The Albanian Alps: An Underrated Destination That Deserves More Travellers

The Albanian Alps: An Underrated Destination That Deserves More Travellers

In the north of Albania lies a range of majestic lofty mountains known as the Albanian Alps. Remote, wild and utterly breathtaking, this is a hiking destination that is little considered yet highly rewarding.

Planning to visit the Alps in Central Europe? Why not visit the Albanian Alps too for a wilder experience at a fraction of the cost?

When one thinks of travelling Europe, Albania is often an overlooked destination. Most may not have even heard of this country, located on the coast of the Adriatic Sea between Montenegro and Greece.

Even fewer would have heard of its majestic mountains in the north of the country, which is rather unfortunately known as the Accursed Mountains in the Albanian language. This name is definitely undeserved, for the pristine wilderness and monumental landscapes here are probably as far as you can get from anywhere remotely infernal.

I therefore prefer the other name by which this mountain range is known: the Albanian Alps. This latter name evokes the familiar grandeur of its namesake in Central Europe, with its dashing mountains and gorgeous valleys. This is a far more accurate depiction of what you’ll see in northern Albania – a good reason why you ought to pay these mountains a visit!

The Valbona Valley

My brief week-long journey through the Albanian Alps in summer began at the town of Bajram Curri, where I was dropped off after taking a bus from the city of Gjakova in Kosovo. A local minibus then took me to the Valbona Valley, the heart of a region known as the Malësi (Highlands).

There are a number of guesthouses in the valley, though the most famous and accessible are probably Alfred Selimaj’s various accommodations, which range from a shared dormitory to luxury rooms with private bathrooms. Booking can be done via email and Alfred speaks excellent English. More information about Alfred’s accommodations and Valbona can found on the Journey to Valbona website.

The highlights of my time in the valley were the two-day-long hikes I did to two different peaks: Maja e Rosit and Maja e Gjarpërit. Though the trails were long (8–11 hours of walking to the peak and back for each trail) and occasionally strenuous at the steepest points, the views throughout were fantastic and the remoteness invigorating.

For most parts of the hikes, I was the only human being around, having the vast and pristine wilderness of the valley all to myself. These hikes were definitely one of the most memorable solo ones I’ve done. The photos below should be testament to that!

Lake Koman

Created due to a hydroelectric dam, Lake Koman’s claim to fame is the three-hour ferry ride that connects both ends of the lake. The views on the ferry are legendary, as the ferry takes you through some breathtaking mountain scenery.

For most of the ferry ride, I was reminded of the ending scene in the film, Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, when Frodo and his gang sailed past the Argonath – the two enormous statues that mark the northern border of Gondor.

The ferry ride was indeed as epic as that scene because you can really experience the sheer scale of the mountains up close. Try spotting the boat in the photo below to get a sense of just how huge the mountains loomed over us in the ferry.


Taking a taxi shared with some other travellers from the guesthouse I stayed in, we had to leave Valbona for the town of Fierzë in order to take the Lake Koman ferry. We ended the ferry ride near the dam, where minibuses to the city of Shkodër are available. Ferry rides in the opposite direction are also available for travellers heading from Shkodër to Fierzë, although the timings differ.

Shkodër

The city of Shkodër is effectively the gateway to the Albanian Alps. Depending on your direction of travel, it can be either where you prepare for or recover from your time in the mountains. Travellers coming from the capital Tirana or from Montenegro will have to pass through the city to get to Lake Koman.

Skhodër was my last stop in Albania before I moved on to Montenegro. From the Razafa Fortress located in the southwest end of the city, I could get my last look at the majestic Albanian Alps.


As the setting sun cast a warm glow on some faraway clouds, reflected off the surface of a nearby river, I could not help but feel a little sad at the impending end of my time in northern Albania. I definitely had a good trip here, where the nature was abundant and the people hospitable.

About Author

Eugene Ang
Eugene Ang

A self-declared connoisseur of Turkish culture, Eugene has a soft spot for anything connected to Turkey and the now-defunct Ottoman Empire. While he has travelled extensively to a number of what we call emerging economies, he now spends most of his time in a cubicle in Singapore earning his keep. Check out his travel photos on Instagram.

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