What’s better than visiting a winery?
STAYING in a winery.
That’s exactly what you can do at Florian Shkodra Guesthouse. Known for it’s homely style and glorious vineyards, this little hostel is nestled a 10 minute bike ride from the centre of Shkodër. The owner Florian will show you around the place, and if you’re lucky you might get to try the fresh fruits and nuts that grow in the garden next door!
While Shkodër has a lot to offer in the way of beautiful landscapes and incredible history, lets be real, you’re most likely headed here to get to the Albanian Alps. If not, what the hell are you doing? Go for a hike! Florian has lived in the area almost his entire life, with his family owning the property since 1952, so he is well versed to tell you everything you need to know about hiking from Theth to Valbona. Don’t stress about organising anything as he’ll be able to sort you out!
Breakfast is included at Florians, so you’ve got your morning fuel covered. Florian’s sister Ella also offers a delicious home cooked meal each night for 4 Euro. This is well worth it, we’re talking delicious fresh produce cooked straight from their garden. If you like her Albanian cooking style, she also offers cooking classes at the hostel. Alternatively, you can visit her restaurant in town, Arti’zanave to get a good feed from her daily menu.
When you’re staying inside a winery, there’s really only one thing to do, a good ol’ tasting! At night Florian will give you the opportunity to try all of his wines for free. You’ll learn a little about the wine making process while delighting your taste buds with some of Albania’s finest grapes! They make 6 different types of wine on the property, which Florian’s father has been producing for the past 45 years!
If you want to see Shkodër’s highlights, Florian will take you on an evening tour. First stop is the Mes Bridge which has turned into quite the tourist attraction due to it’s beautiful shape. It was built around 1770, and depending on when you arrive you may get to see it in all its beauty when the river is flowing underneathe it!
Next stop is the Rozafa Castle. This glorious fortress lies high above, guarding over Shkodër. This is the perfect place to watch the sunset as you can see everything for miles around.
For myself and many travelers I met, Shkodër itself was less of a destination and more of a gateway portal into the Albanian Alps. Don’t get me wrong, this little town IS stunning and deserves tourism in its own right. After you’ve explored the town though, it’s time to venture into the wilderness. From the Hostel, Florian will be able to help you organise everything you need to know about trekking in the Albanain Alps.
The most common trek is from Theth to Valbona. While you can do this either way, I would strongly suggest starting at Theth, as not only do I think the hike is easier this way, but you’ll be suddenly rewarded by the peak if you start from Theth, rather than trekking up the cannyon side from Valbona.
The trek takes approximately 7 hours. For someone like me who’s only exercise is the occasional sit up (note, sit up, not sit up’s), this hike was not as difficult as I thought. Granted my travel buddy had to wait for my slow paced ass to slug it uphill (thanks Nicole), but overall I’d say most people could pull it off. We decided to get a bus straight from Shkodër to Theth. We left the hostel approximately 7.30am and arrived in Theth at 11am. Florian told the bus driver to drop us off directly at the start of the trek so we had no problem getting started! I was a little worried it would be hard to navigate our way, however there were plenty of signs and a few other hikers so we knew we were on the right path. If you’re worried though I would highly recommend downloading a hiking app if just in case. Safety first my friends.
About two hours in you’ll find a little cafe where you can buy a drink and if you’re lucky a little snack. They were serving a delicious honey cake thing while we were there which put the spring back in our step after a couple of hours walking uphill! Take this opportunity to freshen up before you continue to the peak. After being rewarded with the most incredible view at the top then you’ll start the decent down to Valbona. Florian organised for us to stay at Mark’s guesthouse, where we were greeted by a beautiful Albanian family and ate a delicious meal (which they kindly made vegetarian for us) while sharing travel tales with other hikers under the stars. The next morning we were dropped off at the boat dock and caught the delightful boat back to Shkodër though the mountains.
While I was skeptical of this hike (my unfit ass would prefer to kick back with some delicious Albanian food), it was truly magical. From fields to forest to cannons, you’ll see it all on this route.