A week in the Albanian Alps
With tourism in Eastern Europe on the rise, the exposure of what was once lesser-traveled regions is lengthening bucket lists and developing local economies. Albania’s “Accursed Mountains” has definitely been subject to this two-fold effect. Don’t be concerned by the affectionately titled Alps, however, because the country has well and truly found its feet after coming out of a savage communist regime over twenty years ago. In its current state, the small Balkan villages haven’t yet been fully commercialised and operate as mostly self-sustained ecosystems offering an authentic rural homestay experience.
It was at this point that I realised the anachronistic village was for the most part, self-sustainable – the drive back to civilisation for essential amenities only occurred once or twice a week. This meant no supermarkets, banks, post offices, Wi-fi or anything of the like, just farmers living off their land and in the houses they’ve built.
After finally gathering enough strength to be able to spend the majority of my days out in the temperate climate and warm sunshine, I started going on day hikes in the surrounding mountainside. For the next four days, my hosts lovingly packed me lunchboxes filled with their own produce. I took their food and hiking advice before heading on my way, exploring a new part of the national park every day.
My first day of exploring the park led me to the area’s most renowned waterfalls and swimming holes. A refreshing dip in the Blue Eye (pictured below) was the perfect reward for completing the 11km walk from Theth. To this day, memories of Gclegag waterfall remain firmly imprinted in my mind – the colour and clarity of the pool filled from the cascade are so unique. Having this spot to myself at the time was also a bonus!
The next few days held treks going up the peaks surrounding Theth. I was searching for that magical view over the valley.I found it four hours into a taxing incline. I sat at one of the peaks for a long time and watched the shadows of the clouds shift and warp light across the distant mountain faces.valley. I found it four hours into a taxing incline. I sat at one of the peaks for a long time and watched the shadows of the clouds shift and warp light across the distant mountain faces.My last hike to the Pije Glacial Lakes was unfortunately cut short after encountering a pack of mountain wolves whilst heading through the neck of the Theth-Valbonë trail. Although I turned quickly on my heel and swiftly walked back down the mountain face, I couldn’t help but pause upon seeing this tree. It was almost asking for a photo.
Looking back, I really valued my stay in Theth, from the comfort of my bed, to the generosity of my hosts, to the gorgeous mountaintop panoramas. It was a week lived simply – eating, sleeping, hiking. Go and enjoy this lifestyle before the area is inundated with tourist buses and tours… Which I foresee happening sooner rather than later.
Jeffrey Kieffer is a photographer and blogger currently living in the heart of Stockholm, Sweden. He is fascinated with the way digital media has transformed the art of storytelling and hopes to delve into an industry where he can grow this passion and develop his writing. You can find a lot of his photos throughout our webpage.