Mountain Biking with Support
100% Unpaved, Wide Roads
Maximum Group Size: 8
* All proceeds benefit the Albanian Alps Institute.
July 1 to 10, 2006
Day 00 Arrive at modern Renas airport outside Tirana. In fourteen years of democracy, Tirana has flourished. As the only “real” Albanian city, Tirana is the center of the country, physically and culturally and commercially. Capitalism has taken hold here like nowhere else in the country, and it is difficult to find vestiges of the fifty years of communism that ended in 1991.
Day 01 In Central Tirana, we will begin our circle of expansive Skanderbeg Square, with a visit to the National Museum, which holds the cultural history of the Albanian people, descendents of the ancient Ilurians. Past the marble Opera House we’ll cross to worship at the feet of Gjergj Kastroiti on his giant bronze steed. Kastrioti, given the honorific “Skanderbeg” by the Turks, is the national hero of Albania. On around the square, we’ll dine at an open air restaurant, and check into our hotel right on the square. Later we can join the xhiro, the evening promenade where most of the people of Tirana come out to see and be seen by their neighbors.
Day 02 Up early for a quick breakfast on the square, we’ll bus north, stopping in Kruja, Skanderbeg’s aerie, high on a mountainside, now a historical museum. From this fort, Skanderbeg, who had been trained in military strategy by the Ottoman Turks, held off those same Turks for twenty years when they invaded Albania in the late 1400s. We then pass on to Lezhe, where we’ll stop for lunch and visit Skanderbeg’s shrine in an ancient monastery.
Day 03 Shkodra has all the amenities of a city, including internet cafes. Depending upon the ferry schedule, we may have time to visit Rozafa’s Castle, high on its promontory, and visit the museum there.
Then it’s a bus ride up the river Drini to Koman, where we will board a ferry for one of the most dramatic boat rides in the world, through the Drini River Gorge with its 3,000 foot limestone cliffs. You’ll marvel that people actually live with no road access or electricity and little water on tiny benches high above the lake formed behind Koman Hydroelectric Dam. At the upper end of this voyage, we will overnight in Bajram Curri, a small city in a spectacular mountain setting with a Muslim history. Bajram Curri’s statue reminds us that the village is named after a national hero, who held off the Germans in WWII. We’ll stay in the tourist hotel and visit with some local people where we can ask about the life of rural Albanians.
Day 04 Finally, a chance for those who want to bike in the dirt. The mountains begin, and we head up the Valbona River, as it slices out of the Dinaric Alps,. We can either ride mountain bikes or ride in the minibus, or combine the two. The road winds up the valley, through beech forests and farther along, evergreen forests. The crystal clear river surges alongside the road. If the day is hot, we may stop for a swim. The two story houses with only tiny windows are “kullas” (castle in Turkish), where male family members holed up during the blood feuds of prior times. At Rrogam, a tiny village at the head of this glacial carved valley, we will spend the night with local families. Here we will experience rural Albanian hospitality, as well as their food, including the best homemade yogurt and powerful white homemade cheese to be gotten anywhere. Helping bring in the sheep and goats for the night will tickle the kids.
Day 05 The mountains are all around us, and we will trek over a high pass to Thethi. This route is stunning, providing views of the Dinaric (Albanian) Alps all around us, including Jezercy, the highest mountain in the Balkans. About five hours among limestone crags will bring us to Thethi, the most isolated village in Albania. We’ll relax in the evening in the hospitality of a local family.
For those not interested in trekking, it is possible to backtrack in the minibus from Rrogam to overnight in Bajram Curri. The minibus then ferries back through the Drini Gorge through Shkodra, Kopliku, Boga, and over Qafe e Thores to meet the trekkers in Thethi on Day 6. The section over the pass from Boga to Thethi can be cycled.
Day 06 Thethi is as spectacular a mountain setting as exists. In the head of a glacial carved valley, with a headwall as grand as any in Europe. Streams run from the cliffs, sheep and goats graze, and roads and trails are there to challenge any level of biker
Spending the day in Thethi, we have several options; biking the Shala River Valley; or day hiking in the mountains; or just relaxing, enjoying this awesome mountain valley and its people. We’ll spend a second night with a family in Thethi.
Day 07 A trek through the heart of the Dinaric Alps, over two passes to Qafe Bordolic takes a long day. This hike is nearly all above timberline, amid the summer flowers and grazing animals. Above us loom the stark white limestone peaks that characterize this virtually unknown massif.
Non-trekkers can choose to accompany the minibus as it travels from Thethi to Qafe Bordolic, via Boga, Shkodra, Kopliku, and Tamara. This drive takes a full day. There are several long downhill runs on the road than can be biked. We’ll stay in the new tourist hotel in Qafe Bordolic/Selce. The elevation here guarantees green everywhere up to the limestone peaks. We’ll tour a water driven sawmill.
Day 08 Biking from Qafe Bordolic down the Cemi River Valley through Tamara is a grand ride. The valley is a raw gash through the limestone Alps, with the crystal clear river containing trout. The valley is so deep that we can stand in the bottom at 300 meters elevation and look up 2000 meters to alpine meadows. Hardcore riders will pump out of the valley to Rapshi and scream downhill to Hoti. Less aggressive members can ride in the minibus, perhaps stopping for a swim in the river. We will overnight back at our hotel in Shkodra.
Day 09 There are some great B&R near Shkodra that allow us to get a good look at rural, but not mountainous villages and farming. There are also some more extreme routes for the hardcore riders. And finally, there is a nice paved ride along the backside of Lake Shkodra to Zagora. For the more casual, Shkodra has internet cafes, lots of restaurants, and a nice university. Late in the afternoon, we will travel to Tirana and overnight in our hotel there.
Day 10 Depending upon departure time, more sightseeing is possible
* B=Breakfast L=Lunch D=Dinner
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