Albania - In King Skerdilajds Footsteps
This trail ride follows in the same route used by King Skerdilajd’s armies when he conquered Kaonia more than 2,300 years ago. The ride combines stunning scenery with culture and daily life on the coast.
You will ride through a changing landscape with mountains, steep ascents and descents, rivers, ancient ruins, castles, churches and the turquoise sea. From April to September, you can swim in the sea on two of the days.
Nature, culture, changing costal life and great hospitality will provide you with plenty of memories.
You ride for approx. 180 km at an average of 6-9 hours/dag (some days longer and some days shorter). Be prepared to lead your horse in difficult paths.
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.
Plan your flight to arrive at Tirana airport ideally in the morning, but no later than 15:00 - this leaves time for the transfer and to be able to visit the town of Gjirokstra with your guides. 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 hostel, 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 Bazzar 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. If you want you can buy a map of the area before dinner in order to gain a good understanding of the itinerary.
After trying out a suitable horse, you ride from the top of Gjirokastra and down the mountain slopes. You will be astonished by how this mountainous ecosystem changes so suddenly. You will ride through hilly terrain, small rivers, pine woods, steep down and up hills. Lunch will be a home prepared picnic at the monastery of Cepo. We can visit the monastery which is an important orthodox cult object and has one of the most strategic views of the Drinos Valley. After lunch we ride down to the river of Kardhiq. There are some really interesting thing to see in this area such as pillar rocks “Gods of the Light” and other nature monuments. Today finishes after around 5 -6 hours total riding at the village of Fushbardha, one of the most important centres of Laberia´s area. You will spend the evening and night in a village house enjoying homemade traditional food and drinks.
You will ride the same road as King Skerdilajd’s army rode 2300 years ago. Basha Stones, Dhespina cave, the Rock of Kaze, The Valley of Cheries, the Crooked Brook, Shameti Brook, Trullas Neck and Derrasa Hole are some of the local sights en route today. This route combines beautiful wood, mountain climbing, rocky landscape and ruins of ancient civilizations. Our lunchbreak will be at a mountain valley surrounded by a small oak wood. We continue through the mountain of Borsh towards the next village. The whole day´s landscape offers images of wild unspoiled nature. Flowers, old trees, streams of water shepherds, hundreds of goats, sheep and cows will be part of this riding experience. Be prepared to walk round 1 hour 30 minutes during the day in difficult paths and steep downhills. Good mountain hiking shoes are recommended for today. We will arrive at a family house late in the afternoon and enjoy traditional food, rich in olive oil. Wine, raki and mountain tea will comfort you to sleep after the long day.
After a traditional breakfast at the house of a typical family of shepherds, you will start another riding exerince. You will first visit the castle of Borsh. After visiting the Castle ruins we will start a 3 hour ride from Borsh and take the old road along the seaside. Olive trees, oranges, lemons, citrus and grapefruits are planted everywhere on the upper part of the road. Many defence bunkers remained along the seaside of Piqeras, an old fishing village. We will stop the ride in the village and drive to the sea for a lunch break on the beach. After lunch we can enjoy a fairly long break to enjoy the sea and to rest. You will spend the night in a family house tasting seafood, the special local cheese and salad. Homemade raki and wine will be offered with the meal.
This morning we'll enjoy breakfast on the terrace with the beautiful view of the Ionian Sea. You can enjoy traditional coast byrek (cheese pie) and cookies, butter, fresh milk and honey. Today we head down to the sea through olive tree terraces to the beach of Bunec. We will ride up again to Lukove village and down to the sea again through some challenging landscapes. You will reach the Shpella beach for lunch. The lunch stop includes possibilities to swim and relax for several hours. Later we continue by first entering a small “jungle” of trees, bushes and rocks, meeting the remains of an old road connecting the sea with the villages of the upper coast. In the afternoon you will visit the village of Shen Vasil, a very old mediaeval center. The village suffered a long period of terror during the dictatorship being a labour camp for political prisoners. The family can share with you memories of a very dark period of Albania. The ride for this day will last around 4 hours.
After breakfast you will reach the valley of Kalasa river and later the hilly valley of Prapanica, and use the chance for a very nice and long gallop. You we will ride back along King Skerdilajd Army´s route. South of the river Kalasa valley you can see the Foinike Hill. Exactly there, Skerdilajd’s army stopped to face the Epirot army in 229 B.C. Olive trees and nice paths for gallops will make this day very interesting and picturesque. You will continue to ride through the village of Fushe – Verri . You can see the bunkers of the cold war along the ride, representing the military ideology of the system. You can stop for a picnic lunch under olive trees.
You will reach the Skerfica mountain neck named after the King Skerdilajd Army pass in the afternoon hours. Here you can enjoy the cold mountain water and another short break You will pass an old Phosphor Mine, an ex-labour camp for the political prisoners of the communist regime. Further on inside the village of Fushbardha, there still exist the old abandoned buildings of the ex-labour camp. Fushebadha, is a destination that you have already visited in your first riding day. This day ride will last about 6 hours. Dinner served in the garden will let you enjoy the homemade food, the fresh mountain air and the hospitality of the local family.
After a traditional breakfast you will start an 4-5 hour ride back to our start point, Gjirokastra town. Today is going to be a diverse landscape ride. We will ride first to the Valley of Kardhiq river and later will meet the traces of the first riding day. The ride will finish right where it started - near Viroi lake. Pine woods, mountain valleys, water springs, fresh air and flowered landscapes will be the panorama of this day. We will drive you to our horse stable to introduce you to our way of managing and to the horse’s life.
Your accommodation will be the same hostel in Gjirokastra town. A farewell dinner late in the afternoon will be enjoyed by all.
Day 8: After breakfast a shuttle service will take you to Tirana airport.
Please note that although this trail includes some beach riding, any fast riding takes place along an old path 200m from the beach. The sand is rocky and therefore is only suitable for walking on. The mountain horses are also not too keen on the water so will not tend to want to paddle!