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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.
Plan your flight to arrive at Tirana airport ideally in the morning, but no later than 15:00 – this leaves time for the transfer and to be able to visit the town of Gjirokastra. From the airport the transfer will be by mini-van or off-road car and will take around 3-4 hours (250km). Settle into your hotel, 10 minutes walking from the centre of historical Gjirokastra .You can have a walk around the historical town of 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.
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 picnic lunch just near the village of Erind. After around 4-5 hours riding we will reach Karjan village where a traditional dinner and accommodation will be hosted by a local family.
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.
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 You will spent the night by a small family hotel, the only one in Hoshteva village. You are having home cooked dinner in the family’s garden.
This day ride will start with mountain climbing to reach Gjurmemushka mountain pass and after that you will ride mostly downhill. You will pass by Maleshova village to visit the church and by Limari antic castle ruins. You will stop for a picnic lunch 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 house in Mbrezhdan. This is a poor and forgotten area very isolated due to the lack of roads and immigration but still very welcoming. You can experience the traditional way of cooking outside and the famous “petanik” a special pie of the mountains. Mbrezhdan is a Raki area and very well known for their “spoon” deserts. You will have dinner with the host family in their garden.
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 camp again in front of Piskova village on the dry part of the river bed and enjoy very good food cooked by a small restaurant in Permet. We will transfer the food by car to the camping place. You can swim the whole afternoon and enjoy a special dinner under the stars. Fishing is also possible if there is interest for it.
We start the ride from Piskova and keep following the right river bank. The ridig landscape is mostly valley-hilly with many changes of gallops and canters. We will reach Permet town by lunch time. After accommodating the horses in the suburb of this small town and will move to a hotel in the center of Permet and will have lunch in a small restaurant close by. The afternoon Is free to visit the town walk or climb famous Premti rock. Before evening we can visit by car Leusa village placed few km away from the town. The beauty of the surrounding wood, hides the real gem of Leusa village: the Orthodox Church of St. Mary well-known for its outstanding iconography mural paintings from the Byzantine era.Dinner will take place in a family run restaurant in the middle of the town. You can later enjoy the night life in different music bars of the town center.
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.
Permet town – Ndernan / Zagoria 5-6 hours of ride
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 Nderan Zagoria. Be prepared to walk part of the uphill and downhill. During the afternoon ride we will pass by the byzantine church and the monastery of Saint Mikhail of Nivan, built in 1702. We will ride over the mediaeval bridge built in the same period to connect the monastery with Nderan village, one of the famous centres of medieval livestock fairs and which will be your overnight residence. You will spend the night with a Vllah family. Their community represent a rare linguistic minority in Albania. Dinner will be a delicious mixture of local products, raki and wine. You can join the local life and accompany the family during the milking process, dinner preparation or have a look at the families, farming animals and garden. This village is one of the most important producers of mountain honey in South Albania and it offers nearly 10 different tastes of honey as per season and bee pasture.
This riding day combines changing landscape and riding pace. Wide valleys, steep downhills, green forests and the beauty of Suha River are part of your itinerary before lunch. The lunch break by the river is a good chance of refreshing in the water. Later we are climbing the Swallow Rock and visit the church of Labova of the Cross of of the most important in the country. The Church of Labova of the Cross is a rare monument representing the oldest church in Albania, built by Justinian the Great in 554. Justinian married Teodora his wife at the small chapel of this village and the villagers inherited her wedding dress for centuries. This church is decorated with an old wooden iconostas full of floral and symbolic animal scenes.
Later in the afternoon we will ride to Libohova, a small town nestled at the foot of the Bureto Mountain. 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.
This will be a short riding day of 3,5 hours. This morning you 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 will follow in the village close to the stable. 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.
After breakfast at the hotel you will be transferred back to the airport of Tirana.
All accommodations and meals from dinner of day 1 till breakfast of day 8, English speaking guide, second guide (if more than 4 riders), water and drinks during the meals, luggage transport by car from destination to destination.
English speaking guide, second guide (if more than 4 riders), water and drinks during the meals, luggage transport by car from destination to destination.
Flights, entrance tickets in monuments or parks, lunch on day 1, extra drinks, other services or expenses during free time, meals, drinks and extra activities on Day 8, which is a free day.
It may be possible to pay for a single supplement on the first and last night of the trail, but riders must be prepared to share accommodation on the other nights. Single supplement if we provide a single room is 20 Euros per night paid here.
Small Group Supplement.
This is applicable if only 4 riders are booked onto the ride. If, at the time of departure, more than 4 riders are booked, the small group supplement will be refunded. Small group supplement is 132 Euros/person
11.08.2019 – 22.08.2019
Health (ride specific)
Please take along sun cream and anti-allergy medicine for possible insect bites.
Film and Camera Equipment
Internet access will be difficult during the ride. Riders can buy an Albanian sim card/phone number for round €12 and have free internet access and around 30 minutes of free calls with most European countries.
Access to electricity is possible every evening and the whole area is covered very well with signal.
Normal riding clothes: riding hat, long sleeved shirts (please avoid packing your favourite or expensive clothing due to risk of damage) riding trousers and chaps, gloves.
Good mountain shoes – with a grip for walking but not too thick as you will need to ride in them too. Normal riding boots with a smooth sole are not recommended as they can be slippery when walking on foot.
Casual clothes for the evening, swimming suit, river shoes, personal towels, sleeping bag, warm clothes for the night, and towels for bathing in rivers.
Sun cream, sunglasses, hat, personal towels, water bottles.
Anti-allergy medicine for possible insects bites
Camera – please bring small cameras as large professional ones are very difficult to transport on horseback.
Copy of passport
Personal saddlebags are welcome if riders would like to bring their own. Small saddlebags are provided by the ride but just for food and water.
Tirana airport (TIA) or Saranda Port – fly to Corfu and take the boat to Saranda (CFU).
Tirana airport to Gjirokastra: €70 return per person, 225 km, 3-4 hours
We organise two transfers from the airport every Saturday, the first one at 12 o’clock and the second at 15.00 pm. Flights that fit our normal transfer’s schedule should be planned to arrive no later than 15.00 pm and departures not earlier than 12 o’clock (midday)
Riders that arrive in Tirana one day in advance can plan to arrive at the airport for the transfer of 12 o’clock or 15pm. We can’t organise transfers from Tirana. It is very easy and cheap to reach Tirana airport by bus. There is a bus every hour starting from the center of Tirana (behind the opera palace)
Private transfer from or to Tirana: 150 Euro (one way) (maximum 3 people can share this transfer if it is impossible to book flights that fit our normal transfers schedule)
Saranda Port to Gjirokastra: €40 return per person, 64km, 1 hour
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