Walking in Albania

Walking in Albania for pleasure is considered a slightly weird concept by the locals living in the rural regions of the north and on the sunshine slopes of the south. It's not that they're inhospitable and don't want visitors, quite the opposite, it's more that Albanians still view walking as something you have to do as a farmer or as a shepherd, not something you choose to do, especially not on vacation.

And therein lies the beauty of walking vacations in Albania - they're just so darn novel. The potential for hiking in uncharted territory is absolutely infinite alongside marked national park trails through valleys, hillsides and woodlands which remain, as yet, totally untouched by casual vacation makers.

You feel like a real pioneer trekking in Albania as it's one of the last unexplored landscapes in Europe. Discovering the alpine meadows, rivers and waterfalls in the company of a local guide is just about as authentic an experience as you can hope to imagine. And having a foreigner stay in your village is still considered an honour and always cause for a glass of wild berry rakia or plum slivovitz.

So, grab your walking boots and qeleshe felt cap, and let's set off on a journey that will lead us through Accursed Mountains to fortresses, feuds and alpine meadows festooned with wild flowers.

Recommended walking areas in Albania

Now before you start worrying about walking in the Accursed Mountains please don't be put off. This is just another name for the Albanian Alps that extends across the Balkan Peninsula from northern Albania into Kosovo and Montenegro. The Albanian Alps feature numerous shepherds’ trails around the foothills and slopes of Jezerca Mountain, which stands at an impressive 2,694m, as well as several highland hamlets from where to rest your head after a good day spent outdoors.

Below are three recommended regions for walking in Albania.

Valbonë Valley National Park

There are some wonderfully wild and remote trails to be found in Valbonë Valley National Park, within the Albanian Alps, that provide walkers with not only a good day out in the alpine air but also much greater insight into traditional Albanian folk culture. Views across the dramatic Dinaric Alps add to the feeling of seclusion with numerous freezing cold fresh water springs and tiered cascading waterfalls providing refreshing interludes amongst the chestnut forest trails along the Valbonë River.

Theth National Park

There are many marked trails within Theth National Park that lead through valleys and beech woodlands to where Ottoman era tower houses – known as kulla – combine with Catholic churches and farming communities to provide a fascinating back story to time spent on the trails. Climbing up the Valbonë Pass (1,950m) presents more of a challenge but catch your breath on alpine meadows and limestone escarpments and you'll realise just what it's like to walk with your head in the clouds.

Southern Albania

If you're looking to walk in southern Albania - Llogara National Park, which boasts the mighty Mt Çika (2,044m) as a centerpiece, is one to remember for sunshine and Ionian views. Head out onto the phenomenal Karaburun Peninsula and you'll discover another exceptional walking trail with sea views on either side. Trek further south, along the Albanian Riviera, and you'll find Butrint National Park where wetlands, reed islands, salt marshes, freshwater lakes and salt water lagoons provide hillside hikers within untold opportunities to watch wildlife over the water from Corfu.
Louise Ungless, from our small group vacation specialists Exodus, shares her advice on walking in Albania: “I'd recommend walking in Theth National Park which is predominantly an agricultural region where age old farming practices are still used to this day. It's a great setting to observe rural life as you trek. Theth also has some fascinating historic sites, such as a Roman Catholic church that was once used as a health center during the Communist regime and a significant ‘lock-in’ tower or ‘kulla’ that once protected families involved in blood feuds.”
Travel Team
If you'd like to chat about Albania or need help finding a vacation to suit you we're very happy to help.

Where will I stay?

Olly Pemberton, from our supplier Exodus, shares his Albania accommodation experiences:
“On small group walking tours we stay in three star hotels and in guesthouses, which are comfortable, just a little more basic. But what you lack in comfort you make up for in experience and the unbelievable hospitality that you just don’t get in the hotels. The hotels are actually very nice, they are three stars but I’d say they’re actually a bit more. Tourism has only arrived in the last 10-15 years, so all the hotels are brand new and you don’t have anything that’s really ramshackle.”

For more information on small group and tailor made walking vacations in Albania please visit our Albania walking vacations travel guide.

How to stay safe walking in Albania

You might well come across the monster Sharri dogs when walking in the mountains. These are used to guard the sheep and although they can look quite intimidating they're actually really good natured, very intelligent, and tend to ignore humans as they're not considered a threat. Carrying a big stick is recommended although walking with a guide alleviates any need to worry.

Some of the walking trails in the mountains will need a bit of scrambling to get you to the top, but you can get super high and the views are absolutely amazing. Lower down the slopes, over the alpine pastures, you might want to watch your step as meadows can be really spongy, like a thick, damp carpet, which can cause a few problems for those with dodgy knees.

Carry a first aid kit and know how to use it, and make sure you have the right gear. Whatever the weather at the start of your hike, it will be much colder the higher you get. And in the mountains the weather can change quickly and unexpectedly. Warm, waterproof layers, hat and gloves are a must, even in summer. Sturdy walking boots with good grip and ankle support are also strongly advised. Twisted ankles are one of the most common injuries walking in Albania and can quickly create an emergency situation.

Take plenty of fluids and food to keep hydrated and fuelled for physically demanding days. Tap water in Albania is not safe to drink. To reduce your use of plastic bottles, bring a refillable water bottle and refill from a larger bottle – or invest in a LifeStraw, which safely filters water. Be careful with ice in drinks, and with salads and other food washed in water. Also, beware the home made moonshine that has the power to knock your hiking socks off and waylay well intended early starts.

112 is the general emergency number in Albania, or (+355) 42222235 – the country code will be needed if calling using a non-Albanian SIM.
Written by Chris Owen
Photo credits: [Page banner: NH53] [Intro: NH53] [Valbonë Valley National Park: Tobias Klenze] [Southern Albania: Pasztilla aka Attila Terbócs]