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Riding towards Vjosa River – the last wild river of Europe

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From1,638 €
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6033
12 days, 11 nights, 9 riding days
Availability : 2022: 02.07 - 13.07 & 01.10 - 12.10
Max People : 10
Overview
This trail combines a challenging riding experience in different landscapes with many possibilities of swimming in rivers, river hiking, canyon exploring, camping, sharing time and accommodation with local people, visiting rare culture monuments, meeting monuments of Albania’s communist dictatorship past. Local traditional food, famous Permeti Raki and wine tasting, livestock rituals and city night life will make this trail very diverse in experiences. Meeting river Vjosa the last wild river in Europe riding along it and camping in the river bed is the most beautiful experience of this trail. Vjosa “the blue heart” of Europe along its entire course of over 270 kilometres is untamed ,free flowing and characterized by beautiful canyons, braided river sections, islands, oxbows and meandering stretches. Vjosa River is one of the most complex habitats for spawning fish and migratory birds.

Programms 2022

02.07 - 13.07 Vjosa Trail
01.10 – 12.10 Vjosa Trail

Pricing

1638 Euro / Full board

Included: Included: All accommodations and meals from dinner of day 1 till breakfast of day 8, English speaking guide, second guide (if more than 4 riders), water and drinks during the meals, luggage transport by car from destination to destination.

English speaking guide, second guide (if more than 4 riders), water and drinks during the meals, luggage transport by car from destination to destination.

Not included: Flights, entrance tickets in monuments or parks, lunch on day 1, extra drinks, other services or expenses during free time, meals, drinks and extra activities on Day 8, which is a free day.

Single Supplement

It may be possible to pay for a single supplement on the first and last night of the trail, but riders must be prepared to share accommodation on the other nights. Single supplement if we provide a single room is 20 Euros per night paid here.

Small Group Supplement

This is applicable if only 4 riders are booked onto the ride. If, at the time of departure, more than 4 riders are booked, the small group supplement will be refunded. Small group supplement is 148 Euros/person.

Please note: All itineraries are given for your guidance only and it may be altered on the ground and in accordance with the prevailing conditions by the organising team. Vjosa is a new trail and guides are looking in progress for better paths. The itinerary might change slightly if better options are found .The group will be informed about every change if it happens. The changes are not expected to effect the length or the good quality of the trail.

Health (ride specific)

Corona Virus Note: All policies regarding Covid 19 situation are subject to change and we will keep you updated about them in Albania in progress during 2023.

Please take along sun cream and anti-allergy medicine for possible insect bites.

Film and Camera Equipment

Internet access will be difficult during the ride. Riders can buy an Albanian sim card/phone number for round €13 and have free internet access and around 30 minutes of free calls with most European countries. 
Access to electricity is possible every evening and the whole area is covered very well with signal. 

Packing List

Normal riding clothes: riding hat, long sleeved shirts (please avoid packing your favourite or expensive clothing due to risk of damage) riding trousers and chaps, gloves. 
Good mountain shoes – with a grip for walking but not too thick as you will need to ride in them too. Normal riding boots with a smooth sole are not recommended as they can be slippery when walking on foot.
Waterproof raincoat 
Casual clothes for the evening, swimming suit, river shoes, personal towels, sleeping bag, warm clothes for the night, and towels for bathing in rivers.
Sun cream, sunglasses, hat, personal towels, water bottles.
Anti-allergy medicine for possible insects bites
Camera – please bring small cameras as large professional ones are very difficult to transport on horseback. 
Copy of passport
Personal saddlebags are welcome if riders would like to bring their own. Small saddlebags are provided by the ride but just for food and water.

Travel Summary

Meeting-points :
Tirana airport (TIA) or Saranda Port – fly to Corfu and take the boat to Saranda (CFU).

Transfer:
Tirana airport to Gjirokastra (round trip) : €90 per person, (45 Euro one way) 225 km, 3 hours

We organise two transfers from the airport every Saturday, the first one at 12.30 and the second at 14.30 Flights that fit our normal transfer’s schedule should be planned to arrive no later than 14.30 pm and departures not earlier than 12 o’clock (midday)

Riders that arrive in Tirana one day in advance will be advised to arrive at the airport for the transfer of 12 o’clock or 14.30. We can’t organise transfers from Tirana. It is very easy and cheap to reach Tirana airport by bus. There is a bus every hour starting from the center of Tirana (behind the opera palace)

Private transfer from or to Tirana: 1 person 140 Euro (one way)
2 Persons 70 Euro each (one way )
3 persons or more 55 Euro each one way.

Note: (Riders can book a private transfer if it is impossible to book flights that fit our normal transfers schedule)

Saranda port to Gjirokastra (round trip) : €50 return per person, 64km, 1 hour 15 minutes

Note: We can organise transfers based to the ferries’ timetable for 2023. Normally 1 in the morning and 1 in the afternoon.

Help the riding center: Albania doesn’t have any equestrian shops, so it is very difficult for us to reach the tack market. If possible, please bring with you an old pad, or halter, rope, girth, bridles or other equipment that you don’t need. We would be very thankful.

Itinerary

Itinerary

Day 1
Plan your flight to arrive at Tirana airport ideally in the morning, but no later than 14.30 – this leaves time for the transfer and to be able to visit the town of Gjirokstra. Driving to Gjirokastra will take round 3 hours. Settle into your hotel, 10 minutes walking from the centre of historical Gjirokastra .You can have a walk around the historical town and the old Bazaar before dinner. Riders can also visit Enver Hoxha’s house, Gjirokastra castle, the church of the Old Bazaar, the mosque of the Bazar and Skenduli house representing an ideal sample of Gjirokastra traditional life. Dinner will be served at a traditional restaurant. During dinner your guides will be able to speak to you about the trail: possible requests or needs, advice and things which are good to know. We recommend that you buy a map of the area before dinner in order to gain a good understanding of the itinerary.

Day 2

After breakfast at the hotel and allocation of horses, we will start to ride through the countryside towards the medieval village of Karjan. This village is traditional, a rural stop of the passing caravans with its small churches and old roman bridge. The road to reach this destination passes through a rural environment; small houses, gardens, traditional farming and cultivation of the land. The route combines hilly landscapes, valleys, small water streams and cliffs. This path also passes along the view of River Drino, “Tree of Life” river. It is the most important water basin in the area and part of ancient pagan beliefs. On your way you will meet the ruins of the castle of Santa Triada reconstructed during 1809-1810 by Ali Pasha, a strategic point to control all the caravan itineraries. The castle ruins were used later during the time of socialism for military issues. We will stop for lunch in Shen Toder village. After another 1,5 hours riding after lunch, we will reach Karjan village and accommodate by a local family. Dinner will take place in the local house. You will taste the local food grown in their garden, raki and wine.

Riding hours: 4,5

Day 3

After breakfast we will ride down along Drino’s valley first to Andon Poci village, later Hundkuq village and the ride will become challenging entering a small forest before reaching Labova of Zhapa. This village is well known all over the South for its wonderful Church and the big houses belonging to the merchants which are now mostly ruined. Labova is the birthplace of Vangjel Zhapa, the organizer of the first Modern Olympic Games. Zhapa was a well-known businessman and philanthropist who lived around 200 years ago. Labova will be our lunch picnic stop. After visiting the church a very unique mediaeval building you will start riding up the mountain. You will be impressed by the mountain’s rare vegetation such as mountain tea, oregano, wild rose and other endemic plants like digitalis or ‘Dig–Dag’ as it’s known locally. We follow the mountain path to the valley of Cajupi where we stop by a cattle of 1000 sheep. This place will be our camping place for the night. You will have the chance to taste the Brati famous spring water, a typical station of the old caravans and visit a small mediaeval tower of protection called “karakoll”. Riders can experience the sheep milking process and cooking with the shepherds. (This day the guides might decide to take a shorter path to Cajupi valley and go again for a ride in the afternoon in the mountains around Cajupi’s valley depending on the temperatures of the day)

Riding hours: 5

Day 4

After a nice traditional breakfast, the trail will follow the medieval Caravan pathway with its famous bandit hideout ‘Hija e Mallkuar’ or ‘The Cursed Shadow’. From here, medieval thieves could rob the caravans passing through Zagoria. You will continue riding to the most important horse pathway of the XVII and XVIII century which used to connect the biggest commercial centres in Southern Albania. A very beautiful natural monument is the Rock of Zhej that can be seen along the way. We will stop for a short break at the water spring of Lliar, reconstructed by Ali Pasha in the early XIX century. We will take a challenging downhill route to the ruins of a mediaeval stone bridge (the bridge collapsed on February 2018) where we will stop for lunch and for a long refreshing swim in the river. In the afternoon we will climb Hoshteva village your destination for the night. In this village now live only 30 people. Hoshteva has a unique church which was initially built in 999AC and last restored in 1866 . The monument has a very particular style with lots of pagan elements on the wall paintings. We will continue further to the church of the Monastery of Nivan built during 1702 and later cross a symbolic bridge over Zagoria river to end the day in Nderan one of the most important villages of the area. Will spent the evening and night with a local family.

Riding hours: 5

Day 5

This day ride will start with the way back to Hoshteva and then mountain climbing to reach Gjurmemushka mountain pass. Once reaching the top we will then ride mostly downhill. The trail passes by Maleshova village to visit the church and by Limari antic castle ruins. A picnic lunch will take place next to a water stream and rest under the trees. River Vjosa view opens up to you from the top of the mountain along your afternoon ride .You will spent the night in a village guest house in Grabova village. This is forgotten area very isolated due to the lack of roads and immigration but still very welcoming. The accommodation is very comfortable and modern. You can experience the traditional way of cooking outside and the famous “petanik” a special pie of the mountains. Grabova is a Raki area and very well known for their “spoon” deserts. You will have dinner in the terrace of the guest house with the wonderful view of river Vjosa flowing 200m away.

Riding hours: 6

 Day 6

After breakfast you will start the ride downhill to reach river Vjosa. The rest of the ride for the day will take place on the right of the river bank. The landscape is amazing, very different from the other days with many chances for long gallops. We will stop for swimming next to Piskova village on the dry part of the river bed. We will enjoy very good food cooked by a small restaurant in Permet transported by car to the river stop. Fishing is also possible if there is interest for it. You can swim the whole afternoon and after ride the last 1,5 hours to Permet small town. After the accommodation of the horses we are spending the night close by in a small hotel 10 minutes walking from the center. Dinner will be at a traditional well-known restaurant.

Riding hours: 3

Day 7

This is a free riding day. We suggest to drive you to Benja thermal waters in Langarica canyons 30 minutes away from Permet. There are chances of exploring the canyons, swimming, and the “most brave” can go river hiking to explore the “Pigeons Cave” on a rock along Langarica river. We have planned having lunch in a restaurant close to the canyons and return back to Permeti town late in the afternoon. Dinner will be served in a small restaurant close to the hotel. During this day is possible that you make your own resting plan if you don’t want to join this program.

Riding hours: None (but taking care of the horses yes)

Day 8

This is going to be one of the longest and most difficult days. Long sleeves because of branches are needed. The ride is mostly climbing Dhembel Mountain. The view is amazing. Picnic lunch will be carried in the saddle. The car can’t reach us before the final destination during this day. You will meet logistic in Hoshteva Zagoria. We will camp next to Hoshteva’s church under the trees. The whole group will be involved in cooking dinner and will later eat under the stars. The camping place is really beautiful and a unique experience.

Riding hours: 6

Day 9

This morning will be a really exciting equestrian experience. After a fresh country breakfast we will ride through a mountain valley, perfectly suited for gallops, passing small remote farms, wild cliffs and many historical small routs off the tourist trail. The route through Pogoni region is a true travel in time. We will be passing by ancient ruins and mythical natural wonders. Our picnic lunch will be near the most famous stone bridge of Hllomo or Kacarello’s, which is the most isolated construction of the merchant’s period and can only reached by horse. In the afternoon, we will reach the centre of the Pogon region. The mountain village of Polican is populated by a Greek minority. You will spent the night with a Greek minority family. In their accompany you have the chance to explore some very particular cult monuments of the medieval period. Later in the evening you will enjoy local gastronomic delights. This village is one of the most important territories of mountain honey in South Albania and it offers nearly 10 different tastes of honey as per season and bee pasture. 

Riding hours: 6

Day 10

This riding day combines changing landscape and different riding pace. Wide valleys, steep downhills, green forests and the beauty of Suha River are part of your itinerary . We can stop to swim in Suha river, explore the bridge, the waterfalls and caves along the river. Later we are climbing the Swallow Rock. The climb will be a special equestrian experience. Will reach the village of Labova of the Cross for a late lunch in a traditional guest house and restaurant. Before the afternoon ride will visit the church of Labova of the Cross one of the most important in the country. This church was built by Justinian the Great in 554 as a smaller chapel. Justinian married Teodora his wife this church and the villagers inherited her wedding dress for centuries. The monument was reconstructed during the X-th century and is decorated with an old wooden iconostas full of floral and symbolic animal scenes. 
The ride to Libohova, a small town nestled at the foot of the Bureto Mountain will take another 2 hours. The archaeological evidence indicates a very ancient settlement which reached its zenith in the 17th-century when it became an important commercial centre. During the afternoon is possible to take a long walk and visit Libohova’s castle, a Bektashi cult object and to the tomb of Ali Pasha’s sister, Shanisha You will overnight in a local family house and will taste delicious local food.

Riding hours : 5

Day 11

This will be a short riding day. This morning we will ride through rolling hills, Drino’s valley and few water streams before climbing a steep hill to reach Antigonea National Park where we will stop for a visit. Antigonea was built by King Pyrrhus in 295 BC and named after his first wife Antigona, daughter of King Ptolemeus of Egypt. After the break we will ride 1 more hour to the stable where you can enjoy the experience of letting free your horses. A picnic lunch prepared by your last hosting family will follow in the village “Asim Zeneli” 5 minutes drive from the stable. Later you will be accommodated at the same hotel in Gjirokastra. Your farewell dinner will take place in a small restaurant in the old Bazaar. Later in the evening we can have a drink in a popular bar. 

Riding hours: 3,5

Day 12

After breakfast at the hotel you will be transferred back to the airport of Tirana.

Map

Photos