The Cursed Mountains


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Europe » Albania » North
October 10th 2012
Published: October 11th 2012EDIT THIS ENTRY

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Northern Albania Loop

Shkodra, Lake Koman, Valbonë, Mount Kolac (Montenegro), Kosovo, Kukës, Radomirë, Mount Korab, and back to Shkodra via a pit stop and transport change in Milot.

The Prokletije (a.k.a., Albanian Alps or "cursed mountains") are a sub-range of the Balkans' Dinaric Alps and are located around the border regions of Albania, Montenegro, and Kosovo. I did not attempt the highest peak in the Dinaric Alps, Jezerce @ 2694 m and located entirely in Albania, but I did tag the highest peaks in Montenegro, Albania, and Macedonia. That is a bit deceiving because the tallest mountain in Albania and Macedonia is on the border and shared by both - Mount Korab @ 2764 m. It was actually quite easy compared to Montenegro's high point - Zla Kolata @ 2534 m and meaning Evil Kolata or "pile." That was on the border of Albania and Montenegro and tackled from Valbonë in one long, daylight challenged, autumn day. Kolata's higher summit is in Albania just south of it's evil twin but that will have to be done another day along with Jezerce as I was too knackered after Zla Kolata to try any other cursed mountains.

$US ≈ 108 Albanian lekë


Shkodra



Also known as Shkodër. Really nice town that many travelers pass through heading to or from Montenegro.

Accommodation and food I spent 3 nights in Shkodra - one after arriving from Macedonia and 2 more after the 2 treks - at Hotel Rozafa right in the center of town. The hotel has a 4 star lobby, restaurant, and buzzing cafe, but my room rated about ½ a star although the shower was great and free WiFi was available at the restaurant. The first night I paid 2000 lekë which included breakfast to go since I was leaving early for Lake Koman the following day. The last 2 nights I paid 1500 lekë without breakfast. There's no shortage of excellent places to eat and the prices are jaw-droppingly cheap. Domino's Pizza (no relation to the US based chain even though the logo has been pirated) dished up a great variety of pies for 400-500 lekë. Country Club on the pedestrian street serves nutritious and huge salads for 200 lekë and qebaps for another 200. Very close to the hotel, Restaorant Çoçja (spelled just like that) also has great salads and pasta for a pittance. Pastiçeri Oldari just south of the university has a huge array of pastries including 40 lekë kifle (eclair) that goes well with the intense 50 lekë espresso. Actually, I've never seen so many cafes anywhere, presumably a relic of the Italian occupation. Gigibonata appears to be an Italian gelato chain serving delicious, albeit pricey for Albania, ice cream. Interestingly, tap water, at least in Northern Albania, is quite good. It comes straight from the mountains where the abundant limestone keeps the groundwater pristine.

Transport See previous entry on transport from Ohrid, Macedonia to Albania. Furgons to Tiranë leave almost constantly from the traffic circle in front of the theater for 500 lekë. From the same location there are 2 buses/day direct to Ulcinj just over the border in Montenegro. They depart at 9 am (promptly) and 4 pm, costing €5 or 700 lekë. The morning bus arrived at the Ulcinj terminal ~10:20 am which was perfectly timed to catch the 10:28 am bus to Budva (€7 including the excessive €2.50 terminal tax, arrives 12:15 pm).

Lake Koman Ferry, Continuing to Valbonë Not to be missed. Probably the highlight of my week in the cursed mountains of Albania. Transport from Shkoder to the Koman ferry terminal leaves around 6:00 am. At the tourist office next to Hotel Rozafa there is an organizer for shared taxis to Koman. Cost is 400 lekë/person and the taxi should arrive ~8:00 am or about an hour before the ferry departs leaving plenty of time to dose up on 100 lekë double espressos at the cafe. Aside from the ubiquitos potato chips, it didn't look there was any sort of breakfast to chow making the to-go breakfast from the hotel very key. The passenger (and bicycle) only ferry left 9:15 am for Fierze, arriving ~12:00 pm where furgons wait for passengers to transport them to Bajram Curri for 200 lekë. Another furgon leaves Bajram Curri for Valbonë only once per day at 2:30 pm for 300 lekë (slight overchargng for foreigners, I think). If you have a laptop check your email and sip 40 lekë espressos at schwanky Univers Cafe (yes, spelled like that) while waiting for the furgon.

Rozafa Fortress and Shkodra History Museum The fortress is 30 minute walk from the city center and 200 lekë entry fee. Great views. The maiden Rozafa was entombed in the fortress walls with 2 holes so she could breastfeed her babies. Interesting...

The museum was closed when I went by and is only open 9 am - 2 pm weekdays or by appointment.


Valbonë



Great area for trekking that seems right on the verge of a major tourist explosion. Get there soon.

Accommodation and food The first furgon stop is Rilindja lodge and campground. A double room is €30 but camping in your own tent is €2. I camped 2 nights almost making it worth lugging my 1 kg tent around for 5 months without having used it once. There is a great shower shared by all. Their restaurant is amazing, especially the bread. Actually, everything is fom scratch by necessity and there is a trout farm. Good sized fish goes for 500 lekë. A huge breakfast (included in the room rate but not camping) is 300 lekë and additional espressos are available for 40 lekë. The kitchen can also pack a filling lunch for hiking for another 300 lekë. Great place. There are several other guesthouses and campgrounds along the road but, honestly, don't bother unless you've got your own wheels.

Transport The furgon leaves Valbonë for Bajram Curri at 7:00 am passing Rilindja about 10 minutes later. No need to reserve in advance. However, reservations for a furgon leaving Bajram Curri for Tiranë would be a good idea. I am going to mention this to Rilindja since when I got to Bajram Curri all the furgons departing on the hour were full meaning I had to wait until 1 pm for the furgon to Gjakovë in Kosovo (400 lekë and 1 hour to the edge of town where the buses stop for Pristina or Prizren (my ultimate destination). From Gjakovë to Prizren was another hour and €2.50 (yes, for some idiotic reason Kosovo has decided to adopt the euro as its official currency). I intended to spend the night in Prizren since it was purportedly nicer than Kukës, Albania just over the border. I walked around the center for more than 30 minutes and did not see one lodging establishment. I ended up back at the terminal where a furgon was imminently departing for Kukës (300 lekë, another hour or so). It actually ended up costing more to go to Kukës this way than it would have to go all the way from Bajram Curri to Tiranë for 1000 lekë (could have gotten dropped off anywhere along the route for the same price).

Zla Kolata My first night at Rilindja I met Nate from Canada and, against the advice of our host, we decided to try for Kolata in one day. We left just before 8:00 am and had to hike along the road for ~20 minutes before we cut across the river at the abandoned flour mill and bushwacked a bit to the dirt road then eventually the marked trail. We stopped for lunch at a farm stead then passed west of the Albanian summit of Kolata on the way to the Montenegrin border. Around 12 pm we reached the base of Kolata's Montenegrin summit and mildly struggled with routefinding issues as the trail is not well marked. We finally saw the summit ~2:00 pm which was our prescribed turn around time. Since the summit was so close we went for it anyway and only needed another 15-20 minutes. There wasn't much time to enjoy the summit and the weather wasn't great so we bolted pretty soon after tagging the peak. The return to Rilindja was long and painful and we strolled in to camp at 7:00 pm making for a long, albeit very rewarding, day.


Kukës



Not nearly as nice as Shkodra but it served its purpose as a necessary and not wholly unpleasant stopover.

Accommodation and food Gjallica Hotel down the hill from the square was prefectly fine for one night. They were asking €20/night with breakfast but I countered with 2000 lekë without breakfast since I figured I would be leaving early for Radomirë. The room had a private bathroom, TV, AC (probably a must in summer) and there was WiFi in the lobby/cafe. There are plenty of cafes but actually eating out is quite limited. I think there were 3 restaurants. I'm not sure if the place I ate even had a name but it did serve decent kebaps, a greek salad, and bread for a few bucks.

Transport There are plenty of buses and furgons to Tiranë and occassional transport to Peshkopi and Shkodra. Trying to get to Radomirë proved quite difficult. A waiter at the hotel who spoke excellent English told me there was one direct furgon a day leaving town between 12:00 and 1:00 pm. That was great news since I would not have to get up at the crack of dawn as I had for several previous days in a row to hike or catch transport. Unfortunately he later told me that he called someone and the furgon left at 7:00 am. That also turned out to be not true as I found out the next morning. When I arrived in Kukës a taxi driver had offered to take me there for €40 but I figured I could find something cheaper. I asked all the passing furgons on the way to Peshkopi about detouring to Radomirë and my persistence finally paid off by 9:15 am as I cadged a lift for 2000 lekë which was steep but not outrageous and the last bit of dirt road was in rough shape. We arrived in Radomirë just after 11:00 am which unbeknownst to me at the time was still early enough to set out for Mt. Korab. As far as getting to Radomirë, I think the best way may be from Tiranë on the daily furgon departing ~1:00 pm for 1000 lekë which should theoretically pass through Kukës a couple of hours later.


Radomirë



Radomirë is literally the end of the road and the beginning of the trek to Mount Korab. Very friendly place.

Accommodation and food No choice for either. There's one small hotel right at the Korab trailhead and if you're lucky they may be able to serve up an enormous plate of tomatoes, fries, cheese, and what seemed to be homemade beef sausages. There's always espresso, beer, wine, raki, and potato chips. I ate there after the climb and had no trouble polishing off the dinner since I bagged the summit on merely 2 chocolate bars, a handful of hazelnuts, some figs, and a can of coffee with no breakfast while waiting in Kukës. I did not sleep at the hotel since it was full but the owner of an adjacent cafe put me up in an unfinished upstairs room for free. Incidentally, I did not pay for the dinner either since a local bought it for me.

Transport The daily furgon departs around 6:30 am for Tiranë. I think the fare is 1000 lekë but I paid 800 lekë to the main highway junction at Milot arriving ~9:00 am. After using the facilities and wolfing down an omelet chased with an espresso (150 lekë total) at the hotel across the highway, I caught a share taxi ~10:00 am to Shkoder for 300 lekë taking an hour or so.

Mount Korab After arriving from Kukës I met "Billy," an Albanian expat living in Wales, who helped me sort the accommodation and also told me to go for the summit since it was still early. Lunch was not an option so I sorted my gear, changed into hiking clothes, and bolted for Korab at 11:44 am. There wasn't much of a trail as it meandered across leas and grassy knolls but eventually I reached the head of the river valley and Korab's west ridge. From there it was not far to the summit and I simutaneoulsy tagged the highest point in Albania and Macedonia at 3:27 pm. I was worried about the time so left after 5 or 6 minutes and reached the saddle at 3:47 pm. From there I had to contend with a sheep herding dog eying me with suspicion as I was too close to his flock who were being led back to the village along the same hiking trail. I returned to Radomirë at 6:00 pm on the dot with plenty of daylight to spare.


Additional photos below
Photos: 32, Displayed: 30


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Cursed MountainCursed Mountain
Cursed Mountain

Lunch spot at farm stead on the way to Kolata.
Nate and I on Kolata's SummitNate and I on Kolata's Summit
Nate and I on Kolata's Summit

Saving the cursing for the descent.
MontenegroMontenegro
Montenegro

From Kolata.
Kolata in AlbaniaKolata in Albania
Kolata in Albania

Slightly higher than the Montenegrin summit. Jezerce on the cloudy horizon.
Cursed Montenegrin MountainsCursed Montenegrin Mountains
Cursed Montenegrin Mountains

Now wondering if the high peak in the distance is Đeravica, the highest point in Kosovo and formerly in Serbia too.
Summit of KorabSummit of Korab
Summit of Korab

My pack is in Macedonia while my tush is in Albania.


11th October 2012

Beautiful pics, Bro'
Love the reflections of the sky in the water!
12th October 2012

Thanks, dude. Went a bit overboard posting so many but the lake was so pristine and beautiful.

Tot: 0.201s; Tpl: 0.033s; cc: 13; qc: 33; dbt: 0.0483s; 33; m:apollo w:www (50.28.60.10); sld: 4; ; mem: 6.7mb