I first wanted to go to the Accursed Mountains in the mid nineties, having visited Albania in 1994 for the first time.
It was in September 2014 that I first came and I was hooked. The north of Albania was a “no go” area for most of the nineties and the early ‘00ies. Due to a combination of factors it was impossible to go to the places that are now starting to have a regular stream of adventure seeking tourists. Whether it was the lawlessness and the wide spread use of weapons, the smuggling or the lack of infrastructure or the combination of all these factors, it took twenty years for me to come. The first time I saw the region of Thethi Valley, I knew I’d be back.
We chose to come hiking from Montenegro via Bor mountain, having arranged our cross border passes in advance. There is something that appeals to my sense of adventure, when crossing the fog covered mountain and coming across sign that says: “turn back from this point”.
What used to be smuggling routes for weapons, drugs, cigarettes and people prior to and during the Kosovo conflict in the late nineties, are now marked hiking trail called “Peaks of the Balkans”.
We came across a Sheppard’s camp, a place where people live during the summer in order to bring their flocks of sheep to graze in the higher pastures of the mountains. They tell us they have seen other hikers earlier during the day, but they still have an hour to spend serving us coffee, warm bread and home made cheese.
And the children proudly present the new generation of “sharplaninec” puppies, the regional breed of sheep dog that I previously mentioned in my post about Shara mountain.
We continue walking through the fog, hearing a flock of sheep before seeing it, hearing the barking of the dogs, when we stop to take photos and hang around for what they consider to be too long.
The GPS shows that we are meters away from the Albanian border. The fog suddenly lifts to reveal a view, a stunning view of steep mountains, with their peaks still covered in fog.
Within the hour there is blue sky and rays of sunshine reward our efforts.
And the mountain opens its valleys to us, both Valbona and Thethi valleys are stunning and the guesthouses in the villages are welcoming. There are even several “bars” along the way, with the most stunning views.
As in most remote areas in the Balkans the hospitality is unprecedented. The food is delicious and the hosts are warm. What takes me aback is how quickly the region has capitalised from the revenue that is coming with the first tourists. What was one of the poorest areas of the poorest country in Europe, is now a region full of welcoming guesthouses that offer refuge for tired hikers.
The Accursed Mountains are often compared to the Dolomites or Malte Brun mountain in south New Zealand. Personally, I don’t like comparing mountains as I believe that each mountain carries its own uniqueness.
But I do hope that more mountaineers and hikers will come to enjoy the Accursed Mountains following the Peaks of the Balkans.