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Albania - Vjosa Trail Ride

This trail combines a challenging riding experience in different landscapes with many possibilities of swimming in rivers, river hiking, canyon exploring, camping, sharing time and accommodation with local people, visiting rare culture monuments, 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. Meeting river Vjosa the last wild river in Europe riding along it 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 kilometres 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.

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Program

Preliminary day-by-day program

Day 1 - Plan your flight to arrive at Tirana airport ideally in the morning, but no later than 14.30 - this leaves time for the transfer and to be able to visit the town of Gjirokstra. Driving to Gjirokastra will take round 3 hours. Settle into your hotel, 10 minutes walking from the centre of historical Gjirokastra .You can have a walk around the historical town and 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.

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 lunch in Shen Toder village. After another 1,5 hours riding after lunch, we will reach Karjan village and accommodate by a local family. Dinner will take place in the local house. You will taste the local food grown in their garden, raki and wine.
Riding hours: 4,5

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. (This day the guides might decide to take a shorter path to Cajupi valley and go again for a ride in the afternoon in the mountains around Cajupi’s valley depending on the temperatures of the day)
Riding hours: 5

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. 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. Will spent the evening and night with a local family. 
Riding hours: 5 

Day 5  -  This day ride will start with the way back to Hoshteva and then mountain climbing to reach Gjurmemushka mountain pass. Once reaching the top we will then ride mostly downhill. The trail passes by Maleshova village to visit the church and by Limari antic castle ruins. A picnic lunch will take place 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 hours: 6

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 stop for swimming next to Piskova village on the dry part of the river bed. We will enjoy very good food cooked by a small restaurant in Permet transported by car to the river stop. Fishing is also possible if there is interest for it. You can swim the whole afternoon and after ride the last 1,5 hours to Permet small town. After the accommodation of the horses we are spending the night close by in a small hotel 10 minutes walking from the center. Dinner will be at a traditional well-known restaurant. 
Riding hours: 3

Day 7 - This is a free riding day.  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” 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.
Riding hours: None (but taking care of the horses yes). Extra activiteis, lunch and dinner is not included this day.

Day 8 - This is going to be one of the longest and most difficult days. Long sleeves because of 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 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.  Bring your own sleeping bag.
Riding hours: 6

Day 9 - 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 small routs off the tourist trail. The route through Pogoni 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 most famous stone bridge of Hllomo or Kacarello’s, which is the most isolated construction of the merchant’s period and 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 spent the night with a Greek minority family. In their accompany 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 nearly 10 different tastes of honey as per season and bee pasture. 
Riding hours: 6

Day 10 - 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. 
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. 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.
Riding hours : 5

Day 11 - This will be a short riding day. This morning we 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 free your horses. A picnic lunch prepared by your last hosting family will follow in the village “Asim Zeneli” 5 minutes drive from the stable. Later 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 hours: 3,5

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

Dates and prices

DateDaysName of tripPrice from
24/06/202312Albania - Vjosa Trail RideEUR 1,638Book on request
30/09/202312Albania - Vjosa Trail RideEUR 1,638Book on request
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