Walking the Peaks of the Balkans Trail 2

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Published: January 6th 2024

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The father of the guesthouse owner in Drelaj showed me some photographs in a book that he had written about the Kosovo war, or more specifically the village’s part in it. Amongst other things they showed all the houses burnt out and a cave in the mountainside where the villagers had hidden while the Serbian army swept through the village. Unfortunately the language barrier meant that we couldn’t chat about it further but it did mean that he could get on with his job of cutting hay with a scythe and building a haystack in the traditional style that is seen throughout the Balkans.

Seeing the photos put our problems into perspective but nevertheless a problem we had. Overnight Cathy had been ill and wasn’t up to walking, so we had all taken an extra rest day. By mid afternoon she wasn’t feeling any better so we had decided that I would finish the walk on my own and meet the other two somewhere afterwards. As we had accommodation booked I would use buses to get myself back on track but to do this involved travelling a big loop around the mountains. I planned on spending the night in the

Looking over Lake Plav. The trail goes up the mountains to the left Looking over Lake Plav. The trail goes up the mountains to the left

nearby city of Peja but things didn’t get off to a good start when the bus failed to show. There was nothing for it but to hitchhike and within a minute a couple of Albanian builders picked me up. The road winds it’s way down the picturesque Rugova Canyon but with three of us squeezed into the truck cab, the driver on his phone while his mate changed gear for him and me wedged against the door with my rucksack on my lap I wasn’t paying too much attention to the scenery! Half an hour or so later and they were dropping me off close to my hostel and before long I was checking out the city centre. After an evening where I swapped traditional food for pizza, ice cream and a few beers in the main square cafe’s (every cloud has a silver lining) and then a good night’s sleep I headed off to the bus station where lo and behold I bumped into Cathy and Rebecca.

They hadn’t got any plans and were just looking at options of where to head for. They decided to come along with me to Plav where we had accommodation booked and

It was still a steep climb after the jeep transfer.It was still a steep climb after the jeep transfer.

paid for anyway, and so with a couple of hours to kill before our bus departed we headed off into the city to find food. Here my good fortune continued as the restaurant had fish, chips and mushy peas on the menu, I kid you not! and pretty fine they were too.

The bus journey was pretty uneventful, four hours and a border crossing later we were in the Montenegrin lakeside village of Plav. We had two nights booked here and as it is only a small place with not a lot to do that is exactly what we did! Also we knew that the next two days walking were going to be long days so it was nice to be able to relax beforehand.

While we were in Plav we caught up again with amongst others an English couple ,Steve and Rachel who we had first met in Drelaj. To make the walk from here to Vusanje more managable and to cut out 10km of walking on tarmac and stone track Steve organised a jeep transfer on this section for us all. At €20 each it wasn’t the cheapest taxi ever but we all thought

Looking back down on Lake Plav.Looking back down on Lake Plav.

that it was money well spent. It still left us with 18km to walk and initially it was a steep climb of around 550m but then after crossing a few meadows again full of wild flowers it was a long steady descent down into Vusanje. It was still after 6pm though when we arrived at our accommodation – which tonight was a wooden chalet – so we were glad that we started the day with the jeep transfer.

And so the final walking day dawned and we were up and away almost as soon as it had. At 30km this stage to Theth was to be our longest of the walk, so by 6am we had left our riverside campsite behind and were starting the long walk up the Ropajana Valley. The first 10km were relatively easy, then after a steep climb up and over the Pejë Pass, where we crossed back into Albania, the next 5km or so was a steep descent down a mountainside on little more than goat tracks. It may have been downhill but being on a mountainside in around 30C of direct sun with no shade made this section as tough as any on

Looking over Vusanje and along to Ropajana ValleyLooking over Vusanje and along to Ropajana Valley

the walk, and trust me there were a few tough parts! I had ended up a way in front of the other two but with the heat and my water supply getting low I pressed on. The map showed a cafe at the foot of the mountain and I figured that even if it was closed I may be able to find water and some shade. Thankfully though it was open and so I sat and indulged on overpriced cold drinks until the others arrived, and then some more until we were all ready to tackle the last stretch of the walk into Theth

The village is strung out along a valley and naturally we had picked a guesthouse at the far end of the village from where the trail comes into it. Eventually though after an hour or so we arrived at our guesthouse where we enjoyed a well earned cold beer and a huge spread of home cooked food.

And so that was it, we had finished our Peaks of the Balkans walk. Unfortunately we had to miss out two stages, and we had also chosen not to complete the circuit by walking the

A relic of less peaceful times, a machine gun post overlooking the Peje PassA relic of less peaceful times, a machine gun post overlooking the Peje Pass

A relic of less peaceful times, a machine gun post overlooking the Peje Pass

stage from Theth to Valbona as a) it’s a very popular day walk, so very busy and b) it is a lot easier to get back out of the mountains to civilisation from Theth. On the plus side by diverting via Peja we got to see a bit more of Kosovan life than we would of if we had stayed in the mountains.

Over the 7 days of walking we had covered 125km and climbed the equivalent of Ben Nevis five times, had a few minor but only one major navigational issue. We all knew that it would be a tough walk but no amount of reading guidebooks or watching YouTube videos had made us think that it would be so hard. All in all though a fabulous walk through what is still relatively unspoilt countryside, although looking around and talking to some of the guesthouse owners I’m not sure how much longer that will last.


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