Scenic Ascent
On the beach
Open riding
On the trail
Monastery stop
The beach ride
A welcome drink
Adriatic View

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

Ride Summary
What was your overall impression of the holiday
Overall impression
Unicorn Trails sales staff

Riding tour leader

Additional Comments
Horses and Tack

Additional Comments
Meals

Accommodation

Miscellaneous

Was this trip accurately described to you beforehand?
YES
Please give more details to explain your response:
Was there anything you should have known and were not told? YES
Please give more details to explain your response:
Perhaps people afraid of height should be warned on day 2 as there’s a long walk down the mountain, very steep (and scary for me). I would definitely not be able to make it if not with the great help and effort of our guides.
What could we do to improve this ride?
How would you rate the difficulty of this ride out of 10 where 1 is very easy and 10 is very advanced?
9
Please explain why you scored it as you did:
Long hours in the saddle and very challenging terrains. Opportunities for long canters/gallops on flatter terrains. But you will get used to it after the first few days, the horses are super careful with the mountains and surefooted so don’t worry.
Would you recommend Unicorn Trails to your friends?
YES
Please give more details to explain your response:
May we use you as a reference for other people wishing to go on this ride?
YES
Any other comments:
Unicorn comments: Thank you for your feedback. Glad you had a great time! I will be sure to update our notes about Day 2 :)

Day 1
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.

Day 2
The ride starts from the stables at 360m above sea level, 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.  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. Tonight's accommodation is with one of the village families who will prepare  a delicious home-prepared meal.  Riding hours 5-6

Day 3
After 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 forest. 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 with wine, raki and mountain tea to comfort the riders after the long day. 
Riding hours: 8 (including walking by leading the horses)

Day 4
After breakfast the group set off on a shorter, but very pleasant riding day. The first stop is the castle of Borsh located on a hill in Borsh´s village (500m above sea level) and dates back to about the 4th century B.C. After visiting the Castle ruins, the ride continues for a 3 hour trek from Borsh along the old seaside road. Olive and citrus trees are planted everywhere on the upper part of the road, and the remnants of 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 : 4

Day 5
Afterl breakfast on the terrace, the ride starts by heading down to the sea, through olive tree terraces, to the beach of Bunec, Explore the challenging landscape on the way to Shen Valli, encountering herds of sheep and goats along the way. Reach the coastal house for the overnight stop by late afternoon. Riding hours 5

Day 6
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 and 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 past military ideology. A picnic lunch under Olive trees is the perfect spot for a rest and to enjoy the natural beauty. The day's ride ends in Fushebadha, Enjoy dinner in the garden with your hosts (weather permitting). Riding hours: 6


Day 7
This is the final day of the rie, and the group heads back toward Gjirokstra through diverse landscapes and tthe chance to enjoy some good canters and gallops. Stop at Asim Zeneli for a lunch break before resuming the route to Gjirokstra and arriving back at the stables. Say a fond farewell to the horses and the riding team. Share the highlights and memories of the trip over a farewell dinner. Riding hours: 5

Day 8
After breakfast at the hotel you will be transferred to Tirana airport or Saranda port.

 

 

 

Single Supplement
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.

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.

Horses & Riding

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.



Beach Riding: Please note that although beach riding is included, the sand is rocky and only suited to walking the horses. The mountain horses are not keen on water and don't enjoy paddling or wading.


Rider requirements

Riders must be able to walk, trot and canter and be 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.

Weight Limit

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.

Documents - Visa and Consulate Info

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

Climate Summary

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.

Climate Chart

Health

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.


Health (ride specific)

Please take along sun cream and anti-allergy medicine for possible insect bites.

Electricity

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.

Mobile, WiFi and charging

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.

Packing List

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.
Waterproof raincoat
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
Water bottle

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.

Programmes

This is a 8 days/7 nights programme with 6 riding days available on set dates.

Departure Dates

2024: 4 (Full), 18 (FULL) May; 1 (Full), 15 (Full), 29 June; 13, 27 Jul; 10, 24 Aug; 7, 21 (Full) Sept.

Pricing
No single rooms available (on some or all nights). Riders must be prepared to share with someone of the same sex.

If available, €20 per night on Night 1 and 7, payable on-site.

No of   
days/nights
Riding days Product item description £
20248d/7n6double pp1,169
20248d/7n6Small group supplement pp group of 2 139
No of   
days/nights
Riding days Product item description
20248d/7n6double pp1,339
20248d/7n6Small group supplement pp group of 2 159
No of   
days/nights
Riding days Product item description US $
20248d/7n6double pp1,525
20248d/7n6Small group supplement pp group of 2 175
No of   
days/nights
Riding days Product item description SEK
20248d/7n6double pp16,135
20248d/7n6Small group supplement pp group of 2 1,859
Recommended Reading

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


Wildlife

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.

Other Information

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.

Travel Summary

Meeting-point (getting there):
Tirana airport (TIA) or Saranda Port - fly to Corfu (CFU).
Transfer:
2024: Tirana airport to Gjirokastra €90 return per person 3-4 hours. Saranda Port to Gjirokastra: €50 return per person 1 hour. Transfers payable on site (subject to change)
Flight Guide:
London - Tirana (TIA) return ticket from £75pp
London - Corfu (CFU) return ticket from £100pp
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