The “final frontier” of the Balkans, hiking in Kosovo. When we mentioned that we were going the reactions varied from raised eyebrows to “are you mad”. Are you going with people seeking adventure, my friends asked.
In a sense I was, our little group of hikers were the kind of people who’d go to North Korea or Abkhazia but we were not looking for a danger fueled adventure at all. We just wanted to go roads less travelled and see Kosovo before everyone else does.
And we were rewarded with stunning scenery and beautiful mountains. We went to Kosovo in late June just before all the Kosovar expats arrive from all over Europe in early July. The mountains were empty. And although “a German group” was there the week before we didn’t come across other foreign hikers except one couple near a village. This is the thing, the Kosovo mountains seem very empty at the moment.
We were hiking near the town of Peja, and walking along we could often see the Albanian and the Montenegrin borders. We were hiking the Accursed Mountains, the so called tail of the Alps and true to the description just by looking at the scenery there was no mistake, the setting was very Alpine.
You can easily mistake the scenery for a Swiss or Austrian Alpine setting until you come across a grave or a memorial of Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) fighters. A lot of men from this region fought against the Serbian army and police in 1999 to win independence 9 years later. Fortunately the fighting didn’t last 9 years, in fact it lasted just over a year, but it is obvious that young men lost their lives as we came across a few memorial sites built by the roads or erected in the mountains.
Other than that, there are very few signs of destruction in Kosovo, Prishtina and Peja are very lively towns with a lot of young people, new squares, buildings, parks and statues of Kosovo intellectuals and fighters. Even Bill Clinton has a rightful place on the streets of Prishtina.
Back to the Accursed mountains, there is a legend about how they got their name. The story goes that there were two brothers, hunters who went into the mountains and came across a lake.
They saw a stunningly beautiful fairy and asked her which one of them she preferred. She said, one for his beauty and the other one for his bravery, so the brave brother killed the handsome one and took the fairy home. When his mother heard what happened, she cursed the mountain thus the Accursed mountain.
We did not see the fairy, but we saw a lake which could easily have been her home before she met the brothers.
The Balkan hospitality comes out in its true form here. Our hosts wanted to show us everything that we wanted to see and nothing was too difficult to arrange. We took jeeps to get to higher altitude, as most of the peaks on the Kosovo side of the Accursed mountains are between 2000 and 2500 meters.
So it was easier to start from 1800meters and see the stunning views. We ate the tastiest home made food on small farms and in ethnic restaurants. Delicious pies and chesses and yogurt made from the milk of cows and sheep that we saw along the way. The food doesn’t get more organic than that.
It was a great trip and when leaving I felt there is a lot more to see and do in this little landlocked country, so I will be coming back.