Blood feuds and strict communism are now history. In front of us lie Albania’s impressive mountains and beautiful valleys. It is all viewed with a big smile.
Is there any thyme growing here? I can smell something reminiscent of spices. We look closer at some of the green plants on the ground, but soon have to stand up and enjoy the view. Again.
‘The Accursed Mountains’ (yes, that is their name) are part of the Dinaric Alps that extend through the Balkans. The highest mountain here in Albania rises over 2600 meters above sea level. Just on the edge of the chain where we stand now, we look at peaks of over 2200 meters. The mountains surround the little settlement below us, Bogë. The sounds of village life can be heard from our position high up on the mountain side. A dog barks, a cow moos, someone is using a hammer and the occasional car passes along the road.
We take a sip of water. We have walked uphill, towards the mountain summit, but we’re not heading for the top this time. The owner of our accommodation, ‘Bogë Alpine Resort’, showed us some trails we could take and we’re well happy with that today. We wave to the shepherd and his flock of sheep as we pass. Joe has explored some erosion in the mountains that looks like caves from below and we follow the red and white stripes that mark the path.
All the time, the mountains around us rest so peaceful and quiet, as they have been doing for many many years. Through Ottoman times, through Italian rule, through World War II and not least, the closed years, when Enver Hoxha ran the country with an iron fist.
The owner of Bogë Alpine Resort lived in Manchester for a few years, but then moved back to Albania and his childhood home. The main house was refurbished a few years back and since then he and his father have built a new building with several nice rooms, where we are staying. This building also contains a restaurant and a small shop, excellent for those who choose to camp here.
We follow the red and white stripes that mark the path
We are down on the main road again. Unfortunately, we do not see the cute little pigs we drove past earlier in the day. We walk over to the monastery instead and lay down in the grass on the hillside to the rear. For a moment, I feel like running around singing “The hills are alive …” in my best Julie Andrews style.
Joe wants to drive further up into the valley to have a peek. Maybe we can see Theth from there? Theth is a popular destination. Mainly because of its isolated location amidst this wild and beautiful landscape, but also for those who enjoy hiking in the mountains or want to experience the blue mountain waters of Syri in Kaltër.
For a moment, I feel like running around singing “The hills are alive …” in my best Julie Andrews style
We start up our rental car. The roads in Albania are notoriously rough, but if you drive from Tirana to Montenegro, the conditions are not so bad. It is paved, except in a couple of places where the river sometimes flows across the road. It is also narrow, but mostly you will find passing places, should you meet another vehicle. It’s when you get to the top, Rrasat e Thores, approximately 12 km beyond Bogë, that the road conditions change. From here it is rugged and if you do not have four-wheel drive, you will not drive to Theth.
20 minutes later we reach the point where the bumpy road continues to Theth. The sun will soon disappear behind the mountains and the shadows are long. It was worth the drive. We stopped along the way at a viewpoint and then on to the top. Ah, the mountains, you just can’t get enough of them!
It’s not just Hoxha who kept outsiders away from the mountains (well, the whole country really), also the stories about the Kanun. These are a set of traditional Albanian laws and go back centuries. There are four pillars; honour, hospitality, right conduct and kin loyalty. The last one made a strong impression and in particular, the rule of blood. If you murdered someone, the victim’s family had the right to avenge the dead by killing you. This led to blood feuds that could last for generations.
Ah, the mountains, you just can’t get enough of them!
It all seems like a distant memory for the old woman who is now smiling and waving to us as we drive down from the mountains again. We wave back and look forward to a long awaited hot shower. When we are dressed again, it is time to find some dinner. We miss our woollies as the temperature drops to eight degrees. Even with layers of summer clothes and a fleece jacket, we know that it would feel so much nicer with our warm clothes. A glass of wine or two will do the job for now. The food tastes great. The mountain view from the windows is replaced with pitch black. Later when we go to bed, the Accursed mountains are watching over us. Accursed? This place is a treasure, with more and more people finding their way here, both to Bogë and Theth. Should we come to any conclusion, it would be the fact that the ‘Accursed’ Albanian Alps are ‘damned’ beautiful.