To travel in the autumn, in the Valbona valley, you need to prepare not only materially for what you should bring with you, but above all spiritually, to face and emotionally enjoy the amazing beauty of this National Park of Northern Albania, which is now frequented not only by foreign tourists but also by Albanians, fed up with the sea and in search of adventure.Valbona is not only a naturalistic destination of Albania, it is a complexity of interesting phenomena, like all the rest of the Albanian Alps, which includes all the meanings of beauty. Valbona shows its travelers its majesty through its mountains, its depth through the woods and cliffs, its purity through crystal clear water where the golden trout dance, its hospitality through the wonderful people who live there, its beauty through the colorful clothes of the women of the area.
Every place that Valbona shows you is synonymous with beauty. The road to Valbona is a stupendous race between mountains and underground waters, passing through the Fierza valley, autumn has given the bushes a "rust" color, transforming the landscape into a true spectacle of colors - with various shades of red - that it is reflected on the green surface of the lake.
The Valbona Valley is located in the northern part of the country, east of the Albanian Alps massif, in Tropoja. The valley begins in the west with Qafa and Valbones and ends in the south west with the Drin valley, near the dam of the Fierze hydroelectric plant. Its length from the Qafa and Valbones to the Drin river is 50,6 km. Valbona is located at 25 km from Bajram Curri and to reach it you have to go through the Canyon of Shoshani, Gryka and Klisyres and Gryka and Dragobise, and Quku i Dunishës. From the Shoshani Canyon to Valbona you pass through a narrow valley that has rocky slopes and beech and fir forests on both sides, while the road is unpaved.
The amazing images that start with the Shoshani Canyon continue with the Kelcyra vortex. Soon afterwards Dragobia appears, the largest village in the area, with stone towers of 100, 200 years and even more. Also on the road there is also a waterfall located several tens of meters high, perpendicular to the slopes of the mountain. Once past Dragobia, on the right side of the course of Valbona, at the foot of a cliff is the cave of Bajram Curri.Valbona has fascinated many foreign visitors who, amazed, returned to visit it. So far, however, it had never happened that visitors stayed there forever. This is what happened to Catherine Bohn, who came from distant America, "struck by the fairies" of this wild country. The mountain fairies shook the magic wand over Alfred's head and enchanted the girl to such an extent that she didn't want to go back to America, but chose to stay there, among the rocks and meadows where the boy had his home and lived with the brothers and with the mother Sose. Although in jeans and sneakers and not with the traditional dress and the white hat on her head, Caterina fell in love with this boy and decided to live with him in the mountains, abandoning the promised land forever. Today talking about Valbona it is impossible not to talk about Alfred and Caterina, who are the first to welcome you to Valbona to accompany you on the adventure.
Because I left New York for Valbona"I came here for the first time two years ago," says Caterina. - My vacations were scheduled for a week, and then extended to 11 days. I had heard a lot about it and was fascinated by the idea of an intact place, with a wild life, where there were no fences, there were no boundaries, there were no shops, there were no spaces in which to pay (obviously) to sit down and to rest. There were only very high mountains that almost touched the sky, green valleys both in summer and winter and small houses or farms where you could knock by day and night and always find someone to welcome you with open arms and that never left you outside. Valbona for me has turned into a fairy tale for children, with deep woods where you can lose yourself if the path is wrong, with elderly women who continuously knit, children always with joy in their eyes, and with woodsmen who wore the forest in the warm farm chimneys. All my friends had told me all this.
When I arrived in Valbona, I found even more. Valbona also had a prince charming, just like in fairy tales. I had read on the Internet about Alfred, who welcomed tourists in Fierez or Valbona, and accompanied them on walks through the mountains. I thought that surely it was an old man with more grandchildren than teeth in his mouth and that with them, passing through the mountains, he accompanied the tourists. I met Alfred on the ferry and when I saw a handsome boy instead of my grandfather, my first words, confused by surprise, were: "I came to be with you". He replied: "Of course".
To understand and learn about America or New York we must make it clear that they are not like in the movies, except in the Christmas or spring atmosphere. America is a place where people work. Since birth we have been taught to work, because laziness does not bring anything good in life, while working, respecting the rules and laws, doing what we have been taught, we will succeed in life. None of us asks what success looks like. They just tell us that if we work a lot we will succeed.
Young people work, the old are put into institutions for the elderly, where they feel neglected and die slowly. We move from one city to another for work and end up no longer belonging to any place. Those who never leave their hometown are generally classified as bankrupt and make insignificant jobs. No matter how much we work, so much money is never enough, so you have to work more and more. Parents see their children little because they are always at work.
Everything around us costs too much and we always need more money than we have. With this I obviously don't want to say that life here in Valbona is easier. Here in the winter it is terribly cold, electric power is constantly missing, during the cold seasons a deadly monotony reigns that kills the imagination and intelligence of young people, trapped between a past that refuses to leave and a future that is not still arrived."Journey to Valbona"
Today no one knows the paths of Valbona better than her. Caterina lovingly describes every inch of land, every beaten and untrodden path, every valley, every tree, every mountain peak and every stretch of the crystalline river, thus demonstrating an almost unreal love. From Valbona's love and passion for nature, she and Alfred have created an association to accompany visitors and show them the beauty of the Alps, they have also opened a website, in which Caterina puts her skills and knowledge to disposition of the territory and of the people who visit it. Caterina and Alfred called their association "Journey to Valbona". Alfred had already started this activity at his home together with his brothers.
He had met Caterina in one of the groups he accompanied to Valbona. After the arrival of Caterina, they expanded the initiative with the opening of the hotel "Rilindja". The whole family contributes to this activity starting from the reception to the outdoor trips with well-trained guides who know every path and path. This organization is the point of reference for the whole Valbona area and the Alps. Through this site, you can put yourself
in contact with all the host families of Valbona and beyond. To get a general idea of the cost of your stay, a night in a shelter or in the Rilndja hotel costs around 25-30 euros, meals included.
The hospitality of mountain people
Much has been said about the famous hospitality of the inhabitants of the Albanian Alps, but only by visiting these Alps can one be emotionally involved in some wonderfully preserved human codes in these places. The feeling you get thanks to this hospitality is indescribable. If you are not there in person to hear the welcoming words of "mother Sose" as she welcomes you, if you are not there to see how happy Caterina is with her Albanian boyfriend, if you don't see Alfred and his brothers, love with which they prepare what the tourists will take with them on their journey, how they caress the horses, how much passion and affection they put into the meals that the guests need, nothing can be understood about this hospitality. Therefore the only way to enjoy is to try, the only way to have fun is to dare, the only way to feel the beautiful Valbona is to go there and experience its hospitality ...
How to reach Valbona?
To go to Valbona from Tirana you must travel for 7 hours. The main part of the trip is the Tirana-Bajram Curri section, which also includes the ferry trip on Lake Koman. The incredible view of the mountain slopes, perpendicular to the waters of Lake Koman, is unforgettable. The streams and small valleys that connect the lake with the Drini river basin create small bays that enter and leave the mountain massif. During the ferry trip you can also see the two hydroelectric dams on the Drini river waterfall. The journey by ferry lasts two and a half hours and costs 300 "lek te rinj" (about three euros), while the journey from Tirana to Bajram Curri by bus, costs 1000 "lek te reja" (about 10 euros). Instead from Bajram Curri towards Valbona you can go in 4 x 4 machines but also with the line buses, whose tickets cost 150 "lek te reja" (15 cents).
The National Park "La Valle di Valbona"
Located in the province of Kukes and in the municipality of Tropoja, 25-30 km northwest of the city of Bajram Curri, the Park is located between high, steep mountains covered with fantastic colors in every season, thus giving the image of a full valley of mazes and surprises. This area covers 8.000 hectares and is considered the miracle of the Albanian Alps.
The weather conditions
The mountain climate prevails, also known as the climate of the highlands, but with lots of sun during the summer. The temperatures are never too high due to the location of the area. In winter the snow exceeds one meter in height. Annual rainfall is abundant, most of them fall between autumn and winter. The climate in this region is more suited to summer and winter tourism. It should be emphasized that due to the state of the infrastructure it is difficult to move without a guide for the roads in the area that are blocked by snow in winter. Thanks to local guides, however, it can also be visited in winter.
Flora and fauna
The park has countless biodiversity. There are forests of beeches, pines, firs, chestnut woods (Castanea sativa) intact, streams, rivers, etc. It is a park also rich in endemism and sub-endemism. It is one of the few places where the spruce (picea abies) is found. There are large mammals like the bear (Ursus arctos), the wolf (Canis lupus), the lynx (Felis lynx), the wild goats (Rupicapra rupicapra), the roe deer (Capreolus capreolus), etc. It also highlights the presence of wild birds and turkeys (Tatrao urogallus) and mountain eagle (Aquila chrysaetos), etc. In the waters of the river lives the otter, a species in danger of extinction worldwide (Lutra lutra).
The various activities and sports practiced
In general, walks in the open air prevail but other sports can also be practiced, such as climbing. Hunting is allowed, but only in certain seasons and for certain types of animals. For nature lovers there is also the opportunity to camp, always respecting the environment and in the permitted areas. Valbona is one of the most beautiful areas of Albania and its rebel river can be a challenge for extreme sports enthusiasts.
Article of Flora Xhemani. Published in the Albanian section of Albania News on 16 January 2012. Original title Valbona and Bukur .Translated by AlbaniaNews from Dorina Lulaj