Travel back in time on this equestrian adventure following the medieval Zagoria caravan pathways into a land of myths, tales and ballads. Starting in Gjiroksater, the circular mountainous route passes through ancient ruins of the Illyrian civilization, medieval villages and many remote churches and monasteries. Riders will experience rural Albanian traditions by staying with local people and riding through vibrant, unspoilt natural landscapes.
The horses used on this ride are a local breed mix of Tarpan and Arab. They are small but perfectly suited to the rocky terrain being surefooted and accustomed to trekking long mountainous routes, allowing riders to feel confident, relaxed and free to enjoy the stunning views.
Riders will meet friendly locals and learn about their traditions while enjoying accommodation as guests in local homes. Your luggage will be transported by car with the most necessary things in saddle bags on your horse. The guides are professional and good company. The main objective of this ride is to celebrate the harmony between humankind, horses and nature.
Please Note: The opinions expressed in these reviews are the author's and do not necessarily reflect the views of Unicorn Trails Ltd. These reviews are "directly from the horses mouth" and unedited. Unicorn Trails may make additional comments for clarification clearly identified in red.
Review received from CT of Hittnau on 30/11/2023
Ideally, plan to arrive at Tirana airport in the morning, but no later than 14:30hr - this leaves time for the transfer and to be able to visit the town of Gjirokstra. Driving to Gjirokastra will take round 3-4 hours. Settle into the hotel which is a 10 minute walk from the centre of Gjirokastra. Explore this historical town and its old Bazaar before dinner. A sample of Gjirokastra's traditional life can be experienced in a visit to Enver Hoxha’s house, Gjirokastra castle, the church and the mosque of the Old Bazaar, and Skenduli house. Dinner will be served at a traditional local restaurant where the guides will discuss the trail along with any requests, needs, and advice that is good to know. It is recommend to buy a map of the area before dinner in order to gain a good understanding of the itinerary.
After breakfast at the hotel and allocation of horses, the day starts by riding through the countryside towards the medieval village of Karjan. This traditional village with its small churches and old roman bridge, is a rural stop for the passing caravans . The trail passes through a landscape of small houses, gardens, traditional farming and cultivating of the land. The route combines hilly landscapes, valleys, small streams and cliffs. and a view of River Drino, “Tree of Life” river. This is the most important water basin in the area and part of ancient pagan beliefs. Along the route one can see the ruins of the castle of Santa Triada reconstructed during 1809-1810 by Ali Pasha as a strategic point to control all the caravan itineraries. The castle ruins were used later during the time of socialism for military issues. We stop for a picnic lunch just near the village of Erind. After around 4-5 hours riding brings you to Karjan village where a traditional dinner and accommodation is hosted by a local family. In the afternoon riders can join in family activities and help to feed, clean and water the horses. Riding Hours: 4-5
After breakfast the ride heads north to the villages of Small Labova and the valley of Cajupi. Follow the ancient merchant’s cobble stone road of Zhapa with its mountain panorama and wide view of the hills and valleys. The first break will be in Small Labova, a village well known all over the south for its beautiful church and big merchant houses (now mostly ruined). After visiting the church the ride continues into the mountains through fields of mountain tea, oregano, wild rose and other endemic plants like digitalis (or 'Dig–Dag' as it's known locally). Follow the mountain path to the valley of Cajupi and a visit the local shepherds and have lunch. This is a chance to taste the famous Brati spring water. After galloping through Cajupi valley the trail follows the ancient Caravan pathway with its famous bandit hideout 'Hija e Mallkuar' or 'The Cursed Shadow'. From here, thieves would rob the caravans passing through Zagoria. The final destination of the day is the village of Nderan, in the heart of Zagoria region. The hosts for the next two nights are a Vllah linguistic minority family. Dinner is a delicious mixture of local products, raki and wine. One can join the local life and join the family in the milking process and dinner preparation. Riding hours: 6
Start the day by breakfasting on traditional mountain food before heading toward te villages of Lliar, Hoshteva, Koncka and Nivan through a varied combining hard cliffs, rivers, woods and rolling hills filled with the scent of flowers. Fresh mountain air, wild landscapes and animals are all a part of the day. The ride continues along the most important horse trail of the 17th and 18th century which used to connect the biggest commercial centre in Southern Albania.
The Rock of Zhej, a famous natural monument, can be seen along the way. Stop for a short break at the water spring at Lliar, before a challenging downhill route to the ruins of a medieval stone bridge where it is possible to take a refreshing swim (weather permitting). Visit Hoshteva, a unique church which was initially built in 999AD and last restored in 1866. It is decorated in a very particular style with lots of pagan elements in the wall paintings. Continue past the Byzantine church of Lliar and the monastery of Nivan Saint Mehilli (built in 1702) before riding over the bridge that was built to connect the monastery with Nderan village. This was one of the famous centres of medieval livestock fairs, and is the overnight stop for today Riding hours: 5-6
After a country breakfast to start the day, the group rides through a mountain valley, perfectly suited for gallops, passing small remote farms, dramatic cliffs and many small historical routes off the main tourist trail. The trail through the Pogoni region is a journey through time, passing ancient ruins and natural wonders. A picnic lunch will be held near the stone bridge of Hllomo or Kacarello’s, and can only reached by horse. After about 5 hours in the saddle one reaches reach the centre of the Pogon region. The mountain village of Polican is populated by a Greek minority. and accommodation is with a local family. Riders have the chance to explore some important local monuments of the medieval period before enjoying an evening of local gastronomic delights. This village is one of the most important territories for mountain honey in South Albania, and offers nearly 10 different types of honey. Riding hours 4-5
This morning's ride heads to the town of Libohova. The route passes through demanding, but beautiful, mountain landscapes finishing at the Swallow Rock, 500m above the river of Suha. A picnic lunch stop will either be the Suha river (depending on the weather for swimming) or the Church of Labova of the Cross. In both cases one can visit this important monument, the oldest church in Albania, built by Justinian the Great in 554AD. Justinian married Theodora, his wife, in the small chapel of this village and the villagers preserved her wedding dress for centuries. This church is decorated with an old wooden icons full of floral and symbolic animal scenes.
Later in the afternoon the trail reaches Libohova, a small town nestled at the foot of the Bureto Mountain which reached its zenith in the 17th-century when it became an important commercial centre. During the afternoon it is possible to take a hike to visit Libohova’s castle, an important Bektashi cult site, and to the tomb of Ali Pasha’s sister, Shanisha. Overnight in a local family house and share a delicious local meal. Participate in farm life by helping, cooking, feeding the horses, enjoying local music etc. Riding hours: 5
This is a short riding day of 3,5 hours. This morning ride takes in place in rolling hills, Drino’s valley and the occaisional stream before climbing a steep hill to reach Antigonea National Park. Antigonea was built by King Pyrrhus in 295 BC and named after his first wife Antigona, daughter of King Ptolemeus of Egypt. After the break, an hours ride brings one to the stables and a fond farewell to the horses.
Enjoy a picnic lunch prepared by the host family, in the village 'Asim Zeneli',close to the stable. Accommodation is at the same hotel in Gjirokastra (or similar).The afternnon is free in order to prepare for your departure, visit museums or buy souvenirs. A farewell dinner will take place in a small restaurant in the old Bazaar followed by a drink in a popular bar. Riding hours: 3-4
After breakfast at the hotel guests will be transferred back to the airport of Tirana or the port of Saranda.
It may be possible to pay for a single supplement on the first and last night of the trail, but riders must be prepared to share accommodation on the other nights. The single supplement is payable on-site.
Small Group Supplement
Please see 'Detailed Prices' for the small group supplement price. This is applicable if only 2 riders are booked onto the ride. If, at the time of departure, more than 2 riders are booked, the small group supplement will be refunded.
Transfer Information: Meeting-points: Tirana airport (TIA) or Saranda Port - fly to Corfu and take the boat to Saranda (CFU).
Please note: All itineraries are given for your guidance only and it may be altered on the ground and in accordance with the prevailing conditions by the organising team.
The horses are a mix of Arab and Tarpan cross horses. These breeds were mentioned in the ancient chronicles from the time of the King Skerdilajd. The horses are up to 14hh tall (145cm) and they can be ridden very easily by both English and Western riders. Although small, the horses are very strong and surefooted - they know their way round mountainous paths, this rocky landscape is their natural environment.
A typical riding day of 5 hours and will have a minimum of 2 stops, one of them will be for a picnic lunch delivered by car or in the saddlebags depending on the riding day. The first break will usually be for around 10 minutes and the lunch break is usually around 1 hour.
The usual distance covered in 5 hours is around 30-35km km. The ride combines all paces of riding from walking, climbing steep hills and riding downhill to trotting over old stone routes and cantering in wide valleys. The trails are considered to be fast. The riders must be prepared for changing landscape and pace - trusting the horse and letting him decide is very important about riding in this area.
Every riding trail has two guides if there are more than 4 riders, one in front and the other at the back. The guide at the back is responsible for everything technical; saddle fixing, noticing riding problems, looking after the weakest riders etc. The front guide is responsible to lead, explain, translate and choose the pace. Our guides are knowledgeable in terms of horsemanship, First Aid, history, archeology and biology. They also speak English, Italian and Greek.
-Ilir, a biology graduate, is a calm and polite person. You won’t see him ever doing something that is not enough safe and protective. He likes to share thoughts but is very interested in listening too.
-Aurel, a history graduate, is a funny energetic person who likes laughing and joking. He makes the trail interesting by motivating everyone in the group.
-Kristina, a History, Archeology and Finance graduate, is a talkative person full of energy and fond of fast riding. You can learn a lot about many historical details and points of cultural interest if she is the guide of that week, sometimes more than necessary!
-Blendi is mostly shy and calm but very effective in helping and solving any kind of technical issues. He has a very good knowledge in local experience of first aid in nature.
Riders must be able to walk, trot and canter and ready to spend 4-6 hours in the saddle everyday over varied terrain and landscape. Being generally fit and having an adventurous nature will also help on this trail! Help to mount or dismount can be provided by the guide.
There is no age limit but there is a strict weight limit of 90 kg. On difficult paths every rider should be able to walk beside their horse but for no longer than 10 minutes and this is only most likely to be during the 3rd and 4th day.
Horse are cared for and tacked up by the guides but you are welcome to help feed the horses in the evenings.
The weight limit for this ride is 198 lb/90 kg, please enquire if you are an experienced rider exceeding this weight.
Accommodation is fairly basic with twin bedded rooms in family guesthouses with a shared bathroom.
Night 1: Hotel Kastro, Gjirokastër (or similar). This is a traditional hotel. Twin rooms with private en-suite toilet and communal showers, free Wi-Fi.
Night 2: Family house in the village of Karjan. 2 beds per room, shared toilet, hot shower, TV.
Night 3: Family house in the village of Nderan. 2 beds per room, 2 shared toilets, hot shower, TV.
Night 4: Same family house in the village of Nderan. 2 beds per room, 2 shared toilets, hot shower, TV.
Night 5: Family house in the village of Polican. 2 beds per room, shared toilet, hot shower, TV.
Night 6: Family house and family hotel in the small town of Libohova. 2 beds per room, 2 shared toilets, hot shower, TV. If the riding group has more than 4 riders, the rest of the group will be accommodated in a small family hotel nearby.
Night 7: Hotel Kastro, Gjirokastër (or similar), as on Night 1.
Please note that on some nights riders might be asked to share a room with 3 beds, and not all rooms have their own heating so warm cloths to sleep in are advisable during cooler months.
Typical meals include: Breakfast: Home cooked breakfast with pies, cookies, butter, jam, eggs, milk, mountain tea and coffee.
Lunch: picnic lunch can be packed by the riders themselves in the family houses (bread, cheese, vegetables, eggs, pies, water) except the first riding day in both trails (cooked traditional meal and drinks alcoholic or canned)
Dinner: rich traditional dinner often similar in style but with different meat (calf, pig, chicken, goat and fish), vegetables, pies, chesse, salads, wine and raki. Wine or raki (traditional alcoholic drink ) are included during dinners with the food.
Tea, coffee or milk are also available with breakfast and dinner. Lunches represent picnic food prepared by the hosting families and packed by the riders themselves each morning.
Vegetarian or other dietary requirements within reason can be accommodated with advance notice. Please contact Unicorn Trails with requests before booking.
Please note that it is your responsibility to ensure you have the correct documentation in place for your trip.
NB: Be sure to check the COVID status of the country you plan to visit including entry procedures and requirements while travelling.
Visa requirements can change from year to year depending on diplomatic relations. Please request information from the appropriate Consulate in your home country.
Unicorn Trails will assist with any questions you have or supply any necessary supporting documents as required by the consulate should you need a visa.
All travellers will need a passport valid for at least 90 days following your departure date from Albania.
In the UK the British Foreign Office gives advice: https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/albania
In the US: https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/international-travel/International-Travel-Country-Information-Pages/Albania.html
In Canada: https://travel.gc.ca/destinations/albania
The best months to visit Albania are from April to September. Although precipitation is quite high in Albania there is less rain during these months and because of the continental air mass, most precipitation is over the central highlands. Albania has a high number of climatic regions relative to its landmass - the coastal lowlands have a typically Mediterranean climate; the highlands have a Mediterranean continental climate. This ride takes place in southern Albania which is around 5 degrees warmer than the rest of the country. You will experience different types of weather on the trail; from cooler mountainous air to a warmer climate down on the coast.
We still strongly advise consulting with your General Practitioner regarding any necessary immunizations or health precautions based on your individual medical history. Recommendations for travel health and safety can vary depending on various factors, such as destination, current health conditions, and other potential risks.
It is recommended that you drink only bottled water as the tap water is not always potable. If you drink milk, make sure it is UHT (pasteurised). Please refer to your country’s latest health guideline for travel in Albania and contact your own GP for up to date advice on vaccinations and prophylaxis prior to travel.
Please take along sun cream and anti-allergy medicine for possible insect bites.
In Albania the standard voltage is 230 V and the frequency is 50 Hz. You can use your electric appliances if the standard voltage in your country is in between 220 - 240 V.
Internet access will be difficult during the ride. Riders can buy an Albanian sim card/phone number for around €12 (€13 in 2023) and have free internet access and around 30 minutes of free calls with most European countries, including England.
Access to electricity is possible every evening and the whole area is covered very well with signal.
Normal riding clothes: riding hat, long sleeved shirts (please avoid packing your favourite or expensive clothing due to risk of damage), riding trousers and chaps, gloves.
Good mountain shoes - with a grip for walking but not too thick as you will need to ride in them too. Normal riding boots with a smooth sole are not recommended as they can be slippery when walking on foot.
Casual clothes for the evening
Sun cream, sunglasses, hat
Anti-allergy medicine for possible insects bites
Camera - please bring small cameras as large professional ones are very difficult to transport on horseback.
Copy of passport
Head torch (winter months)
Some of the bedrooms do not have their own heaters, so warm clothes to sleep in is advisable if traveling in cooler months.
Personal saddlebags are welcome if riders would like to bring their own. Small saddlebags are provided by the ride but just for food and water. Travel Caravan encourage riders to bring their own water bottles to reduce plastic usage.
This is an 8 days/7 nights programme with 6 riding days available on set dates
2024: 2, 9, 16, 23, 30 Mar; 6, 13 (Full) Apr; 11, 25 May; 8, 22 June; 6 July; 3, 31 Aug; 14, 28 (Sep); 26 Oct; 2, 9, 16, 23 Nov
If available, €20 per night on Night 1 and 7, payable on-site.
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Books: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/708124.Chronicle_in_Stone http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/6588364-i-humburi http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1036877.Biografi http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1866273.Women_Who_Become_Men http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/797635.The_Palace_of_Dreams Movies: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slogans_(film) http://www.ranker.com/review/the-albanian/62789813
The riding area of this trail is also the natural habitat of wild goat, wild pig, deer and mountain bears (it is very rare to see a bear on the trail). You might also spot foxes, rabbits, eagles, turtles, lizards, snakes and a variety of birds.
Flora and Fauna: If we refer to the Albanian species, of which are 3250, 13% belong to Gjirokastra´s territory. There are lots of medicinal and curative plants. The number reaches up to 50 kinds of such plants. The most widely spread animals are hares, deer, wild boars, martens, bears, wild cats etc. Different kinds of fish like trout, eels and many more lurk in the rivers.
The trail is not suitable for non-riding companions.
Gjirokastra, the first and last destination on this trail, is a wonderful town in south Albania and is recognised for its history, heritage, culture and cultural monuments. Known as “the city of one thousand steps”, Gjirokastra has been under the protection of UNESCO since 2005 and is nominated as a World Heritage Site. The castle, the traditional ottoman style buildings, Enver Hoxha’s house and the New Bazaar are the main objects to visit. The town itself is surrounded by charming villages, old byzantine churches, Sufi monasteries, ruins of antique towns, historical mountain paths, nature monuments, rivers and springs, woods, hospitable families and organic traditional foods.