Mountain and Rural Tourism
The alpine tour of Albania is not complete without a visit to the Western Alps (Alpet Perëndimore). Here you will enjoy something unique: you will walk, breath, sleep and eat amidst the legends starting from Homer and ending with the modern tales of our days. This tour gives you the chance to enjoy a unique place at the heart of the Albanian Alps, Gropa e Thethit.
The journey to this mountainous area begins from the city of Shkodra and leads to the closest stop – 41 km away from Shkodra – the city of Razma, situated on a blackberry hill at the feet of the Veleçik Mountain. Razma stands amid infinite forests of pines and birch trees. There are also many meadows and amazing alpine pastures. The journey to Razma is possible even in the winter when the snow is at its highest level. There are several hotels already and others are on their way to completion. The most common activities are excursions, mountain climbing, skiing, and. during the summer, camping.
The road will lead you from Razma to the village of Dedaj and then onto Boga, a village surrounded by the Alps and described by Edith Durham in her book The Burden of the Balkans. Boga is the perfect place for mountain climbing, skiing, and spelunking. Among the most famous caves, you can visit the Cave of Mulliri (“Mill”), Akullore (“Ice Cream”), and Njerëzve të lagun (“Wet People”). The Cave of Puci is one of the most attractive, situated at 1,087 m above sea level. It is 5 km long and rich in stalactites, stalagmites, and wall veils. The cave has many levels, five alone in the center. By passing through its galleries you can connect with another cave, the Cave of Husi.
After Boga, you will reach the main tourist center of the entire area, Thethi, located 70 km from Shkodra. Before arriving at Thethi you must pass Qafa e Tërthores at 2,000 m above sea level. From here, you descend to Gropa e Thethit, crossed by a stream with the same name.
The area is rich in attractive sights like the Cascade of Grunas, 25-30 m high. You will be amazed by the cold-water sources of Okol and the caves “Birrat me rrathë” (“Round Holes”) and “Arapi”. In the park, you can amuse yourself by trekking, mountain climbing, skiing (especially on the eastern slope), or fishing, mountain biking and exploring caverns. The flora is impressive: the most common tree of the area is the beech, which covers almost 90 percent of the surface of the park. There are different types of flowers such as Eulfenia of Baldachi discovered by the Italian botanist Baldachi, which can be found only in Theth. The fauna is just as rich, distinguished by the Golden Eagle and Rreqebull. The waters of the Stream of Theth are home to marble trout.
While in Theth you can stay in local hostels with traditional alpine architecture. The characteristic dish of the area is “fërliku” (baked meat) and different plates of trout. From Theth, the trip continues to the valley of the Shalë River approaching the heart of the Alps.
Another interesting spot of the Western Alps is Vermosh, part of the northern-most region of the country. Vermosh is 95 km away from the city of Shkodra. Vermosh is part of the region of Kelmend, a name that originates from the Roman word “Clemens”, meaning gentle, simple, and good. The first thing that catches the eye during this journey is Qafa e Rrapshit where you can see the crystal-clear waters of the Cemi River that create a beautiful contrast with the surroundings. During summer, the ponds of the river are perfect for sunbathing.
Vermoshi stands in an alpine field at 1,100 m above sea level surrounded by high slopes. You can entertain yourself by trekking, mountain climbing, skiing, or fishing for trout. If you want to try something special from the traditional cuisine, be sure to taste the diary products of the area!
The journey to this part of Albania will give you not only the chance to live between a mythical atmosphere and the contemporary world, but will also let you taste the proverbial hospitality known and mentioned by every foreigner who has visited this place.
The Valbona River Valley lies in the eastern part of the Albanian Alps. A national park of 8,000 hectares, it is one of the most beautiful natural areas in Albania. The park lies at 20-30 km from the alpine city of Bajram Curri. Before entering the valley you will find the water source (vrellen) of Shoshan located only 3 km away from Bajram Curri. This karstic source heads to the Valbona River creating an attractive canyon 2-3 m wide and 50 m deep.
Llogara (The National Park)
The Llogara National Park lies approximately 40 km south of the city of Vlora. It is situated in the Llogara Mountain and has a surface of 810 hectares, with heights of between 470 and 2018 m above sea level. It combines the beauties of a mountain and seaside climate. You can enjoy part of its magical natural beauty while traveling along the Vlorë-Sarandë National Highway at Qafa e Llogarasë, 1025 m above sea level. Here, medicinal and decorative plants mix with masses of pine trees. The park also is home to many different kinds of animals.
After passing Qafa e Llogarasë through a road that dates back to the Pompey period, you descend into the Albanian Riviera. This warm Mediterranean zone has nearly 300 sunny days a year, and the average temperature of July is 25°C (77° Fahrenheit). The list of places to visit begins with the beach of Dhraleo (Palasë) known for its clear waters. Pompey and his army stopped at this beach in ancient times, when it was known as Palestra.
Dhërmi is famous for its crystal-clear waters, and small, intimate pebble beaches like Jaliksari, Shkambo, and Gjipea. Gjipea is a rare beauty, for it is situated at the foot of a 70 m high cliff. Close to Dhërmi is the legendary Cavern of the Pirates.
Eight km south of Dhërmi there is the village of Vuno, well known for its traditions and patriotism. From here, the road goes to the wonderful beach of Jala, whose fantastic gulfs are distinctive from those in the rest of the Riviera. Vuno is a unique village, built on a hill facing the sea. Here you can visit old churches like the Church of Shën Spiridhoni, built in 1778, and the Church of Mesodhia with paintings from 1783. There are also several architectural landmarks such as the ruins of the House of Odise Kasneci and the tower-like House of Shane Kote.
Continuing your tour towards the south, you will come across the small city of Himara, which has two neighborhoods: Old Himara built on the hill, and New Himara in the gulf of Spille. The beaches of Himara are Spille, Llamani, Potami, and Livadhet. They are all gravel beaches with deep, clear waters. Himara comes to life during the summer tourist season, when visitors take up residence in the hotels or in rented houses.
Close to the gulf of Porto Palermo stands the village of Qeparo with its own distinctive beach. Old Qeparo, built on the hillside, has several objects worth seeing, such as the three-story Towers of Ali Pasha, the Monastery of Shën Dhimitri, and the House of Minella Gjika.
The village of Borshi is situated a few hundred meters away from the shore, nearly 20 minutes from Himara. This is the largest beach of the Albanian Riviera, almost 6 km of clear water. Built along the length of the beach are many hotels, clubs, discotheques, and restaurants of all types. The hospitality of the villagers and the traditional dish of grilled lamb are distinctive features you will find in Borsh.
The last seaside village on the Albanian Riviera is the village of Lukova, well known for its terraces of citrus and olives. Nearly 2 km further you will find the popular Bunec Beach with its beautiful stream of crystal-clear water flowing directly to the Ionian Sea. South of Lukova and toward the Gulf of Kakome, there stretch several kilometers of gleaming white flint stones, a characteristic of the area. You also can find a number of underwater caves.
Mountainous areas of Korça: Voskopoja, Dardha, Vithkuqi
The next surprise after the rare city of Pogradec is the city of Korça, one of the biggest urban centers in Albania. During the spring, the main avenue fills with the fragrance of the sturgeon flowers, while during winter you will enjoy a walk under the snow-filled trees.
Voskopoja was one of the most important centers of the Balkans. It has been known as a city since 1330, but life here was in full bloom by 1794, when the city had 30,000 inhabitants and maintained contacts with Leipzig, Budapest, Venice, and Vienna. The city also had 27 churches, an academy, a library, and the first printing house in the Balkans, in 1720.
You will not want to miss visiting the Monastery of Shën Prodhom and the Church of Shën Kolli (1721), which is full of pictures of famous Albanian iconographers such as David Selenicas and the Zografi brothers from Korça who also worked in the Saint Mountain of Athos, in Halkidiki, Greece. Besides the healthy climate and the air filled with pine fragrance, Voskopoja offers comfortable hotels and private houses for family tourism as well as a natural ski-run for all skiing enthusiasts.
Another unforgettable mountain spot is the village of Dardha, 20 km southeast of the city of Korça, at 1,350 m above sea level. There is snow during the three months of winter, the air is crystalline, and the water of the village’s many natural fountains is pure and cold. Enjoy the unique folk women’s costumes dominated by black and red, the colors of the national flag, visit the stone houses that offer hospitality to travelers, and don’t forget to taste the traditional plum raki and the lakrori në saq (a traditional pie made with cabbage between two sheets of dough, and baked in a wood-fired oven).
The mountain village of Vithkuq, birthplace of the Albanian Renaissance pioneer Naum Veqilharxhi, stands 25 km southwest of the city of Korça. It has been a population center and a well-known economic and cultural center since medieval times. During your stay, you absolutely must drink the water of the Bellovoda and visit the Church of Shën Pjetër and the Church of Shën Pavël. If you have enough time, you also should climb Rungaja (1,750 m above sea level) by foot or horse. Don’t worry about the accommodation, for the people of the area will surely invite you to their comfortable and characteristic houses.
You will enter the region of Pogradec via the national highway where the road from Macedonia crosses Maja e Qafthanës. This crossroad offers exceptional views worth photographing of Lake Ohri, a real pearl “shelled” between Mali i Thatë (“Dry Mountain”) in the east and the highland of Mokra in the west. A few meters further down, you might stop at the peninsula of Lin and in the village with the same name, 25 km away from Pogradec. It is said that in ancient times, this was the favorite holiday destination of the parents of the Roman emperor Justinian. Besides the magical view, you can also see the mosaics of the Bazilika e Linit that date back to the 7th-6th centuries B.C., which show an amazing ensemble of zoomorphic, floral, and geometric decorations resembling the mosaics of ancient Durrës.