“Let’s go on an adventure!”
That’s what I said to Christof somewhere around December. Both of us were completely fed up with the lockdown and not being able to travel and we needed something spectacular to look forward to. Something we had never done before and that would be worth waiting for.
So when I first heard about ‘The Balkan Trail’ and saw its inviting advertisement pop up on my screen I was pretty much immediately sold. As soon as Christof got home from work I squealed “WE HAVE TO DO THIS!”. And fortunately he was quickly convinced after explaining the concept to him.
The Balkan Trail will take you through the wonderful countries of Albania, Montenegro and Kosovo and within the time span of only 5 days you’ll see some of the most beautiful landscapes in Eastern Europe.
The transnational “Peaks of the Balkan” trail is a 192km circular route that will lead you through the remote and wild mountainous region of the Western Balkans. And with the Balkan Trail you skip the less interesting parts and you’ll hike a circular route of about 75km.
Curious about this one of a kind adventure? Then keep on reading for my own personal experience and everything you need to know before embarking on the trip of a lifetime!
The Balkan Trail – A 5 Day Hiking Adventure Through The Peaks Of The Balkans
Let’s start with a little history and how the “Peaks of the Balkans” came to exist!
A couple of years ago the German Development Cooperation joined forces with the national and local tourism organization and hiking clubs to bring the more abandoned mountainous parts of Montenegro, Albania and Kosovo closer together. By doing so they wanted to create an income for the local population and put this part of the world on the tourist map.
The transnational ”Peaks of the Balkans” winds through high alpine mountains and offers a diversity of beautiful landscapes, varying from jagged mountain peaks to green valleys, waterfalls and remote picturesque mountain villages.
And the best part? Not many tourists know about these hidden gems yet! And up until twenty years ago, the region was pretty much inaccessible for visitors. You’ll hike along shepherd paths and footways and you’ll be able to enjoy an authentic cultural experience.
The “Peaks of the Balkans” is a 192km circular trail that will lead you through the accursed mountains of Montenegro, Kosovo and Albania.
Accursed mountains? You remember that story about God creating earth in 6 days? Well it is believed that the Devil only needed 24 hours to create the accursed mountains. With his pointy tail he carved out deep ravines and with his claws he sculpted spires of rocks. All in all he actually created a true masterpiece.
Other theories are that the Accursed Mountains got their name from Slavic soldiers while trying to cross them. Cause back in the day you didn’t want to cross through these mountain passes. On the way from Vusanje to Theth this becomes painstakingly clear when you come across a bunker. Back then you would either go to prison for trespassing or get shot.
Luckily nowadays none of that happens and the accursed mountains truly are one of the last hidden gems Europe still has!
What is The Balkan Trail?
The Balkan Trail is a brand new travel experience created by TravelBase. One where you’ll explore the best parts of the “Peaks of the Balkans” in 7 days. In total you’ll be hiking an average of 75km in total and along the way you’ll encounter some of the most beautiful and deserted landscapes in entire Europe.
Some quick facts about the Balkan Trail
- 🏕 You’ll be sleeping in a tent at every campsite. There is the possibility to also book a room at the guesthouse but you need to do this from before.
- 🎒 You can choose if you carry your big backpack or not. I opted to bring a daypack to carry my camera gear and water.
- 🐴 You can give your big backpack with local transportation. This will either be a minivan or a mule to support the local people.
- 🥘 I strongly advise you to order the Balkan Meals. The food is absolutely delicious and freshly prepared by the locals.
- 🏔 The hikes are well organized and planned out by the guides who will also accompany you.
- 🚶♀️ You’ll travel within a group and can choose to either travel solo, with a friend, your significant other or a group of friends. Our group was a nice mix of all of the above.
Hiking The Balkan Trail – What To Expect
The Balkan Trail will take you through the rough and unexplored region of the accursed mountains. And while doing so you’ll be walking through 3 different countries: Montenegro, Albania and Kosovo. Within 5 days you’ll be discovering the unspoiled nature of this beautiful, yet still rather unknown area. Each day you’ll hike between 13 to 17km and the entire route is very well thought out. The trail is marked with red-white paint and every day a local guide will hike in front to make sure the trail is still in good condition.
In total 5 professional guides will hike along with you and the idea is that you stay between the first and the last guide. This to ensure that nobody gets lost or wanders off the marked trail. But no need to worry, you can hike at your own pace. I am for instance not the fastest hiker, hellooo short legs, and I was also stopping a lot to take out my camera to take photos. But I was still able to tag along and arrive at a decent hour at the next camp site 😉.
The Balkan Trail Map
Day 1: Plav – Vusanje (12,6km)
We arrived in Plav the evening before and to my happy surprise our tent was already set up! The last time I slept in a tent dates back to when I went to a festival over 7 years ago and that was in one of those tents that you simply throw on the ground and it stands up straight. Glad we didn’t have to worry about that on the first evening, we chose one of the tents and got our rental gear. The Balkan Trail offers the option to rent out a tent, sleeping mat, sleeping bag and hiking sticks.
After turning our tent into a cosy sleeping accommodation it was time to put our feet under the table and indulge in the local food and drinks. Afterwards we got our first briefing of the trip and some extra tips on what you’ll actually need. At the end of the trail you’ll arrive back to Plav so you can put everything that you don’t really need in a plastic bag with your name on and leave it at the basecamp.
Our wake up call was at 6am so everyone would be packed and ready to leave at 8.30am. Time to hit the covers and try to get a good night of sleep!
Rise & Shine! Time to figure out how to pack up our tent -insert head scratch- get some breakfast and get ready to leave for our first day of hiking!
The first part we hopped on a jeep and after a bumpy and rather adventurous ride we got dropped somewhere in the middle of the forest at the trailhead. By now my nerves were starting to kick in. What the hell was I getting myself into? I never did a multi day hike before?! Can I even do this?! How the hell do I adjust these hiking sticks?!
Luckily Shireen, one of our awesome guides, saw me looking in confusion at those sticks and she showed me how to adjust them to my height. Turns out that part was pretty easy! Now for the rest!
The trail started with a beautiful hike through a lush forest. There were a couple of switchbacks and some tree logs to crawl over but nothing to strenuous. The mist was creeping up through the trees and created a magical atmosphere and I was pretty happy I wasn’t hiking in the blistering sun! After a while we arrived at a meadow and were greeted by a ton of stunning wildflowers.
Now it was time to do some climbing and 1 hour, a ton of switchbacks and a face as red a tomato later we found ourselves overlooking the valley. At times clouds were covering the landscape but it all just added to the dramatic scenery. I literally jumped for joy. It felt so good to be out exploring again after being stuck at home for so long.
Next up, one of the most insane ridgelines I have ever seen and a surprise rainstorm. That’s the mountains for you, the weather can be incredibly unpredictable but moments like this all add to the experience in the end. To prevent your belongings from getting soaking wet make sure to bring a backpack with a rain cover or put your valuables in a plastic bag. I put my camera and lenses in a plastic bag and my passport and phone in a small ziplock bag. I use the Fjallraven Ulvö daypack and even that it doesn’t come with a rain cover it is waterproof and kept my belongings dry.
After drying up it was time to start descending and hike towards our campsite in Vusanje called Hartini. Now for that other obstacle… how the hell do we set up that tent? Well, the best idea we had during the entire trip is to get it over and done with immediately after we arrived. And let me tell you, setting up a tent, when neither of you have a clue how to do it, is an excellent relationship test. So is sleeping in one together by the way 🤣. But turns out we really underestimated ourselves and within the timespan of 10 minutes we set up everything and our cosy home for the night was all ready!
The rest of the evening was spent in good company and with delicious food, all the while admiring the sun setting behind the mountains and the moon rising above them.
Time to hit the sheets and as soon as I laid down and closed my eyes I was sound asleep.
💡 TIP – There’s a waterfall close by which you can visit.
Day 2: Vusanje – Theth (16km)
I wasn’t ready for that alarm clock at 6am but once I zipped open our tent and took one glance at the mountains I was wide awake. The fresh mountain air filled my lungs and I never felt more ready to tackle another hike. Our briefing last night was pretty clear: the trail would ascend slowly but steadily but afterwards there would be a steep drop of 1000m in just 2,5km.
Time to lace on those hiking boots and get going! Our first stops were the stunning Blue Eye in Vusanje and the Ropojane Valley. With mountain peaks on both sides I couldn’t help but hop and skip a beat while walking along the trail.
Unfortunately all that skipping soon turned into limping. Our next stop was a beautiful lake but to get there we had to do a short descend. For the first time ever I felt a sharp pain firing up in my knee. I had no idea what was going on but I immediately knew it was bad. It wasn’t just from my joints being tired, it felt like a knife stabbing me right underneath my knee. I immediately went to our guide Larissa and explained to her what was going on. She immediately taped my knee and gave me instructions how to properly hike down a mountain. Put your weight back, your walking sticks next to you and try to walk down like a gorilla.
💡 TIP – You can go for a swim in the lake so make sure to bring your swimsuit and fast drying towel with you.
Up next was a steep climb through the forest and while hiking up my knee felt perfectly fine. And again, all that heavy breathing and sweating led us to a beautiful meadow completely surrounded by mountains. One would say it’s the perfect place for lunch! We hiked a little further and found the perfect spot. We sat down, took out our sandwich and not even a minute later were greeted by another rainstorm. It’s definitely an experience, eating a drenched sandwich while you’re getting soaking wet from the rain and there’s no tree in sight to take shelter under. But we didn’t let it ruin our day! The weather soon cleared up and the landscapes were getting better and better!
There was another ascend coming up but it didn’t matter. For the first time in a long time I felt that sense of wonder and freedom again. To be out in nature and have these landscapes pretty much to myself is what I longed for for so long. With every turn we took the mountain peaks became more rigid and by the end of our climb my eyeballs were pretty much hanging out of their sockets from pure amazement.
By now we had arrived at the infamous descend and I was getting a little nervous. Along the way my knee was acting up again and I could feel the pain returning every step down. It didn’t take long until literally every step that I took was hurting like a m*therf*cker. And to add even more pain to the injury we suddenly found ourselves in a thunderstorm. Rain was pouring down but at least it was covering the tears streaming down my face. My hiking sticks had turned into crutches and I was going down the mountain at the speed of a sloth (you know, that super slow animal from Zootopia). I felt guilty for making the group wait and I was so afraid that I wouldn’t be able to complete the trail. Our guide Carl stayed with us the entire time and in a final effort he taped my knee even more to take some pressure of the joint.
What felt like 3 hours later we finally reached the meeting point and as soon as Shireen hugged me and told me how well I did I bursted into tears. I wanted nothing more than to shout at that mountain and to curse it the hell out of Albania. I guess they don’t call it the accursed mountains for nothing 😆.
A short ride and a refreshing beer later I was starting to feel like myself again. We arrived in the beautiful village of Theth and our campsite and guesthouse looked like something from a fairytale. There were puppies running around, a small church with rigid mountains as its backdrop and a cosy bonfire in the middle of all of it.
The guesthouse we stayed at is called Bujtina Dreni and I highly recommend staying here even if you’re simply staying in Theth for a couple of days. The owner Alvero runs this guesthouse with his family and he and his sons speak excellent English. They prepared a delicious local meal for us and will go to all lengths to make your stay as wonderful as possible.
After resting for a while my knee was starting to feel better but there was no way that it would be in shape by tomorrow morning. Plus the hike from Theth to Valbona is pretty tough so together with the guides and Christof we decided that I wouldn’t be hiking the next day.
Fortunately I wasn’t the only one and our guides arranged a different mode of transportation for us!
Day 3: Theth – Valbona (15,5km)
I woke up still flustered from the evening before but I decided that I didn’t want this day to go to waste. So together with my photographer in crime Gust I decided to visit the church of Theth at sunrise to take some photos. I highly recommend this cause in the early morning the mountains behind the church get lit up from the sunrise.Afterwards it was time to jump into a taxi which would take me and Nina, my fellow injury buddy, to a small harbor where we would take a ferry towards Valbona.
Honestly, we were pretty lucky that we “chose” this day to take a rest from all of the hiking. The ferry ride was absolutely spectacular and for 2,5 hours we were sailing on the Komani Lake, one of the most beautiful lakes in entire Albania!
Our next driver, Mexhet, was already waiting for us when we arrived and we were ready to go to Valbona! But before we reached our final destination Mexhet was so kind to stop by the Valbona river. This is one of the rivers that feeds the Kamoni Lake and its turquoise color was glistening in the sun like crazy. It was the perfect place to take some photos and the perfect way to end this trip.
And while I might not have any personal experience to share from the trail on this day I can share some stunning photos with you thanks to the talented Gust Deprez. On the other days our luggage was transported with a van, today however we used mules to support the locals. I didn’t see them for myself so I can’t really judge the situation but I do wish there would have been more mules so each of them had to carry less weight.
I do know that the trail from Theth and Valbona is one of the top things to do in Albania and one of the more popular hiking trails in the country. Along the way you’ll hike up one of the many mountains in the area and have a stunning view over the Valbona valley.
After all of the adventuring we sat down for dinner at our campsite at Villas Jezerca in Valbona. A beautiful guesthouse in the middle of the Albanian nature.
💡 TIP – The red wine here is delicious, make sure to order a glass with your dinner.
Day 4: Valbona – Dobërdoll (16km)
Rise and shine! Today’s trail will lead us through the beautiful forests near Valbona and to get there we first hopped on a small bus and those that wanted got the chance to skip the first 200 meters of climbing. So yeah, you can bet. on it that I put my hand up high in the air when they asked who was interested in doing this.
But first it was time to pack up our tent, have breakfast and try out the swing at Villas Jezerca!
At 8am we were ready to go! My knee had had a full day of rest and I was feeling completely rested, re energized and ready to tackle another day of hiking. According to our briefing last night today’s hike would have plenty of steady inclines and declines and I couldn’t wait to get going! Christof started the hike at the start of the trail and me and some fellow hikers got dropped off a little further. We figured he hikes so fast anyway that he would catch up with me in a matter of no time.
The start of the trail led us through beautiful flower fields and I even met a few fellow hikers along the way. They weren’t very talkative and mostly ate grass while walking but they did join me for the first part of the hike.
The trail led us straight through a beautiful and mystical forest and at our first rest stop we got some watermelon to freshen up. I didn’t even finish my first piece or there was Christof already completely catched up with the rest of us. We decided to keep on hiking and rest a little later on. After following the trail some more through the forest we stumbled upon another absolutely insane view. There was the option to have a drink a little more down but I was so much in my element that I just wanted to keep on going.
After a couple more kilometers we finally sat down to have lunch and started our final descend towards Dobërdoll. My knee was starting to act up again but nothing compared to a few days ago so I just took it slow and one step at a time.
But damn, these views. That’s pretty much all that was going through my mind when we were entering Dobërdoll. At one point I thought I wasn’t in the Balkan anymore, I thought I walked straight towards Iceland. Cows and horses were roaming around and little red cabins were perched on top of the rolling green hills. The only thing that was missing was a waterfall… oh wait there was one!
Our accommodation for the night, Bashkimi, was right in the centre of this remote shepherd ‘s village at a height of 1744m. The rest of the night we enjoyed a delicious vegetarian dinner and sat around another bonfire. In my opinion the perfect way to end a wonderful day of hiking.
💡 TIP – There is a waterfall close to the campsite which is perfect for photography and swimming (if you like cold water that is).
💡 TIP – This is the only guesthouse where you won’t have WiFi and where you can’t charge your devices. Make sure to bring a powerbank with you if you’ll need to recharge your phone.
💡 TIP – The toilets at Bashkimi are french toilets so make sure to practice your squats 😉.
Day 5: Dobërdoll – Plav (17km)
Time flies when you’re having fun and neither of us could believe it was already our last day of hiking today! Dobërdoll is one of the most beautiful places in Albania and today we would get an ever better glimpse of it. After packing up our tent for the last time we started climbing towards the Three-Country point. This is where the borders of Montenegro, Albania and Kosovo meet and it also meant the final climb of this 5 day trail. I can’t lie, I wasn’t too unhappy about that 😆.
One thing is for sure, Dobërdoll was my favorite part of this entire trip. Every step that I took. I had to turn around to take in the views. And every single time. I was completely blown away by what I saw. This also meant that I was one of the last ones to reach the summit but I didn’t care anymore. I didn’t care about the ache in my feet and the burning in my legs. I had made it!
Now all that was left to do was follow the trail back down which would lead us where it all began, our basecamp in Plav. But first I simply had to admire the views a little more! We followed the ridgeline which led us through. a part of Kosovo after which we returned back to Montenegro and a beautiful lake and the perfect place to take a little afternoon nap.
💡 TIP – You can go for a swim in the lake so make sure to bring your bathing suit and fast drying towel in your daypack if you want to do so.
Afterwards we followed our way further down and we even found another “swing with a view”! We all gathered at Babino Polje and from there small jeeps and busses brought us back to the basecamp. I couldn’t believe it, we had finished The Balkan Trail! Now all that was left to do was set up our tent one last time, put our feet under the table and enjoy one last Balkan meal.
The morning after the same bus brought us back to Podgorica. Christof and I checked ourselves into the Hilton Podgorica Crna Gora and the first thing I did was book myself a massage. Tired but happy we simply relaxed the entire day and prepared everything for our fligfht back home the day after.
Is it safe to hike The Balkan Trail
While the Balkan is a very remote region and for many years most parts weren’t accessible, hiking The Balkan Trail is very safe. The entire time you’ll be surrounded by professional guides who will give you tips and who will assist you when you have a problem.
The trails are well marked for most parts and when not, the local guide will put extra markings so you pretty much can’t get lost. They are also well maintained but do require you to wear proper hiking shoes. You can find more information on that below.
Is The Balkan Trail for me?
The Balkan Trail will take you through the vast and impressive landscapes of the accursed mountains in Montenegro, Kosovo and Albania. And in my honest opinion it’s one of the coolest and most original trips in Europe that you can do. If you love hiking and you’re a rather adventurous person then you’ll love this trip. It speaks for itself that The Balkan Trail isn’t a luxury trip but still, you’ll experience more luxury here than on a regular camping trip.
- Thanks to the Balkan Meals you’ll have fresh food prepared for you during the entire trip.
- Every guesthouse has decent toilets and showers with hot water. There’s even WiFi available at most of them!
- If you don’t feel comfortable sleeping in a tent you can arrange accommodation at the guesthouses at an additional cost. Simply send an email to The Balkan Trail so they can help you organize this.
The weather is a little colder up in the mountains but the only time I was cold during the night was when we were staying in Dobërdoll. The rest of the trip the temperature was a nice 20°C to 25°C in the sun. It can get hot during the day so make sure to bring sunscreen with you.
As for the difficulty of the multi day hike: if your basic condition is good and you can run 5km then you can complete The Balkan Trail. I am no Sporty Spice either and I did just fine 😉. Plus if you’re unable to hike on a certain day the guides will arrange another form of transportation for you.
If you have any additional questions feel free to ask them to TravelBase.
How much does the Balkan Trail cost?
Pricing starts at €490 without flights and €890 including flights from either Brussels or Amsterdam. In addition you can choose to add several items:
- Balkan Meals (€120) – This includes 3 freshly made meals per day and I highly recommend taking these. The food was absolutely delicious and you don’t want to be making your own dinner on your small stove while everyone else is sitting around the table.
- Camping Gear (€65) – If you’re not an avid camper like me then you probably don’t own your own tent. TravelBase provides you with an excellent and easy to set up tent, a warm sleeping bag and a sleeping mat.
- Hiking Sticks (€11) – I highly recommend using hiking sticks. The trails can be very rocky and they will take a lot of pressure off your legs.
- Luggage Transportation (€120) – There are two options: either you carry your big backpack with you along the trail or you bring a daypack with you for on the trail and give your big backpack to the luggage transportation. It’s a way to support the locals since they will be providing this service either by van or by mule.
So what is included?
- An adventurous 5-day hike through the accursed mountains in the Balkan
- All transportation during the trip
- A GPS-tracker
- The Balkan Trailbook
- Guidance by professional guides
What’s not included?
- Your stay in Podgorica after the Balkan Trail. If you want to go for a low budget option I suggest you book a room at Hotel Kerber but if you want to spoil yourself a little after all that hiking I highly recommend staying at the Hilton Podgorica.
Quick Packing Tips for a multi day hike
Let me tell you one thing, it’s not easy packing for a multi day hike! You don’t want to bring too much cause you don’t want your backpack to be too heavy but you also need to be prepared for any weather circumstance. I’ll be writing a detailed guide on this in the near future so make sure to keep an eye on my blog. For now here are some quick tips!
- Make sure to bring enough layers! It can be cold in the morning and evening and it’s usually pretty windy at the top of a summit. I brought 3 T-shirts, 2 leggings, 1 short, 1 fleece and 1 light weight jacket. I loved my super light jacket from Fjallraven! It was perfect to block the wind but never too warm.
- Bring a cap to protect your face from the sun and a woolen hat for a colder evening. I also like to put it. on after a shower so I don’t have to walk around with wet hair.
- You’ll definitely need good mountaineering shoes! Regular hiking shoes won’t do. The terrain can be pretty rocky and you’ll want that extra support around your ankles! Make sure you don’t bring brand new ones cause you’ll get blisters for sure. It’s always best to break them in a couple times before departing on a hike. I’ve had my Meindl hiking boots now for 8 years and they are still my trusted steeds when it comes to long hikes.
- Bring flip flops to wear during the evening and in the shower.
- Packing cubes will be your very best friend to keep your backpack organized. This way you can keep your clothes, toiletries, etc. separate.
- I wouldn’t have slept much if it weren’t for my earplugs! Sometimes there’s a water stream close by the camp site which can make a lot of noise during the night.
- Make sure to bring a fast drying towel! You don’t want your clothes getting wet when you have to start packing and your towel isn’t dry yet!
- Plastic bags are your best friend. If your clothes get wet from the rain during the day and you can’t get them dry you can keep the rest of your backpack dry by putting them in a plastic bag.
Where can I sign up?
The Balkan Trail takes place in July and August and for 2023 it’s completely fully booked. However if you don’t want to miss out on the chance. to participate next year I suggest you put yourself on the waiting list.
Let’s go on that adventure!
Charlotte Lint is the founder of Charlies Wanderings.
Charlotte has traveled all over the world and is based in Belgium where she also owns her very own dental practice.
She is an expert on writing efficient travel guides and finding unique places to stay.
Every month she helps over 134.000 people discover the most beautiful places in the world through her detailed travel guides.