Valbona to Theth – Hiking Albania’s Accursed Mountains

2015 [ updated - 2021 ]

Mountains and solitude. If ever you’d scream: “This is the highlight of my trip”.

Then this is it !!!

This conclusion is drawn from the fact that I was amid spectacular nature – alone. And, that if there’d been crowds of tourists, the vibe wouldn’t have been so pleasing.

Get inspired: 2-minute video guide for hiking Valbona to Theth

Another wow factor was the genuine friendliness and curiosity of locals (which was true of Albania generally).

theth village below high mountains albania
The distant welcoming scene of Theth village (about 2 km away, with the ancient lock-up tower). Here’s I soaked my aching feet in the fresh, freezing waters of the river.

So unaffected by mass tourism, for now. Was hard to believe that this was Europe in the 21st century, more like a remoter part of the world.

Morning and clambering amid the wide – but largely dry – riverbed which runs thru the valley down to the village. I sat and ate a take-out breakfast here (sausage, bread, cucumber, tomato, goat’s cheese supplied by my guest house) … Silence. A cow with a bell around its neck. A cluster of relaxed horses. A shepherd and sheep nearby. Not much else but this view ahead (and surrounded by such mountains on all sides) … BLISS.”

Valbona to Theth – Hiking Advice


Getting to Valbona from Shkodra, via Lake Koman

Where to stay

Hike Information + Tips

What to take on the hike

First the obvious:  Leave all unnecessary stuff – laptop, extra clothes, etc – in a locked backpack at a reliable hotel or guesthouse in Shkodra; only take your hiking essentials for this short circuit (of a few days).

Early morning and I pass a woman milking goats in Valbona village on route to the trail-head for Theth.

HOW TO GET to Valbona from Shkodra

Shkodra – Lake Koman – Valbona – Theth – Shkodra

This whole circuit requires a minimum of 3 days, a few more would be better if you want to do other hikes or just hang-out.

Up the mountain pass – looking back towards Valbona

There’s a daily mini-bus from the central bus stop at 7am to Lake Koman.

For just a few euros more and total convenience you can take the Mario Moller tour (1) includes all transport @ 15 euros). I

They pick you up at 9:00 at your accommodation and drops you at the new, revitalized public car ferry, travelling across Lake Koman at 12:00 each day.

This 2 hour lake trip is amazing ! (1)

Fjord-like sunken landscape a bit like southern Chile – and with cold beer and snacks onboard, it makes for a real scenic session.

theth lock-up tower amid peaks of albania
Theth’s medieval lock-up tower, where relatives of families engaged in blood-feuds were protected. This region was infamous for blood-feuds. And while some areas have seen this tradition return since the fall of Communism, the practice has not returned to Theth.

On the other side of Lake Koman,  vehicles * await passengers for Valbona, dropping you at your accommodation of choice (useful as places are isolated and spread across 9 km of valley).

This entire journey will see you arrive late afternoon in Valbona.

You can start this circuit from Theth also.

Both villages are connected by road to Shkodra. But the only way to travel between Valbona and Theth is via a hiking trail.

albania old man and middle age woman
Locals on the trail … The old man urged me to join him for coffee (and a cigarette). The woman is my guesthouse host in Theth. Like most original residents of Theth, they are only there in summer and live the winters in more-southern cities. Only about 15 original families still reside in Theth in summer; other Albanians are outsiders building holiday homes or businesses as tourism slowly wakens in Theth.

Leaving Theth, you’re restricted to one mini-bus leaving at 13:00.

But if you ask around maybe you can get a 4WD shared taxi with locals, leaving around 10:00-11:00.

This latter option shaves at least an hour off the 4 hour journey to Shkodra.

Early morning on the valley road on route to the trailhead (which will cross the mountains ahead) to Theth.

WHERE TO STAY in Valbona and Theth

VALBONA: Up to you. Depends your budget: 10 – 50+ euros for a room or camping?

I stayed at Jezerca for 10 euros, which is a good backpacker option with decent rooms and bathrooms in a traditional Albanian country house.

There’s also a decent restaurant, with fresh fish caught from the stream – as you watch!

Furthermore, it’s well located – just 3 km from the trailhead to Theth. ( Mob: +355 673093406 ).

THETH: I can’t recall the name of my guesthouse – but you could look for the woman in the b+w photo above; it was clean and homely, located beside the river and cost 20 euros a room, and also provided meals (extra).

Theth is more developed than Valbona and has a quite few accommodation choices, yet infrastructure remains basic.

Note: In both villages there are no real shops – but now apparently, there are kiosks and cafes in Theth. Yet, maybe it’s still best to bring your own favorite supplies from Shkodra.

Meals and beverages drinks are available at accommodations.

fish-beer-meal at guesthouse in valbona albania
Dinner at my guesthouse in Valbona was this scene besides a fast flowing creek, which the owners had dammed up to trap dozens of trout. This was my meal, caught fresh with a stick, string and hook. Surrounded in this valley of huge steep slopes (which this pic doesn’t really capture).

Difficulty of the Valbona to Theth hike

The hiking trail distance is about 17 km from Valbona to Theth (from my guesthouse). Most people say it takes 6-7 hours. However, it’s a not a difficult hike. Rather easy and simple, actually.

You follow a river valley and then up a steep slope to the Valbona mountain pass. Then down the other side to follow another river valley to Theth.

But the mountain hike is tiring.

Especially if your pack is a little heavy (I carried water and a bottle of red wine; and if, you’re more prone to being a couch potato … then slow down). I was much slower.

And enjoyed picnics amid tranquil panoramas, and yeah, abundant photo ops.

ruined farmhouse on valbona to theth hike albania
Abandoned farm house on route, climbing the valley towards the Valbona pass.

NOTE: Hiking the Valbona to Theth route and much of Albania’s Accursed Mountains is NOT possible in winter.

Summer is hot – so set off early.

Yet much of the hike is shaded.

Especially so after the Valbona Pass – at 1812 meters – going down to Theth, which is mostly forest.

old communist bunker on valbona hike in accursed mountains of albania
Everywhere across Albania – even amid the Accursed Mountains – there remain these mushroom bunkers, as many as 360,000 of them; remnants from the Communist era, when the paranoid dictator Hoxha, thought invasion from any side was possible – by Italy, Greece, or even communist Yugoslavia. And even in this remote valley in northern Albania strings of these bunkers exist, in which citizens were expected use to repel the enemy. This grand misguided strategy nearly bankrupted the country and kept real infrastructure from ever being realized (like enough public housing) and today remain these broken, useless concrete lumps across the country.

Water is easily obtained on route from streams and rivers.

I drank it straight, without purification. But take at least 1.5 liters to start, and always top up when you can.

The route is marked with red and white painted stripes on rocks and trees for much of hike.

BUT not so much from Valbona, where it’s just a matter of walking up the road to the trail-head then up the wide river bed to the village of Ragam. And from there, trail markings are better as you follow an ancient mule track.

road accident memorial theth mountain road albania

I shared a ride in 4WD taxi with a local Theth family to Shkodra. The husband was very chatty, spoke English, as they now lived in the USA and they were here on the annual holiday. Then on the mountain road beyond Theth and heading down, we stopped here. I thought, nice pic, and took this shot. To my surprise, his wife got out and kissed the memorial. It was her brother that had died, he said. His truck had slid on black ice and plunged over.

WHAT TO TAKE on the Valbona Hike

Wear boots. I wore hiking sandals – but not the best on such slopes, especially loose scree.

Obviously a backpack or day-pack with camera, sunblock, a few snacks and survival essentials.

Even on a hot summer’s day, carry a fleece and a waterproof jacket, for unexpected downpours and sudden chill.

Having followed the river, now well above the valley. And another perfect snack-stop vista!

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