Discover the mountainous landscapes of southern Albania on this challenging 11 night trail. You'll follow ancient caravan routes on hardy native horses and stay with local families, sampling homemade meals and experiencing rural Albanian culture. This trail combines a challenging riding experience (between 5-7 hours on riding days) in varied landscapes with wild river swiming, river hiking, canyon exploring, camping and visiting rare cultural monuments. You can look forward to enjoying local traditional food provided by the families you stay with, as well as plenty of raki and wine tasting, over the course of the trail.

You'll ride along the banks of the mighty Vjosa river; the last wild river in Europe, before camping in the dry river bed, a highlight of this trail. The river flows for over 270 kilometres untamed ,free flowing and characterised by beautiful canyons, braided river sections, islands, oxbows and meandering stretches. It's also one of the most complex habitats for migratory birds so there is plenty of wildlife spotting. The riding is through charming villages, passing ancient ruins and enjoying spectacular mountain landscapes with forests, rivers and wildlife. As well as the riding you'll visit Byzantine jewels, quaint Ottoman-era guesthouses, thermal baths, medieval churches and restaurants dishing up delectable local produce.

This trail is suitable for adventurous and fit riders of intermediate and advanced ability who are happy getting well off the beaten track.

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Day 1
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. 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 hotel, a 10 minute walk from the centre of historical Gjirokastra. 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 Bazar 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.

Day 2
After breakfast at the hotel, you'll meet the horses and begin the trail, riding through the countryside towards the medieval village of Karjan. This village is traditionally a rural stop for passing caravans with its small churches and old roman bridge. The route combines hilly landscapes, valleys, small water streams and cliffs. This path also passes the banks of the River Drino, the most important water basin in the area and part of ancient pagan beliefs. On the way you'll see ruins of the castle of Santa Triada reconstructed during 1809-1810 by Ali Pasha. You'll stop for a picnic lunch near the village of Erind. After around 4-5 hours riding we will reach Karjan village where a traditional dinner awaits. Overnight accommodation will be provided by a local family.

Day 3
After breakfast you'll ride along Drino’s valley, first to the Andon Poci village, later reaching Hundkuq village. The ride will become challenging, entering a small forest before reaching Labova of Zhapa. This village is well known all over the south for its wonderful Church and the big houses belonging to the merchants which are now mostly ruined. Labova is the birthplace of Vangjel Zhapa, the organizer of the first Modern Olympic Games. Zhapa was a well-known businessman and philanthropist who lived around 200 years ago. Labova will be the lunch picnic stop. After visiting the church, a unique medieval building, you will start riding up the mountain. You will be impressed by the mountain’s rare vegetation such as mountain tea, oregano, wild rose and other endemic plants like digitalis or ‘Dig–Dag’ as it’s known locally. You'll follow the mountain path to the valley of Cajupi, your camp for the night.  You will have the chance to taste the Brati famous spring water and visit a small medieval tower of protection called “karakoll”. You'll experience the sheep milking process and will be able to try cooking with the shepherds.

Day 4
After a traditional breakfast, the trail will follow the medieval Caravan pathway with its famous bandit hideout ‘Hija e Mallkuar’ or ‘The Cursed Shadow’. From here, medieval thieves could rob the caravans passing through Zagoria. You will continue riding to the most important horse pathway of the XVII and XVIII century which used to connect the biggest commercial centres in Southern Albania. A very beautiful natural monument is the Rock of Zhej that can be seen along the way. You'll stop for a short break at the water spring of Lliar, before a challenging downhill route to the ruins of a medieval stone bridge (the bridge collapsed on February 2018) where you will stop for lunch and for a long refreshing swim in the river. In the afternoon you'll ride to Hoshteva village; your destination for the night.  With a population of just 30 people, Hoshteva has a unique church which was initially built in 999AC and last restored in 1866 . The monument has a very particular style with lots of pagan elements on the wall paintings You will spent the night by a small family hotel, the only one in Hoshteva village and can enjoy a home cooked dinner in the family’s garden.

Day 5
Todays ride will start with a mountain climb to reach the Gjurmemushka mountain pass, after that you will ride mostly downhill. You will pass by Maleshova village to visit the church and by Limari antic castle ruins. You will stop for a picnic lunch next to a stream and they'll be time for a rest under the trees. During the afternoon, you'll get your first glimpse of the river Vjosa and will spent the night in a village house in Mbrezhdan. This is a forgotten area, very isolated due to the lack of roads but still very welcoming. You can experience the traditional way of cooking outside and the famous 'petanik'; a special pie of the mountains and will have dinner with the host family in their garden.

 Day 6
After breakfast you will start the ride downhill to reach the river Vjosa. The rest of todays ride will take place on the river bank. The landscape is unique, very different from the other days with many opportunities for long gallops. You will camp again in front of Piskova village on the dry part of the river bed and enjoy very good food cooked by a small restaurant in Permet. We will transfer the food by car to our temporary campsite. You can swim the whole afternoon and enjoy a special dinner under the stars. Fishing is also possible if there is interest for it.

Day 7
You'll start the ride from Piskova and keep following the river bank. The riding landscape is mostly deep valleys with many chances for canters and gallops. You will reach Permet town by lunch time. After accommodating the horses in the suburb of this small town, you'll move to a hotel in the center of Permet with lunch in a small restaurant close by. The afternoon is free to wander the town or climb famous Premti rock. Before evening, you can visit by car Leusa village a few km away. The beauty of the surrounding woods, hides the real gem of Leusa village: the Orthodox Church of St. Mary well-known for its outstanding iconography mural paintings from the Byzantine era. Dinner will take place in a family run restaurant in the middle of town. Later on, those with any energy left can enjoy the night life in the different music bars in the town centre.

Day 8
This is a free day with no riding. Your hosts can drive you to Benja thermal pools in Langarica Canyon, 30 minutes away. There  you can explore the canyons, swim, and the most brave can go river hiking to explore the “Pigeons Cave” on a rock along Langarica river. Lunch will be available in a restaurant close to the canyons before driving back to Permet town late in the afternoon. Dinner will be served in a small restaurant close to the hotel. You can also make your own plans if you don’t want to join this suggested itinerary.

Day 9
Permet town – Ndernan / Zagoria 5-6 hours of riding
This is going to be one of the longest and most difficult riding days climbing Dhembel mountain. You'll need long sleeves because of low-hanging branches but will be rewarded with spectacular views. A picnic lunch will be carried in the saddle bags as the logistics car can’t reach us before the final destination of Nderan Zagoria. Be prepared to walk part of the uphill and downhill. During the afternoon ride we will pass by the byzantine church and the monastery of Saint Mikhail of Nivan, built in 1702. We will ride over the medieval bridge built in the same period to connect the monastery with Nderan village, one of the famous centres of medieval livestock fairs and which will be your overnight residence. You will spend the night with a vllah family. Their community represents a rare linguistic minority in Albania. Dinner will be a delicious mixture of local products, raki and wine. You can join the local life and accompany the family during the milking process, dinner preparation or have a look at the family's farming animals and garden. This village is one of the most important producers of mountain honey in South Albania and it offers nearly 10 different tastes of honey according to season and bee pasture.

Day 10
The riding today combines changing landscapes and a varied riding pace. Wide valleys, steep downhills, green forests and the beauty of the Suha River are all part of your itinerary before lunch. The lunch  break by the river is a good chance to take a refreshing dip in the water. Later, you'll climb the Swallow Rock and visit the church of Labova of the Cross, a rare monument representing the oldest church in Albania, built by Justinian the Great in 554. Justinian married Teodora his wife at the small chapel of this village and the villagers inherited her wedding dress for centuries. This church is decorated with an old wooden iconostas full of floral and symbolic animal scenes. In the afternoon you will ride to Libohova, a small town nestled at the foot of the Bureto Mountain. The archaeological evidence indicates a very ancient settlement which reached its zenith in the 17th-century when it became an important commercial centre. During the afternoon you can take a long walk and visit Libohova’s castle, a Bektashi cult object and even go to the tomb of Ali Pasha’s sister, Shanisha. Accommodation tonight is in a local family house where you will taste delicious local food.

Day 11
This will be a short riding day of 3.5 hours. You'll ride through rolling hills, Drino’s valley and a few streams before climbing a steep hill to reach Antigonea National Park where you'll stop for a break. 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 there is one more hour of riding until you reach the stables. A picnic lunch will follow in the village close to the stables and you'll be accommodated at the same hotel in Gjirokastra as on the first night. Your farewell dinner will take place in a small restaurant in the old Bazaar. Later in the evening we can have a drink in a popular bar to end the trip.

Day 12
After breakfast at the hotel you will be transferred back to the airport.

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.

Transfer Information

Meeting-points :

Tirana airport (TIA) or Saranda Port - fly to Corfu and take the boat to Saranda (CFU).

Transfer:

Tirana airport to Gjirokastra: €70 return per person, 225 km, 3-4 hours

We organise two transfers from the airport every Saturday, the first one at 12 o’clock and the second at 15.00 pm. Flights that fit the normal transfer’s schedule should be planned to arrive no later than 15.00 pm and departures not earlier than 12 o’clock (midday)

Riders that arrive in Tirana one day in advance can plan to arrive at the airport for the transfer of 12 o’clock or 15pm. We can’t organise transfers from Tirana.  It is very easy and cheap to reach Tirana airport by bus. There is a bus every hour starting from the center of Tirana (behind the opera palace)

Private transfer from or to Tirana: 1 person 100 Euro (one way)

2 Persons 120 Euro (one way for both)

3 persons or more 50 Euros per person one way.

Note: (Riders can book a private transfer if it is impossible to book flights that fit normal transfers schedule)


Saranda port to Gjirokastra and back : €40 return per person, 64km, 1 hour (round trip)

 If flying to Corfu, get the ferry to Saranda (available 2 -4 times per day, fast one 30 minutes and slow one 1h.15 minutes. Own cost.)

Note: We can organise transfers based to the ferries’ timetable for 2021. Normally 1 in the morning and 1 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.

Horses & Riding

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 and galloping in wide valleys. This trail is considered to be fairly fast and riders must be prepared for changing landscape and pace.



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. Guides are knowledgeable in horsemanship, First Aid, history, archaeology and biology. They also speak English, Italian and Greek.


Rider requirements

Riders must be able to walk, trot and canter and ready to spend 6-9 hours in the saddle over varied terrain and landscape. Help to mount or dismount can be provided by the guide if necessary.

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. Riders participation with grooming and tacking up is not obligatory as help is provided all the time by the guides.

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 in twin bedded rooms with shared bathrooms in different family houses in the villages you pass through. These are unique chances to mix with local families and experience their culture. This trail also includes two nights of camping. Tents and equipment are provided but you will need to bring your own sleeping bag. The first camping night is out in the wilderness and there are no shower facilities that night. The second camping night, you are next to a family home and can use the shower facilities there.



Meals: You can expect a home-cooked breakfast with pies, cookies, butter, jam, eggs, milk, mountain tea and coffee. Lunch is usually a picnic lunch which 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.

Documents - Visa and Consulate Info

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

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

See your GP for information on any vaccines you may require before your trip.

Health (ride specific)

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

Electricity

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.

Film and Camera Equipment

Internet access will be difficult during the ride. Riders can buy an Albanian sim card/phone number for around €12 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

Riding hat
Long sleeved shirts
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
Swimming clothes
Towels for wild swimming
Sleeping bag
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. You are encouraged to bring your own water bottles to reduce plastic usage.

Programmes

This is a 12 days/11 nights programme with 9 riding days available on set dates

Departure Dates

2021: 24 Jul; 2 Oct

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

It may be possible to pay for a single supplement on the first and last night of the trail, €20 per night, payable on-site.

No of   
days/nights
Riding days Product item description £
202112d/11n9double pp1,389
202112d/11n9Supplement for group of 4 pp125
No of   
days/nights
Riding days Product item description
202112d/11n9double pp1,499
202112d/11n9Supplement for group of 4 pp135
No of   
days/nights
Riding days Product item description $
202112d/11n9double pp1,945
202112d/11n9Supplement for group of 4 pp165
No of   
days/nights
Riding days Product item description SEK
202112d/11n9double pp15,489
202112d/11n9Supplement for group of 4 pp1,365
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 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.

Travel Summary

Meeting-point (getting there):
Tirana airport (TIA) or Saranda Port - fly to Corfu (CFU).
Transfer:
Tirana airport to Gjirokastra €70 return per person 3-4 hours. Saranda Port to Gjirokastra: €40 return per person 1 hour. Transfers payable on site
Flight Guide:
London - Tirana (TIA) return ticket from around £140
London - Corfu (CFU) return ticket from around £50
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