Vjosa River Trail Ride

Central Albania: (IT-ALBCV03)
URL: http://www.hiddentrails.com/tour/Albania_Vjosa_River_Trail.aspx

Introduction
Central Albania
Riding along Vjosa River – the last wild river of Europe.

This trail combines a challenging riding experience in different landscapes with many possibilities! You will get the privilege of experiencing Albania's true natural landscape with swimming in rivers, river hiking, canyon exploring, and camping some nights. To pair this trip like a fine wine, you will be sharing time and accommodations with local people, visiting rare culture monuments, and meeting monuments of Albania’s communist dictatorship past. Local traditional food, famous Permeti Raki and wine tasting, livestock rituals, and city night life will make this trail very diverse in experiences. Being guided on horseback gives you the opportunity to visit tiny villages where the locals rarely see visitors. They are all welcoming and excited to show you about their way of life. Riding along river Vjosa, the last wild river in Europe, and camping in the river bed is the most beautiful experience of this trail. Vjosa “the blue heart” of Europe, along its entire course of over 270 kilometers, is untamed, free flowing, and characterized by beautiful canyons, braided river sections, islands, oxbows and meandering stretches. Vjosa River is one of the most complex habitats for spawning fish and migratory birds. Guaranteed to please any history-lovers, culture-explorers, and nature-seekers, this trip is unlike any you will ever find.

Accomodation

Accommodations

This is a progressive ride so nights will be spent in different accommodations.

Description
You will be staying in a variety of accommodations with 5 nights in hotels, 4 nights in families' homes, and 2 nights camping. Bathrooms are shared during the whole trip and while camping, we bathe in nearby rivers (bring your swimsuit). You will need to bring your towel and sleeping bag for the camping nights.
Access to electricity is possible every evening and the whole area has a good phone coverage. Laundry can be done at various locations for a small fee.

Wi-Fi access is only available in Gjirokaster and Permet. Internet access is difficult during this ride so we recommend guests to buy an Albanian sim card (around 12 euros) to get free internet access and about 30 minutes of free calls.

Accommodation Itinerary - subject to changes based on availability
Night  1: Hotel in Gjirokaster
Night  2: Family house in Karjan
Night  3: Camping in Cajupi
Night  4: Family house in Hoshteva
Night  5: Family house in Mbrezhdan
Night  6: Camping in Piskovë
Nights 7 & 8: Hotel in Permet
Night  9: Family house in Nderan
Night 10: Family house in Libohovë
Night 11: Hotel in Gjirokaster

Room Occupancy
It may be possible for a single room on the first and last night as well as in Permet, but riders must be prepared to share accommodations and tents on other nights.
The single supplement does not apply if no one is ok to share a room.


Meals
All meals are included in this trip from dinner on Day 1 to breakfast on Day 12. Extra drinks on Day 8 are not included.

You will get to enjoy local Albanian food (local meats, fruits, and vegetables) traditionally cooked.

Breakfasts include eggs, butter, cheese, local pancakes, fruit jams, honey, milk and tea.
Lunch is a picnic packed by the riders from the family they stayed with the night before and usually consist of bread, cheese, tomatoes, eggs, olive, pie fruit and a drink.
For dinner, we serve meat (chicken, calf  or pork meat, fish by the sea), salads, cheese, local yogurt sauce, olives, pickles, vegetables from the garden and fruits.

Wine or beer is included with lunch and dinner every day.

Dietary Restrictions
We can cater to all dietary restrictions with prior notice.

This trip includes some wine with dinner and can accommodate special dietary requests.

Riding

Riding Experience

This trip has been designed for intermediate riders who are reasonably fit and in a decent state of health. You should also be happy to share facilities with others and live in basic conditions.

Horses
The horses used for this ride are locally bred and ideal for the terrain. They are small but very robust and surefooted Albanian horses (between 13 and 14.2 hands). The Albanian horse, a unique mountain breed that is s local mixture of the archaic Tarpan and medieval Arab horse. They are great climber, have a clear mind and are surefooted. Our breeding program aims to help saving this declining breed of horses.
Our stable include 38 horses and is situated amidst scenic hills, green valleys, surrounded by high mountains. Our horses are trained with natural horsemanship techniques that we are pleased to share with the guests.

Pace
The rides are at a moderate pace overall. Most of the time we are traveling through mountains so that must be taken into account in regards to your expectations of speed, however there are indeed occasions where you can have a good canter. We ride for 9 days, for about 4-6 hours per day.
The total distance covered on this trip is about 270 km.

Guides
Kristina, Aurel and Ilir are all native from Albania and always happy to share their love for horses and their knowledge of Albania with guests. There are 2 guides accompanying you on this trip.

Itinerary

12-day tour (9 riding days)- subject to changes


Day 1
Plan your flight to arrive at Tirana airport ideally in the morning, but no later than 3:00pm - 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, 10 minutes walking from the centre of historical Gjirokastra .You can have a 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.
Overnight in hotel in Gjirokastra

Day 2
After breakfast at the hotel and allocation of horses, we will start to ride through the countryside towards the medieval village of Karjan. This village is traditional, a rural stop of the passing caravans with its small churches and old roman bridge. The road to reach this destination passes through a rural environment; small houses, gardens, traditional farming, and cultivation of the land. The route combines hilly landscapes, valleys, small water streams, and cliffs. This path also passes along the view of River Drino, “Tree of Life” river. It 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 caravan itineraries. The castle ruins were used later during the time of socialism for military issues. We will stop for 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 family.
Overnight in family house in Karjan village
Riding: ~4.5 hours


Day 3
After breakfast we will ride down along Drino’s valley first to Andon Poci village, later Hundkuq village, and 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 our lunch picnic stop. After visiting the church a very unique mediaeval 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. We follow the mountain path to the valley of Cajupi where we stop by a cattle of 1000 sheep. This place will be our camping place for the night.  You will have the chance to taste the Brati famous spring water, a typical station of the old caravans and visit a small mediaeval tower of protection called “karakoll”. Riders can experience the sheep milking process and cooking with the shepherds.
Overnight camping
Riding: ~5 hours


Day 4
After a nice 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. We will stop for a short break at the water spring of Lliar, reconstructed by Ali Pasha in the early XIX century. We will take a challenging downhill route to the ruins of a mediaeval stone bridge (the bridge collapsed on February 2018) where we will stop for lunch and for a long refreshing swim in the river. In the afternoon we will climb Hoshteva village your destination for the night. In this village now live only 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. You are having home cooked dinner in the family’s garden.
Overnight in hotel in Hoshteva village
Riding: ~3.5 hours

Day 5
This day ride will start with mountain climbing to reach Gjurmemushka mountain pass and 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 water stream and rest under the trees. River Vjosa view opens up to you from the top of the mountain along your afternoon ride. You will spent the night in a village house in Mbrezhdan. This is a poor and forgotten area very isolated due to the lack of roads and immigration but still very welcoming. You can experience the traditional way of cooking outside and the famous “petanik” a special pie of the mountains. Mbrezhdan is a Raki area and very well known for their “spoon” deserts. You will have dinner with the host family in their garden.
Overnight in family house in Mbrezhdan
Riding: ~6 hours


Day 6
After breakfast you will start the ride downhill to reach river Vjosa. The rest of the ride for the day will take place on the right of the river bank. The landscape is amazing, very different from the other days with many chances for long gallops. We 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 the camping place. You can swim the whole afternoon and enjoy a special dinner under the stars. Fishing is also possible if there is interest for it.
Overnight spent camping
Riding: ~3.5 hours

Day 7
We start the ride from Piskova and keep following the right river bank. The riding landscape is mostly valley-hilly with many changes of gallops and canters. We will reach Permet town by lunch time. After accommodating the horses in the suburb of this small town and will move to a hotel in the center of Permet and will have lunch in a small restaurant close by. The afternoon is free to visit the town walk or climb famous Premti rock. Before evening, we can visit by car Leusa village placed few km away from the town. The beauty of the surrounding wood 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 the town. You can later enjoy the night life in different music bars of the town center.
Overnight in hotel in Permet
Riding: ~3 hours


Day 8
This is a rest day for the horses.  We suggest to drive you to Benja termal waters in Langarica canyons 30 minutes away from Permet.  There are chances of exploring the canyons, swimming, and the “most brave” can go river hiking to explore the “Pigeons Cave” on a rock along Langarica river. We have planned having lunch in a restaurant close to the canyons and return back to Permeti town late in the afternoon. Dinner will be served in a small restaurant close to the hotel. During this day is possible that you make your own resting plan if you don’t want to join this program.
Overnight in hotel in Permet

Day 9
This is going to be one of the longest and most difficult days in the saddle. Long sleeves because of scratching branches are needed. The ride is mostly climbing Dhembel mountain. The view is amazing. Picnic lunch will be carried in the saddle. The car can’t reach us before the final destination during this day. You will meet logistic In 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 mediaeval 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 represent 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 families, 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 as per season and bee pasture.
Overnight in family house in Nderan village
Riding: ~5.5 hours

Day 10
This riding day combines changing landscape and riding pace. Wide valleys, steep downhills, green forests, and the beauty of Suha River are part of your itinerary before lunch. The lunch  break by the river is a good chance for refreshing in the water. Later, we climb the Swallow Rock and visit the church of Labova of the Cross of the most important in the country. The Church of Labova of the Cross is a rare monument representing the oldest church in Albania, built by Justinian the Great in 554. Justinian married Teodora 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.
Later in the afternoon we 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 is possible to take a long walk and visit Libohova’s castle, a Bektashi cult object and to the tomb of Ali Pasha’s sister, Shanisha You will overnight in a local family house and will taste delicious local food.
Overnight in family house in Libohova
Riding: ~5 hours

Day 11
This will be a short riding day. 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 your horses free. A picnic lunch will follow in the village close to the stable. You will be accommodated at the same hotel in Gjirokastra.  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.
Overnight in hotel in Gjirokastra
Riding: ~3.5 hours

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

Please note that this itinerary is given as guidance only and may be altered.


Rates and Dates for Vjosa River Trail Ride

Rates include:

Mixed accommodations (5 nights in hotels, 4 nights in families' homes, and 2 nights camping), all meals (except on Day 8), water and drinks with meals, English-speaking tour guide, 9 riding days & luggage transportation

Packages and Options



  • SeasonYearDescriptionEUR ~US$
    A
    202012 day tour, AP€1400$1610
The US Dollar Rate is Based on Exchange Rate of 1.15

* prices are per person based on double/twin occupancy

Transfer and Other Charges:



 DescriptionEUR~US$
2020 Transfer from/to Tirana Airport, round trip, per person 90 $110
2020 Transfer from Saranda port, roundtrip (plan to flight to Corfu and then take the boat to Saranda) 40 $50
2020 Single room (available only the first and last night, and in Permet) suplement of 20 Euro per night (subject to availability)
- to be paid locally
0 $0
2020 Small group supplement (4 pax only), pp 135 $165

Season Tour Dates  Min / MaxReserve
A 2020 07/15 - 07/26 12d / 11n 12 day tour, AP 5 /10 Reserve
A 2020 10/07 - 10/18 12d / 11n 12 day tour, AP 5 /10 Reserve

Dates Note:

Rates do not include:

Airfares, entrance tickets for museums or parks, Sleeping bag, extra drinks and activities on Day 8 & gratuities

Other Info
Meeting: Gjirokaster
Airport: Tirana International Airport Nënë Tereza (TIA)
Transfer: Tirana International Airport Nënë Tereza (TIA) or Saranda Port.

Climate:
                                            Gjirokaster area


Month

Jan

Feb

Mar

Apr

May

Jun

Jul

Aug

Sep

Oct

Nov

Dec

Average High Temperature (°F)

41

45

52

59

67

75

82

83

76

63

51

42

Average Low Temperature (°F)

24

27

31

36

43

48

54

53

48

39

31

24

Average High Temperature (°C)

5

7

11

15

19

24

28

28

24

17

11

6

Average Low Temperature (°C)

-4

-3

-1

2

6

9

12

11

9

4

0

-4

Source: NOAA


Seasons
The best months to visit Albania are from April to October. 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.

What To Bring:
Your luggage is transported by vehicle to the accommodations each night.

What to Bring
Normal riding clothes: riding hat (not mandatory but highly recommended), 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
Swimming suit, river shoes and towels
Sleeping bag for camping
Sun cream, sunglasses, hat, water bottles.
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 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.
Personal saddlebags are welcome of riders prefer to bring their own. Small saddlebags are provided for transportation of food and water.