So you want to go hiking in Valbona?
The good news is that there’s something over 200km of trails that we’ve personally explored, at least partially marked, and can tell you enough about to get you on your way. The not-bad, but less-good news is that Valbona (or Tropoja) is not Switzerland (as the local expression goes), and you shouldn’t expect that trails have been lovingly maintained for “dem-baba-dem” as they say here (generation after generation, time out of mind), with the idea of making sure foreigners can safely negotiate them. Although we’re working on that.
Basically, it’s a GREAT area for exploring, if you’re a bit adventurous, and will enjoy feeling that hiking a certain trail is not only a physical challenge, but also a potential challenge to your intelligence. And even your survival skills. Speaking personally, I never set off on a new trail with any expectation other than that it will take me 2 or 3 tries to find it. Basically, if you grew up reading Swallows and Amazons, you’ll love hiking in Valbona. If you have the soul of a bureaucrat, you’ll hate it. Judge your own spectrum.
JtoV has been working since 2010 to mark, signpost and map trails. Some years we really push things forward. Some years things take a bit longer. In general, it’s really only possible to maintain the trails after things dry out a bit, after the middle of June, so bear with us if you’re coming early in the season. We’ve got one gigantic master map (which you can take a look at at Rilindja) and 5 very nice pocket hiking maps for different areas, which we only produce when we’re reasonably sure that people can follow the maps and not get lost. Our maps are the only ones which 1) are at reasonable scales for hiking and 2) differentiate between: marked trails, unmarked but easy to find, and totally invisible trails you shouldn’t even try without a guide (unless you’re as crazy as I am, and are prepared to try 3 or 4 times to find a route). The maps are all available to look at or purchase, either at our original home of Rilindja in Valbona, or in our new office and tourism center in Bajram Curri. Or you can order them through this website!
Please be aware that the hiking situation is complicated by aid projects where they pay people who may or may not know the trails to mark them, and then publish fancy marketing materials about the trails, which – since people now expect to be paid to maintain them – are not maintained at all. Popular trails can be complicated by the efforts of enthusiastic Kosovar hiking groups who like to mark things (usually with round circles) without necessarily ever having been on the path before, let alone being sure where it’s going. Their marks often give up cheerfully in the middle of nowhere. In 2016 the parks administration joined this bun fight by producing a few very nice signs, which they then put in the wrong places. Sigh.
With all those warnings said: As long as you talk to someone before setting off, you’ll have a lovely time. It’s all beautiful, you can’t really go wrong. Just don’t go further than you can return from, unless you’re a real Kok-Fort (stubborn jerk) like me! (and even if you are, after a day or two there will be some lovely Albanians somewhere who will take you in, feed you, and put you on the right route – in my experience).