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This ride follows in the tracks of Ilirian King Skerdilajd, on his way to conquer Kaonia 2,300 years ago. Experience unspoilt nature, colourful culture heritage, welcoming people and ride reliable, strong horses. Wind your way through a variety of landscapes combining mountain climbing, steep downhill and uphill rides, river crossings, woods and the seaside. Here you will find ancient ruins, castles, churches and monasteries sitting adjacent to the bunkers and military infrastructure from communist past. During this period of isolation and militarization, communist leaders built around 750,000 bunkers of defence in case of attack from western “enemies”.
This is a mountainous trail ride with around 5-6 hours riding and some walking every day. The horses are small but very robust and surefooted Arab and Tarpan cross. Participation in this trail will allow you to experience true Albania with the best local cuisine, history and hospitality. You will be accommodated in local or family guesthouses every night where your host families will provide a delicious local meal and conversation is enjoyed by all over dinner. Most of the dishes are homemade while fruits, vegetables and meat come from local gardens and farms.
From May to the end of September you can enjoy swimming in the sea (without horses) on two of the trail days.
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 Gjirokstra with your guides. 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 Bazzar 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.
You will start riding from the lake of Gjirokastra, Viroi Park at 220m above sea level. You will be astonished by how this mountainous ecosystem changes so suddenly. You will ride through hilly terrain, small rivers, pine woods, steep down and up hills. Lunch will be a home prepared picnic at the monastery of Cepo. We can visit the monastery which is an important orthodox cult object and has one of the most strategic views of the Drinos Valley. Located on a historical scale it cuts down a rocky slope on the north side of the “Wide Mountain”. Today only two objects remain from the former monastery complex: the basilica with a dome and dozens of former guesthouses which have hosted travellers for centuries. After lunch we ride down to the river of Kardhiq. There are some really interesting things to see in this area such as pillar rocks “Gods of the Light” and other nature monuments- these have got specific forms of pillars or columns 3-4 m high, which differ from far away. Today’s ride finishes after around 5-6 hours at the village of Fushbardha, one of the most important centres of Laberia´s area. Labëria Laws originate from ancient times and were reintroduced by Julie Pope, who lived in the XI century. During the Norman invasion in 1081 he was described as a priest and Mayor of Kurvelesh. You will spend the evening and night in a village house enjoying homemade traditional food and drinks. Riding hours 5-6.
After a traditional breakfast at the family house we will get ready for a very long day riding (up to 8 hours). Our ride will follow the tracks of the King Skerdilajd Army which passed through the “Neck of the Rock” around 2,300 years ago. For the first time, King Skerdilajdi was mentioned as the commander of the 5,000 troops sent by Queen Teuta in 230 BC against Epirus. He was the youngest brother of King Agron and one of the main supporters of Queen Teuta. He led the invasion army in 230 BC to the capital of Epirus Phoinike (Finiq). King Skerdilajd played a determined role in Teuta´s plans to create an Adriatic Front against Rome. The path combines beautiful woods, mountain climbing, rocky landscapes and ruins of ancient civilizations. Basha Stones, Dhespina cave, the Rock of Kaze, The Valley of Cheries, the Crooked Brook, Shameti Brook, Trullas Neck and Derrasa Hole are some of the local sights en route today. Our lunchbreak will be at a mountain valley surrounded by a small oak wood. We continue through the mountain of Borsh towards the next village. The whole day´s landscape offers images of wild unspoiled nature. Flowers, old trees, streams of water shepherds, hundreds of goats, sheep and cows will be part of this riding experience. Be prepared to walk round 1 hour 30 minutes during the day in difficult paths and steep downhills. Good mountain hiking shoes are recommended for today. We will arrive at a family house late in the afternoon and enjoy traditional food, rich in olive oil. Wine, raki and mountain tea will comfort you to sleep after the long day. Riding hours 8-9 (including walking by leading the horses)
After a traditional breakfast with the shepherd’s family, we will start a shorter but very pleasant riding day. First we will visit the castle of Borsh (known in history as Castle of Sopot) located on a hill in Borsh´s village at 500m above sea level and dates back to about IV-III century B.C. Its surface is rocky. In the Byzantine Empire, Emperor Justinian put it on the list of fortifications in the years 527-565. Sopot is mentioned in 1192 in memory of Anna Komnenes, daughter of the Byzantine Emperor Alexis I Komnenai. In 1266, Sopot was in the French power of Charles I of Azhuin and then under German jurisdiction, and later on, for a long time under the Republic of Venice. In the Middle Ages, it was adapted for military garrison and took full view of the fortification at the time of Ali Pasha. The mosque was built at the castle by Haxhi Bendo, one of the supporters of Ali Pasha.
After visiting the Castle ruins we will start a 3 hour ride from Borsh and take the old road along the seaside. Olive trees, oranges, lemons, citrus and grapefruits are planted everywhere on the upper part of the road. Many defence bunkers remained along the seaside of Piqeras, an old fishing village. We will stop the ride in the village and drive to the sea for a lunch break on the beach. After lunch we can enjoy a fairly long break to enjoy the sea and to rest. You will spend the night in a family house tasting seafood, the special local cheese and salad. Homemade raki and wine will be offered with the meal. Riding hours : 3-4
This morning we’ll enjoy breakfast on the terrace with the beautiful view of the Ionian Sea. You can enjoy traditional coast byrek (cheese pie) and cookies, butter, fresh milk and honey. Today we head down to the sea through olive tree terraces to the beach of Bunec. We will ride up again to Lukove village and down to the sea again through some challenging landscapes. You will reach the Shpella beach for lunch. The lunch stop includes possibilities to swim and relax for several hours. Later we continue by first entering a small “jungle” of trees, bushes and rocks, meeting the remains of an old road connecting the sea with the villages of the upper coast. In the afternoon you will visit the village of Shen Vasil, a very old mediaeval center. The village suffered a long period of terror during the dictatorship being a labour camp for political prisoners. Hundreds of intellectuals suffered and died in this camp during 4 decades. The family can share with you memories of a very dark period of Albania. Traces of the past are visible everywhere. Your accommodation place was the ex-dormitory for soldiers that served the camp. Riding hours: 4
After breakfast you will reach the valley of Kalasa river and later the hilly valley of Prapanica, and use the chance for a very nice and long gallop. You we will ride back along King Skerdilajd Army´s route. South of the river Kalasa valley you can see the Foinike Hill. Exactly there, Skerdilajd’s army stopped to face the Epirot army in 229 B.C. Olive trees and nice paths for gallops will make this day very interesting and picturesque. You will continue to ride through the village of Fushe – Verri . You can see the bunkers of the cold war along the ride, representing the military ideology of the system. You can stop for a picnic lunch under olive trees.
You will reach the Skerfica mountain neck named after the King Skerdilajd Army pass in the afternoon hours. Here you can enjoy the cold mountain water and another short break You will pass an old Phosphor Mine, an ex-labour camp for the political prisoners of the communist regime. Further on inside the village of Fushbardha, there still exist the old abandoned buildings of the ex-labour camp. Fushebadha, is a destination that you have already visited in your first riding day. Dinner served in the garden will let you enjoy the homemade food, the fresh mountain air and the hospitality of the local family. Riding hours: 6
After a traditional breakfast you will start ride back to our start point, Gjirokastra town. Today is going to be a diverse landscape ride. We will ride first to the Valley of Kardhiq river and later will meet the traces of the first riding day. The ride will finish right where it started – near Viroi lake. Pine woods, mountain valleys, water springs, fresh air and flowered landscapes will be the panorama of this day. We will drive you to our horse stable to introduce you to our way of managing and to the horse’s life. Your accommodation will be the same hotel in Gjirokastra town. A farewell dinner late in the afternoon will be enjoyed by all. Riding hours: 4-5
After breakfast at the hotel you will be transferred to Tirana airport.
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.
Flights, entrance tickets in monuments or parks, lunch on day 1, extra drinks, other services or expenses during free time.
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 2 riders are booked onto the ride. If, at the time of departure, more than 2 riders are booked, the small group supplement will be refunded. Small group supplement is 132 Euros/person
Please note: All itineraries are given for your guidance only and it may be altered on the ground and in accordance with the prevailing conditions by the organising team.
Please note that although this trail includes some beach riding, any fast riding takes place along an old path 100 m from the beach. The sand is rocky and therefore is only suitable for walking on. The mountain horses are also not too keen on the water so will not tend to want to paddle!
We strongly advise you to consult with your General Practitioner before travelling. The best medical advice regarding suitable immunisations and prophylaxis to enable you to travel safely requires knowledge of your medical history and therefore cannot be covered in this advice sheet. Recommendations are also subject to change and it is important to obtain the most up to date information available.
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
Sun cream, sunglasses, hat, swimming clothes, shoes to walk on rocky beach, towels for the beach.
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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