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
Arrive at Tirana airport ideally in the morning, but no later than 13:00pm – this leaves time for the transfer and for you to be able to visit the town of Gjirokstra. The transfer from Tirana airport 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, EnverHoxha’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, you 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 combines hilly landscapes, valleys, small water streams and cliffs with lots of opportunities for a good canter. After leaving the horses next to the small farm where you will spent the night you will be driven to the centre of town (10 minutes) to reach the lunch stop; a small traditional restaurant. You can taste the local food, wine and raki. During the afternoon, you can 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, you'll help to feed the horses and bed them in for the night. 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 a few water streams before climbing a steep hill to reach Antigonea National Park where you will stop to take a look round. 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 you will ride for another hour to the stable where you can turn your horses out. Lunch will follow immediately after in a village close to the stables. You will be accommodated at the same hotel in Gjirokastra as the first night. After a short break you can visit the cold war tunnel in Gjirokastra, a building of communism defence paranoia that has a lot to tell. Before dinner you'll visit a painter's studio and listen to him talk about local art and special techniques of painting and installations. He will also discuss the many traditional techniques involved in his works. 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. 
Riding hours: 3-4 hours

Day 4
In the morning you'll visit a few important cultural monuments of culture on the hills next to Drino’s valley. The old paleo Christian church of Peshkepia, an ex-episcopal center of the 9th century. The place itself has evidence of a building since the 3-rd century. Next you'll visit the Melani Bektashi monastery and be guided by the bektashi father (priest) inside the the ruins of an ancient city, thought to be Justinianopolis. Bektashism is a sect of Islam that has its world center in Albania. This religious place is very peaceful and welcoming for foreigners. Later on you will visit another religious monument and one of the oldest churches in Albania; the church of Labova of the Cross in Labova, which will also be your lunch stop. 

After lunch you'll be driven up Lunxheria’s mountain and will stop at Çajupi’s valley, at an altitude of 1300m. A basic shepherds camp  will be your accommodation for the night. Before dinner (if still daylight) you can hike around the area on the slopes of the mountains that surround the valley. Dinner will take place next to the fire with lots of mountain food, raki and wine.
Driving hours: total 3 hours

Day 5
After breakfast and a wonderful sunrise in the mountains you will be driven back to the Drinos valley and will follow the Vjosa river to reach the thermal baths of Benja in Permet. Along the river there are beautiful warm water pools to soak in on a cool day which are belived to have healing properties. The pools are off the beaten path, and during the winter months you can have them almost to yourself. You'll be able to explore the surrounding canyons by hiking and swimming. Lunch will take place in the city of roses; Permet.  After lunch you'll be driven to a remote area close to Ballaban village to visit another unique farm that will be your accommodation for the evening. The owners will explain how they abandoned city life to live and dream far from everything. You'll enjoy home-cooked food and winetasting.
Driving hours: Total 3 hours

Day 6
After a fresh cooked breakfast you'll be driven 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 of 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 sums up todays itinerary. You'll stop to visit the ruins of the church of Leshnica and have a coffee stop by the village of Cerkovica. A local person will give a short talk on the area before you drive on to Butrint to visit the archaeological park. Dating back to the 7th century BC and 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.  Lunch will take place in Ksamil or Butrint in a restaurant next to the sea with plenty of seafood cooked in the local way. In the afternoon you'll be driven to Saranda, a small town where you will stay in a hotel next to the sea. Before dinner you can visit the local art gallery where you'll enjoy a presentation by the head of the gallery, a very good painter. Dinner will take place in a small restaurant in Saranda.
Driving hours: Total 4 hours

Day 7
After breakfast you'll be driven back to the stables at Gjirokastrato to saddle up for another day of riding. Todays itinerary passes through a rural environment; beautiful steep hills, small valleys, lakes, streams and cliffs, and a pastoral atmosphere. During the ride you'll pass old defence infrastructure from the time of communism. The view of River Drino, known locally as the Tree of Life river remains on the left during the morning ride. On your way you'll see the ruins of the castle of Santa Triada reconstructed during 1809-1810 by Ali Pasha, a strategic point to control all the medieval caravan itineraries. You'll stop for a traditional home-made lunch in the village of Dhoksat and will have invited a local expert to talk about the characteristics of life, tradition, folklore, costumes and ethnography of the area. The ride back to the stables in the afternoon is the most beautiful part of the ride as the landscape allows a few canters and the climbing up hills is stunning. After the ride you'll be driven back to Gjirokastra. You can have a walk around the historical area before a farewell dinner. Later in the evening the whole group can have a drink in a popular bar.
Riding hours: 5-6 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 3 riding days available on set dates.

Departure Dates

2021: 8, 29 Jan; 12 Feb

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 £
2020/218d/7n3double pp899
2020/218d/7n3Small group supplement for group of 3125
No of   
days/nights
Riding days Product item description
2020/218d/7n3double pp979
2020/218d/7n3Small group supplement for group of 3135
No of   
days/nights
Riding days Product item description $
2020/218d/7n3double pp1,269
2020/218d/7n3Small group supplement for group of 3165
No of   
days/nights
Riding days Product item description SEK
2020/218d/7n3double pp10,115
2020/218d/7n3Small group supplement for group of 31,365
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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