Phoebe, our client support executive, recently returned from a hiking tour of northern Albania and we took the opportunity to grill her about what exactly to expect on a Wild Frontiers trek and what her experience was like in the little-visited region of northern Albania.
What should you pack?
A good pair of sturdy walking boots!
You are expected to do long days of walking (up to 7 or 8 hours per day) and will also be walking on all kinds of terrain. In my case, in the Albanian Alps, I found it to be very muddy and rocky, with even snow making an appearance up on the pass. But wherever your walking tour may be taking place, it’s never a bad idea to get yourself a comfortable, hardy, waterproof pair of walking boots. And make sure you break them in before you leave and…
Pack thick merino wool walking socks to wear with them, otherwise, like me, you might end up with a few blisters on the first day, which leads me to…
Pack blister plasters (just in case)
Take a breathable light-weight backpack to fit all your supplies for each day’s walking.
With a micro climate of its own, the weather in Albania can be very changeable so you need a backpack big enough for you to fit all the necessities for each day’s hike; sun cream, camera, jumper, waterproofs, lots of water and of course, your packed lunch. Definitely try and get your hands on one which lets your back breathe as it gets pretty humid during the day and will be a saving grace as you climb each mountain.
Just to reiterate, pack waterproofs!
Not just a waterproof jacket, you should pack waterproof trousers as well. The weather is very unpredictable. We were lucky enough to get caught in a storm on Day Three of our trip, meaning we had to hike the whole day through a heavy downpour whilst also jumping over rivers and around waterfalls, which added to the adventure. The waterproofs won’t always keep you completely dry, but when you’ve got six hours of hiking to get done, they certainly help to make it more comfortable and therefore, enjoyable.
If you make sure to pack layers, you can add and take away clothes depending on the weather. If the weather looks like it might be swaying more to being sunny, or chilly.
Pack a hat too. The last thing you want is sunstroke or cold winds battering your ears, so perhaps pack both kinds.
Also, consider your comfort; do you think you’ll find a walking pole handy? Ladies; would a sports bra make you feel more supported and comfortable? Do you think a pair of flip-flops would be a nice to change into to give your feet a break in the evening?
As with any trip, put some time aside to consider these points and prioritise what would make your trip easier without adding too much weight to your bag.
Take your Water-to-Go bottle! The Albanian Alps have an abundance of fresh flowing water and provide the perfect conditions for you to test out your bottle whilst hiking. Also due to the remote locations of the guesthouses you won’t have access to lots of bottled water, so it’s just practical for staying hydrated
How should you prepare for a walking tour?
If you want to build up to a walking tour, the best thing to do is go on a few walks!
Especially if you’re a beginner, so you’ll know what to expect. Try and increase the time you spend walking and mix up terrain if possible. But if you maintain a decent level of fitness and eat nutritiously, it’ll be less challenging and overall more enjoyable. Considering I spend most days sat down due to my job, it was certainly a shock to the system when that suddenly switched to walking up to seven hours a day! That was the most challenging part and at times, the weather was quite humid, so I do think that preparing made those tougher moments more bearable. But keep in mind our walking holidays tend to be aimed more at the seasoned walker than the avid trekker, so you should be fine.
What I found helpful to prepare for northern Albania was reading Ismail Kaddare’s Broken April.
As Albania’s most famous author, Kaddare’s novels are a great introduction to the culture and history of the country. Broken April gives an insight into the ruthless blood feud traditions in Northern Albania, allowing you to understand the significance of the last remaining Blood Feud Tower, which you’ll visit in Thethi village on Day Six.
In hindsight, some research on the wildflowers, plants or wildlife would have been helpful.
I was lucky enough to have been travelling with a fellow traveller who knew an astonishing amount about flowers and was desperately trying to absorb as much of her knowledge as possible. I can guarantee you will see some beautiful flowers and plants as you hike, so the more you know the more fun it will be when you’re in the mountains. I guess this can be applied anywhere you go though, should you be interested in wildlife, birds, or anything you think might enhance your walk!
What food should you expect?
Overall the food surpassed all my expectations and every meal we had was delicious and made from fresh produce. Expect lots of homemade soups and plates of roasted vegetables, with homemade cheeses, and potatoes, followed by some meat or fish.
I think my favourite food was the homemade bread, jam and fresh honey that we were served every day for breakfast and filled us up ready for our walks each day.
Every day you have a full day hiking you’re given a packed lunch from the guesthouse to take with you; consisting of cheese, boiled egg, homemade bread, tomatoes, cucumber, an apple and chocolate bar. You will be fed well on this walking trip!
On the days where we didn’t have a full day of walking due to travelling or starting the hike in the afternoon, we did eat in local restaurants or the guesthouses we were staying in, too.
I would imagine that almost anywhere you go on a walking tour to expect the kinds of food that the locals will be eating.
(Traditional slow-cooked lamb with cheese and tomato)
What distance did you cover day by day?
It was roughly between 5 and 12 km each day, which doesn’t sound a lot, but once you’re there, you really do feel it because it is very mountainous, so lots of uphills and downhills. The distances covered are usually added to the itinerary though.
How many breaks did you get?
The amount of breaks we would get would depend on a few things:
- The difficulty of the walk – there are different parts of the walk that are challenging, like going uphill when the breaks definitely increased, and our tour leader was very good at sensing when people needed them.
- The overall fitness level of the group – the pace was generally set by the tour leader and he clearly considered the ability of everyone in the group. I’d say, on average, every 40 minutes we’d stop for a break
How about toilet breaks
Again, it depends. On shorter days of walking, we’d go at the guesthouse before setting off and would generally be okay by the time you got back or, for example, on the last day, there was a bar/restaurant at the end point so that was a welcome sight! We certainly had to answer the call of nature in, well, nature, once or twice though. Nobody seemed to mind, perhaps being totally immersed in the flora and fauna quashed any inhibitions we had but there were never any problems due to a lack of bathroom facilities.