Valbona National Park, also called the Albanian miracle of Alps, is a part of the Bjeshkët e Nemuna (Prokletije Mountains). It lies between high and craggy peaks bordering Thethi National Park, Gashi River, Plava and Gucia (Montenegro), all strictly protected natural areas. It is a transboundary park (Albania/Montenegro) with the highest biodiversity value of the country's mountain mainland. This park is also referred to as the Gem of Albania.
The name Valbona is used to refer to the turquoise colored Valbona River, which in turn flows through the valley bearing its name, and a small village in the valley, as well the general area informally. A wild, high, mountainous region inhabited by strong and fiercely independent people, the Malësi (Highland), for the history of Albania has been the region which was never really conquered or subdued by the various waves of invaders during the last 2,000 years of Balkan history. While the proper name of the mountains around Valbona specifically are the Gjakova Highlands (Malësi e Gjakovës), their name is most often translated in English as the Accursed Mountains, based on the name given to them by disgruntled Serbian would-be invaders.
Four villages are located within the park (Dragobi, Valbona, Cerem and Rragam) with 852 inhabitants. All of these factors create more favorable conditions for coexistence and socioeconomic development, including Valbona National Park. High and characteristic mountain peaks, lakes, numerous water resources, forests, mountains, flora and fauna provide conditions for eco-tourism.
The valley is known for the rare natural beauties, high mountains, biodiversity and natural monuments.
Flora and fauna
The environment of this area is quite diversified. Major differences between forms of relief, limestone composition of rocks, water, numerous springs and numerous types of microclimates enable biodiversity in the valley.
Valbona Valley is considered to be the only area in Albania, where a big number of forest formations with spruce (Picea abies) can be found, an important specie of Central Europe which is found at 850-1200 masl. Climate is suitable for beech (Fagus sylvatica), mountain pine (Pinus leucordemis), Balkan pine (Pinus peuce), mountain pine (Pinus silvestris), chestnut (Castanea sativa), nuts (Junglans regia), wild apple (Malus sylvestris) etc. It is an area where nature takes its place in the absence of human intervention, so it is generally virgin part of our planet.
This park represents one of the most important national bio centers of wild fauna. It is a habitat for large mammals, such as bear (Ursus arctos), wolf (Canis lupus), lynx (Felis lynx), deer (Capreolus capreolus), wild goat (Rupicapra rupicapra), wild boar (Sus scrofa). We can also witness the presence of western capercaillie (Tetrao urogallus) and eagle (Aquila chrysaetos). Sources of water, becks and glacial lakes are the basis of life for water insects, amphibians, and salmons (trout with red dots).
Within the park territory we can find vulture, stripped tailed eagle, woodpecker and a significant number of seasonal singer birds.
The valley has a mountain climate with harsh winters and numerous precipitations of rain and snow. It gets exacerbated when approaching the depth of the Alps. Valley it is the coldest area of the country. Annual air temperature average varies from 7ºC - 10º C and in places with altitude 4ºC - 6ºC. The coldest periods are from December to February. In some cases the temperatures go down -10ºC to -20ºC. Snowy season begins in late October and stays until the end of March. Snow reaches a height of 1.5-5 m and lasts 60-160 days. Summer is considered to be quite cool. The hottest months are July and August, the temperature goes up to 22ºC. The average altitude of annual precipitation ranges 2000-2500 mm/year and in particular areas over 3000 mm/year. The best time to visit Valbona are the summer and winter seasons.
From the capital city, Tirana, it costs 8€ to come to Bajram Curri and from B. Curri to Valbona Valley 2€. Minibuses (furgons) leave Gjakova and Prizren in Kosovo for Bajram Curri in the morning (€2.50 from Gjakova). Like the rest of Albania their schedules depend on demand.
Minibuses from Shkodra bring you to the scenic ferry across Lake Koman (500 lek). They leave Shkodra at about 06:30 and Tirana at about 05:00. The ferry leaves Koman at 09:00 and arrives in Fierzë at about 12:00. You will there be picked up by minibuses that bring you to Bajram Curri (costs a few Leks extra). From Tirana, minibuses using the ferry leave at about 05:00. Other minibuses go by road via Kukës or Gjakova. From Gjakova or other close Kosovan cities there are minibuses available.
- 1 Valbona Tourism Center, Rr. Azem Hajdari, 8701 Bujan, Albania. This is the official national park info center. Equipped with useful brochures, here you can buy a hiking map, find accommodation in the 2 multipurpose buildings, and use the exterior cooking areas, sport courts, water fountains, and parking.
There are no fees to be paid and you do not need permission to enter the zone.
When you are there you can get around by car, bicycle or better by foot so in this way you can perfectly enjoy the view.
In your journey to Valbona you may see 5 natural monuments which are:
- Rragami Spruce.
- Valbona Sources (Ujëvarat e Valbonës). N/A.
- Valbona Picea's. N/A.
- Kukaj Glacial Valleys.
You can travel around by foot or horses and they offer tourist guide for remote sites. You can make short walks around, hiking and scrambling, in winter trips – skiing, snowshoeing, etc.
Trips on foot:
- The Sand of Motina (Zallet e Motinës). You begin by crossing old farmland, then into beech forest, where after a bit you can find spots where you can get most of your body into the icy cold water, then emerge into sunshine at the slightly spooky Sands of Motina.
- Stanet e Gjarpërit. A great walk, but challenging mainly because of its length. The first part goes up the car’s road to Çerem, then turns off east to follow a little access road to the mobile phone antennas. This little road passes through abandoned orchards which are full of plums in late summer. At shepherds' huts (stans) near the antennas you turn north, and after a bit of steep hair-pinning emerge in the wide and windy meadows of the stans.
- 1 Dragobi Cave (Bajram Curri Cave) (From the Bregu i Lumit Poshtëm footpaths along the river, a trail head sign marks the beginning of the Shpella path.).
- Zhari i Bjezhz. From Lugu i Silkut you can begin to explore this open, airy region. You’ll pass two sets of abandoned shepherds' huts (stans) on the way down, which should afford even the least imaginative plenty of fodder for musing about the life that was once lived here. After that, the last few hours are a twisty windy path down through the Zhari – forest – of Bjezhz, where at some point you will pass the biggest tree we’ve ever seen here.
- Lower Picimalit and Source. The Prroni i Picimalit path begins in the strawberry fields of Mas Kollate, where a trail head sign will alert you to the start of red & yellow trail markings. Following the red & yellow markings all the way will end walkers up by the eastern end of the Dragobi Cave path.
- 2 Jame's Lake (Liqeni i Xhemës). From Hotel Rilindja, or from the Quku i Valbonës Guesthouses, or from the road (there’s a little sign), walkers can follow the single yellow hashes to Liqeni i Xhemës. More of a small pond really, the lake is spring-fed, still and beautiful and strange pure blue.
- River Banks, going down. From Quku i Valbonës, you can easily spend a day rambling along the southern banks of the Valbona River, heading east back towards Bajram Curri and ending up in Dragobi. You’ll pass an abandoned farmstead in Mas Kollate, and further on fabulous fields of wild strawberries in July, then pass through fairy tale old growth Beech forest. If it’s raining, you’re likely to find many fire salamanders.
- Çerem Path. This path goes up the western bank of the River of Çeremi.It’s better than walking on the car road, and shorter than the Stanet e Gjarpërit (Serpent's Hut) path.
Every year it opens the fair of Tourism Development Center where dominate national dress and crafts in the centre of Valbona, otherwise it's hard to find things to buy there.
The special in this valley in terms of food is the fact that food is traditional. Food is generally fresh and homemade, but it is sometimes canned and processed by the inhabitants of the village. Their way of cooking is entirely traditional. Particular taste you will feel with the cooked vegetables, grilled meat (fërliku), as highlanders say (lamb roasted on skewer), chicken, wild game and fish (mountain trout with red dots), fruit is also very tasty. Locals are the best producers of products such as meat, milk, wool and skins.
There you can find the most varied drinks including homemade drinks such as brandy and wine. Also you can find them in every restaurant and guesthouse there.
- 1 Relax Restaurant (It's located on Dragobi, in the place called Kollatë in front of the view of Bajram Curri Cave).
- Rezidenca (It's located on Quku i Valbonës). This is the most comfortable option, if your goal is to settle in for a while in luxury. It offers full board options, luxury rooms in traditional settings, self service kitchen and village settings. Prices range from 30-50€.
- Rilindja (From the place showing where James Lake is, 50 m after you go by the left side). Is the oldest operating restaurant in Valbona. It has 4 rooms, full board options and modern bathrooms. It costs 30-34€ per room including breakfast (2 persons).
- Farmhouse. Guesthouse/ Hostel. It offers homecooked meals, full board options. It has 5 rooms and modern bathrooms. It costs 12€ per person (with breakfast).
- Valbonë Eco Camping (In the center of the valley). Camping site 2€ per person.
- Përparimi Restaurant and Campsite (centre of Valbona Valley). 2€ per person.
The Tropoja area has an undeserved reputation as a wild lawless region beyond the control of the government and ruled by the Albanian mafia. Unexploded ordnance from the Kosovo conflict is also an issue when wandering off the beaten path. Note that the UK, Australia and Canada have travel advisories in place advising against travel to the northeast region of Albania, including Tropoja district and Bajram Curri.
That said, the law and order situation has improved greatly and travelers are likely to meet nothing other than friendly and generous locals.
- Bajram Curri
- Shkodra Take the Lake Koman ferry out if you didn't come by that way. It is a breathtaking journey through massive gorgeous on Lake Koman.
- Gjakova (40 km, 45-60 mins away, ticket paid on the van leaving from the town center). closest city in Kosovo with the largest Ottoman-era bazaar in the Balkans