• Meal Options
Tour the either city. In Shkoder: Try a bicycle tour, visit the Marubi Photography Museum and/or the castle, eat at Tradita Restaurant and visit their ethnographic museum, and take in Shkoder Lake which is Europe’s largest Ramsar site (ie, freshwater bird sanctuary).
• Accommodation (options from luxury to very traditional – with congruent bathroom facilities)
• Meal Options
After the dramatic Komani Lake ferry ride, you’ll arrive in Valbona around 13:00 in the afternoon, with enough time for a shortish hike or a dip in the river – if you can stay awake after getting up quite (quite!) early. Or you can park yourself in a good restaurant and eat the local lamb or kid for which the area is famous (Valbona even has its own breed of goat!) until you . . . well, go to bed I suppose.
• Meal Options
• Guides and Pack Horses Available
Most people set off around 8:00 in the morning. It’s 800m of elevation gain on the Valbona side, so should take about 2.5 hours at most, and another 1000m of gentle descent on the other side, all over 9.5km of trail. There are two springs, one on either side of the pass, where enterprisin’ fellows have built small “Robinson Crusoe” style cafes – although Zef Rrgalla’s actually boasts a stone fireplace which they light when it’s raining to dry out mouldy tourists – so there’s plenty of opportunities to dawdle and delay.
Daily minibuses start leaving Theth around 12:00, so if you get up early (and depending on where you stay) you do have time for a quick hike to the waterfall or something.
This is our take on the famous “Valbona – Theth Hike,” which is listed (for example) in Lonely Planet as ‘one of the 4 or 5 must do things in Albania.’ Back in 2009 when I arrived, it was pretty much the only thing there WAS to do in Northern Albania and as it was so hard to even get here then, the hike did tend to get written about as if it were climbing both peaks of Kilamanjaro or something (that’s a Monty Python skit, if you missed the reference). In fact it’s a perfectly nice (and do-able) roughly 6 hour hike from one valley to the next. I think its main romantic appeal comes these days from the idea that there are places left in Europe that it’s still easier to walk between than to drive (6 hours walking vs. 10 hours driving! Take that, Robert Louis Stevenson – and the ass you road in on!).
We suggest starting from historic and interesting Shkoder – although you can also start from Tirana (which is not to say that Tirana isn’t also interesting, though arguably less historic). Sleep one night in either place and then take one of the dramatic* early morning Komani Lake Ferries to arrive in Valbona in early afternoon. Next morning we get you to the start of the trail. The hike should take about 6 hours, so most people opt to spend the third night in Theth, although it is feasible to catch a bus or taxi back to Shkoder – but why would you do that? Surely the point of going someplace is to be there? Next afternoon (if you really have to) it’s back to Shkoder where you can either spend another night or carry onward to elsewhere.
- – It’s more fun to arrive in the north by ferry – super dramatic, and you can’t take the ferry from Shkoder (or anywhere) to Theth. Although it’s true you could take it from Valbona back to Komani and then to Shkoder,
- – but more importantly, because we have the best maps and stuff in Valbona, we feel better if people start here, so we can make sure they have what they need.
- – Less important but still . . . if you hike Theth to Valbona then you’re faced with this 3 + 6 km hike to get to Rilindja, AND as there’s no phone signal there, there’s no way to call us if you don’t feel like walking an extra 9km to arrive (after hiking 9.5 to get from Theth). not the end of the world, because there are often taxis waiting, but some people have gotten cranky about it in the past (well, one woman that I remember).
- – And no, it’s not easier to get from Komani to Tirana beCAUSE there’s only one minibus meeting boats that goes to Tirana, and that one meets the boat arriving at 9am in Koman, WHICH means you have to take the 6am ferry from Fierze, and to do THAT you have to take a 35euro private taxi from Valbona to Fierza at 4:30 in the morning. Not really fun at all. The last bus from Shkoder to Tirana leaves at 17:00, so you should have time to catch it? Although I guess you’ll arrive kind of late in Tirana.
Of course, there are LOTS of other ways to spin this out. The Komani lake trip can turn into several days by spending a night or two exploring Shala River (no one really knows about this yet, and it is BEAUTIFUL – fascinating for birds, and you can rent Kayaks too!). Valbona has kept me busy for 8 years so far, and I still haven’t seen all of it, so rushing through it is a pity (I think). And of course Theth has several well-publicized things to visit (the lock in tower, the church, the waterfall and the blue eye at least). Shkoder is also a fascinating old town, with the castle (complete with creepy legend), the Marubi Photography Museum, and a vibrant bicycling culture complete with bizarre tours (“the depressing communism tour” is my favorite). But needs must I suppose. You can do it in only 2 or 3 days if you insist!
*Picture putting along a looking glass, narrow and twisty, cavernous lake – past mountain tops you can almost reach out and touch, all of which tend to be perfectly mirrored in the bright blue water of the lake. THAT kind of “dramatic.”