This ride follows in the tracks of King Ilirian Skerdilajd, on his way to conquer Kaonia 2,300 years ago. Experience unspoilt nature, colourful culture heritage, welcoming people and ride reliable, strong horses. Wind your way through a variety of landscapes combining mountain climbing, steep downhill and uphill rides, river crossings, woods and the seaside. Here you will find ancient ruins, castles, churches and monasteries sitting adjacent to the bunkers and military infrastructure from 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”.
This is a mountainous trail ride with around 6 hours riding and some walking every day. The horses are small but very robust and surefooted Arab and Tarpan cross. Participation in this trail will allow you to experience true Albania with the best local cuisine, history and hospitality. You will be accommodated in local or family guesthouses every night where your host families will provide a delicious local meal and conversation is enjoyed by all over dinner. Most of the dishes are homemade while fruits, vegetables and meat come from local gardens and farms.
From May to the end of September you can enjoy swimming in the sea (without horses) on two of the trail two 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 VD of Gstaad on 05/10/2018
Plan your flight to arrive at Tirana airport ideally in the morning, but no later than 15:00 - this leaves time for the transfer and to be able to visit the town of Gjirokstra with your guides. From the airport the transfer will be by mini-van or off-road car and will take around 3-4 hours (250km). Settle into your room at a hotel in the centre of historical Gjirokastra. You will be able to have a walk around the historical town of the old Bazaar before dinner. Riders can also visit Enver Hoxha’s house, Gjirokastra castle, the church of the Old Bazaar, the mosque of the Bazzar and Skenduli house representing an ideal sample of Gjirokastra traditional life. Dinner will be served at a traditional restaurant. During dinner your guides will be able to speak to you about the trail: possible requests or needs, advice and things which are good to know. We recommend that you buy a map of the area before dinner in order to gain a good understanding of the itinerary.
We will start riding from the lake of Gjirokastra, Viroi Park at 220m above sea level. You will be astonished by how this mountainous ecosystem changes so suddenly. You will ride through hilly terrain, small rivers, pine woods, steep down and up hills. Lunch will be a home prepared picnic at the monastery of Cepo. We can visit the monastery which is an important orthodox cult object and has one of the most strategic views of the Drinos Valley. Located on a historical scale it cuts down a rocky slope on the north side of the “Wide Mountain”. Today only two objects remain from the former monastery complex: the basilica with a dome and dozens of former guesthouses which have hosted travellers for centuries. After lunch we down to the river of Kardhiq. There are some really interesting thing to see in this area such as pillar rocks “Gods of the Light” and other nature monuments- these have got specific forms of pillars or columns 3-4 m high, which differ from far away. Today finishes after around 5-6 hours total riding at the village of Fushbardha, one of the most important centres of Laberia´s area. Labërian Laws originate from ancient times and was reintroduced by Zhulati Julie Pope, who lived in the XI century. During the Norman invasion in 1081 he was described as a priest and Mayer of Kurveleshi. You will spend the evening and night in a village house enjoying homemade traditional food and drinks.
After a traditional breakfast at the family house we will get ready for a very long day riding (up to 9 hours). Our ride will follow the tracks of the King Skerdilajd Army which passed through the "Neck of the Rock" around 2,300 years ago. For the first time, King Skerdilajdi was mentioned as the commander of the 5,000 troops sent by Queen Teuta in 230 BC against Epirus. He was the youngest brother of King Agron and one of the main supporters of Queen Teuta. He led the invasion army in 230 BC to the capital of Epirus Phoinike (Finiq). King Skerdilajd played a determined role in Teuta´s plans to create an Adriatic Front against Rome. The path combines beautiful woods, mountain climbing, rocky landscapes and ruins of ancient civilizations. Basha Stones, Dhespina cave, the Rock of Kaze, The Valley of Cheries, the Crooked Brook, Shameti Brook, Trullas Neck and Derrasa Hole are some of the local sights en route today. Our lunchbreak will be at mountain valley surrounded by a small oak wood. We continue 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 for about 1.5 hours during the day in difficult paths and steep downhills. Good mountain shoes are recommended for today. We will arrive at a family house late in the afternoon and enjoy traditional food, rich in olive oil. Wine, raki and mountain tea will comfort you to sleep after the long day.
After a traditional breakfast with the shepherd's family, we will start a shorter but very pleasant riding day. First we will visit 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. Its surface is rocky. In the Byzantine Empire, Emperor Justinian put it on the list of fortifications in the years 527-565. Sopot is mentioned in 1192 in memory of Anna Komnenes, daughter of the Byzantine Emperor Alexis I Komnenai. In 1266, Sopot was in the French power of Charles I of Azhuin and then under German jurisdiction, and later on, for a long time under the Republic of Venice. In the Middle Ages, it was adapted for military garrison and took full view of the fortification at the time of Ali Pasha. The mosque was built at the castle by Haxhi Bendo, one of the supporters of Ali Pasha.
After visiting the Castle ruins we will start a 3 hour ride from Borsh and take the old road along the seaside. Olive trees, oranges, lemons, citrus and grapefruits are planted everywhere on the upper part of the road. Many defence bunkers remained along the seaside of Piqeras, an old fishing village. We will stop the ride in the village and drive to the sea for a lunch break on the beach. After lunch we can enjoy a fairly long break to enjoy the sea and to rest. You will spend the night in a family house tasting seafood, the special local cheese and salad. Homemade raki and wine will be offered with the meal.
This morning we'll enjoy breakfast on the terrace with the beautiful view of the Ionian Sea. You can enjoy traditional coast byrek (cheese pie) and cookies, butter, fresh milk and honey. Today we head down to the sea through olive tree terraces to the beach of Bunec. We will ride up again to Lukove village and down to the sea again through some challenging landscapes. You will reach the Shpella beach for lunch. The lunch stop includes possibilities to swim and relax for 2 hours. Later we continue by first entering a small “jungle” of trees, bushes and rocks, meeting the remains of an old road connecting the sea with the villages of the upper coast. In the afternoon you will visit the village of Shen Vasil, a very old mediaeval centre. The village suffered a long period of terror during the dictatorship being a labour camp for political prisoners. The family can share with you memories of a very dark period of Albania. The ride for this day will last around 4 hours.
After breakfast Today we will ride for round 3-4 hours through the hilly and mountain terrain. After 2 hours you will reach the Skerfica mountain neck named after the King Skerdilajd Army pass. Here you can enjoy the cold mountain water before riding further to the village of Fushebadha. We will pass an old Phosphor Mine, an ex-labour camp for the political prisoners of the communist regime. Further on inside the village of Fushbardha, there still exist the old abandoned buildings of the ex-labour camp. Fushebadha is a destination that you have already visited in your first riding day. This day ride will last about 6 hours. Dinner served in the garden will let you enjoy the homemade food, the fresh mountain air and the hospitality of the local family.
After a traditional breakfast you will start an 4-5 hour ride back to our start point, Gjirokastra town. Today is going to be a diverse landscape ride. We will ride first to the Valley of Kardhiq river and later will meet the traces of the first riding day. The ride will finish right where it started - near Viroi lake. Pine woods, mountain valleys, water springs, fresh air and flowered landscapes will be the panorama of this day. We will drive you to our horse stable to introduce you to our way of managing and to the horse’s life. Your accommodation will be the same hotel in Gjirokastra town. A farewell dinner late in the afternoon will be enjoyed by all.
After breakfast at the hotel you will be transferred to Tirana airport.
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.
Please note that although this trail includes some beach riding, any fast riding takes place along an old path 200m from the beach. The sand is rocky and therefore is only suitable for walking on. The mountain horses are also not too keen on the water so will not tend to want to paddle!
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 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, 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 is and 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. He is our guide for the Kings Army Route. Riders say that he is very serious and is very rare to see him smiling! -Eno is always smiling. He is our technical guide for Zagoria trail only. He knows many things regarding horse from childhood. A little bit childish attitude but all riders love him and comment that found him absolutely helpful.
Riders must be able to walk, trot and canter and ready to spend 6-9 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 13 st/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 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 in Gjirokastra.
Brief description of typical meals: Breakfast: Home cooked breakfast with pies, cookies, butter, jam, eggs, milk, mountain tea and coffee. Lunch: Picnic lunch 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 can be accommodated with advanced notice. Please contact Unicorn Trails with requests.
All travelers will need a passport valid for at least 90 days following your departure date from Albania.
Most destinations, including Albania, require that you have adequate un-used pages in your passport, allowing for any necessary stamps upon arrival and departure. For British passport holders, please consult the FCO website to check if this destination is suitable for you https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/albania
For US and Canadian citizen travel advice please see https://www.usa.gov/travel-and-immigration
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.
See your GP for information on any vaccines you may require before your trip.
Please take along sun cream and anti-allergy medicine for possible insect bites.
Sockets in Albania are of the two round pin varieties.
Electricity in Albania is 230 Volts, alternating at 50 cycles per second. If you travel to Albania with a device that does not accept 230 Volts at 50 Hertz, you will need a voltage converter.
Internet access will be difficult during the ride. Riders can buy an Albanian sim card/phone number for less then €10 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
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.
This is a 8 days/7 nights programme with 6 riding days available on set dates
2019: 28 Apr; 12, 26 May; 16, 30 Jun; 14, 28 Jul; 4, 25 Aug; 1, 8, 15, 22 Sept
If available, €16 per night on Night 1 and 7, payable on-site.
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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.