This is a mountainous horseback trail ride with around 3-8 hours riding per day on small and surefooted Arab and Tarpan cross horses. There is some walking beside the horses every day. Starting in Gjirokaster, the equestrian trail follows a circular route to the Ionian Sea and back, following in the footsteps of King Ilirian Skerdilajd on his way to conquer Kaonia 2,300 years ago.
This equestrian adventure allows riders to experience unspoilt nature, colorful cultural heritage, welcoming people and ride-reliable, strong horses. View the ancient ruins, castles, churches and monasteries that sit adjacent to the bunkers and military infrastructure from the communist past. During this period of isolation and militarization, communist leaders built around 750,000 bunkers of defense in case of attack from western “enemies”.
Accommodation is in local or family guesthouses every night where host families will provide a delicious meal of local produce and enjoyable conversation over dinner.
From May to the end of September one can enjoy swimming in the sea (without horses) on two of the trail days.
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 MC of London on 05/11/2021
Arrive at Tirana airport ideally in the morning, but no later than 14.30 - this leaves time for the transfer and to be able to visit the town of Gjirokstra. The drive to Gjirokastra takes approx. 3 hours. Settle into the hotel which is a 10 minute walk from the centre of Gjirokastra. and riders can explore this historical town and its old Bazaar before dinner. A sample of Gjirokastra 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 is served at a traditional local restaurant. During dinner your guides will discuss the trail and any requests or needs riders may have. It is recommend to buy a map of the area before dinner in order to gain a good understanding of the itinerary.
The ride starts from the stables at 360m, or from Viroi’s lake of Gjirokastra, at 220m above sea level. This is depending on the weather and if it is possible to cross river Drino. Be aware that this mountainous ecosystem changes very suddenly. The ride heads through hilly terrain, small rivers, pine woods and steep down and up hills (those with a fear of heights take note). Lunch will be a home prepared picnic in the monastery grounds of Cepo. The monastery, which is an important orthodox symbol, is open to visitors and has one of the most strategic views of the Drinos Valley. Located on this historical site, it cuts down a rocky slope on the north side of the “Wide Mountain”. Today, only the ruin of the basilica with a dome remains, along with the remains of guesthouses that hosted travelers over the centuries.
After lunch the ride continues down to the river of Kardhiq. There are some fascinating sights in this area such as “Gods of the Light” rock pillars which are 3-4 m high and seem to change appearance as one travels toward them. Today’s ride finishes at the village of Fushbardha, one of the most important centres of Laberia´s area. Labëria laws originate from ancient times and were reintroduced by 11th century Pope Julius. During the Norman invasion in 1081 he was described as the 'priest and Mayor of Kurvelesh'. Tonight's accommodation is with one of the village families who will prepare you a delicious home-prepared meal. Riding hours 5-6
After a traditional breakfast the group prepares for a long day of riding (up to 8 hours). The trail follows the tracks of King Skerdilajd's Army which passed through the "Neck of the Rock" around 2,300 years ago. The path combines beautiful woods, climbing mountain tracks through rocky landscapes, and ruins of ancient civilizations. Basha Stones, the Dhespina cave, the Rock of Kaze, the Valley of Cherries, the Crooked Brook, Shameti Brook, Trullas Neck and Derrasa Hole are some of the intriguingly named local sights en route today.
Todays lunch break is in a mountain valley surrounded by a small oak forrest, before continuing through the mountain of Borsh towards the next village. The whole day´s landscape offers images of wild unspoiled nature. Flowers, old trees, streams of water shepherds, hundreds of goats, sheep and cows will be part of this riding experience. Be prepared to walk the horses for approximately 1.5hrs during the day on difficult paths and steep downhills. Good mountain hiking shoes are recommended for today. Arrive at a local home late in the afternoon to rest and enjoy traditional meal. Wine, raki and mountain tea will comfort riders to sleep after the long day.
Riding hours: 8 (including walking by leading the horses)
A traditional breakfast begins a shorter, but very pleasant riding day. The first stop is the castle of Borsh (known in history as Castle of Sopot) located on a hill in Borsh´s village at 500m above sea level and dates back to about IV-III century B.C. The mosque was built at the castle by Haxhi Bendo, one of the supporters of Ali Pasha.
After visiting the Castle ruins the ride continues for a 3 hour trek from Borsh along the old seaside road. Olive trees, oranges, lemons, citrus and grapefruits are planted everywhere on the upper part of the road. Many defense bunkers remain along the seaside of Piqeras, an old fishing village where the horses rest while riders are driven to the sea for lunch on the beach and an afternoon to relax. Accommodation is with a local family and a meal of local seafood, cheeses and salads. Homemade raki and wine will be offered with the meal. Riding hours : 3-4
Start the day with a traditional breakfast on the terrace with a beautiful view of the Ionian Sea. Today's ride starts by heading down to the sea through olive tree terraces, to the beach of Bunec, up to the pretty village of Lukove, and down to the sea again through some challenging landscapes, reaching the Shpella beach for lunch and a break for a few hours. This is the ideal chance to take a dip in the ocean (weather permitting).
Later the ride continues though a tangle of trees, bushes and rocks to link up with the remains of an old road connecting the sea with the villages of the upper coast. An afternoon visit to the village of Shen Vasil, a very old mediaeval center, shows a dark point in modern history. The village suffered a long period of terror during the dictatorship and was used as a labour camp for political prisoners. Hundreds of intellectuals suffered and died in this camp during 4 decades. Your host family can share many sad memories of this time. Traces of the past are visible everywhere, and even the accommodation was once the ex-dormitory for soldiers that served the camp. Riding hours: 4
After breakfast the ride sets out to the valley where the Kalasa river flows, and later the hills and valleys of Prapanica. This is the chance for a long gallop. The trail follows back along King Skerdilajd Army´s route. The ride continues to the village of Fushe, through groves of Olive trees and paths that are perfect for gallops. The bunkers of the cold war can be seen all along the ride representing the military ideology of the past, and fortunately bygone system. A picnic lunch under Olive trees is the perfect spot for a rest and to enjoy the natural beauty.
Prepare for the cooler mountain air as the ride reaches the Skerfica mountain neck pass (named after the King Skerdilajd's Army) in the afternoon. Enjoy the cold mountain spring water and another short break before continuing to pass an old phosphor mine, which was another of the labour camps for the political prisoners during the communist regime. The day's ride ends in Fushebadha, the same overnight stop as on the first riding day. Enjoy dinner in the garden with your hosts (weather permitting). Riding hours: 6
After a traditional breakfast, the ride back to the stables begins though a diverse landscape starting at the Valley of the Kardhiq river and later meeting the path of the first riding day. Pine woods, mountain valleys, water springs and flowered landscapes fill the landscapes. Enjoy a canter through Drino’s valley for several kilometers before climbing the hills to the stables where riders say goodbye to heir trusty horses. Enjoy a picnic lunch in the village of Asim Zeneli, a 5min drive from the stables.
Accommodation for the evening will be the same hotel as the first night (or similar) in Gjirokastra. Spend the afternoon exploring the town and its monuments while last minute souvenir shopping before preparing the next mornings departure. Share the highlights and memories of the trip over a farewell dinner.
Riding hours: 4-5
After breakfast at the hotel you will be transferred to Tirana airport or Saranda port.
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).
Tirana airport to Gjirokastra: two transfers are organised from the airport every Saturday, the first one at 12h30 and the second at 14h30 in 2023. Flights that fit the normal transfer schedule should be planned to arrive no later than 14h30, and departures not earlier than 12 o’clock (midday).
Riders who arrive in Tirana one day in advance will need to plan to arrive at the airport for the transfers. There is a bus every hour starting from the center of Tirana (behind the opera palace)
Note: riders can book a private transfer if it is impossible to book flights that fit normal transfers schedule. Please speak to your Unicorn Trails consultant for details.
Saranda port transfers:
Transfers can be organised based around the ferry timetable for 2023. This is usually once in the morning and once in the afternoon.
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 are mentioned in the ancient chronicles from the time of the King Skerdilajd. The horses are up to 14hh tall (145cm) and are easily by both English and Western riders. Although small, the horses are very strong and surefooted - they know their way round mountainous paths as this rocky landscape is their natural environment.
A typical riding day of 6 hours will have a minimum of 2 stops, one of them will be for the picnic lunch delivered by car or in the saddlebags, depending on the riding day. The usual distance covered in 6 hours is around 35-40 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, archaeology and biology. They also speak English, Italian and Greek.
Personalities: Ilir a biology graduate and 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 fis ond 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 6-8 hours in the saddle everyday over varied terrain and landscape. Help to mount or dismount can be provided by the guide.
There is no age limit but there is a strict weight limit of 80 kg. On difficult paths every rider should be able to walk beside their horse but for no longer than 20 minutes everyday. The exception to this is on Day 2 where riders will walk and lead their horse downhill for around 1.5 hours. Riders participation with grooming and tacking up is not obligatory as help is provided all the time by the guides.
This trail is not suitable for people suffering from vertigo.
The weight limit for this ride is 176 lb/80 kg, please enquire if you are an experienced rider exceeding this weight.
Accommodation is in twin bedded rooms in family guesthouses with a shared bathroom. Sometimes guests and the guide eat together, but may stay in separate accommodations.
Night 1: Babameto Guest House (or similar) in Gjirokastra. 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 Zhulat. 2 beds per room, shared toilet, hot shower, TV.
Night 3: Family house in the village of Old Borsh 2 beds per room, 2 shared toilets, hot shower, TV.
Night 4: Family house in the village of Piqeras. 2 beds per room, shared toilet, hot shower, TV in every room. Night 5: Family house in the village of Nivica. 2 beds per room, shared toilet, hot shower, TV.
Night 6: Family house in the village of Fushe-Verria. 2 beds per room, shared toilet, hot shower, TV.
Night 7: Babameto Guest House (or similar) in Gjirokastra.
Please note that on some nights riders might be asked to share a room with 3 beds.
Typical meals include:
Breakfast: Home cooked breakfast with pies, cookies, butter, jam, eggs, milk, mountain tea and coffee. Lunch: picnic lunches can be packed by riders themselves in the family houses (bread, cheese, vegetables, eggs, pies, water) except the first riding day where a cooked traditional meal will be provided.
Dinner: Rich traditional dinner with different meat (calf, pig, chicken, goat and fish ), vegetables, pies, cheese, salads, wine and raki.
Wine or raki (a traditional alcoholic drink) is 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. Most of the dishes are homemade while fruits, vegetables and meat come from local gardens and farms. There is an opportunity to try traditional mountain food and fresh seafood. You can taste the local homemade and unique olive oil extracted in a traditional way.
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 €13 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, swimming clothes, shoes to walk on rocky beach, towels for the beach
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
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 a 8 days/7 nights programme with 6 riding days available on set dates.
2023: 10 (FULL) Jun; 15 (FULL) , 29 Jul; 12 (FULL), 26 (FULL) Aug; 9 (FULL), 23 (FULL) Sept.
2024: 4, 18 May; 1, 15, 29 June; 13, 27 Jul; 10, 24 Aug; 7, 21 Sep
If available, €20 per night on Night 1 and 7, payable on-site.
|Riding days||Product item description||£|
|2023||8d/7n||6||Small group supplement pp for 1-2 riders||129|
|Riding days||Product item description||€|
|2023||8d/7n||6||Small group supplement pp for 1-2 riders||149|
|Riding days||Product item description||US $|
|2023||8d/7n||6||Small group supplement pp for 1-2 riders||165|
|Riding days||Product item description||SEK|
|2023||8d/7n||6||Small group supplement pp for 1-2 riders||1,715|
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 Films: 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 the final destination on this trail It is a wonderful town in the south of 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 places to visit. The town itself is surrounded by charming villages, old Byzantine churches, Sufi monasteries, ruins of ancient towns, historical mountain paths, nature monuments, rivers and springs, woods, hospitable families and organic traditional foods.