It went without saying that after hiking England’s South West Coast Path that Neil and I would go hiking together. We reckoned we could live off our savings for another month before biting the bullet and looking for work. But where to go without blowing all our savings? We needed to go somewhere where food and accommodation wouldn’t be too expensive, but preferably without a long and expensive flight.
We wanted mountains, but after looking at the Traumpfad from Munich to Venice we decided the expense of staying in alpine huts would be too much.
We considered hiking in Ladakh (well away from monsoon rains), but flights were expensive and the landscape looked impossibly arid and harsh.
So Neil suggested Eastern Europe. A look through a hiking compendium book turned up the Peaks of the Balkans Trail; a post to the Facebook group Women of the PCT brought confirmation that it was indeed do-able, even though there isn’t a guidebook available in English yet (Cicerone Press confirmed they expect to publish in November).
There is however a 1:60,000 map of the entire trail available from Stanfords, with a detailed route description, breaking the trail down into 10 days plus some suggested side routes.
The Peaks of the Balkans Trail is a 192 km route through northern Albania, southwestern Kosovo and eastern Montenegro. It promises traditional mountain villages, relatively unspoiled by modern development, and the wild beauty of the Albanian Alps.
So here we are in Shkoder in northwestern Albania, relaxing at Mi Casa Es Tu Casa hostel after much travelling! We flew from Manchester to Corfu on Monday, and took the ferry to Sarande in southern Albania on Tuesday – a very pleasant small resort and a fraction of the price of Corfu. Then yesterday was a day on the buses – a 6 hour journey to the Albanian capital, Tirana, to possibly the most confusing bus station ever, 38 degree heat, no information about onward buses and seemingly nobody who spoke any English. As luck would have it we found a bus to Shkoder which was just about to depart; even though we’d not eaten since leaving Sarande, we jumped at the chance to escape Tirana and took it.
Two hours later we arrived in Shkoder, found this hostel, and knew we’d made the right choice. It’s a large town with a pleasant touristy centre with bars and restaurants and a picturesque fortress, and is about 10 degrees cooler than Tirana! And it is a straight-forward journey by furgon (minibus) to Theth where our hike starts.
So we’re just enjoying a relaxing afternoon at the hostel after walking up to the fortress this morning, and searching for meths for our stove. I think we might have ended up with white spirits – we’ll find out later if it works!