For those of you who don’t want to read the whole story, here’s the short answer: Theth. And no it’s not a close call, well at least not for us.
Also known as Thethi, is in the North-eastern part of Albania, the Albanian alps. We were here the first time in 2018 and immediately loved it. You drive to Theth, following the SH-21 from Koplik. The first part of the road is asphalt, but from then on it was an unpaved, rough road through the forest. At least so it was in 2018 as there are now roadworks. When we travelled it (september 2020), it was gravel, it will probably take another year before the road is fully finished. Until then, Theth is hard to reach, really of the beaten track. Up until now you needed a 4wheel drive for most parts of the roads. But exactly the hard to reach part was what made Theth so great. Wild, unspoiled nature, freedom, pure, very little tourism, peaceful, quiet and lots of space. If you want to experience it for yourself, I advise to go there next spring, before anyone can get get there easily.
Theth itself is a small town with a little shop that basically only sells potato chips and beverages. It is an excursion to get a bread, which we finally got for free from one of the locals! There are some campsites that are nothing more than a fenced of peace of land near someone’s house and a few guest houses. But you can camp anywhere you like and there are beautiful places everywhere.
The “roads” through Theth are unpaved and mostly follow the riverbed. The bedding is dry for most of the year. But there are other rivers, small streams and a waterfall. Theth is surrounded by forests. And beautiful high mountains. There are a few walking trails, including the path to Valbona and the path to the Blue eye (small deep blue lake). None of the hikes are easy, even if they are marked as easy! There is now an tourist information point, but don’t expect any hikingmaps, or internet for that matter. You’re lucky if you have cellphone coverage. Isn’t that just great ;).
If you haven’t gotten enough of off-road driving, you can always follow the road from Theth to Shkoder (in the direction of Blue eye). It doesn’t have a road number, like the good road from Koplik. It is known as the “bad” road from Theth. We drove it in 2018 and it took us 7 hours to cover the distance of 60km…. At some point we weren’t even sure which part of the terrain was the road….
You can reach Valbona by car in two ways. From Shkoder you take the SH-5 to Fushë-Arrez and then the SH-22 to Bajram Curri, where you follow the signs to Valbona. It is a long drive on a mostly paved road, although in need of some repairs. Or you drive to Koman and then take the ferry to Fierzë, where you follow the SH22 as above. Taking the ferry is a must do and not just because of the conditions of the road (mostly paved, no 4 wheel drive necessary). The ferry goes through the gorge of the Komani lake. There are no roads there and is simply beautiful!
From Bajram Curri you drive in to Valbona through a good road. There is a beautiful river alongside it. But the concrete construction of the road hides a lot of that beauty. Valbona is a long stretched town along the main road, which ends in a parking lot from where you can start the hike to Theth. There are a lot of hotels and guest houses. To us it has none of the charm Theth has. It is all concrete and grey river bedding and waste. At several points in Valbona there are signs saying “keep Valbona clean”. Well they’re a waste of fine wood. The whole area is covered in trash. Loads and loads of plastic, but also debri from building sites, empty cans, old furniture, you name it. And oh, lets not forget the dead horse!
We drove into Valbona on a Sunday afternoon. We were practically the only ones. Everybody else was driving out of it. Several touring cars included. We saw some local families having a picnic dinner along the river. And I wondered how they felt about their valley now being a tourist destination. No doubt the asphalt road wasn’t there a generation ago. We’re worried the same will happen to Theth. To our surprise we saw a garbage truck emptying the dumpsters on Monday. So there really is no excuse for this mess! Litter is nationwide problem in Albania, but in Valbona it was really bad. And to think Valbona is national park.
It wasn’t easy finding a campsite in Valbona that wasn’t covered in thrash, but we managed. We went for dinner that evening but, well, it was edible, nothing more.
The next morning we went to the tourist information center. They didn’t have a map or any other useful information. We wondered what they do do for tourists, but decided not to ask. The young man pointed to a hiking sign clearly visible from the main road and that was all the info we got….. We checked it out, but it was just an uphill dirt road. Now in Valbona there is a working internet connection so we managed to find a general map and started a hike that was classified as easy, 3.5km long an would lead us in to the woods and along the bear trees, hopefully we would spot a bear (from a safe distance).
This “easy” climb went uphill, so steep that at some points we had to use tree roots etc to crawl up. It went along narrow paths next to deep abysses, without anything to hold on to. The path wasn’t well kept, at several places we literally had to crawl through bushes, following a trail that seemed just wide enough for a large rabbit… And no we weren’t lost! We were on the right track the whole time as in most places it was actually marked. It took us about four hours to complete, and all we saw was trees and bushes. So it wasn’t exactly a fun and easy hike. The next morning Kilian went for a bike ride to Çerem and after that we quickly left Valbona. Maybe some people love it, but we are not those people.
We had driven to Valbona and took the ferry back, from Fierzë to Koman.