Albania: On the wild side

Alex Wade discovers some dramatic walking terrain in Albania


The old shepherdess jumped up as soon as she saw me. Clad entirely in black, she had been resting with her mountain goats, eating wild berries. My arrival prompted a wide, toothless grin, which was rapidly replaced by incomprehensible wailing, and, soon enough, weeping.

The old shepherdess jumped up as soon as she saw me. Clad entirely in black, she had been resting with her mountain goats, eating wild berries. My arrival prompted a wide, toothless grin, which was rapidly replaced by incomprehensible wailing, and, soon enough, weeping.

As the tears fell from her bright blue eyes, she gestured ever more frantically. What had I done? It was a balmy winter's day in the mountains in Lunxheria, southern Albania. I hadn't seen a soul all morning and all seemed well with the world.

" Nero! Nero!" she screamed, waving at the mountains. " Nero!" she said again, grabbing my shirt. At last, from a summer in Greece many years ago, I remembered that nero was Greek for "water". And Lunxheria – close to the Greek border – has a number of Greek-minority villages. So that was it, she wanted a drink.

I offered her my water bottle and she grabbed it with such alacrity that I wondered if I'd see it again. But instead of drinking from it, she took a battered water bottle of her own and started pouring its contents into mine. Then she thrust a loaf of bread at me, and half of her collection of berries. I thanked her as well as I could, and carried on up the mountain.

Below, I could make out the village of Dhoksat, one of a dwindling number in Lunxheria to still be populated, from where I'd begun my day's hike. A faint haze covered the lush valley floor beyond Dhoksat. The still air, and the sense that everything had always looked like this in Lunxheria, was briefly disturbed as an eagle swept across the skies, about 50 feet away. Within seconds, it was gone, up over the ridge to which I was making painful progress, thanks to too many glasses of raki the night before. But I had first-hand evidence that Albania deserved the name given to it by its people. Albanians call their country Shqiperi, meaning Land of the Eagles.

About half the size of Scotland, Albania is every bit as dramatic, with over two thirds of its land mountainous, perfect for eagles – and wolves. Fortunately, I didn't run into any, leaving me ample time to reflect on the stunning landscape of Lunxheria, some of Europe's finest walking terrain. The mountains rise to around 2,000m in south-east Albania, the southern foothills sweeping down to Greece. The region was prosperous during Ottoman times, as can be seen from the grandeur of some of its houses, and the many churches and monasteries in the villages, which themselves are strung out in a line, linked by ancient footpaths, some 600m beneath the top of the mountain range.

I was a strange sight to many Lunxiotes, whose villages are barely visited in the summer let alone mid-November, but although I only knew as much Albanian as they did English, they were very hospitable. The berries tasted good. I made it to the top of the ridge, and by the time I got back to Dhoksat, I'd drunk every drop of water I'd been carrying, and was dying for more. I swore never to drink raki again, and was grateful to the centuries-old tradition of hospitality to foreigners in Albania.

Regent Holidays specialises in Albania (0117-921 1711)

Life and Style
Steve Shaw shows Kate how to get wet behind the ears and how to align her neck
healthSteven Shaw - the 'Buddha of Breaststroke' - applies Alexander Technique to the watery sport
Sport
footballShirt then goes on sale on Gumtree
Voices
Terry Sue-Patt as Benny in the BBC children’s soap ‘Grange Hill’
voicesGrace Dent on Grange Hill and Terry Sue-Patt
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010
music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
A poster by Durham Constabulary
news
Sport
Cameron Jerome
footballCanaries beat Boro to gain promotion to the Premier League
Arts and Entertainment
Emily McDowell Card that reads:
artCancer survivor Emily McDowell kicks back at the clichés
Arts and Entertainment
Twin Peaks stars Joan Chen, Michael Ontkean, Kyle Maclachlan and Piper Laurie
tvBadalamenti on board for third series
Life and Style
tech
Sport
Standing room only: the terraces at Villa Park in 1935
football
Sport
Ben Stokes celebrates with his team mates after bowling Brendon McCullum
sportEngland vs New Zealand report
News
Amal Clooney has joined the legal team defending 'The Hooden Men'
people
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Guru Careers: Events Coordinator / Junior Events Planner

    £24K + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking an Events Coordinator ...

    Royal Yachting Association Cymru Wales: Chief Executive Officer

    Salary 42,000: Royal Yachting Association Cymru Wales: The CEO is responsible ...

    Guru Careers: Marketing Manager / Marketing Communications Manager

    £35-40k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Marketing Communicati...

    Ashdown Group: Technical IT Manager - North London - Growing business

    £40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A growing business that has been ope...

    Day In a Page

    Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

    Abuse - and the hell that follows

    James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
    Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

    It's oh so quiet!

    The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
    'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

    'Timeless fashion'

    It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
    If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

    Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

    Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
    New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

    Evolution of swimwear

    From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine