Valbona valley & Theth valley are one of the Top destinations currently in Albania. As locals, we hope to give you as much useful information regarding the hike from Valbona to Theth.
1. Little History & Overview
For thousands of years, Albanians inhabited those valleys almost undisturbed by foreign invasions. Truth be told, Albanian language and heritage survived because remote places such as Theth valley or Valbona valley, where the invaders didn’t dare venture but rather preferred to vassalize local chief clans. The locals followed their own laws based on Christian doctrine and ancient Illyrian heritage; those laws known today with the term “kanun” are still strong despite the centralization of power by the Albanian government.
The first foreigner to visit the valley worth mentioning is the English traveler & journalist Edith Durham, and she will dedicate her life to the support of the Albanian right to self-determination.
In her books, Durham will speak about all these places that she visited and also about what made them unique 100 years ago. Today when people hear about “clans” the first thing in mind is Scotland, no one knows about the Albanian clans in the highlands and their ancient laws.
The communist regime almost destroys this heritage and modernization and migration are doing the rest. But the new threat is over tourism! Unfortunately yes this is the case.
In early 2000, if you visited those valleys they would have welcomed you for free giving you “the right of Hospitality” according to the Kanun laws and treating the guest as a king. Today the story is different, and from the hundreds of visitors in 2005 we have moved to over 120 000 in 2019, only during summer times. For this reason on other blogs, we will present other villages less known but definitely worth visiting with picturesque views.
Winter is a different matter and spending winter in Theth (often isolated because of the snow) can get very challenging since most of the time you will not have electricity or wi-fi connection but you will rely on wood for heating and storage of food. Winter can be very long and never-ending in the Albanian alps where you are on your own with almost no support.
2. How to get there
Both valleys are located in remote arias of the country surrounded by a network of mountains and the best starting point is definitely the city of Shkoder. There are people that start this from Tirana very very early but this makes the trip longer and tires you before even starting the hike. Prizren can be considered another starting point to rich Valbona, the drive is approximately 2 hours and a half.
Shkodra is considered the best option because every morning from 06:00 to 08:00 there are plenty of vans that will take you to Theth. With the newly paved road, the trip from Shkoder to Theth with a break at “Qafe Thore” for the view should take you little more than 2 hours.
Alternatively, if you want to head for Valbona you can take the van for Komani lake and once there at 09:00 you will get the ferry from Koman lake to Fierza lake another thing considered Must Do in Albania. Open arrival in Fierza at 11:30 other vans will be waiting for you to take you to Valbona. You start in Shkoder around 06:30 and arrive in Valbona at 13:00.
2.1 Valbona valley
Valbona is one of the most beautiful valleys in Albania, surrounded by sharp & high mountains almost in all directions. I have seen this in all four seasons and all of them provide a fantastic powerful view. From est is the only paved road that will bring you to this valley by car, a long serpent road that follows the Valbona river in the valley and ends there. Valbona river starts from the springs up high close to Ragam mountain.
There are at least 5 small villages that can be considered part of Valbona valley and they are located on the path toward Theth or Cerem. Apart from the Valbona – Theth hike there are plenty of daily hikes to do in Valbona itself such as Gropat e Hotit, Cerem, Mali i Thate & Kukaj, Shemtina e Shales waterfall, and more.
2.2 Theth valley
The Theth valley is completely isolated from all sides with mountains, and when you raise your head to see the sky it looks like the mountains touch the sky. The recently paved road comes down from a path from the west part of the valley. The difference with the Valbona valley is that the Theth valley is a little narrower than the Valbona valley. The valley is divided by the Theth river a tributary of the Shala river. Theth valley as well is divided into 5 subdivisions and walking from one side to another is about 1 hour!
There are a variety of options to do in Theth valley if you spend more than one night; such as head toward Nderlysaj swim there then toward the Blue Eye (known by locals as Kaprra e Gimajve).
Near Theth there are at least three waterfalls, the closest one to the center of Theth is Grunas waterfall, then there is also Ragam waterfall near Valbona path and also “qafe Peje” waterfall.
Alpinists will use Theth as a base to climb Mont Jezerca 2694m ( the second highest in Albania). You can see the top of Jezerca from “Qafë Thore” when you are entering or leaving Theth.
3. The hike from one valley to the other
Obviously, the question is:
Which is the best way to hike from Valbona valley to Theth valley or the other way?
Since I have done the hike several times, I can bring some considerations so everyone can make their own decision
3.1 Hiking from Valbona valley to Theth valley
The hike from Valbona valley side toward Theth valley starts smoothly going up until you reach Caffe Simoni, after that the trail goes up with elevations above 25% until you reach the crossing called “Qafe Valbone” where you can see both valleys. A good hiker should arrive at the crossing in 2 hours but we estimate 3 hours is a normal time to arrive.
From here the trail to Theth valley is all smoothly downhill with a few expectations when you first go through the forest and then after a big field. Halfway down there is another bar (1 hour from the crossing) where you can refill your water bottle and can purchase some extra drinks. To reach the center of Theth you need at least 1 hour and a half walk down the hill. If you have problems with your knees the last hour will get harder for you. We suggest making more stops & bring walking sticks for the hike. In addition, Valbona is more or less 60 meters higher than Theth.
Now depending on where your guesthouse is located, you will have to walk an extra 30-45 minutes from the center of Theth or head toward Okol.
3.2 Hiking from Theth valley to Valbona valley
This will be the opposite situation with a long but gentle climb until you reach “Qafe Valbone” or Valbona path than from there a steep downhill toward Valbona.
The estimated time to do the hike varies from 4 to 7 hours depending on the fiscal conditions and also enjoying the view not making it a race.
The sun plays an important role during the hike, on the Valbona side you will be exposed to the sun the majority of the time. The Theth side is relatively well covered by forests providing shade and cool temperature during the hike. When you go from Theth to Valbona assuming you departed around 8:00, from 11:00 to 02:30 you will be exposed to the sun adding here also the fact that you will have to walk to your guesthouse make’s this harder.
If you start the hike from Valbona at the latest 08:00 am you can reach the crossing at the worst by 11:00 then during the hottest part of the day, you will be hiking in the forest and avoid the extreme heat, especially during July & August.
4 Our suggestion for you. FAQ about this activity
4.1 How to get to Valbona valley from Shkoder
Every morning starting at 6:30 sprinters will start to collect travelers from the city and take them to Komani lake. The drive from Shkoder to Komani dam is about 2 hours and a half on a very picturesque & adventurous road. Most people prefer to sleep during these hours and miss the beauty of the other lake the Vau Danjes lake (part of the Drini river but created by the construction of the Danja dam). Something not to miss is the castle of Sarda, on Sarda island. The island was created when the dam was built. Historically the castle stood on the north shore of the Drini river.
Open your arrival in Koman, you will embark on one of the ferries that will take you from Komani dam to Fierza dam on the Komani lake. This trip by ferry will take a little bit more than 2 hours and it is one of the top things to do in Albania. You will see the Drini canyons and some of the highest Albanian mountains during this sail. There are two tributary rivers that join Komani lake (Drini river), Shala river & Mertur river.
Open arrival in Fierza, other vans will be waiting to take you from Fierza to Valbona (1-hour drive). You should arrive in Valbona around 01:00 pm just in time for lunch and this gives you all afternoon for an exploration of Valbona valley.
4.2 How to get from Shkoder to Theth valley
Early in the morning 4×4 or sprinters will depart from “Sheshi Ura e Maxharrit”, but you can also book a van to pick you up at your hotel, that is possible also.
Departure time is normally from 06:00 to the latest 08:00, the drive will take around 2 hours and a half with a stop at “Qafe Thore”. This is a panoramic view where you can see below the entire valley of Theth. The famous Blye Eye spring is just underneath you!
If you have a good app you will be able to recognize some of Albania’s highest peaks such as Mount Jezerca (the second highest in Albania). From here the road is all down toward the valley of Theth. Finally, since 2021 this part of the road is new, until 2020 driving from Qafe Thore to Theth was an adventure apart!
4.3 The best timing to hike from Valbona to Theth
The best months to hike are June, July, August, and September, there shouldn’t be any surprise in the weather conditions apart from some sporadic rain with some fog. We will not recommend hiking in winter. The Valbona path will be covered in snow most likely from October to the first week of June. The statistics show that the most dangerous month so far is May (with fatalities).
September & October are known as the months where hikers get lost because of fog and they miss the trails ending in another trail toward Jezerca. During the months of May, it is possible to cross but only with local guides since they use a different passage to avoid the steep cliff with melting snow. To perform the crossing people often rely on mules that locals with rent to you. The marked trail is not considered safe during April & May since it is very slippery and people have fallen from there!
4.4 How long is the hike?
The hike should last from 4 hours and a half to 7 hours and a half long, Take your time and enjoy the beauty in front of you. The path is about 16km long with an elevation difference of 850 meters.
4.5 Things to bring with you!
- Good hiking boots
- rain jacket (better to have it), walking sticks optional
- Sunglasses, sunscreen, and a hat
- water bottle
- Only essential toiletries
- Snacks and takeaway lunches if your guesthouse provides them for you
Water comes from the fresh springs and each house will have access to some springs, the water is clear and drinkable with no chlorine added.
There are no ATMs over there and if you will need cash (currency doesn’t matter) you better travel with some withdrawn cash in Shkoder.
We do not suggest traveling heave but just the minimum for 2 to 3 nights trip. You should be able to leave the rest of your luggage in Shkoder and pick them up when your return to Shkoder. This is another good reason to make you think about 2 nights in Shkoder the first and the last, this will give you time to recover and also have storage in town for your luggage.
4.7 Accommodations & where to eat
Overtourism in the last 10 years has changed significantly the number of guesthouses in both villages. We will not mention specific guesthouse names here but we can tell you that all the families that leave in these villages have a guesthouse and they can accommodate up to 50 people for the night. Some of those new buildings are big and fancy houses ruining what makes those places magic. It is best to book months or at least weeks in advance since during the high season the space is limited.
Each guesthouse will provide for you the meals since often they are included in the price. Despite that, both villages have a restaurant in the center and both those restaurants have some special traditional dishes of the region.
We hope that this information will be useful for your trip to the Albanian alps. We will be working on other blogs on other valleys to consider but also we will be talking about the heritage & the laws of the Albanian highlands and clans in another blog.