I’m hiking along the Ropojana Valley, in Prokletije — the so-called “Accursed Mountains”, which make up the rugged borderlands of Montenegro, Albania and Kosovo.
It’s an evocative name but one that fails to do the area justice, since it’s a spectacularly beautiful place — jagged limestone peaks, rolling green pastures, high passes and wonderfully hospitable mountain villages.
The trail I’m following is the Peaks of the Balkans — an epic, 120-mile trek through some of the finest scenery this corner of Europe has to offer. A circular route that almost joins in the middle like a figure-of-eight, it takes around 10 days to walk, with accommodation and meals provided by a scattering of village guesthouses.
Few parts of Europe are so little known, or so little visited.At the head of the valley I pass the bed of an empty lake — fed only by snowmelt, it has a habit of vanishing, phantom-like, without a trace. I leave Montenegro and slip across the unmarked border into Albania, following a path up through forest, to open pasture, then beside a narrow ravine, climbing steadily as the morning cloud gradually dissipates. The trail meanders past a couple of dome-like concrete bunkers — some of the half a million built by the Albanian dictator Enver Hoxha across the country between the Sixties and Eighties — long since abandoned and incongruous in the wilderness.
Four hours after leaving Montenegro’s Ropojana Valley, I reach the 1,707m Peja Pass, overlooking the Theth Valley. The cliffs on my right plummet in a sheer, dizzying leap from nearby Mount Arapit to the valley floor — a vertical drop of 800m — but the path is a broad, well-engineered mule track that zigzags left below a towering rock face.
It’s early evening by the time I reach the remote village of Theth, scattered along the valley floor beside the river, and find my way to the friendly Polia guesthouse. But while there’s something very satisfying about completing a long-distance route such as the Peaks of the Balkans, you don’t need to walk the whole thing — some parts can be done as day walks, or you can create shorter circuits with transfers provided by local travel agencies. Here are three of the best:
From Plav (Montenegro), follow the main route via Theth, Valbona and Dobërdol in Albania but turn north at the Zavoj Pass and descend to Babino Polje and Plav in Montenegro, rather than continuing to Milishevc. This largely misses out on visiting Kosovo.
Time needed: seven days.
The three passes route
Starting in Vusanje (Montenegro), hike up the Ropojana Valley and over the Peja Pass, to Theth (Albania). Cross the Valbona Pass to Valbona, then make for the Prosllopit Pass beside Maja Kolata. From here, you can descend to Vusanje.
Time needed: three days.
Theth waterfall and kula
Theth is worth a day to itself. From the 19th-century church pass the 17th-century tower house (kula), then cross the bridge and follow the left bank of the River Theth before hiking up to the Gunas waterfall, which plunges 30 metres over a cliff into an iridescent green pool.
Time needed: three hours.
Details: Peaks of the Balkans
Ryanair flies from Stansted to Podgorica, from where there are buses to Plav. The Polia in Theth has doubles from £61 B&B. This is a sensitive border area so you need a permit to hike the trail. Get it from a local agency such as Zbulo and Zalaz. Peaks of the Balkanshas route descriptions but some of the information is out of date.
Source: Rudolf Abraham - www.standard.co.uk