Northern Albania is a scenic wonderland where the incredible landscape of the ‘Accursed Mountains’ dominates and the rich and independent mountain culture strongly flavours all journeys. The north also boasts rich wildlife around beautiful Lake Shkodra, not to mention the ancient city of the same name. The startlingly beautiful Lake Koman ferry ride is now one of Albania’s biggest attractions, and has become far more accessible in the past couple of years, which combined with the glorious Valbona-Theth trek makes for a wonderful 2-3 day round trip from Shkodra. This may be the Albania of the infamous blood feud, but you’ll be amazed by how friendly and welcoming locals are. “Lonely Planet”
Durrësi is the second largest city in Albania, the biggest port and the hub of the railroad system. It is one of the most ancient cities in Albania. Known by name of Epidamnus, it was established in the year 627 B.C. by colons coming from Corinth and Corcyra. Later on, the name changed to Durrahium (according to mythology the nephew of Epidamnus). During this period, the city flourished and became the main port of the Eastern Adriatic. Between the 1st and the 3rd centuries, it played a major role as a trading centre along the ancient Egnatia road, which connected Rome with Byzantium. Everyone has lot of things to see in Durrës, considering it a getaway to another world.
Kruja (alb. Krujë) is a medieval town located 32 km northwest of Tirana and 20 minutes by car from the international Airport of Rinas. It is built 560 meters above sea level, on the slopes of Sari-Salltiku mountain. The name of Kruja derives from the Albanian word krua, meaning ‘water spring’. The citadel have become the main Illyrian fortress in the area in the 4th century AD. In the year 879, Kruja was mentioned for the first time as a Christian religious center. The first Albanian feudal state was created here circa 1190.The ottomans occupied Kruja two times, in 1396 and 1415. Town reached its zenith on the 28th of November 1443 when the Kruja castle was taken by Gjergj Kastrioti (Skanderbeg), who then organized the long anti-Ottoman resistance. From this time on, under the leadership of Skanderbeg, Kruja repelled three Ottoman sieges in 1450, 1457 and 1466. Only ten years after the death of Skanderbeg, in 1478, were the Ottomans able to capture the castle and destroy the town.
The city of Lezha is located 47 km south of Shkodra. It is one of Albania’s ancient cities, and in the historical documents it is mostly referred by the name Lissus. In 1398, after the construction of its castle, the city was under direct control of the feudal family of Lekë Dukagjini, but was eventually conquered by Venice. One of the most important historical events for Lezha, and indeed for all of Albania, was the famed “the League of Lezha” on March 2nd, 1444, where under the leadership of national hero Skanderbeg, the Albanian princedoms united against the Ottomans. The Memorial Grave of Skanderbeg is here, at the ex-Cathedral of Shën Kolli, where he was buried in 1468. The Castle of Lezha, another Illyrian monument, is situated on the top of the hill overlooking the city below. Inside the castle, ruins of an Ottoman mosque Roman Arch, and an Illyrian Tower all rest together for the ages. Only a few minutes from the city, at the foot of the Mount Renci, it is found the sandy beach of Shëngjin. The sunny beach. Shëngjini boasts a long and colorful history, known as both “Cesarean” and “Nympheum” in past centuries. It was here that the Roman general Marcus Aurelius embarked with his fleet in order to chase Pompey during the civil war that he and Julius Caesar engaged in.
Shëngjin is a growing tourist destination, well known for its beaches and resort accommodations. It is within the District of Lezhë and is home to one of Albania’s entry ports, Port of Shëngjin. The city is located approximately 100 meters away from the waters of the Adriatic Sea, and below a mountain side called Rrenci that is approximately 159 meters in height. Shëngjin is also located approximately 60 km from the Tirana Mother Teresa International Airport. Shëngjin offers a wide arrange of environmentally friendly activities. To the south of the city is a nature preserves called “Pylli me pisha dhe Lagune Kunes” and “Laguna e Vainit”, which offers a beautiful and undisturbed place to enjoy the natural surroundings of wetlands and seafront. Similarly, just north of city center is “Rana e Hedhun” in Gheg Albanian or “Rera e Hedhur” in standard Albanian, which also offers a wonderful experience of rural and undeveloped sand dunes along the coastline. According to EssentialAlbania.com, “Being an ecological city, Shengjin offers some of the best fishing grounds that ensure that there is a balance between the rate of fishing and the frequent of fishing so that to ensure that there is no too much loss of fish from the sea. They respect the fact that the fish need to breed in order to maintain their population.”
Shkodra known as the “capital of north Albania” is one of the oldest cities in the country, founded in the 4th century B.C. as the center of the Labeat tribe of Illyrians. Shkodra has been occupied several times throughout history. First by the Romans (168 B.C.), then the Serbians (1040), the Venetians (1396), and finally by the Ottomans (1479). The city returned to Albanian control as the feudal principality of the Balshaj during the 14th century and served as the municipal center of the Bushatllinj Pashallëk from 1757 to 1831. Shkodra is rich with cultural heritage; the city itself as well as the people bears the pride that the large number of artists, musicians, painters, photographers, poets, and writers born here strove to create. Shkodra’s main tourist attraction is Rozafa Castle. Rising majestically upon a rocky hill west of the city, the outcroppings and battlements paint a blazing picture against the setting sun. It is surrounded by the waters of three rivers; the Drini, Buna, and Kiri. Much like the town it protected, the castle has Illyrian origins. According to the historian Tit Liri, “it was the strongest area of the Labeats.”
Theth is a wonderful village in northern Albania’s Shkodra region. Set among the peaks of the Shala mountains, Theth is isolated, and in times of snow, practically inaccessible.Legend has it that Theth was founded 400 years ago by 6 brothers. Individual parts of the village still bear the names of these brothers. In a presentation at the International Peace Research Association, Antonia Young, an anthropologist who participated in a 2005 research project in Shala valley, suggested this ‘perceived family link’ could be the explanation for the unusually low levels of internal conflicts and blood feuds in Theth. According to Theth’s primarily Catholic inhabitants, the village was founded as a refuge to escape conversion to Islam by the Ottomans. After the Second World War and the country’s self imposed isolation, access to the markets in Montenegro and Kosovo dried up. The fall of communism led to emigration and a declining population. Antonia Young’s team only found 17 families who reside in Theth year-round. Theth also contains 12 small mills and a functional hydro plant. During the period of March to November, Theth is visited by around 5000-10000 foreign tourists yearly.
The name “Valbona” is used to refer to the Valbona River, which in turn flows through the valley bearing its name, and a small village in the valley, as well the general area informally. It’s located in the Tropoja District of Northern Albania. This district, bordering Kosovo to the northeast, and Montenegro to the northwest, in combination with the adjacent district to the west, encompasses a region called the Malësi in Albanian, which translates roughly as “The Highlands,” with all the attendant romance conjured up by the English term. A wild, high, mountainous region inhabited by strong and fiercely independent people, the Malësi has for the history of Albania been the region which was never really conquered or subdued by the various waves of invaders during the last 2,000 years of Balkan history. While the proper name of the mountains around Valbona specifically are the Malësi e Gjakovës (after the town of Gjakova in Kosovo), their name is most often translated in English as “The Accursed Mountains,” based on the name given to them by disgruntled Serbian would-be invaders.
After the fall of communism in 1990, and the tragic economic collapse of 1996, Northern Albania also became the poorest of part of what was then the poorest country in Europe. By 2009, the Malësi have emerged from the shadows of recent history and are being rediscovered as a uniquely preserved natural and cultural treasure. Valbona, thanks in large part to the work of the Selimaj family, is one of a handful of centers of a burgeoning ecotourism industry. Foreign visitors to the region often remark that they had no idea that such an unspoiled, pristine place still existed in Europe. Local people welcome foreign visitors with a particularly moving enthusiasm. They know how far people have had to journey to visit them, and how often they are doing so in spite of the mountains’ fierce reputation. There is a strong affection for Americans in particular, in light of the assistance given to the population of Kosovo (90% ethnic Albanian) during the Kosovo War. Thus Valbona currently basks in fortunate possession of the twin resources of a perhaps unparalled natural beauty and a truly warm human generosity.
Bajram Curri is a town and a former municipality in Kukës County, Northern Albania, near the border with Kosovo, in a remote, mostly mountainous region. At the 2015 local government reform it became a subdivision and the seat of the municipality Tropojë. Bajram Curri is located down the valley of the river Valbonë. It is the main access point by road to the villages of Valbona and Rrogam. Water from the mountains flow into the waters of the Valbonë, the latter being famous for having the clearest river water in Albania. The town is named after Bajram Curri, a national hero of the early 20th century. Bajram Curri is located in the former Tropojë District.
Lake Koman Ferry (Albanian: Trageti i Komanit) is a passenger ferry service operated by several local companies along the Koman Lake in Northern Albania. The line operates between Koman near the Koman Hydroelectric Power Station, and Fierzë near the Fierza Hydroelectric Power Station. The line is known for its breath taking views of the mountain gorges, unscheduled stops along the way for serving locals, and the peculiar atmosphere of both locals, foreigners, and even animals being fitted on board up to full capacity. According to Bradt Travel guides, the journey is described as “one of the world’s great boat trips” only comparable to the Scandinavian fjords. Following the construction of the dam and inundation of the area, a ferry service was established to serve the local population. Since the 2000s, the area has become a growing tourist destination.
Highlights of the tour
- Durres Amphitheatre.
- Kruja Bazaar, Castle.
- Lezha Castle, Scanderbeg Memorial.
- Rozafa Castle.
- Razma National Park.
- Theth, Blue Eye, Nderlyse Stone Formations.
- Theth-Valbona Pass.
- Bajram Curri.
- Komani Lake Ferry.
Meet and greet with the group at hotel lobby. We’ll start the tour with Durres where we will visit The Amphitheatre, The Roman Baths, The Forum and the Old City Walls. After a short stop for coffee we will depart to Kruje where we will have lunch and then we’ll visit the old bazaar and Scanderbeg’s castle. Then we drive to Shengjin, where we will have free time to relax by the seaside. Overnight in Shengjin. The second day starts with a visit of Lezha’s Castle and Scanderbeg’s Tomb. Then we drive to Shkodra where we will have lunch in a traditional restaurant and in the afternoon we will visit Rozafa’s Castle. Overnight in Shkoder. The third day we drive to Razem National park, overnight in Razem. The fourth day starts with Theth. After arrival, accommodation at a guesthouse and lunch. In the afternoon we will visit the Theth Waterfall and the Grunas Canyon. On the way back, we will visit the Ethnographic Museum of Theth, the Kulla e Ngujimit (Tower of Isolation), and the Saint John’s Church. Dinner with Theth specialties and bio-organic food. Overnight in Theth. The fourth day starts with a visit at the stone formations/pools of Nderlyse and the Blye Eye of Kaprre. Lunch in picknick style. The stone formations are 2.5 hours away, walking on an unpaved automobile road. After arriving in Nderlyse village, we will visit the Mill of Nderlyse and then we will continue to Black Well’s Bridge, to enjoy one of the most fantastic views of Theth. After the bridge we will visit the stone formations, water pools in rose colour. After a short stop for lunch, we will visit the Blye Eye, further 2 hours roundtrip. Overnight in Theth. On the fifth day we will take the Theth-Valbone pass, one of the most beautifull places in Albania. The pass is done by foot, and it takes some 6 hours. On the other side we will take the couch to Bajram Curri where we will visit the Museum. Overnight in Bajram Curri. The 6th day we will drive to Koman Lake to take the ferry back to Shkoder. The ferry trip is considered one of the most beautiful on earth, comparable to Norway’s fjords. After we reach the end of the trip we take the couch back to Tirana. End of the program.