Valbona Valley, Albanian Alps

A beautiful place, wonderful for walking, the Valbona Valley is a relatively undiscovered gem in the Albanian Alps. Accessible by paved roads a couple of hours from Fierza in Northern Albania (at the end of the scenic Lake Koman), the valley has slowly opened up to tourists over the past fifteen years.

There are a number of tracks in the valley suitable for different levels of experience. I tackled the relatively challenging track toward the 2,552m Maja E Kollates, with about 1,700m of ascent and descent on a ~16km out and back route. It is generally well marked with a reasonably obvious track.

Crossing the valley river (sadly soon to disappear into pipes as part of a hydroelectric scheme) the track headed steeply up the hillside. It was surprisingly open, a mixed blessing in the hot sun but the views were rather nice.

At the top I was not expecting to see a sign for a cafe, but clearly an enterprising local has identified a market, and this is the ideal location for it.

From here the track continued uphill at a more gentle gradient, passing through grazing land for cow bell wearing cattle, surrounded by impressive mountainside.

A right turn from the saddle lead to the trickiest part of the track, heading steeply up a relatively narrow, rocky and slippery path past large patches of ice below. In mid August I only came across ten people on the track, overtaking a couple and a group of eight with a local guide. Both the couple and three of the eight turned back at this point on the track. You should have decent boots, a head for heights, and a bit of experience to tackle this section.

At the top is a path to the right leading up to the 2,480m Kollata E Keqe, which I probably should have gone up (though would have ended up sharing with the group that was behind me). Instead I headed up toward Maja E Kollates, though didn’t go that far before stopping for lunch to enjoy the views.

During which I considered my options. There is no marked track to Maja E Kollates and the terrain looked challenging, without significant altitude gain or different views. There were also a few black clouds around, and descending back to the saddle in wet conditions would be treacherous. So I decided to return.

Unusually the return journey was nearly as interesting as the walk out, with the afternoon light bringing to life the mountains.

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