Valbone DIY – how to organise a trip to the Albanian Alps
Valbone is next to the southern beaches the most beautiful place in Albania. . Especially in spring you can admire there the amazing combination of fresh green leaves, grey rocks and snow-white mountain peaks. Sometimes the views include also crystal clear blue water flowing down the grey stone riverbeds. Characteristic for Valbone is also the sound of bells hanging on the necks of cows and horses grazing in herds on mountain meadows. The scenery is just breath-taking. If you are going to Albania and you like mountains keep this place on your must see list. You won’t regret it.
HOW TO GET TO VALBONE?
Getting to Valbone is not easy. If you are in the north of Albania, e.g. in Shkoder, it may seem to you that the distance in a straight line is not so big. Unfortunately, the road at the border with Montenegro leading in the direction of Valbone ends in Theth due to the mountainous terrain. This means you need to drive to Valbone the other way around. According to Google Maps, from Shkodra to Valbone it takes about 5 hours by car and the road leads through mountainous areas, which makes the journey not the easiest one.
Road through Koman Lake
Fortunately, there is a better option than spending 5 hours in a car. Since there are no good roads to Valbone, the best option is to choose another means of transport, namely a ferry. Somewhere between Shkodra and Valbone there is the Koman Lake. It’s one of the main attractions of northern Albania. Crossing the lake with a ferry takes about 2.5 hours. This means that getting from Shkodra to the ferry terminal, crossing the lake and getting from the ferry terminal on the other side of the lake to Valbone will also take around 5 hours. So instead of sitting behind the wheel or suffering from carsickness, half of the journey from Shkodra to Valbone can be replaced by a pleasant ferry trip, during which you can admire some of the most beautiful views in Albania.
Fierza Ferry Terminal to Valbone
After the ferry ride you will have to drive for another hour to Valbone. There is only one road leading there. At its end you will find the trail leading to the mountains. On the way there is one bigger town, namely Bajram Curri. It’s worth to make a stop here to do shopping, because in Valbone you won’t find any proper shops, bakeries or gas stations. The road itself is very winding and narrow, so for inexperienced drivers and people with carsickness it can be hard. However, in return it will spil you with beautiful views. Keep in mind that on the road you can not only expect sharp turns and falling rocks but also people walking along the road and herds of goats, horses and cows standing in the middle of it.
The town itself is very long, because the buildings are located along the road. New buildings are slowly beginning to appear in more remote areas. Sometimes it can be hard to find a road leading to them (often an off-road car is needed) and they are not yet marked on Google Maps or marked wrongly.
WHAT TO DO IN VALBONE?
Of course, the main attraction in Valbone are the mountains. The trail at the end of the road leads to another well-known mountain village, Theth. The trail is 12 km long and it has a moderate level of difficulty. It’s possible to drive the first few kilometres by an off-road car, because the trail at the beginning is a gravel road. The road leads at least to a place called on Goole Maps Bar-Camping. Special “off-road” buses run from the car park located at the end of the road up and down the trail to this place. Ask locals for more information.
Trekking to the waterfall
You can also choose a shorter option. There is a 4-6 km long trail leading to a waterfall (on Google Maps: Shemtina e Shales, maps.me: Valbona’s Waterfall). Initially, you will be walking through a valley that looks like a dry riverbed. It’s the same trail that leads to Theth. After some time you will get to a place where the trail splits. There will be signs indicating the directions respectively to both places.
The waterfall can be seen from the trail. You will see an amazing stream of water falling down from several meters, which breaks against the rocks and forms a river. After a walk through the valley, you need to prepare for a fairly steep climb through the forest followed by a river crossing. A wooden ladder made of slippery wood piles leads from one side to another. There is no railing next to it so it’s a bit dangerous. The next part of the trail requires walking on wet stones across the river which also isn’t super safe. When you get to the other side of the river, you have just to climb few more rocks to get to the waterfall. When close to the waterfall you can feel the power of tons of water falling down from many meters and crashing on the rocks. Thousands of microscopic droplets will fly in the air and stick to your face. Such a view after a demanding climb and a full of adrenaline river crossing is a real reward.
- The amount of water in the waterfall may depend on the time of the year. At beginning of May there was definitely enough of it but in summer months the situation can look different.
- Along the way, on the trail there are wooden farms where you can buy something to drink and some snacks.
- The trail is marked with red stripes on trees and rocks.
- In May it’s possible to do the trek in normal sport shoes, but of course mountain shoes are a much better choice.
- The whole route there and back took us about 4 hours.
WHERE TO EAT IN VALBONE?
In Valbone, restaurants are almost always combined with hotels or guesthouses. That’s why most of them only have the word “hotel” in their names on Google Maps. This makes them sometimes difficult to find. There are just few of them in the village (5-6?), so it’s good to mark them on your map in advance.
On the way to Valbone, a very nice Albanian recommended to us the Hotel Margjeka run by a German-Albanian couple. He said that this is the best place, because the food is fresh and that is why many Albanians go there. Indeed he was right and the place turned out to be really great. The food was very good and the service was very nice.
We visited this place on weekend and because of that it was quite busy during lunch time and some dishes were sold out. Still we didn’t had to wait very long for our order. For vegetarians there were are at least 2-3 vegetarian dishes (very tasty vegetable soup, grilled vegetables, cheese from the oven). It wasn’t super cheap but the prices for such a nice place were affordable. However the best thing about this restaurant was the surrounding. Hotel Margjeka is located in a clearing next to the mountains, where cows and horses graze. It’s also a great place for a small photo session.
The second place I can recommend is Bar Restorant- Hotel “Natyra”. We only ate a simple breakfast there, but everything was exceptionally good.
WHERE TO SLEEP IN VALBONE?
In Valbone there are many places with accommodation. Most of them are rather simple rooms in local homes. The price for a bed in a basic 3-4 person room at the beginning of May 2019 was around 10-12 EUR. In some places breakfast was included in the price. In the places we checked usually there was hot water, but it’s better to ask about that in advance. For the more demanding travellers, there are also a few places with higher standard and higher prices. A good example is the above mentioned Hotel Margjeka. Soon there will be most probably even more options, since many new houses are being built in this area for tourists. Some places are not correctly marked on the map – be careful.
Some details: personally I can definitely recommend the already mentioned Bar Restorant- Hotel “Natyra”. The price in May 2019 was 12 EUR per person per night in a 4-person room including breakfast. Judging by the number of reviews and the condition of the rooms, most probably the place is new. For now, there are two houses with two apartments, each for 4 people. They have a very small bathroom, 4 beds, two cabinets and that’s it. There was no heating in the apartments, but there are warm quilts. Still, in May the night were quite cold so I advise you to bring an additional blanket or sleeping bag with you.
Next to the buildings with the apartments there was a construction side, which was the only significant minus of this place (construction noises + cement spilled on the grass). This place also has a restaurant, in which the delicious breakfast was served. It included vegetables, eggs, white cheese, jam and a coffee. Different options are also available on request. The restaurant operates regardless of the accommodation, so you can also drop by for a dinner. Another big advantage of this place is the terrace located at the very front of the restaurant, where you can sit in the evening and grill. In general, the owner is incredibly nice and easy to get along with in any matter.