Valbona to Theth – Hiking Albania’s Accursed Mountains

Mountains and solitude.

If ever you’d scream: “This is the highlight of my trip!”

Then this is it.

I drew this conclusion from the fact I was amid spectacular nature—alone.

And that, if there’d been crowds of tourists, the vibe wouldn’t have been so pleasing.

VIDEO (2 minutes): Get inspired – Hiking from Valbona to Theth

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

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.

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

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

First the obvious: Leave unnecessary stuff like laptop and extra clothes in a locked backpack at a guesthouse in Shkodra (since you’ll return there).

Only take hiking essentials for this short circuit (of a few days).

valbona theth hike in accursed mountains of albania
Morning and clambering amid the dry riverbed which runs thru the valley down to the village.

I sat and ate a takeout 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.

HOW TO GET to Valbona from Shkodra

> Shkodra – Lake Koman – Valbona – Theth – Shkodra

This circuit takes a minimum of 3 days.

A few more would be better, if you want to do other hikes or hang-out.

mountain panorama near valbona pass on hike to Theth in Albania
Hiking up the mountain pass and looking back towards Valbona.

From Shkodra, there’s a daily mini-bus from the central bus stop at 7am to Lake Koman.

However, for a few more euros and total convenience, take the Mario Moller tour (1) which includes all transport @ 15 euros. They’ll pick you up at your accommodation around 9 AM and drop you ready for the 12.00 boat departure.

Crossing Lake Koman by public ferry takes 2 hours. (1)

The scenery resembles the fjord landscape of southern Chile – so enjoy cold beer and snacks on deck.

ancient lock-up tower in Theth 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 (useful, since guesthouses are spread over 9 km of valley).

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

You can also start this mountainous circuit from Theth. But the only way to travel between Valbona and Theth is via the 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 live 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, you might get a 4WD shared-taxi with locals, leaving around 10:00-11:00.

This taxi option is faster than the 4 hour mini-bus trip to Shkodra.

dawn on the hiking route from valbona to theth
Early morning on the valley road on route to the trailhead (which will cross the mountains ahead), hiking from Valbona to Theth.

WHERE TO STAY in Valbona and Theth

VALBONA: Up to you.

Depends on your budget: 10 – 50+ euros for a room or camping.

I stayed at Jezerca for 10 euros.

It’s a good backpacker option. Decent rooms and bathrooms in a traditional Albanian country house. They have a decent restaurant with fresh fish caught from the stream – as you watch.

AND it’s only 3 km to the Theth hike trailhead.

Jezerca mobile: +355 673093406

THETH: I can’t recall the name of my guesthouse. (But you could ask for the woman in the photo above. It was clean and homely, located beside the river in central Theth, and cost 20 euros a room. Meals are extra.)

Theth is more developed than Valbona and has more accommodation choices.

In both villages, there are no proper shops.

But now – update from a friend who did this in 2021, there are now kiosks and cafes in Theth.); yet, could be best to bring your favorite items from Shkodra (like a bottle of something alcoholic).

fish, salad and beer-meal at valbona guesthouse in mountains of albania
Dinner at my guesthouse in Valbona was 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 picture doesn’t really capture).

Difficulty of the Valbona to Theth hike

The hiking trail distance is about 17 km from Valbona village to Theth (from my guesthouse).

Most people say the hike takes 6-7 hours.

However, it’s a NOT a difficult hike.

Rather easy, actually.

But the hike is tiring – if your pack is heavy (I carried water and snacks and a bottle of red wine).

So, if you’re prone to being a couch potato … slow down

Remember, it’s not a race. It’s about the scenery.

I hiked slower.

And enjoyed picnics amid tranquil panoramas on a fine summer’s day.

And yeah, plenty of photo opportunities.

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

Hiking the Valbona to Theth route – and much of Albania’s Accursed Mountains – is NOT possible during winter.

Summer is hot, so set off early.

Yet, much of the hike is amid shaded forest.

Especially so after the Valbona Pass, at 1812 meters, when going down towards Theth.

old communist bunker on valbona hike in accursed mountains of albania
Everywhere across Albania – even amid the Accursed Mountains – there are these bunkers. 360,000 of them. Remnants from the Communist-era of the dictator Hoxha, who thought invasion from any side was possible – by Italy, Greece or even Communist Yugoslavia.

This defense strategy nearly bankrupted Albania. It also kept real infrastructure from ever being realized (like enough public housing).

You can get water easily on route. I drank water straight from streams, without purification.

Take at least 1.5 liters to start and top up when you can.

Directions for the Valbona to Theth hiking trail

Red and white stripes on rocks and trees mark the trail.

BUT not so much when leaving from Valbona.

From Valbona, walk up the asphalt road to the forest trail-head and follow the wide river and head to the village of Ragam. From there, the trail markings get better as you follow a decent track up to the Valbona mountain pass and then it’s all downhill following an obvious forest path to the deep valley where you’ll cross a river and see Theth.

road accident memorial on theth mountain road in 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. His truck had slid on black ice and plunged over.

WHAT TO TAKE on the hike

Wear boots.

I wore hiking sandals – but not the best, 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 light fleece and a waterproof jacket, for unexpected downpours and sudden chill.

valbona to theth hike mountain-flowers and valley vista in albania
Having followed the river from Valbona, now above the valley for another perfect snack-stop vista!

Travels in Albania – 2015 (updated 2022)

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