Spring arrives to Southern Albania in late March and early April. It speckles lush green meadows with colorful flowers, creates gushing rivers and waterfalls flow through the valleys and still has snowcapped mountain tops form scenic backdrops. In May trees blossom, snow on the mountain tops is vanishing and the sheep have grown up to move out of the valleys and onto the alps. By June temperatures are rising, the days are longest and the Albanian Riviera awakes from its winter sleep to prepare for the summer season. Usually we don’t run tours in the South after mid-month as temperatures get uncomfortably warm. This is a good moment to move up to Northern and Eastern Albania, where mountain spring is underway.
July and August can exceed 40°C and are too hot for most activities in the South. It’s also the prime season for regional holiday makers and charter tourists to flock to the seaside. Beach-side hotels are often booked out despite price spikes, restaurants are overwhelmed and roads blocked by traffic jams. It’s frankly the worst time of the year to be near any of the coastal hotspots and best enjoyed in the alpine fresh of the Albanian Alps, Peaks of the Balkans and High Scardus Trail.
By September temperatures in Southern Albania have returned to pleasant levels. The summer has painted the landscape in pastel colors, the trees are heavy under ripe fruits, seas remain cozy warm and nights mild. Similar to Late May and early June it’s a good time to combine both parts of the country. That sounds great but also makes it the busiest period of the season. Book early to secure a spot or travel towards the end of the month and in October to avoid the crowds. By then the days have started to get shorter but weather remains stable and tables moans in the harvest season.
November sees autumn colors painting forests in a fiery red. The weather starts to be less stable with streaks of rain and you want to bring warm cloth for the morning and evening. This is the start of the off-season, for someone who wants to enjoy Albania without other visitors around, it’s a great time to connect to locals and see every-day life. December to mid-March is considered winter and while there’s rarely snow in the lowlands, it rains just the more. The lack of heating doesn’t make this a great season for sensitive travels and unless you’re into snowshoeing or ski touring we suggest to wait a little longer with your trip to Albania.
Hidden Valley Trek
Discover the beauty of the hidden Zagoria Valley: Trek for four days between secluded stone villages, meet friendly hosts, enjoy home cooked meals, hike to the mighty north face of Nemercka, swim in thermal waters of Benje and, last but not least, visit the UNESCO city of Gjirokaster. Return home enriched by memories or extend your trip in Tirana or at the Albanian Riviera.
This is part of the Zbulo Originals series of tours exclusively offered by Zbulo. Back in 2013, we developed in cooperation with the Italian NGO CESVI the network of hiking trails in Permet and the Zagoria Valley. Our goal was to promote the (then) little known natural wonders of Permet and to create jobs/income in the villages that suffered greatly from rural flight.
In 2014 we started bringing visitors to the valley, trained local limited-English speaking guides to lead private tours in 2016 and launched self-guided trips in 2019. The maximum of 200 visitors a year have a positive impact on the livelihood of the inhabitants, but don’t negatively impact the traditional way of life and authenticity this trek has to offer by commercializing it. We plan to keep it this way. 🙂
Coastal Mountain Circuit
To many the Ceraunian Coastal Mountains are not more than a memorable backdrop to the beaches of the Albanian Riviera. Trek on an ancient caravan route into backcountry, visit the mini Stonehenge of Albania and cross through the “thunder-split mountains” back to the coast. Refresh yourself in the turquoise waters of the Albanian Riviera, hike through the ancient forest of the Llogara National Park and climb the coast’s second highest peak Qorre (2.016 m).
This is part of the Zbulo Originals series of tours exclusively offered by Zbulo. In 2015 GIZ, the German development service, asked us to map out routes to link the little visited hinterland with the coast. We created a mini network of trails to lure visitors away from the beaches into villages and mountains surrounding them. While the Llogara NP has become the South’s prime hiking destination, we didn’t manage to take many people into the backcountry yet.
In 2021 the road into the Shushica Valley was asphalted, now linking to Vlore, via the Upper Kurvelesh villages of Progonat and Nivice, known for their canyon, to Tepelena and in the future also to the coastal village of Qeparo. We hope this development will allow more people to visit the area in the future and are developing new routes nearby for the coming years.
Albanian Coastal Trail
The Albanian Riviera is well known for the azure Ionian Sea, its pebble beaches and hidden bays. While buzzing with life in July and August, the sleepy coastal villages, endless olive groves, old stone towns and secluded swimming coves are deserted the rest of the year. Come explore with us the prisoner trail, old cobbled walkways, little villages and beaches that most visitors miss out on.
This is part of the Zbulo Originals series of tours exclusively offered by Zbulo. In 2019 GIZ, the German development service, continued their initial Mysterious South project with the goal to extend the short 10 week summer season by creating a hiking path that spans the Albanian Riviera from North to South. Zbulo created a continuous route that appeals equally to day visitors, seeking out short and moderates hikes, as well as as a trek from Dhermi to Kakome.
The route was marked and signposted by us in 2020, a brochure and map were prepared but are, as of Oct 2021, not yet published. near the coast construction work and quick macchia growth constitute a problem. In the future, we hope to organize a spring camp for volunteers to explore, maintain and promote those too little known trails. If you’re interest to join or support this event, please write to us. 🙂
Northern and Eastern Albania: Summer
In May snow starts melting but will obstruct alpine passes and cover high altitude trails until early June. Naturally, this varies every year depending on the levels of snowfall during the winter and weather in spring. Lower altitude (<1.500 meters) and sun exposed slopes invite for early hikes, but many of the summer trekking routes aren’t accessible yet.
From June and into early July spring amazes visitors. Ascending through a sea of color and scent, every altitude layer is different and features endemic plants like the Albanian Lily. If walking across snow fields is not for you or climbing peaks a priority, the second half of June is the better choice.
Later in July and until the end of August temperatures rise, the weather is very stable and rain limited to occasional short showers. While in the lowlands and cities it’s too hot, the alpine areas stay temperature and evenings pleasant. The blueberry harvest starts, it’s very dry and the landscape puts on pastel colors.
September has mild and relatively stable weather. Those looking for a more temperature climate will enjoy the weather most, though the chances for colder nights and rain increase in the second half of the month. The trees and bushes bow under the weight of fruits and alpine tundra first starts changing to autumn colors.
October can be a gamble, some years it’s mild and sunny, t-shirt and shorts weather, other times the first snow arrives by mid month. Snow doesn’t last but often triggers high altitude accommodations to close. It may not always work for the High Scardus or Peaks of the Balkans Trail, but is well enjoyed in the Albanian Alps and Southern Albania especially.
November sees the beech forest ablaze in color, mountain tops shrouded in mysterious fog and locals relaxed after a busy season. It has its own appeal for slow travelers, but the days are too short and and weather instable to tackle one of the longer treks. Southern Albania is still an option but the North not for everyone.
For many a visit to Albania’s first mountain destination starts with a boat ride across the fjord-like Koman Lake and into majestic Valbona National Park. Hikes towards the Accursed Mountains highest peaks and cross through ancient beech forest over the well-known Valbona Pass into the heart of the mountains. Discover ancient traditions in Theth, visit the iconic church, blood feud tower, waterfall and “Blue Eye” karst spring, before returning to modern reality.
Also known as the Accursed Mountains, the range spans the border triangle between Albania, Kosovo and Montenegro. It’s the birthplace of mountain tourism in Albania and features the three classic destinations of Valbona, Theth and Kelmend as well as a range of lesser known places. If you don’t want to stop at the mountainous border, go a step further on the Peaks of the Balkans Trail and include the highlights of Kosovo and Montenegro.
Valbona and Theth received 70.000 and 50.000 visitors respectively in 2019. They have grown to become well known destinations featuring a range of accommodations of different standards. Things have changed a lot, mostly for the better, but one cannot deny that some of the original otherworldly charm was lost. As the most mature destination, we can warmly recommend self-guided tours for an individual experience here.
Peaks of the Balkans Trail
Hiking beyond borders at its best: Forget about the thin red lines that separate countries on a map and explore the best of Albania, Kosovo and Montenegro and one of Europe’s best trails. From the craggy, Dolomite-like Western Alps, through the alpine tundra of the border triangle, to the more forgiving Eastern Alps, the diversity of landscapes, history and hosts doesn’t stop to amaze on this trek.
Endrit and Ricardo, the co-founders of Zbulo, met in 2011 while Endrit was working on the Peaks of the Balkans project. Since it was honored by Bill Clinton with the World Tourism and Trade Council’s “Tourism of Tomorrow Award” in 2014, it has seen a meteoric rise and became not only our most popular trekking tour, but one of Europe’s top trails. While several tour operators offer it, we pride us to be part of the team that originally developed it from scratch.
The success of the trail is not without problems, while far from the numbers you would encounter in Austria or Switzerland, infrastructure in these remote villages cannot grow as fast as visitors numbers, creating bottlenecks. Zbulo tries to address these issues on the trail as well as develop alternatives to it, like the High Scardus Trail, which are not less beautiful, only lesser known.
High Scardus Trail
The newest long distance walking trail of the Balkans runs through the border triangle of Albania, Kosovo and North Macedonia. Have the mountains and colorful trails near the three border point, climb the highest peak of two countries, Mt. Korab (2.764 m), spend a night with the shepherds on an idyllic alp and in a beautiful stone village. The honest hospitality and authentic insights in local village life staying in homestays makes this trekking special.
Looking at the immense and unexpected success of the Peaks of the Balkans, it soon became clear that an alternative was needed to welcome a greater number of visitors sustainably. Thus the idea of a new cross-broder trail, following the same recipe for success, was born in 2016. On behalf of GIZ, the Zbulo team took the country lead, started running tours on an 8-day segment of the Albanian trail in 2018 and trained local guides for private trips in 2020.
The large scale of the project, global pandemic, budget constraints and, to a certain degree, lack of interest from the private sector, have delayed this project again and again. In the near future, we hope to offer trips that include all three countries. Contact us if you’re a pioneer and want to be among the first to experience this. We’re offering experimental private trips, beware that this are real adventure and likely not everything will go according to the plan.