discovered that combining traveling and blogging is not that easy. We’re constantly running behind on our blogging. Hope to find some balance soon….

      Roel and Eugénie

    • Hi Kate,

      Thanks for visiting our website and leaving a comment. We’re glad you found our post useful. Any plans to go there soon? It really is amazing.

      Happy travels,
      Roel and Eugénie

  • Hallo Roel en Eugénie,

    Dankjewel voor deze post. Heel nuttig en wat een prachtige foto’s!!

    Wij gaan komende zomer naar Albanië en deze hike staat hoog op ons verlanglijstje. Ik vraag me alleen af of het te doen is met twee kinderen (9 en 14 jaar) die meestal na een uurtje of drie het wandelen wel beu zijn.
    Weet jij of het mogelijk is om de hike over twee dagen te verdelen, door halverwege in een guesthouse te overnachten? Of om met een busje of eigen auto van Valbona naar Theth te rijden, zodat je op allebei de plaatsen wat kortere wandelingen kan maken?

    Hartelijke groet,

    • Hoi Dorinda,

      Allereerst mijn excuses voor het zeer late antwoord. We waren het afgelopen jaar op reis en hebben in de tweede helft van onze trip onze website gelaten voor wat het was. Vandaag voor het eerst weer eens gekeken en zag je bericht. Ik weet niet of je vakantie nog moet beginnen en of je inmiddels al elders info hebt ingewonnen, maar toch nog even mijn reactie.

      Als je kinderen het na een uurtje of drie zat zijn, dan zou ik dat niet doen. Onderweg overnachten is volgens mij niet mogelijk. We hebben mensen gezien die met kinderen in die leeftijd de hike deden (ze waren zelfs een stuk sneller dan ons, ha ha), maar die waren dat duidelijk gewend. Teth is eenvoudig te bereiken vanuit Skhöder, weg is wel heel smal, maar werd verbeterd toen wij daar waren. Voor Valbona zul je de ferry moeten nemen of een lange omweg moeten rijden. Een korte route door de bergen van Teth naar Valbona is er niet, het is altijd de lange autorit of de ferry nemen. Vanuit beide plekken kun je wel kortere hikes doen, er zijn verschillende routes.

      Veel plezier in Albanië! Wij vonden het een prachtig land.


  • Love this post! Thanks for all the information and amazing photos. I’m dying to try this trip out myself this summer. It is exactly what I was looking for 🙂

    • Hi Will,

      Sorry for the late response. We’ve been traveling for the past year, got home earlier this month, but have neglected our blog the last few months. Great to hear that you found our post useful. Good luck with the hike and remember that it can get very hot there during the summer.

      Happy travels,
      Roel and Eugénie

    • Hi Cindy,

      Great to hear that you found our post helpful. Hope you enjoyed the hike. We did, although it was though in the end.

      Happy travels,
      Roel and Eugénie

  • Thanks so much for this post, it was a huge help in planning our trip. We just finished the loop and everything worked exactly like you described it. The only thing is that I would recommend booking ahead for Valbona. The guesthouses were a little spaced out and many were already booked. The minibus driver helped us by driving to a few and we ended up staying in a newly built hut at Jezerca (45 Euro, could sleep up to 4, we are a couple), which was great. The price included breakfast and a drop-off at the riverbed. From there it took us 7 hours with two coffee breaks. But Eugénie was right to take it slow during the descent, we slipped twice. We had to go back in the morning the next day, but it might be worth to stay an extra night in Theth and for example hike to the Blue Eye. We heard that some people did the hike the other way round (from Theth to Valbona and then the ferry), but we thought Valbona-Theth made more sense since you have the steep part in the first half of the hike, when you still have all your energy and the view to motivate you. Thanks again – Albania and especially the mountains were amazing!

    • Hi Lisa,

      Great to hear our post has been so useful to you. We loved Albania too! Maybe it was easier for us to find accommodation in Valbona because we traveled there early July, when most summer vacations haven’t started yet.

      Cheers, Roel

  • Hey!

    Leuke post! Hoelang heeft deze hike in totaal geduurt en hoe hebben jullie het met je bagage gedaan? Deze gewoon in je hotel in Shkodra laten liggen, of? Ik ga namelijk bijna 2 maanden reizen door de Balkan en om deze hike nou te gaan doen met een rugzak van 15-20 kg….


    • Hoi Joëlle,

      Leuk dat je onze website hebt bezocht! Wij hebben in totaal 9 uur gelopen van het guesthouse in Valbona naar het guesthouse in Teth en zijn niet echt geoefende hikers. Wij waren met onze eigen auto, maar die hebben we met onze baggage in het hostel in Shkodra achtergelaten. Vervolgens hebben we de hike gedaan zoals beschreven in de post en alleen elk een dagrugzakje met de hoogstnodige zaken meegenomen.

      15-20 kg is inderdaad wat veel voor zo’n hike, sowieso veel. Ons bezoek aan Albanië maakte deel uit van een jaar lang reizen, waarbij de eerst 3 maanden met de auto over de Balkan hebben gezworven en vervolgens met de rugzak op pad zijn gegaan. Deze woog eerst zo’n 16 kg toen we de Zijderoute volgden en ook wat warmere kleding nodig hadden en werd later teruggebracht tot 13 kg toen we naar warmere oorden trokken. Maar het kan met minder. Welke andere landen ga je bezoeken op de Balkan?


  • Dear Roel,

    This post is EXACTLY what I was looking for while preparing our next trip to the Accursed Mountains.
    Thanks for spending your time with such a detailed post. It has been really helpful.

    Greetings from Spain!

  • Hi,

    Love your hike diary, super useful as Im planning to do this hike in August.

    About the difficulty level, do you think a 6 months pregnant can take it? I’m pretty fit but Im concerned with the climbing up the steep part. How hard is it?

    Thx in advance for the feedback 🙂


    • Hi Maria,

      Thanks for visiting! I’m no maternity expert, so I think whether you’ll be able to do the hike or not much depends on how you feel I guess, but the climb can be pretty steep in some sections. Maybe you should consult your doctor before you go on vacation. That being said, I’ve heard of pregnant women swimming, cycling and even running far into their pregnancy, but I guess there’s no rule of thumb in these matters.

      Have a good trip! Roel

      • Thx a lot for the feedback. I want to try anyways. If I do it on my own pace and using nordic sticks, should be feasible 🙂

  • Dankjewel voor deze post! We zijn druk met het plannen van onze vakantie naar Albanië en kunnen dit zeker goed gebruiken. Wel hebben we een vraag: ik zie dat jullie met eigen auto hebben gereist, maar heb je misschien ook aanbevelingen voor een goede en betrouwbare autoverhuur? Alvast bedankt!

    • Hoi Janneke,
      Goed om te horen dat je wat had aan onze post. Albanië is een mooi land en gelukkig nog niet zo toeristisch als veel omliggende landen. Helaas heb ik geen aanbevelingen voor autoverhuur. Als wij een auto huren in het buitenland doen we dat vaak (maar niet altijd) via Sunny Cars. Je betaalt iets meer, maar dan ben je wel goed verzekerd tegen schade. Maar kijk ook eens op Tripadvisor wat mensen daar zeggen over lokale verhuurders. Zo zijn we in Griekenland vorig jaar bij een zeer betaalbare en betrouwbare lokale verhuurder uitgekomen. Veel succes!
      Groeten, Roel

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