South Albania program of 8 days, 7 nights is a winter unique offer. It combines 4 horse riding days adventure in changing landscape, of valleys, hills, small forests, rivers, steep climbing and downhill’s, with another 2 days of culture, hospitality, monuments, thermal baths, archaeological sites, Ionian coast and shepherds life. The program offers real moments in the saddle, dynamic off road experiences to explore the very unspoiled parts of the South and some hiking paths to be explored. The horses used on this ride (Albanian horses) are local breed mix of Tarpan and Arab horses. They are small but perfectly suited to the rocky terrain being surefooted and accustomed to trekking long mountainous routes, in all kind of weathers, allowing riders to feel confident, relaxed and free to enjoy the stunning views. The whole itinerary is designed as a dedication to a different season that has a lot to offer, in terms of adventure, fun, smaller groups, culture, history, monuments, local houses, music, art and tradition. The riding itinerary is placed on the East side of river Drino close to Antigonea archaeological park and goes deep in the history of the valley, the antic, medieval and modern one. Food and cooking experiences, wine and Raki tasting will be something really exceptional about this trail. Guests will have the possibility to interact, participate and live part of the Albanian local life. Meeting people and introducing our guests to their life and activity is a very social part of this program. Many things experienced with this offer can’t be enjoyed with the fast rhythm of the high season that’s why this is a suggestion for slow life, dynamic ride, slow food and slow adventure.
Arrive in Gjirokastra, Albania
Plan your flight to Tirana airport ideally in the morning, but no later than 13:00 pm – this leaves time for the transfer and be able to visit the town of Gjirokstra. The transfer from the airport of Tirana will take around 3-4 hours (250km). You will be accommodated in a traditional hotel, in the heart of the historical Gjirokastra .The new Bazaar, and if there is daylight left , Enver Hoxha’s house, Gjirokastra castle, the church of the Old Bazaar, the mosque of the Bazar and Skenduli house can all be visited before dinner. Dinner will be served at a traditional restaurant. During dinner your guides will be able to speak to you about the trail: possible requests or needs, advice and things which are good to know. We recommend that you buy a map of the area before dinner in order to gain a good understanding of the itinerary.
First Riding Day
After breakfast at the hotel and allocation of horses, we will start to ride through the countryside towards the small town of Libohova, nestled at the foot of the Bureto Mountain. The route to Libovoha is of intermediate difficulty and combines hilly landscapes, valleys, small water streams, cliffs and many chances of canters. After the accommodation of the horses next to the small farm where you will spent the night we will drive to the center of the town (10 minutes) to reach the lunch stop a small traditional restaurant. You can taste the local food wine and Raki. During the afternoon we will take a long walk to visit Libohova’s castle, a Bektashi cult object and the tomb of Ali Pasha’s sister, Shanisha The archaeological evidence indicates a very ancient settlement which reached its zenith in the 17th-century when the town of Libohova became an important commercial centre. Later on feeding the horses and taking care of them is part of you evening activity. You will overnight at the local family farm and will taste delicious local food. You can also participate in cooking a local dish with the family. Riding hours: 3-4 hours
Second Riding Day
This morning you will ride through rolling hills, Drino’s valley and few water streams before climbing a steep hill to reach Antigonea National Park where we will stop for a visit. Antigonea was built by King Pyrrhus in 295 BC and named after his first wife Antigona, daughter of King Ptolemeus of Egypt. After the break we will ride 1 more hour to the stable where you can enjoy the experience of letting free your horses. Lunch will follow immediately after in a village close to the stable. You will be accommodated at the same hotel in Gjirokastra. After a short break we plan to visit the cold war tunnel in Gjirokastra, a building of communism defence paranoia that has a lot to tell. Before dinner you will visit a painter studio and listen from him about local art and special techniques of painting and installations, also about many elements of tradition that were involved in his works. Ideological art during communism can be one of the topics to be discussed. Dinner will take place at a small local restaurant in the historical area. A well-known iso-polyphonic group will be invited to talk, sing and explain about the complex role of iso- polyphonic group members during dinner. South Albanian Iso-poliphony is a UNESCO protected world heritage.
Riding hours: 3-4 hours
Monuments of Culture Day
This morning after a fresh cooked breakfast we will drive first back to Gjirokastra and then towards Butrint, a UNESCO protected archaeological park, through a challenging off road path. The driving experience will be exceptional and the views some of the most beautiful met in your journey. Small remote villages, old houses, windy roads, no roads, small gardens, very few animals, old churches and the sense of time stopping somewhere in the past is the impression this driving day offers. We will stop to visit the ruins of the church of Leshnica and will have a coffee stop by Cerkovica village. A local person will give a short presentation on how this area lives and what was their past, and what do they expect for the future. We will later drive to Butrint to visit the archaeological park. Dating back to the 7th century BC based to the classic mythology the exiles following the fall of Troy moved to Butrint to escape. Originally part of an area called Epirus, Butrint has been occupied by the Greeks, the Romans, the Byzantines and the Venetians. As a result, Butrint offers a wealth of incredible archaeological structures, including a well preserved theatre, Roman public baths inside which lies a paleo-Christian baptistery and a 9th century basilica. The sanctuary of Asclepius, god of medicine sits on its hill or “acropolis” and dates back to the fourth century. We will drive again to have lunch in Saranda in a restaurant next to the sea with plenty of sea food cooked local way Before returning back to Gjirokastra for dinner you will visit the local art gallery and will have a presentation by the manager who is also a very good painter. Dinner will take place in a restaurant in the old bazar. Driving hours: Total 5 hours
Visit in Permet
After breakfast and the views of a wonderful sunrise in the mountains we will drive back to the Drinos valley and will follow later Vjosa river to reach the thermal baths of Benja in Pwrmet. Along the river there are splendid warm water human-made pools to soak on a cool day. People believe from centuries that the baths have healing properties. The pools are off the beaten path, and during winter months you can have enough of privacy. Kadiu bridge a monument of culture built in 1760 during ottoman period, offers a stunning view of the Langarica river. That is an entering gate to the canyons. Along the day there are chances of exploring the canyons by hiking and swimming. Lunch will take place in the city of roses, Pwrmet. You will especially enjoy the local raki and the local sweets. Later on we will drive to a remote area close to Ballaban village to visit another unique farm that will be our accommodation for the evening and dinner place also. The owners will have a short presentation on how they abandoned the city life and made it possible live and dream far form everything. This will be a special wine tasting place. Driving hours: Total 3 hours
After breakfast we will drive back to Gjirokastra to the horse stables for another horse riding day. The today itinerary passes through a rural environment; beautiful steep hills, small valleys, pastoral atmosphere traditional farming and cultivation of the land, bush area, small lakes, small water streams and cliffs, old defence infrastructure from communism time. The view of River Drino, “Tree of Life” river remains on the left during the morning ride. Drino is the most important water basin in the area and part of ancient pagan beliefs. On your way you will meet the ruins of the castle of Santa Triada reconstructed during 1809-1810 by Ali Pasha, a strategic point to control all the mediaeval caravan itineraries. The castle ruins were used later during the time of socialism for military issues.
We will stop for a picnic lunch just near the village of Erind. After around 4-5 hours riding we will reach Karjan village where a traditional dinner and accommodation will be hosted by a local farm. In the afternoon you can visit the village and be part of the family activities, also help to feed, clean and water the horses. Riding Hours: 4-5
Last Riding Day
After having breakfast with the family and packing your picnic we start the ride back at 9 o’clock. We are riding first to Nokova village to visit both medieval churches and later through Lunxheria area with a picnic stop in Dhoksat village. It has a unique architecture and it is famous for the use of the back stone in building also for the beautiful doors. A local expert will be invited to talk about the characteristics of life, tradition, folklore, costumes and ethnography of the area. The ride after lunch heads next to cultivated land, gardens, livestock and meadows’ wide view. We have another short stop by Qestorati Lake to enjoy the view and return back to the stables from another direction.
The last part of the ride before reaching the stables in the afternoon is the most beautiful as the landscape allows several canters and the climbing up hills is stunning. After the ride we will drive back to Gjirokastra to the same hotel. You can have a walk around the historical area before the farewell dinner. Later in the evening we can have a drink in a popular bar.
Riding hours: 5 hours
End of Trail