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Winter horse trail and culture / South Albania

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From1,142 €
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5175
8 Days, 7 Nights
Availability : December - March
Gjirokastra
Gjirokastra
Min Weight : 90 Kg
Max People : 10
Overview

Escape into a captivating winter experience that combines four days of thrilling horse riding adventures amidst ever-changing landscapes, with two days immersed in the rich culture of South Albania. Prepare to be enchanted by valleys, hills, small forests, rivers, and exhilarating uphill and downhill rides, followed by a deep dive into the region’s history, hospitality, thermal baths, archaeological sites, the Ionian coast, and the authentic lifestyle of shepherds. This unique program offers real moments on horseback, dynamic off-road explorations of unspoiled terrain, and the chance to discover hidden hiking paths.

The horses we ride on this journey are the local Albanian breed, a mix of Tarpan and Arab horses. Although small in size, they are perfectly adapted to the rocky terrain, surefooted, and accustomed to trekking long mountainous routes in all weather conditions. Riding these horses instills confidence, relaxation, and a sense of freedom, allowing you to fully embrace the breathtaking views along the way.

The carefully crafted itinerary pays homage to the winter season, offering adventure, fun, smaller group sizes, cultural immersion, historical monuments, local homes, music, art, and traditions. The riding route takes you along the eastern side of the Drino River, near the Antigonea archaeological park, delving deep into the valley’s ancient, medieval, and modern history. Food and cooking experiences, wine and Raki tastings, and interaction with the local community make this trail an exceptional journey, allowing you to become a part of Albanian local life.

Meeting people and connecting with their daily lives and activities is a social and integral part of this program. Many unique experiences offered in this itinerary are best enjoyed during the slower pace of winter, where you can truly embrace the spirit of slow life, dynamic rides, slow food, and slow adventure.

Price Includes

1142 Euro / All inclusive

* All  meals and accommodation apart from the extra drinks and ticket entrances in museums, cultural sites, art gallery etc.

Departure & Return Location

Arrival: Tirana airport (TIA)

Departure Winter Dates

02-09/12/2023 Winter Trail Albania

16-23/12/2023 Winter Trail Albania

13-20/01/2024 Winter Trail Albania 

27/01-03/02/2024 Winter Trail Albania

10-17/02/2024 Winter Trail Albania 

24/02-02/03/2024 Winter Trail Albania

07-14/12/2024 Winter Trail Albania

21-28/12/2024 (Christmas trail)

Single Supplement

Small Group Supplement

For participants who prefer single rooms, a supplement of €25 per night will be charged on the first, third, sixth, and last night of the trail. On these nights, participants can enjoy their own accommodation and facilities. The single supplement fee can be paid on-site.
If the ride has only three riders booked, a small group supplement of €148 per person will be applicable. However, if more than three riders are booked at the time of departure, the small group supplement will be refunded.

Please note: All itineraries provided are intended as a guide and may be subject to changes on-site, as determined by the organizing team, in order to accommodate prevailing conditions and ensure the best possible experience for participants.

Health

We still strongly advise consulting with your General Practitioner before traveling in 2024. It is important to seek their medical advice regarding any necessary immunizations or health precautions based on your individual medical history. Recommendations for travel health and safety can vary depending on various factors, such as destination, current health conditions, and other potential risks.

While the information regarding COVID-19 may be different in 2024, it is still prudent to consult with your doctor before your trip to ensure you are in good health and ready for travel. Keep in mind that travel policies and guidelines, including those related to COVID-19, can change over time. Staying informed about the current situation and any specific requirements for traveling to your chosen destination is important. It is recommended to consult official sources, such as government health agencies or reputable travel advisories, for the most up-to-date information.

Please remember to prioritize your health and well-being during your travels, even if the COVID-19 pandemic is no longer ongoing. Your General Practitioner will be able to provide personalized advice based on your specific circumstances, ensuring a safe and enjoyable trip.

Health (ride specific)

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

Attire:

Riding hat

Long-sleeved shirts (avoid expensive or favorite clothing)

Warm jacket

Riding trousers and chaps

Gloves

Footwear:

Good mountain shoes with a grip (not too thick)

Avoid smooth-soled riding boots

Outerwear:

Waterproof raincoat

Swimming Clothes:

Swimwear

Evening attire:

Casual clothes

Protection:

Sun cream

Sunglasses

Hat

Medical supplies:

Anti-allergy medicine for insect bites

Essentials:

Torch (flashlight) for walking to feed the horses in the evening

Photography:

Small camera (avoid large professional cameras)

Identification:

Copy of passport

Saddlebags:

Personal saddlebags welcome (provided by riders)

Small saddlebags provided by the ride for food and water.

In addition to the other items, including a torch (flashlight) is recommended for walking to the horses to feed them in the evening. This will provide better visibility and ensure your safety during this activity.

Travel Summary:

Meeting Points:

Arrival: Tirana Airport (TIA) or Saranda Port

Departure: Saranda (CFU) – Take a flight to Corfu and then a boat to Saranda

Transfer Options:

Tirana Airport to Gjirokastra (Round trip):

Cost: €90 per person (€45 one way)

Distance: 225 km

Duration: 3 hours

Scheduled transfers every Saturday at 12:30 pm and 14:30 pm

Recommended arrival time for flights: No later than 14:30 pm

Recommended departure time for flights: Not earlier than 12:00 pm (midday)

Riders arriving in Tirana one day in advance should plan their arrival for the 12:00 pm or 14:30 pm transfer

Transfers from Tirana can’t be organized, but it’s easy and affordable to reach Tirana Airport by bus. Buses run every hour from the center of Tirana (behind the opera palace).

Private transfer to/from Tirana:

1 person: €140 (one way)

2 persons: €70 each (one way)

3 persons or more: €55 each (one way)

Note: Private transfers can be booked if it’s not possible to schedule flights that align with the normal transfer schedule.

Saranda Port to Gjirokastra (Round trip):

Cost: €50 per person (round trip)

Distance: 60 km

Duration: 1 hour

Transfers can be organized based on the ferries’ timetable for 2024, typically with one morning and one afternoon option.

Assisting the Riding Center: Since Albania lacks equestrian shops, procuring necessary horse equipment from the local market becomes a significant challenge for us. If it’s feasible for you, we kindly request your assistance in bringing along any spare or unused items such as old pads, halters, ropes, girths, bridles, or any other equipment that you no longer require. Your contribution would be greatly appreciated by our center.

Itinerary

Day 1 Arrive in Gjirokastra, Albania

Plan your arrival at Tirana airport ideally in the morning, but no later than 13:00 pm to allow time for transfer and a visit to the town of Gjirokstra. The transfer from Tirana airport will take approximately 3-4 hours (250km). Your accommodation will be in a traditional hotel in the heart of the historical Gjirokastra. If there is daylight remaining, you can explore the new Bazaar, Enver Hoxha’s house, Gjirokastra castle, the church of the Old Bazaar, the Bazar mosque, and Skenduli house before dinner. During dinner, your guides will provide insights into the trail, address any requests or needs, offer advice, and share important information. We recommend purchasing a map of the area before dinner to gain a better understanding of the itinerary.

Day 2First Riding Day

After breakfast at the hotel and allocation of horses, we will set off on our ride through the picturesque countryside towards the village of Labova of the Cross. This charming village is known for its beautiful landscapes and historical significance. The route to Labova of the Cross will be moderately challenging, featuring hilly terrains, valleys, small water streams, and opportunities for enjoyable canters.

Upon reaching Labova of the Cross, we will check into a local guest house, where you can experience the warm hospitality of the villagers. The guest house will provide a comfortable and authentic stay, allowing you to immerse yourself in the local culture.

After settling in, we will visit the Church of Labova of the Cross, a significant religious site in the area. The church is known for its unique architecture and historical importance, offering a glimpse into the village’s rich heritage. You will have the opportunity to explore the church and learn about its fascinating history.

In the evening, you can participate in various activities at the guest house, such as helping with farm chores or engaging in traditional cooking alongside the family. This will provide a hands-on experience of the village lifestyle and create memorable moments.

Overnight accommodation will be at the local guest house, where you can enjoy a delicious dinner consisting of traditional local cuisine. The guest house will offer a cosy and authentic atmosphere, ensuring a restful night’s sleep.

Riding hours: 4 hours.

Day 3Second Riding Day

This morning, we will embark on a ride through rolling hills, the enchanting Drino Valley, and several water streams, followed by a steep climb to reach the captivating Antigonea National Park, where we will make a 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 for another hour until we reach the stable, where you can enjoy the experience of letting your horses roam freely. Lunch will follow shortly after in a village near the stable. We will return to the same hotel in Gjirokastra for accommodation. After a brief respite, we plan to visit the Cold War tunnel in Gjirokastra—a relic of communist defense paranoia that holds intriguing stories to tell. Before dinner, we will visit a painter’s studio, where the artist will share insights into local art, special painting techniques, installations, and the incorporation of traditional elements in his works. Discussions may also touch upon ideological art during the communist era. Dinner will be held at a small local restaurant in the historical area, accompanied by the presence of a renowned iso-polyphonic group—a UNESCO-protected world heritage—offering performances, songs, and explanations about the complex role of its members. Riding hours: 4 hours.

Day 4Monuments of Culture Day

After a freshly cooked breakfast, we will embark on an exceptional off-road journey from Gjirokastra to Butrint, a UNESCO-protected archaeological park. This challenging drive will take you through small remote villages, old houses, winding roads, off-road paths, small gardens, scarce animal sightings, old churches, and a palpable sense of time suspended in the past. We will pause to visit the ruins of Leshnica Church and have a coffee stop in the village of Cerkovica, where a local resident will provide a brief presentation on the area’s history and future aspirations. Continuing our drive, we will reach Butrint to explore the fascinating archaeological park. Dating back to the 7th century BC, Butrint has a legendary origin tied to the exiles who sought refuge after the fall of Troy. Having been occupied by the Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, and Venetians, Butrint boasts a plethora of remarkable archaeological structures, including a well-preserved theater, Roman public baths housing a paleo-Christian baptistery, and a 9th-century basilica. The sanctuary of Asclepius, the god of medicine, crowns the hilltop acropolis and dates back to the fourth century. Afterward, we will enjoy lunch in Saranda at a seaside restaurant, relishing an array of locally prepared seafood. On our return to Gjirokastra, we will visit the local art gallery, where the manager—an accomplished painter—will provide a presentation. Dinner will be served at a restaurant in the old bazaar.
Driving hours: Total of 6 hours.

Day 5Visit in Permet

Following breakfast at the hotel, we will depart for the Drinos Valley, tracing the path of the Vjosa River until we reach the thermal baths of Benja in Pwrmet. Along the river, you will discover splendid, warm-water, human-made pools—a hidden gem perfect for relaxation on a cool day. These baths have been believed to possess healing properties for centuries, and during the winter months, you can enjoy privacy and tranquility. As you journey, you will encounter the Kadiu Bridge, a cultural monument built in 1760 during the Ottoman period, offering a stunning view of the Langarica River—an entrance to the canyons. Throughout the day, you will have the opportunity to explore the canyons through hiking and swimming activities. Lunch will be served in the “City of Roses,” Pwrmet, where you will delight in the local raki and sweets. Later, we will drive to a remote area near Ballaban village to visit another unique farm that will serve as our accommodation for the evening and dinner. The owners will share their story of abandoning city life, pursuing their dreams, and living in harmony with nature. This will also be a special wine tasting experience.
Driving hours: Total of 3-4 hours.

Day 6Riding day

After breakfast, we will drive back to Gjirokastra to reach the horse stables for another day of horse riding. Today’s itinerary will take us through a rural landscape, featuring beautiful steep hills, small valleys, pastoral scenery, traditional farming practices, bush areas, small lakes, small water streams, cliffs, and remnants of defense infrastructure from the communist era. Throughout the morning ride, the captivating view of the River Drino—the “Tree of Life” river—will accompany you. The Drino River holds great significance in ancient pagan beliefs. Along the way, you will encounter the ruins of the Santa Triada Castle, reconstructed during 1809-1810 by Ali Pasha as a strategic point for controlling medieval caravan routes. These castle ruins were later repurposed for military use during the socialist era. We will pause for a picnic lunch near the village of Erind. After approximately 4-5 hours of riding, we will arrive at Karjan village, where a traditional dinner and accommodation await you at a local farm. In the afternoon, you can explore the village, partake in family activities, and assist in feeding, cleaning, and watering the horses.
Riding hours: 4-5.

Day 7Last Riding Day

After enjoying breakfast with the family and packing a picnic, we will commence our ride at 9 o’clock. Our route will take us first to Nokova village, where we will visit medieval churches. Continuing through the Lunxheria area, we will stop for a picnic in Dhoksat village. This village is renowned for its unique architecture and the use of black stone in construction, as well as its beautiful doors. A local expert will join us to provide insights into life, tradition, folklore, costumes, and ethnography of the area. After lunch, our ride will continue through cultivated lands, gardens, livestock areas, and wide meadows, offering captivating panoramic views. We will have another brief stop by Qestorati Lake to savor the scenery before returning to the stables from a different direction. The final leg of the ride in the afternoon will be the most picturesque, with several opportunities for canters and breathtaking hill climbs. After the ride, we will drive back to Gjirokastra, where you can take a stroll around the historical area before the farewell dinner. In the evening, we can enjoy a drink at a popular bar.
Riding hours: 5 hours.

Day 8End of Trail

Following breakfast at the hotel, you will be transferred back to Tirana Airport for your departure.

Map

Photos

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