If you enjoy being outdoors and experiencing beautiful landscapes, all whilst being disconnected from 'real life', then a trip to Albania and to the Valbonë national park is 100% for you.
The Albania Alps, or the Accursed Mountains as they are often referred to, are one of Albania's most beautiful destinations and while they lie dormant under a blanket of snow in the depths of winter, in summer, they come alive, welcoming adventurers from across the globe. The hiking trail between Valbonë and Theth is an old mules trail, and prior to the current roads, it was the only way to get between the two alpine villages. You can choose whether you start in Theth or Valbonë, but by doing it in reverse (from Valbonë to Theth), you will miss the blazing hot sun between the pass and Valbonë, reaching the shaded forests leading down to Theth at the hottest part of the day, which you will be very thankful for.
Also as a side note - there is nothing to do in Valbonë, just a few guesthouses and a 'shop'. Whereas Theth is a buzzing village with a couple of mountain bars and the nearby Blue Eye, making it a great place to end your day hike.
This article will detail the 17km hike from Valbonë to Theth plus a bonus of how to get to The Blue Eye just outside of Theth village. The Valbonë to Theth hike only takes one day to complete, but the route is often known as the ‘three day loop’. This is because of the transport time to and from Valbonë and Theth either side of the hike.
For this reason, you will need at least 4 days to really enjoy it.
While hiking between Theth and Valbonë is becoming more and more popular, information online in terms of prices, times and distances is confusing and conflicting. So I will give you my exact 4 day itinerary, inclusive of getting from Skhoder to Valbonë by taking the ferry across the Komani Lake, how to complete the Valbonë to Theth hike, getting from Theth to The Blue Eye (which you cannot miss), and how to get back to Skhoder from Theth. I will also include invaluable packing tips, key places to stay along the route and the one critical decision you will need to make in order to have the time of your life!
** For the avid hikers among us, the Theth to Valbonë hike can be incorporated as part of the 12-day peaks of The Balkans trek - before taking you to the dizzying peaks of Montenegro and Kosovo.
Everyone starts in the town of Skhoder. From here you can either go to Valbonë to hike to Theth, or you can go to Theth and hike to Valbonë, before coming back to Skhoder.**
12-17km depending on your route and starting points.
Time It Takes To Complete The Hike:
6-8 hours but again, depends on your start and finishing points and your fitness.
Moderate. You need some level of fitness because of the ascents but it is not hard and you can take it at your own pace.
You can drink the water from the streams and fill up your water bottles for free along the route.
Guesthouses along the route (details below)
Do You Need A Guide?
Absolutely not. The route is really well marked, so you can do it completely self guided and at your own pace.
Albania LEK but Euros are accepted everywhere.
When to go:
You cannot hike the route during the winter months due to weather conditions, so aim to go between May and September.
** The below itinerary is for Skhoder → Valbonë → Theth → Shkoder but you can do it in the reverse as mentioned above**
It is likely that you will fly into Tirana airport, Albania’s only international airport. Tirana airport is located 6km northwest of Albania’s capital city, Tirana. If your flight gets in early enough, head into the city and do a little bit of exploring. You can take an airport shuttle, Rinas Express, which operates 12 hours a day between 6am and 6pm. The shuttle drops you off outside the National Museum of Tirana in the city centre. A single fare is around 250 LEK (€2). Travel time is around 30 minutes. There is also the option of taking a taxi - just head outside of the airport and you will see a line of yellow taxis with a red ATEx logo on the side. Expect to pay around €18 to reach Tirana’s city centre. If you prefer to rent your own car, which is a great option for exploring Albania, you can do this at the airport, through Avis, Europcar, Sixt, Ara and few others. Our advice however, would be to book your car online before you arrive.
Sadly we didn’t have time to explore Tirana, so we headed straight to Skhoder. If you are on a budget, you will need to head into Tirana and take a bus from there to Skhoder which takes around 1.5-2 hours. We were tight on time, so we took a taxi which cost us €40, and took 1 hour.
This is the MOST important bit of this itinerary....
Go to Camping Legjenda in Shkoder for your first night. Not only does Camping Legjenda offer fantastic accommodation in the form of dormitories, private rooms, camping and gorgeous chalets, it also has a pool, a bar and an incredible restaurant. But the icing on the cake? The people who run it. Linda and her husband, alongside their two daughters, Loren and Cindy, literally made our trip and we couldn't be more grateful.
They were so helpful with our itinerary and planned everything for us, from transport and accommodation, to timings, transfers and tickets. For three days, inclusive of transport from Skhoder to Valbonë via a jeep, a ferry across the Komani lake and a transfer to our first hostel, a nights accommodation in Valbonë along with three meals, our second nights accommodation along with three meals and transport back to Shkoder from Theth, it cost us €180 for two people.
That is €90 each! ALL INCLUSIVE. And that was all because of Loren from Camping Legjenda.
Once you have planned your itinerary with Loren and checked in, go for dinner at their onsite restaurant. The atmosphere is beautiful and the food is absolutely delicious, offering a full range of pastas, risottos, pizzas and Albanian home cooked meals. After dinner, head to Rozafa Castle, which towers high above Camping Legjenda and is best enjoyed at sunset. Entrance costs around €1.50 and once you are inside, you are left to explore at your own pace. It takes around 30 minutes to reach the top. Rozafa Castle is a big tourist attraction in Skhoder, dating back to the 14th Century. Legend has it that it was built by three brothers, and in order for the castle to stand, one of the brothers had to sacrifice his wife and bury her body in the walls. The youngest brothers' wife, Rozafa, agreed but asked for her right side to be left exposed from the wall so she could care for her young son. You will find an image of Rozafa feeding her son, carved into the castle walls.
Finish the night off with some cocktails at Camping Legjendas bar and a little dip in their pool.
I hope you are not too hungover (like I was), because you are up early. Jeeps from Camping Legjenda to the Komani Lake for the ferry crossing leave at 6.30am sharp.
Our key advice here is to leave your big bags at Camping Legjenda.
They have a locked room onsite where you can leave your big bags. Only take a small day pack with you, because this is the bag you will be carrying on the hike with you. PACK LIGHT. There is nothing worse than carrying a heavy bag up a 1000m ascent. See my packing suggestions at the bottom.
Before you get in the jeep, make sure you have water and snacks with you for the drive. It takes around 2.5 hours to reach the Komani Lake.
Loren would have given you your tickets for the jeep and ferry crossing the night before, so make sure you have these to hand. Once at the ferry, give your ticket to the official and head straight up to the top deck (it gets busy quickly so get there as soon as you can). Where the ferry is docked, there is a small shop there so you can pick up supplies then if you need to.
A lesson I learnt the hard way - there is no sun cream to buy! Definitely bring this with you, or buy it at Camping Legjenda the night before.
The Komani Ferry takes 3 hours from Koman to Fierze and it is BEAUTIFUL. There is shade but you can also sit in the sun should you wish and hang your feet over the side of the ferry.
After the ferry, a jeep will be ready and waiting to pick you up and take you to your first hostel in Valbonë. Loren will have given you a ticket for this the night before, so just hand it to the driver and hop in. Make sure you have your hostel name written down so you can show it to the driver. It takes around 1 hour to reach your hostel in Valbonë. We stayed at Arbem Seliwaj (not online). I am sure Loren will recommend it to you, but if she doesn’t, request it. IT WAS MESMERISING.
Inclusive in your itinerary price is all your accommodation and each accommodation comes inclusive of breakfast, lunch and dinner, so when you arrive at your first hostel, lunch is shortly on the table. Here you will meet your fellow travellers you will most likely end up hiking with -
So if you are doing this trip alone, don’t worry, you will meet plenty of people.
There isn’t much to do in Valbonë. You can take a little wonder to the shop (shack) which is a 10 minute walk up the road, or head to a nearby cafe for a beer or take a nap or have a little splash in one of the many streams you are surrounded by. It is totally up to you. And with NO WIFI or service, it is the perfect opportunity to switch off.
Dinner is served around 7pm, communal style. Expect soup and bread followed by rice, salad, fish and pastry, with the best lemon cake you will ever taste to finish. You won’t go hungry on this trip as there is always plenty of food on offer.
Early to bed as you are up at 5.30am!
Early start today. Breakfast at 6am, in the jeep for 6.30am to take you to the start of your hike from Valbonë to Theth for 6.45am.
We strongly suggest leaving this early, to beat the heat of the day, because during the summer months, it reaches up to 40°C (104°F) which makes walking that little bit more difficult.
The route is really well marked - all you need to do is follow the red and white stripes like below. But if you feel a little nervous about getting lost just use Maps.me - make sure you download the map with WIFI before you set off for this trip.
The route can take anywhere between 6-8 hours, maybe even a little longer if you take more rest stops along the way. There are 4 cafes along the route, two on the Valbonë side and two on the Theth side of the mountain. They offer drinks and snacks, but make sure you pack a decent amount of water with you. I carried a 2L water bladder with me and refilled it at least once along the route, which the cafes will happily let you do for free.
The hike will take you through vast open spaces covered in rocks and gravel so a good set of walking boots is strongly advised. You will also pass through woodlands and beautiful alpine valleys. It is really a sight to behold. The ascent can be steep at times but it is not unbearable at all, and you can take as many breaks as you would like. I am not an expert hiker by any means, but the best piece of advice I can give you, is to walk really slowly on the ascent, and try and minimise your rests, because it takes more energy to stop and start than to keep going but at a slow pace.
It took us around 2.5-3 hours to reach the Valbonë peak and it was absolutely breathtaking. You can leave your bag at the lower half of the peak and take a few extra steps to really enjoy the panoramic views over the surrounding valleys. Rest for a little bit, have some food and water and enjoy!
The descent can be slippery and steep so this is where a good pair of hiking boots comes in really handy. Take your time here. If you have weak knees or feel a little unsteady going downhill, pack walking poles - they can be really helpful for going downhill.
Depending on your speed, the descent takes around 3 hours, ending in the small town of Theth. Immediately as you finish there is a cafe and a small shop. Because we started early, we finished just after midday, which meant we had plenty of time to chill and relax at the cafe and enjoy the serenity of the surrounding mountains, reflecting on everything we had just seen.
When you are ready, head into Theth and to your next guesthouse. We stayed at Pjeter Cumi (not online) which is just passed the church and the only hostel with a blue roof.
Shower, relax, have some food. The day is yours.
We had a really lovely group of 6 of us in the end, who we met at Camping Legjenda in Shkoder and again in Valbonë, so we all headed to a nearby bar. Which actually turned out to be a pretty wild night drinking Albania home brewed wine and Raki
- it should come with a warning.
If you fancy experiencing the same thing and have a good group around you, ask for Tomas’s bar and I am sure someone will point you in the right direction.
Dinner is at 7pm and tomorrow you will hike to The Blue Eye!
Early start again. We suggest having breakfast no later than 7am - make sure you tell your guesthouse this. Set off around 7.30am to miss the heat of the day.
To get to the Blue Eye, use Maps.me.
If you stay at the same guesthouse mentioned here, walk down the path, take a left, cut through the fields, walk passed Tomas’s bar and cross the river via a rather dodgy self made bridge (pictured below). Once you have done this, maps.me will show you the way.
Once you are on your way, you will start seeing the red and white markers that you use for the Valbonë to Theth hike (pictured below). Follow these all the way to the Blue Eye, which takes around 3 hours.
The hike isn't hard, although there is one stretch that is quite steep to go up into the mountains.
But when you reach The Blue Eye, trust me, it is totally worth it.
When you get to The Blue Eye, you can go in the water, but it is freezing! I settled for dipping my toe in and that was enough. There are also hot water pools, so if you have the time, jump in and enjoy. There are multiple cafes where you can get food and water, so just take your time, sit back and enjoy the view.
You have two options now depending on your flight home / onward journey: Either head back to your guesthouse and chill before heading back to Skhoder later that day, or if you were like us and needed to get a flight from Tirana airport that evening, head back to the nearest town which you passed on your way to The Blue Eye (1 hour walk) and jump in the pre-arranged transport that you booked with Loren from Camping Legjenda.
The ride from Theth to Skhoder takes three hours and for two hours of it, it is bumpy, uncomfortable and slightly scary - but also an incredible experience!
We arrived back in Skhoder and at Camping Legjenda for 3pm which gave us enough time to shower, pick up our bags and jump in a taxi back to Tirana airport to catch our flight at 7pm.
**The ones linked are the exact items I used and they were great.
A good daypack with waist support (you don't need more than 20L)
Good walking boots and walking socks
2 x shorts
3 x vest / t-shirts (2 for hiking, one for the evenings)
2 x sports bra (if you are a girl!)
1 x jumper or fleece for the evenings (it gets cold in Valbonë)
1 x long trousers for the evenings
Sandals for the evenings
Swimsuit and quick dry towel
Hat (optional but good to keep the sun off your face)
First aid kit - inclusive of plasters in case of blisters
Suncream and bug spray
Water bladder / refillable water bottle
Snacks - cereal bars and nuts are great for energy.
Battery pack and charging cables
Toothbrush, toothpaste, washing bar.
Cash for extra snacks and drinks (Lek or Euros is fine).
Camera / phone for those important pictures
€270 for a return flight from the UK to Albania (Skyscanner).
€40 for taxi from Tirana airport to Camping Legjenda in Skhoder.
€30 for a chalet at Camping Legjenda.
€90 for transport from Skhoder to Valbonë (2 x jeep and ferry crossing), 1 nights accommodation in Valbonë and 1 nights accommodation in Theth and jeep transport back to Skhoder.
€40 for taxi from Skhoder to Tirana airport.
Total of €470 for 4 days.
But you could definitely do it cheaper. We booked our flights late and splurged on a chalet rather than a dorm room at Camping Legjenda and took taxis rather than public buses because we were super short on time.
- The Albania language is hard! But try and learn a few phrases before you go - like thank you, hello, goodbye. Download Google Translate for Albanian too.
- Write down the address, name and number of your first hostel - so you can show it to the taxi / bus driver when you first arrive in Albania.
- Download Albania on Maps.me before you set off on your trip. If you do this, you can then use the map offline which you will need for your route to The Blue Eye.
- Leave your big bag at your first hostel and make sure you have a smaller day pack with you that has good waist support.
- Make sure you write down which hostels you are staying at along your hiking route, in Valbonë and Theth. If you stay at Camping Legjenda, Loren will do this for you.
- Bring a reusable water bottle, or a 2L bladder to attach to your backpack. The drinking tube makes things alot easier!
- Really important and something I didn't do: pack suncream and bug spray - don’t rely on getting it in Albania!
- Cash is King: Withdraw enough Lek or Euros before you arrive at Camping Legjenda. You can do this at the airport but fees will apply. Alternatively, bring Euros with you.
- If you are booking with Whizz air who offer super cheap flights, make sure you have WIFI to book in online 2 hours before you fly. If you don’t, you have to pay €35 for them to do it at the airport!
I hope this has been helpful and filled you with wanderlust to go and explore northern Albania yourself. I have been lucky enough to travel to some incredible places, but this really was something else.
So I guess all that is left to be said is, ENJOY. And if you do end up going and experiencing it for yourself - please tag us so we can follow your journey and relive it ourselves!
Also - if you are a keen hiker and live in the UK / are visiting the UK - check out our blog post on: