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The tour starts at our city centre hotel in Tirana. The group flight usually lands at around 20:20 so you may wish to have a substantial snack or dinner beforehand. A welcome dinner is included this evening for those who wish, however it will be quite late so feel free to opt out, or to join for some welcome drinks instead.
Drive northwards via Bajram Curri to picturesque Valbonë in the Albanian Alps.
We have a fairly early start today as we have a quite a lot of ground to cover to reach our alpine hotel in Valbonë village - located in the heart of the spectacularly wild and rugged Albanian Alps. We break up the journey with stops along the way, having lunch in the city of Gjakova and taking a break in Bajram Curri in the foothills of the Alps. The name of the city comes from the national war hero and freedom fighter 'Bajram Curri', who fought against the Ottoman Empire and later against the new Albanian government. A seven metre high statue stands in the town centre in honour of him. After this we wind our way through pretty villages until we reach Valbonë. The Valbonë Valley was declared a National Park in 1996 and is renowned for its outstanding natural beauty and age-old agricultural traditions. We will be based here for the next four nights and have plenty of time to soak up rural life and mountain vistas as we follow a variety of snowshoe routes. Approx. 300km driving, 6.5 hours (with stops).
Snowshoe walk around Rrogamit Mountain, ending in the alpine village of Rrogam; folklore evening.
We begin our morning with an explanatory session about snowshoes for first timers. We then set off in the direction of Valbona Pass (1815m), gently walking along the riverbed of the Valbona River as we test our snowshoes. We may pass the occasional shepherd hut en route but besides this we find ourselves among an almost pristine wilderness. From our highest point we can look down upon the beautiful alpine village of Rrogam, the last village in the Valbonë Valley and therefore one of the most remote and picturesque. We can enjoy the serenity as we descend through snow-clad pastures to Rrogam, where we enjoy our picnic lunch in a local's house. We then make our way back to Valbone. Approx. 6 hours walking, distance10km, max. elevation 1100m.
Circular snowshoe walk climbing to the village of Kukaj and then descending through wild meadows.
After breakfast, we put on our snowshoes and begin snowshoeing to the village of Kukaj. We follow the Valbona River and take a break near some old bunkers, where we learn about the fortification of Albania during the 1970s and 80s. We then continue along an uphill road track until we reach the village, where we then continue snowshoeing to view the highest peak in the Albanian Alps, Jezerce (2694m above sea level). Making our way back to Kukaj village for lunch, we receive a warm welcome from our local host, Tahir, who serves delicious hot mountain tea, homemade cheese and local Raki. In the afternoon we make our way back to Valbonë, passing through wild open meadows and farmland. Approx. 6-7 hours walking, distance 10km, max. elevation 1400m.
Demanding ascent up the slopes of Grykat e Hapta to 1700m, offering vistas over some of the highest peaks in the region.
Today is one of the more demanding snowshoe walks of the week. We snowshoe from our hotel and then climb the slopes of Grykat e Hapta Mountain, reaching an elevation of about 1300m. From our highest point, we can enjoy amazing views over the Valbonë Valley and extending as far as Jezerca. We descend back to Valbonë after our picnic lunch.This evening will be rife with music and culture as we enjoy a special folklore performance performed by a family who live in a village nearby. Please note that if the snow conditions are poor, we will take an alternative route and go snowshoeing in Gropa e Rragamit. Approx. 6-7 hours walking, distance 8km, max. elevation 1300m.
Transfer to Tropojë, enjoying a snowshoe walk through traditional mountain villages en route; optional afternoon walk.
Our final destination for tonight is the village of Tropojë, the former administrative centre of the district. After breakfast we walk along the valley for 30 minutes until we reach the house of our local guide, where we stop for a coffee or raki. After another hour of snowshoeing, we take off our snowshoes and boots and take our minibus to the city of Bajram Curri for lunch. In the afternoon we visit a typical North Albanian turret type house, which belonged to an important Albanian hero called Mic Sokoli, who died as he was fighting against the Ottoman Army. In the afternoon we reach the village of Tropoje, where we stay for the evening. We will take a walk through the village and have coffee with the locals. Approx. 3 hours walking, max. elevation 800m. Approx.2 hours driving, 40km.
Snowshoe through beech and pine forest to Padesh (1450m); continue to Botushë; short drive to Gjakovë, Kosovo.
After a short (30 minute) transfer to the village of Buçaj, we follow a snowshoe route uphill for around 2.5 hours until we reach Padesh village (1450m). Set amidst dense beech and pine forest, this village is particularly beautiful in winter time when the trees are dusted with snow. On a clear day, we are rewarded with views over Tropojë Valley and toward the Dukagjini Plains in Kosovo. We'll experience the warm hospitality of the locals once more, as we take lunch in a family home in Padesh. After lunch we continue on our snowshoe walk, heading in the direction of Kosovo and pass a number of small hamlets until we reach Botushë village where our walk ends. We drive over the border into Kosovo and on to Gjakovë (approx. 30-45 minutes drive). Gjakovë is famous for its Ottoman bazaar, which with over 500 stalls, is one of the largest in the Balkans.
Sightseeing visit to the Ottoman city of Prizren; continue to Tirana.
Our destination for our last night of the holiday is Tirana. We first explore the town of Gjakovë and then we cannot leave Kosovo without visiting Prizren. Prizren is one of the best preserved Ottoman cities in Kosovo and has a rich cultural, historical and religious heritage with its 17th century Sinan Pasha Mosque, the Orthodox Church and memorial to the former political ‘Albanian League of Prizren’. In Prizren you are free for lunch. From Prizren it is approximately a 3.5 hour drive to reach Tirana, where your leader will recommend some restaurants for a farewell dinner, and for those who wish there are plenty of bars to frequent. The main centre of Tirana's night life is in the Blloku neighbourhood, where villas were once occupied by members of The Politburo (former leading sect of the Party of Labour of Albania) but which is now a lively centre full of trendy bars, cafés and fashionable clubs. Approx. 5 hours driving, distance 235km.
For those not travelling on the group flights, the tour ends at our hotel in Tirana after breakfast. If you have time before you fly home you may wish to take a look around Skanderbeg Square (located approx. 300 metres walk from our hotel). The square is dominated by the façade of the National History Museum, which is adorned with a gigantic mosaic known as, ‘The Albanians’. This is one of the finest examples of late Albanian Socialist Realism in the country, depicting the resilience of the people in their fight against invasion and occupation throughout the centuries. The airport is just a 30 minute drive away from the city of Tirana.