Type of horses:
Albanian horses - a mixture of Tarpan and Arab.
Nature of horses:
Strong, sure-footed, hardy, resilient, adaptable.
Height of horses:
12.2 - 13.2hh
80kg (King Skerdilajd) or 90kg (Zagoria).
Discover the mountainous landscapes of southern Albania on hardy local horses, whilst staying with local families and learning about their traditions and cultures. Follow ancient caravan routes or trails followed by pre-Roman armies to uncover ancient artefacts and ruined castles. The challenging landscape holds a wealth of beauty and wildlife as you get well off the beaten track.
The local horses are a mixture of Tarpan and Arab and ideally suited to the mountain landscape. Although small they are strong and tough. Living always outdoors in this rocky environment ensures they are sure footed and trusting even across difficult terrain. For centuries these horses have been used by local inhabitants to pass through the mountains and transfer their livestock and bees from summer to winter pastures. During times of conflict and war, their horses transferred entire families to new villages. This breed was in existence in medieval times and even during the period of King Skerdilajd the breed were very similar.
Rides start from the town of Gjirokastra - known as the City of a Thousand Steps - which is a UNESCO World Heritage site since 2005. The town is surrounded by charming villages, byzantine churches, ancient ruins and spectacular mountain landscapes with forests, rivers and wildlife.
A highlight of the trails is the opportunity to stay with local families in their traditional homes and sample home-made meals and chat to the families over dinner. Your luggage is transported each day by vehicle, whilst saddle bags carry what you may need during the day.
There are two trails to choose from - one following caravan routes into the mountains, and the other following King Skerdilajd's route to the coast. Both have some very technical sections across challenging mountain paths and it is important that you are fit, active and not afraid of heights.
You spend the first and last night in a Babameto traditional house in the historical centre of Gjirokastra.
For the rest of the week you stay in different family houses in the villages you pass through. These are unique chances to mix with local families and experience their culture.
It is not possible to request single accommodation and so you should be prepared to share both bedrooms and bathrooms.
You will eat with the families who cook traditional, home-made meals for you. Breakfast consists of home-backed bread, butter, honey etc - all of which are locally produced.
Lunch is a picnic out on the trail.
The families will produce their own meat and dairy products from their own stock as well as making olive oil and growing fruit and vegetables. On some trails it is also possible to eat fantastic seafood and special dishes such as byrek (cheese pie).
Every family will offer mountain tea, and the famous Albanian Raki and wines are also homemade.
These trails are not suitable for non-riders.
There are some long riding days and so you may not have the desire or time for other activities, however, plenty of interesting historical visits to monasteries and churches are included along the routes.
Health requirements: You need to be fit as there are times you need to lead your horse in mountainous terrain. It is also important that you are not afraid of heights.
Age limit: The trail organisers do not have a set limit, but we do not recommend these trails for riders under 12 unless very fit and competent.
Included: Riding, accommodation, all meals (unless you arrive early on Day one), drinks, transfer of luggage
Not included: Flights, transfers, personal insurance
The nearest airport is Tirana. Direct flights from the UK are not possible everyday and so you may need to arrive a day early and spend a night in Tirana before the ride. For example, British Airways fly direct on Saturdays and Tuesdays. Otherwise there are many indirect flight options.
Alternatively, you can fly cheaply to the island of Corfu (with Ryan Air for example) and then take a boat across to Saranda port. The transfer from Saranda port to the ride start takes c. 1 hour.
Transfer costs are:
70 Euro per person return from Tirana airport
40 Euro per person return from Saranda port
Follow the medieval pathways of caravans through Zagoria, in a land full of myths, tales and ballads. Pass ancient ruins, remote churches and monasteries, as well as rare mountain bridges from the period of Ali Pasha. The trail culminates with a challenging climb to Swallows Rock. Stay with local communities and learn about their traditions and rites whilst discovering local grown food, Albanian Raki and wine.
You should aim to arrive in the morning. You will be met at Tirana airport and transferred 220km to Gjirokastra town, a journey of c. 3-4 hours. You will have time to settle into your room at the traditional hotel in the historical centre of Gjirokastra before meeting for lunch (to own account; provided you arrive early enough). In the afternoon you are free to explore the town, perhaps visiting the bazaar, Gjirokastra castle, the church, mosque or Enver Hoxha's house. We would recommend buying a local map as during dinner your hosts will discuss the route with you and may like to mark it. Dinner will taken at a traditional restaurant and the guides will be on hand to fully brief you for the week ahead.
After breakfast at the hotel, the horses are allocated and you set off on your first day of riding towards the village of Karjan which has been populated since the early Medieval period. Along the journey you will pass through a rural environment of traditional farming, small houses and gardens and cultivated land. You will cross hilly landscapes, valleys, small streams and some cliffs. The path passes the Drino river or "Tree of Life" river which is the most important water basin in the area with many ancient pagan stories. You will also pass the ruins of the Santa Triada castle which was reconstructed during 1809-1810 by Ali Pasha as an important strategic point along caravan routes. The castle ruins were later used as a military base during socialist times. A picnic lunch is taken near the village of Erind.
After 4-5 hours you will reach the village of Karjan, which was once a rural stop for the caravans. You may wish to visit the church and old bridge before dinner at a local family house where you will also spend the night.
Continue riding northwards to the village of Small Laboya and the beautiful valley of Cajupi. The trail follows the old cobblestone merchant road of Zhapa, with wide open views of the mountains and valleys - you may even find ancient market artefacts alongside the trail. Stop in Small Laboya with its wonderful church and large houses which once belonged to merchants. Laboya was the birthplace of Vangjel Zhapa, a well known businessman and philanthrop who was the organiser of the first modern Olympic Games c. 200 years ago.
After visiting the church, continue riding up into the mountains passing endemic vegetation such as Mountain Tea, oregano, wild rose or Dig-Dag (digitalis). Follow the mountain path to the valley of Cajupi where you stop for a picnic lunch under the trees. Here you can also taste the famous Brati spring water at a typical watering station for the caravans and see a small tower which protected them from bandits known as Karakolls.
The afternoon trail through the valley is across terrain which is ideal for canters and gallops and the horses are happy to oblige. Follow the medieval caravan trails past a famous bandit station called Hija e Mallkuar or the Cursed Shadow - this area saw many battles as thieves tried to rob the passing caravans. Your destination is the village of Nderan where you will stay with a local cow and shepherding family for the next two nights. You can help the family with the milking process, preparing dinner or collecting honey from their bees - this village is one of the most important producers of honey in Albania with nearly ten different flavours depending on season and flower type. Dinner will be a mixture of local produce with raki and wine.
This mornings breakfast is a traditional mixture of mountain foods - freshly made bread, cookies, butter, jam, eggs, cheese, honey and milk. Today you will be riding some of the most important horse pathways of the 17th and 18th centuries which connected the biggest commercials centres in southern Albania. You will ride past the natural monument "Rock of Zhej" and stop for a break at the water spring of Lliar which was reconstructed by Ali Pasha in the early 19th century. Continue downhill along a difficult route to an ancient stone bridge where you stop for lunch. During summer months it may be possible to cool off in the Hoshteva river. After lunch visit Hoshteva's unique church which was built in 999AD and has many pagan elements visible in its wall paintings. The ride continues past the byzantine church of Lliar and the monastery of Nivan Saint Mehilli, built in 1702. Cross the bridge which connects the monastery with Nderan village and spend a second night with the same local family.
This morning's ride starts in an exhilarating way, with many canters along the mountain valley floor. Pass small, remote farms, wild cliffs and many isolated monuments. This ride follows in the footsteps of ancient commercial caravans towards important fairs and today's route through Pogoni is a true step back in time. Many byzantine monuments, artistic ruins and mountain springs can be found alongside the path. The picnic lunch is taken near one of the most famous architectural monuments - the stone bridge of Hllomo or Ciminxhi's bridge - only reached by horse this is one of the most isolated constructions.
After c. 6 hours of riding you reach the mountain village of Polican which is populated by a Greek minority - here you have the chance to explore some of the cult monuments before sampling some regional gastronomic delights.
Today you leave the Greeks behind for the most challenging day of riding through the mountains. Follow the trail uphill to Swallow Rock, 500m above the Suha river and stop for lunch by the Church of Labova of the Cross. This rare monument represents the oldest church in Albania which was believed to have been built by the imperator Justinian in 554AD. The church was saving relics of its original cross until they were stolen in 1989. Justinian married his wife, Teodora in the small chapel and the villagers inherited her wedding dress and preserved it for centuries.
In the afternoon, ride on to the small town of Libohova which is nestled at the foot of Bureto mountain. This ancient settlement is home to a well-known Albanian noble family who share their name with the town. You can visit the castle which was the dowry presented by Ali Pasha when his sister married one of the most important members of the Libohova family. Spend the night in a local family house and join them in another delicious meal.
Watch the sunrise over the valley whilst enjoying breakfast in the garden. Before riding there is time for a guided walk through the town, visiting a small Bektashi cult object and the tomb of Ali Pasha's sister Shanisha.
Today's ride takes you through hilly terrain to the Antigonea national park, passing through the village of Suha. You will reach the national park in c. 3 hours. Here lies the city which King Pyrrhus built in 295BC and named after his wife Antigona, daughter of King Ptolemeus of Egypt. Plutarch wrote that the city was built by love but destroyed by hate. Enjoy a picnic lunch within the park before a guided tour of the monuments.
After another hour of riding you reach Gjirokastra town and the stables where you leave the horses. You stay in the same house as the first night and have a final dinner in a small restaurant in the old bazaar. Later in the evening you can take a celebratory drink in a popular bar.
After breakfast you will be transferred to the airport for your flight home.
|Minimum group size:||2|
|Maximum group size:||10|
|Ability description:||You need to be a competent rider with plenty of experience riding outdoors across difficult mountainous terrain. Some of the trails are technically challenging, whilst others allow faster riding.|
|Type of ride:||Trail|
|Total riding time:||8 days/7 nights/6 riding days (5-6 hours per day)|
5-12 March, 12-19 March, 19-26 March, 26 March-2 April, 2-9 April, 9-16 April, 16-23 April, 23-30 April, 30 April-7 May, 14-21 May (FULL), 28 May-4 June, 11-18 June, 25 June-2 July (FULL), 9-16 July, 23-30 July, 6-13 August, 20-27 August, 3-10 September, 17-24 September, 15-22 October.
It may be possible to book additional dates for groups - please enquire (no riding is possible December to February)
£825 per person
LOW SEASON OFFER: 10% discount on the trails in March, April and November 2017.
£111 small group supplement (if only 2 riders in the group).
It is not possible to guarantee single rooms and so you must be prepared to share.
Follow part of the trail that King Skerdilajd's army took to conquer Kaonia over 2,000 years ago, crossing some steep mountainous terrain and discovering the beautiful Ionian coastline. Stay with local families and discover their cultures and traditions as well as sampling local dishes and Raki.
You should aim to arrive in the morning. You will be met at Tirana airport and transferred 220km to Gjirokastra town, a journey of c. 3-4 hours. You will have time to settle into your room at the traditional hotel in the historical centre of Gjirokastra before meeting for lunch (to own account; provided you arrive early enough). In the afternoon you are free to explore the town, perhaps visiting the bazaar, Gjirokastra castle, the church, mosque or Enver Hoxha's house. We would recommend buying a local map as during dinner your hosts will discuss the route with you and may like to mark it. Dinner will be taken at a traditional restaurant and the guides will be on hand to fully brief you for the week ahead.
After breakfast and the allocation of horses, set out riding from Gjirokastra lake - you will notice how quickly the terrain changes from being flat to very steep. Ride through woodland and past small streams whilst climbing up and down hills until stopping for a picnic lunch at the monastery of Cepo. This monastery is an important orthodox cult site which is located on a rocky slope on the northern side of Wide Mountain and has fantastic views of the Drinos valley. Of the former historical complex, only the basilica type church, with domed roof, and a few former houses remain - these houses were once places where travellers could rest.
After lunch, ride down to the valley of the Kardhiq river where there are natural pillar rock monuments - these pillars are unique to the area and stand 3-4m high. The locals call them "Gods of the Light" but scientifically they were formed by erosion. Continue riding until reaching the village of Zhulat which is an important centre in Laberian Law Codic - this popular belief/law is believed to have been recognised by Zhulati Julie Pope in the 11th century. The codic was re-written by Idriz Suli in the 18th century and there is a statue of him in the centre of the village. Spend the night in a traditional village house with home-made food and drinks.
After a traditional family breakfast, set off riding following the route that King Skerdilajd's army took around 2,300 years ago. King Skerdilajd was the youngest brother of King Agron who died in 230BC. He was the commander of 5,000 troops sent by Queen Teuta against Epirus in 229BC to create an Adriatic Front against Rome. The path passes through woodland, over mountains and rocky landscapes and past many ruins from ancient civilisations - Basha stones, Dhespina cave, the Rock of Kaze, Valley of Cheries and Shameti Brook are some of the local toponims you will pass. After a long morning (c. 5hrs) you stop for lunch in a mountain valley. The afternoon rides continues through the mountains to reach the village of Borsh after c. 8-9 hours. You will again be staying with a family and enjoying a meal in the company.
This is a challenging day and you will have to walk on foot, leading your horse, for c. 1-2 hours. You need to be fit and wear good walking boots.
After breakfast you set out to visit the castle of Borsh (also known as Castle of Sopot) which is situated on a hill 500m above sea level and dates back to c. 4000BC. This rocky castle has held an important role throughout history and many remnants and artefacts have been found here - it has been held by the French, Germans and Italians in it's time! In the Middle Ages it was adapted for military garrison by Ali Pasha and one of his supporters, Haxhi Bendo, built the mosque at the castle.
Today is a shorter day of riding after yesterdays long day. Starting from the shore at Borsh, follow the old road along the seashore, passing olive trees and many citrus fruit trees. Many defense bunkers remain along the waters edge at Piqeras, an old fishing village. Leave the horses in the village and enjoy lunch on the beach where you can rest for a few hours and swim. The evening is again in a family home where you can sample fresh seafood and a special cheese from the area. There may also be time to walk around the village or visit the monastery of Kremansova if you wish.
Breakfast will be taken on a terrace with lovely views over the Ionian sea - here you can sample traditional byrek (cheese pie) and cookies, butter, fresh milk and honey. Your riding days starts by riding down through the olive terraces and onto the beach at Bunec.Then ride uphill again to Lukove village where you stop to visit the church of St Friday. You then ride downhill again, across challenging terrain, until reaching Shpella beach where you stop for lunch. You can relax and possibly swim for c. 2 hours before riding along an old road through jungle-like landscapes which connects the coast with the upper villages.
Finish the riding day in the village of Nivica - a well-known Christian Orthodox village where you can visit the church if you wish. Spend the night in a village house with views of the White Mountain and valley of Kalasa.
After breakfast, set out riding back to King Skerdilajd's army route. South of the valley of the river Kalasa you can see Foinike hill where Skerdilajd's army stopped to face the Epirot army in 229BC. Stop for lunch in the shade of some trees at the base of White Mountain. There are plenty of opportunities for long canters today! Later in the day, you climb the Neck of Skerfica mountain which was named after the pass the army crossed. Continue riding to the village of Fushebadha which is your destination for the night. An old phosphor mine (an ex labour camp for political prisoners) marks the entrance to the village but you will stay in a traditional village home.
Your final day of riding sees you returning to Gjirokastra. Ride downhill from Fushebardha to the valley of the Kardhiq valley - after the challenging descent you can open up for some fantastic canters and gallops across the valley floor. Eventually you reach Cepo monastery, where you had lunch on the first day. Rest here for an hour and then it's a 2 hour ride back to Viroi Lake where you say goodbye to the horses.
Farewell dinner and overnight in your traditional hotel in the historic area.
After breakfast you are transferred back to the airport for your flight home.
|Minimum group size:||3|
|Maximum group size:||10|
|Ability description:||You need to be a competent rider with experience riding outdoors in mountainous conditions. Some of the riding is technically challenging but there are opportunities for faster riding as well.|
|Type of ride:||Trail|
|Total riding time:||8 days / 7 nights / 6 riding days (5-6 hours per day)|
7-14 May, 21-28 May, 4-11 June, 18-25 June, 2-9 July, 16-23 July, 3- July-6 August, 6-13 August, 13-20 August, 20-27 August, 27 August-3 September, 10-17 September, 24 September-1 October.
£889 per person sharing
Single accommodation is not possible and so you should be prepared to share.