Albania’s Manhattan

After our crazy Albanian wedding, we got to spend an entire month travelling around Albania (with side-steps to Montenegro and Croatia), seeing more of this gorgeous country.

Hands down the highlight of our trip was Thethi.

Getting there was an adventure alone. The only road into the village travels through the Shala mountains – Albania’s Alps – in bone-rattling, terror-inducing style. It’s very difficult to get any vehicle in unless it’s a solid 4WD, or one of Albania’s indestructible furgons (mini-vans). We chose this option, leaving our car in Shkodra and putting our lives in the very competent hands of our furgon driver. (Although, rumour has it, road improvements mean from August the road is accessible by ‘normal cars’ until the rain comes in the autumn!)

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Weirdly, arriving in Thethi felt a little like the first time I arrived in downtown Manhattan – claustrophobic. The village is nestled deep in a narrow valley surrounded by huge mountains, instead of sky-scrapers. During the winter months it’s not unusual for the village to be completely cut off from the outside world and many residents relocate to warmer climes and wait for the spring. In fact it’s so isolated that according to the locals, the village was founded by Catholics escaping the Ottomans, which seemed to work as they were largely left alone.

It’s completely stunning…

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Tourism is big business in Thethi. It attracts close to 10,000 visitors a year – many walk there from Valbona (8 hours), or more ambitiously, through the tracks opened by the Balkans Peace Park Project through Kosovo and Montenegro.

We spent two nights there, staying is one of many guesthouses in the valley. Foreign investment has enabled a number of guesthouses to modernise and we enjoyed very comfortable, modern accommodation – much-needed after a long day trekking up and down the valley!

The day before we left for Thethi I had a little panic attack about the trip ahead. Everything I had read warned me about the isolation and the perils of travelling there and here I was dragging my husband and my parents to quite possibly the remotest area of Europe. I was sure we’d end up plunging off a cliff! Oh it was so worth it. I almost hope that they never properly finish that road. That way it will never become just another one of Europe’s over-touristy beauty spots.

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