Albania Winter Ride - into the sunset...
Riding in winter
Albania Winter Ride - Rest stop with a view
Albania Winter Ride - Riding through the Ruins
Albania Winter Ride - Beautiful architecture
Albania Winter Ride - On the trail
Albania Winter Ride - Crisp, Clear Days
Albania Winter Ride - The group sets out
Albania Winter Ride -Contentment

A unique winter equestrian vacation offer from our partners in Albania. A week-long horseback riding trip for advanced riders, combining 3 days of horse-riding in changing landscapes of rolling hills, valleys, rivers and forests. The vacation features 3 days of local culture, thermal baths, archeological sites, and the Ionian coast. Horseback riders 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  itinerary is designed as a winter getaway with lots to offer for smaller groups. Experience the local culture, history, food, music and art. The group will have the chance to sample local wines and Raki. Interaction with the local community will give horseback riders a unique insight into this fascinating region.

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 PM of Harrogate on 09/02/2023

Ride Summary
What was your overall impression of the holiday
Great. Very interesting country
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?
Please give more details to explain your response:
Was there anything you should have known and were not told? NO
Please give more details to explain your response:
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?
4
Please explain why you scored it as you did:
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 and glad you enjoyed your Winter break!

2024 Sample Itinerary:

Day 1
Plan to arrive at Tirana airport ideally no later than 13:00 - this leaves time for the transfer and a chance to visit the town of Gjirokstra. The transfer from the airport of Tirana will take around 3-4 hours (250km). Check into a local a hotel in the heart of the historical Gjirokastra. Time permitting, visit the bazaar with its church and mosque, Gjirokastra castle and Skenduli house before meeting up with the guides to discuss the itinerary and any requirements of preferences that the riders may have. It is advisable to buy a map of the region to gain a better understanding of the itinerary. After the brief, settle down to a welcome dinner with your fellow riders

Day 2  (Horse riding day)
After breakfast at the hotel and allocation of horses, the ride sets off through the countryside towards the small town of Labova of the Cross, nestled at the foot of the Bureto Mountain. The route is moderately difficult and combines hilly landscapes, valleys, small streams and cliffs. There are plenty of opportunities to canter. The group settles the horses for the rest of the day on a small farm near tonights accommodation before heading for lunch at a local restaurant. Spend the afternoon exploring this 17th century town, complete with a fascinating castle. After feeding and tending to the horses for the evening riders spend the night, and enjoy preparing and sharing dinner with a local family.
Riding hours: 3-4 hours

Day 3 (Horse riding day)
After breakfast, the ride heads to the river Drino’s valley before climbing a steep hill to reach Antigonea National Park where the group stops for a rest and to explore the area. Antigonea was built by King Pyrrhus  in 295 BC and named after his first wife Antigona. After the break the route continues for another hour until reaching the stables where the horses will spend the rest of the day. Accommodation for the night is in the same hotel as the first night and there is a chance to visit the cold war tunnel in Gjirokastra. A visit to a local artist's studio agives a fascinating insight into local art, and  special traditional techniques that can be seen in the paintings and installations, especially the Ideological art created during the communist regime. Dinner is at a small local restaurant in the historical area. Over dinner the riders will meet a well-known iso-polyphonic group who will give a fascinating presentation and explanation of this music, South Albanian Iso-polyphony is protected by UNESCO as an important world heritage. 
Riding hours: 3-4 hours

Day 4
After breakfast the group are driven to Butrint, a UNESCO protected archeological park. The off-road route offers exceptional views dotted with remote villages, churches, the ruins of old houses, winding roads and the occasional animal. Vist the church of Leshnica  before a coffee stop at  Cerkovica village and a talk about  life in the area by one of the locals. Originally part of an area called Epirus, Butrint has been occupied by the Greeks, the Romans, the Byzantines and the Venetians over the centuries, resulting in a wealth of incredible archeological structures, some pre-dating the 4th century. The drive continues to Saranda where the group have lunch at a seaside restaurant before a leisurely drive back to the Gjirokastra to spend the night and enjoy dinner at a restaurant in the Old Bazaar.
Driving hours: Total 5 hours

Day 5
After breakfast the group is driven back to the Drinos valley and follows the Vjosa river to reach the thermal baths of Benja in Pwrmet. The river has numerous man-made pools to enjoy a soak in the warm mineral water. The Kadiu bridge is over 250 years old and offers stunning views of the Langarica river. During the drive the group has a chance to explore the canyons and (weather permitting) a refreshing swim. Lunch is in the City of Roses, Pwrmet, and a chance to taste the local raki before driving to a remote farm, the accommodation for the night, where a wine tasting and hearty meal await. Driving hours: Total 3-4 hours

Day 6 (Horse riding day)
After breakfast the group heads back to Gjirokastra, and the stables for another riding day. Today's itinerary includes riding through magnificent scenery. The view of River Drino, (“Tree of Life”)  is the most important water basin in the area. Pass the castle of Santa Triada which was a strategic point to control all the ancient caravan trade. Stop for a picnic lunch just near the village of Erind before reaching the village of Karjan for traditional dinner and accommodation is on a local farm.
Riding Hours: 4-5

Day 7  (Horse riding day)
After breakfast, the route heads to Nokova village to visit the medieval churches before arriving at Lunxheria area and a picnic stop in the village, Dhoksat, A local expert will give a short but fascinating talk about the life, traditions, folklore, costumes and ethnography of the area.  After lunch the ride heads through the countryside to Qestorati lake where the riders take a break to enjoy the view before returning to the stables via a beautiful route that offers a lot of chances for a good canter.
After saying goodbye to the horses, the riders are driven back to Gjirokastra to freshen up before a farewell supper and exploring the nightlife.
Riding hours: 5 hours

Day 8
After breakfast at the hotel riders are 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. 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 3 riders are booked onto the ride. If, at the time of departure, more than 3 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 crosses. These breeds were mentioned in the ancient chronicles from the time of the King Skerdilajd  and stand up to 14hh tall (145cm) and 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.



In a typical riding day there will be a minimum of 2 stops, one of them 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, archeology 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. This is a unique chance to meet the local families and experience their culture. This trail also includes one night in a traditional shepherds hut. Please note that on some nights you might be asked to share a room with 3 beds.



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: Traditional dishes of different meats (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.



Picnic lunches are 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.


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 €12 (€13 in 2023) 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
Head torch

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

2024: 13, 27 Jan; 10, 24 (Full) Feb; 7, 21 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 £
20248d/7n4double pp999
20248d/7n4supplement for group of 2-3129
No of   
days/nights
Riding days Product item description
20248d/7n4double pp1,145
20248d/7n4supplement for group of 2-3149
No of   
days/nights
Riding days Product item description US $
20248d/7n4double pp1,299
20248d/7n4supplement for group of 2-3165
No of   
days/nights
Riding days Product item description SEK
20248d/7n4double pp13,769
20248d/7n4supplement for group of 2-31,739
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:
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 £75 pp
London - Corfu (CFU) return ticket from £100pp
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