Vjosa River Trail Ride

Central Albania: (IT-ALBCV03)
URL: https://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 some nights in hotels, other 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 Nderan
Night  5: Family house in Grabova 
Nights 6 & 7: Hotel in Permet
Night  8: Camping in Hoshteva Zagoria
Night  9: Family house in Polican
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, except for meals on Day 8.

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


Sample Itinerary - subject to changes

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

Day 1 (Wednesday): Arrival
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: 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.
Meals included: Dinner
Overnight in hotel in Gjirokastra


Day 2 (Thursday): Ride to Karjan
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. We will reach Karjan village where a traditional dinner and accommodation will be hosted by a local family.
Riding: ~4.5 hour
Meals included: Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner
Overnight in family house in Karjan village


Day 3 (Friday): Karjan to Cajupi Valley
After breakfast we will ride down along Drino’s valley first to Andon Poci village, and then Hundkuq village. The ride will become challenging when 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 in ruins. 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.
Riding: ~5 hours
Meals included: Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner
Overnight camping in Cajupi Valley

Day 4 (Saturday): Cajupi Valley to Nderan
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 to Hoshteva village. This village 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. We will continue further to the church of the Monastery of Nivan built during 1702 and later cross a symbolic bridge over Zagoria river to end the day in Nderan, one of the most important villages of the area. 
Riding: ~5 hours
Meals included: Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner
Overnight in Family house in Nderan village

Day 5 (Sunday): Nderan to Grabova 
This day ride will start with mountain climbing to reach 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 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 guest house in Grabova village. This is forgotten area very isolated due to the lack of roads and immigration but still very welcoming. The accommodation is very comfortable and modern. You can experience the traditional way of cooking outside and the famous “petanik” a special pie of the mountains. Grabova is a Raki area and very well known for their “spoon” deserts. You will have dinner in the terrace of the guest house with the wonderful view of river Vjosa flowing 200m away.
Riding: ~6 hours
Meals included: Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner
Overnight in family house in Grabova 

Day 6 (Monday): Grabova to Permet 
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 in front of Piskova village on the dry part of the river bed and enjoy very good food cooked by a small restaurant. You can swim the whole afternoon and enjoy a special dinner under the stars. Fishing is also possible if there is interest for it.
Then, we ride the last 1,5 hours to Permet town. After the accommodation of the horses we are spending the night close by in a small hotel 10 minutes from the center. Dinner will be at a traditional well-known restaurant.
Riding: ~3 hours
Meals included: Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner
Overnight in hotel in Permet 

Day 7 (Tuesday): Sightseeing (no riding)
This is a rest day for the horses. We suggest to drive you to Benja thermal 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”. We have planned having lunch in a restaurant close to the canyons and return back to Permet 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.
Meals included: Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner
Overnight in hotel in Permet

Day 8 (Wednesday): Permet to Hoshteva Zagoria
This is going to be one of the longest and most difficult days. Long sleeves are needed because of branches on the trail. During most of the ride, we will climb Dhembel Mountain. The view is amazing from the top. 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 Hoshteva Zagoria. We will camp next to Hoshteva’s church under the trees. The whole group will be involved in cooking dinner and will later eat under the stars. The camping place is really beautiful and a unique experience.
Riding: 6 hours
Meals included: none
Overnight camping in Hoshteva Zagoria

Day 9 (Thursday): Hoshteva Zagoria to Polican
This morning will be a really exciting equestrian experience. After a fresh country breakfast we will ride through a mountain valley, perfectly suited for gallops, passing small remote farms, wild cliffs and many historical routes off the tourist trail. Riding through Pogon region is a true travel in time. We will be passing by ancient ruins and mythical natural wonders. Our picnic lunch will be near the stone bridge of Hllomo or Kacarello’s, which can only reached by horse.
In the afternoon, we will reach the centre of the Pogon region. The mountain village of Polican is populated by a Greek minority. You will spend the night with a Greek minority family. In their ,company you have the chance to explore some very particular cult monuments of the medieval period. Later in the evening you will enjoy local gastronomic delights. This village is one of the most important territories of mountain honey in South Albania and it offers about 10 different varieties of honey.
Riding: ~6 hours
Meals included: Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner
Overnight in family house in Polican village

Day 10 (Friday): Polican to Libohova

This riding day combines changing landscape and different riding pace. Wide valleys, steep downhills, green forests and the beauty of Suha River are part of your itinerary . We can stop to swim in Suha river, explore the bridge, the waterfalls and caves along the river. Later we are climbing the Swallow Rock. The climb will be a special equestrian experience. Will reach the village of Labova of the Cross for a late lunch in a traditional guest house and restaurant. Before the afternoon ride will visit the church of Labova of the Cross one of the most important in the country. This church was built by Justinian the Great in 554 as a smaller chapel. Justinian married Teodora his wife this church and the villagers inherited her wedding dress for centuries. The monument was reconstructed during the X-th century and is decorated with an old wooden iconostas full of floral and symbolic animal scenes. 
This riding day combines changing landscape and different riding pace. Wide valleys, steep downhills trails, green forests and the beauty of Suha River are part of your itinerary . We can stop to swim in Suha river, explore the bridge as well as the waterfalls and caves along the river. Later we will climb the Swallow Rock. The climb will be a special equestrian experience. We will reach the village of Labova of the Cross for a late lunch in a traditional guest house and restaurant. Before the afternoon ride will visit the church of Labova of the Cross one of the most important in the country. This church was built by Justinian the Great in 554 as a smaller chapel. Justinian married his wife in this church and the villagers inherited her wedding dress for centuries. The monument was reconstructed during the X-th century and is decorated with old wooden icons full of floral and symbolic animal scenes.
The ride to Libohova, a small town nestled at the foot of the Bureto Mountain will take another 2 hours. The archaeological evidence indicates a very ancient settlement which reached its zenith in the 17th-century when it became an important commercial centre. It is possible to take a long walk and visit Libohova’s castle, a Bektashi cult object and the tomb of Ali Pasha’s sister, Shanisha.
You will overnight in a local family house and will taste delicious local food.
Riding: ~5 hours
Meals included: Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner

Overnight in family house in Libohova

Day 11 (Saturday): Libohova to Stables
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.
Riding: ~3.5 hours
Meals included: Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner
Overnight in hotel in Gjirokastra

Day 12 (Monday): Departure
After breakfast at the hotel you will be transferred back to the airport of Tirana.
Meals included: Breakfast,


Rates and Dates for Vjosa River Trail Ride

Rates include:

Accommodations, 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
    202212 day tour, AP€1510$1815
The US Dollar Rate is Based on Exchange Rate of 1.2

* prices are per person based on double/twin occupancy

Transfer and Other Charges:



 DescriptionEUR~US$
2022 Single room (available only the first and last night, and in Permet - subject to availability) 20 Euros pppn
- to be paid locally
0 $0
2022 Small group supplement (4 pax only), pp 135 $165
2022 Transfer between Gjirokastra and Saranda port, roundtrip, pp (plan to fly to Corfu and then take the boat to Saranda) 40 $50
2022 Transfer from/to Tirana Airport (3+ pax), one way, per person 60 $75
2022 Transfer from/to Tirana Airport (2 pax only), one way, per person 75 $90
2022 Transfer from/to Tirana Airport (1 pax only), one way, per person 125 $150

Season Tour Dates  Min / MaxReserve
A 2022 10/01 - 10/12 12d / 11n 12 day tour, AP 5 /10 Expired

Dates Note:

Rates do not include:

Entrance tickets for museums or parks, Meals, extra drinks and activities on Day 8, Airport and port transfers & Gratuities
You will need to bring your towel and sleeping bag for the camping nights.

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, 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.