16th July 2018
It was lovely going back to the Dinaric mountain range. I had been in roughly the same area last year but just across the border in Montenegro on the other side of the sub-range known as the Accursed mountains. If anything the mountains seemed more impressive from the Albanian side.
The Northern Albania tour involved much less time on the road than the Southern Albania tour that preceded it and its focus was very much on the lovely walking and views around the Valbone and Thethi valleys.
After the group arrived at Tirana airport we make a quick escape from the capital by heading north to Shkoder. Both here, and our final night in Kruja, were a lovely contrast to the rural areas where we spent the majority of the trip - the accommodation was more rustic and the food more earthy.
As this was a recce trip, we had expected longer ascents but in the main the average was about 700m.That said we could have extended a couple of walks but the threatening afternoon clouds meant we were happy to be back at our accommodation by mid-afternoon! We had seen just how quickly the weather could change in the area after the boat trip on the Drin river, as we took shelter (after a lovely typical lunch at a roadside restaurant) from a devastating downpour. Thus we opted for early starts throughout the trip and managed to keep dry.
The paths were generally good underfoot (sometimes easier than on the Southern Albania walking tour) with spectacular mountain scenery and beautiful meadows of wild flowers, we met only a few other walkers - except on the Thore pass walk which seemed to be a popular hike. Here good balance, nerve and the help of our excellent guide Bledar was needed as we edged through a couple of old snowfields though overall.
The final day's walk was the most tiring due to a long ascent with less views than usual, until we reached the road at the Thore pass. This worked well though as some of the group decided to enjoy a more relaxing morning and drive the spectacular road up to meet us there.
Everyone really liked the hill town of Kruja, where we spent the final night. The town itself has plenty of character, much to explore, a very comfortable hotel and an excellent final meal which was enjoyed while overlooking the distant Adriatic.
It's a fantastic trip in one of Europe's least developed but most intriguing countries.