A unique winter offer from our partners in Albania. A week-long break which combines 3 days of horse-riding in changing landscapes of rolling hills, valleys, rivers and forests with 3 days of local culture, thermal baths, archeological sites, and the Ionian coast. You will get a true insight into the life of a shepherd in this rural, unspoiled region. The program offers a unique experiences to explore the remote regions of the South, one of Europe's final unexplored territories.

The horses used on this ride (Albanian horses) are local breed mix of Tarpan and Arab horses. They are small but perfectly suited to the rocky terrain being surefooted and accustomed to trekking long mountainous routes, in all kind of weathers, allowing riders to feel confident, relaxed and free to enjoy the stunning views. The whole itinerary is designed as a winter getaway that has a lot to offer; smaller groups, culture, history, monuments free from crowds, hospitable local houses, traditional music and art. Food and cooking experiences, wine and Raki tasting will be something really exceptional about this trail. Guests will have the possibility to interact, participate and live part of the Albanian local life. Meeting people and introducing our guests to their life and activity is a very social part of this trip. Many things experienced with this winter break can’t be enjoyed with the fast pace of the summer high season so this is ideal for those who want a taste of the slow life with great riding, home-cooked food and adventure.

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Day 1
Plan your flight to Tirana airport ideally in the morning, but no later than 13:00 pm - this leaves time for the transfer and be able to visit the town of Gjirokstra. The transfer from the airport of Tirana will take around 3-4 hours (250km). You will be accommodated in a traditional hotel, in the heart of the historical Gjirokastra .The new Bazaar, and if there is daylight left , Enver Hoxha’s house, Gjirokastra castle, the church of the Old Bazaar, the mosque of the Bazar and Skenduli house can all be visited before dinner. 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 and allocation of horses, we will start to ride through the countryside towards the small town of Libohova, nestled at the foot of the Bureto Mountain. The route to Libovoha is of intermediate difficulty and combines hilly landscapes, valleys, small water streams, cliffs and many chances of canters.  After the accommodation of the horses next to the small farm where you will spent the night we will drive to the center of the town (10 minutes) to reach the lunch stop a small traditional restaurant. You can taste the local food wine and Raki. During the afternoon we will take a long walk to visit Libohova’s castle, a Bektashi cult object and the tomb of Ali Pasha’s sister, Shanisha The archaeological evidence indicates a very ancient settlement which reached its zenith in the 17th-century when the town of Libohova became an important commercial centre.  Later on feeding the horses and taking care of them is part of you evening activity. You will overnight at the local family farm and will taste delicious local food. You can also participate in cooking a local dish with the family.  Riding hours:  3-4 hours

Day 3
This morning you will ride through rolling hills, Drino’s valley and few water streams before climbing a steep hill to reach Antigonea National Park where we will stop for a visit. 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 we will ride 1 more hour to the stable where you can enjoy the experience of letting free your horses. Lunch will follow immediately after in a village close to the stable. You will be accommodated at the same hotel in Gjirokastra. After a short break we plan to visit the cold war tunnel in Gjirokastra, a building of communism defence paranoia that has a lot to tell.  Before dinner you will visit a painter studio and listen from him about local art and special techniques of painting and installations, also about many elements of tradition that were involved in his works. Ideological art during communism can be one of the topics to be discussed.  Dinner will take place at a small local restaurant in the historical area. A well-known iso-polyphonic group will be invited to talk, sing and explain about the complex role of iso- polyphonic group members during dinner. South Albanian Iso-poliphony  is a UNESCO protected world heritage.
Riding hours:  3-4 hours

Day 4
This morning after a fresh cooked breakfast we will drive first back to Gjirokastra and then towards Butrint, a UNESCO protected archaeological park, through a challenging off road path. The driving experience will be exceptional and the views some of the most beautiful met in your journey. Small remote villages, old houses, windy roads, no roads, small gardens, very few animals, old churches and the sense of time stopping somewhere in the past is the impression this driving day offers. We will stop to visit the ruins of the church of Leshnica and will have a coffee stop by Cerkovica village. A local person will give a short presentation on how this area lives and what was their past, and what do they expect for the future. We will later drive to Butrint to visit the archaeological park. Dating back to the 7th century BC based to the  classic mythology the exiles following the fall of Troy moved to Butrint to escape. Originally part of an area called Epirus, Butrint has been occupied by the Greeks, the Romans, the Byzantines and the Venetians. As a result, Butrint offers a wealth of incredible archaeological structures, including a well preserved theatre, Roman public baths inside which lies a paleo-Christian baptistery and a 9th century basilica. The sanctuary of Asclepius, god of medicine sits on its hill or “acropolis” and dates back to the fourth century. We will drive again to have lunch in Saranda  in a restaurant next to the sea with plenty of sea food cooked local way Before returning back to Gjirokastra for dinner you will visit the local art gallery and will have a presentation by the manager who is also a very good painter. Dinner will take place in a restaurant in the old bazar. Driving hours: Total 5 hours

Day 5
After breakfast and the views of a wonderful sunrise in the mountains we will drive back to the Drinos valley and will follow later Vjosa river to reach the thermal baths of Benja in Pwrmet. Along the river there are splendid warm water human-made pools to soak on a cool day. People believe from centuries that the baths have healing properties. The pools are off the beaten path, and during winter months you can have enough of privacy. Kadiu bridge a monument of culture built in 1760 during ottoman period, offers a stunning view of the Langarica river. That is an entering gate to the canyons. Along the day there are chances of exploring the canyons by hiking and swimming. Lunch will take place in the city of roses, Pwrmet. You will especially enjoy the local raki and the local sweets. Later on we will drive to a remote area close to Ballaban village to visit another unique farm that will be our accommodation for the evening and dinner place also. The owners will have a short presentation on how they abandoned the city life and made it possible live and dream far form everything. This will be a special wine tasting place.  Driving hours: Total 3 hours

Day 6
After breakfast we will drive back to Gjirokastra to the horse stables for another horse riding day. The today itinerary passes through a rural environment; beautiful steep hills, small valleys, pastoral atmosphere traditional farming and cultivation of the land, bush area, small lakes, small water streams and cliffs, old defence infrastructure from communism time. The view of River Drino, “Tree of Life” river remains on the left during the morning ride. Drino is the most important water basin in the area and part of ancient pagan beliefs. On your way you will meet the ruins of the castle of Santa Triada reconstructed during 1809-1810 by Ali Pasha, a strategic point to control all the mediaeval caravan itineraries. The castle ruins were used later during the time of socialism for military issues.
We will stop for a picnic lunch just near the village of Erind. After around 4-5 hours riding we will reach Karjan village where a traditional dinner and accommodation will be hosted by a local farm. In the afternoon you can visit the village and be part of the family activities, also help to feed, clean and water the horses. Riding Hours: 4-5

Day 7
After having breakfast with the family and packing your picnic we start the ride back at 9 o’clock. We are riding first to Nokova village to visit both medieval churches and later through Lunxheria area with a picnic stop in Dhoksat village. It has a unique architecture and it is famous for the use of the back stone in building also for the beautiful doors. A local expert will be invited to talk about the characteristics of life, tradition, folklore, costumes and ethnography of the area.  The ride after lunch heads next to cultivated land, gardens, livestock and meadows’ wide view. We have another short stop by Qestorati lake to enjoy the view and return back to the stables from another direction. The last part of the ride before reaching the stables in the afternoon is the most beautiful as the landscape allows several canters and the climbing up hills is stunning. After the ride we will drive back to Gjirokastra to the same hotel. You can have a walk around the historical area before the farewell dinner. Later in the evening we can have a drink in a popular bar. 
Riding hours: 5  hours

Day 8
After breakfast at the hotel you will be transferred back to the airport of Tirana. 

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 will have a minimum of 2 stops, one of them will be for lunch. 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 competent riding over steep and hilly terrain. 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 on riding days. Riders will be encouraged to help with feeding and care of the horses on riding days. 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 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 one nights of accommodation in a traditional shepherds hut.



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). 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.

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
Warm jumper/fleece
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.
Rainwear
Casual clothes for the evening
Sunglasses
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 an 8 days/7 night programme with 4 riding days available on set dates.

Departure Dates

2021: 18 Dec
2022: 8, 15, 22, 29 Jan; 5, 12, 26 Feb; 10, 17 Dec

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 Night 7

No of   
days/nights
Riding days Product item description £
2021/228d/7n4double pp875
2021/228d/7n4Small group supplement for group of 3119
No of   
days/nights
Riding days Product item description
2021/228d/7n4double pp989
2021/228d/7n4Small group supplement for group of 3135
No of   
days/nights
Riding days Product item description $
2021/228d/7n4double pp1,235
2021/228d/7n4Small group supplement for group of 3159
No of   
days/nights
Riding days Product item description SEK
2021/228d/7n4double pp10,335
2021/228d/7n4Small group supplement for group of 31,379
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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