Thursday, 10 October 2013

Albania: The Labëria Highlands & Ionian Coast – Day 3

Tuesday 24th September – Kuç to Kudhës, then to Qeparo

Total Distance: 12.20 miles / Total Ascent: 665m / Total Descent: 890m

Altitude Max (1) 607m / Altitude Min (1) 164m
Altitude Max (2) 199m / Altitude Min (2) 6m

Another early start found us loading bags in to the jeep at 6.45 in the morning before a walk down the hill to the restaurant for what turned out to be quite a leisurely breakfast – a now-typical spread consisting of boiled eggs, cheeses, bread and honey, yoghurt and milk, çaj and Turkish coffee.

Early morning on the terrace

No raki for me today, although some of the locals were already knocking it back like there was no tomorrow. Judging by how some of them were going at it, there might even be no today, either. Still, I’m sure they can take it, having most likely been weaned on the stuff. And, if they run out, they can always resort to water to quench their thirst (there is absolutely no chance of this, by the way).

Glorious: the hills above Kuç

Our route today was to follow the valley for a few kilometers before climbing through a gap between the hills to reach the coast near Qeparo. Gramoz – businessman, property owner and local man of influence – donned another hat this morning: that of guide. And, if that were not already enough, he could add “hunter” to his list of skills as well, as he and a friend were going in search of Wild Boar on the way back.

All of which necessitated this man of many parts carrying a rifle with him!

Our guides for the day

Anyway, with gun slung over one shoulder, knapsack over the other, cartridges strung around the belt of his combat trousers and dogs at his side, he definitely cut an “Action Man” type figure. In what I trust was gentle humour, some of the girls dubbed him “Rambo” – a not inappropriate moniker under the circumstances.

Setting off beside the river

There may have been a hint of chill about the morning, but otherwise it was set to be a beautiful day. We left the village on a riverside path with superb views of the nearby hills rendered in sharp relief by the clear morning light and blue, cloudless skies. 

Blue sky thinking

Before long we curved away from the river to walk beside a dry streambed. There were lots of these, we found – completely dry now, but that must be raging torrents at other times of year judging by their size, frequency and the number of smoothly rounded boulders littering the channels.

Leaving the valley, with the hills beckoning

A sudden, steep climb on a rocky zig-zag path lifted us out of the valley and into the hills once more. By now the day was beginning to warm up nicely, but there was still plenty of sunshine and a sharp clarity to the air that made for great views – almost perfect trekking weather.

Perfect trekking weather

The Shushica valley is only a few miles from the Ionian Sea, but separated from it by a narrow line of mountains rising in places to over 2000m. The cleft through which we were now walking represents one of the few routes to the coast that doesn’t require a lengthy detour. The undulating path we were on made for relatively easy going and common consent had this as one of the best walks of the week, despite its lower altitude and less mountainous character.

Great views

I say relatively easy, because the paths were still quite rocky and loose, and required vigilance on almost every step to avoid rolling an ankle. They were also often fringed or blocked by vegetation, all of which seems to be tough, woody and sharp or thorny, spiky and sharp – two days of hiking in these hills and my arms and legs looked like I’d gone twelve rounds in the ring with Edward Scissorhands.

Scratch handicap

As the morning progressed, we passed a couple of springs and made a stop at each one – one for drinks, the other for lunch – before reaching a col where a tumbledown house marked the boundary between the villages of Kuç and Kudhës.

Gramoz: restauranteur, businessman, guide, hunter and all round good egg 

A little welcome shade

Between Kuç and Kudhës

Location, location: in need of modernisation

From here, we could clearly see the coast, and – a few miles offshore – the bulky presence of a large island: Corfu. That may come as a surprise to some: nevertheless it’s true, with the gap between them as little as two miles at the closest point they are very close neighbours. 

Looking towards the coast: the faint smudge in the
distance at the centre of the picture is Corfu

After WWII, when Albania became a communist state led by Enver Hoxha, disaffected Albanians sometimes tried to swim to Corfu (and hence Greece) as a means of escape. Even if it were possible to swim that far, however, it was an escape fraught with danger – not least because anyone caught trying was liable to be shot in the water.

A gentle descent brought us to the village of Kudhës at about 2.00pm. We walked down through the village, passing olive groves and fruit trees on the way, until we met up with the jeeps ready for the short transfer to Qeparo. 

Kudhës: anyone seen a couple of dogs?

Gent had temporarily lost track of the whereabouts of Piotr and Vikki, and we spent a few minutes calling them to no avail. Where could they be? He decided in the end to complete the transfer then come back to look for them, only to find them waiting calmly by the side of the road a couple of miles down the track. Thinking we were all on board, they must have run after the first jeep …

Reasons to be smug #1: heading for our hotel

Our hotel in Qeparo was a beachfront affair, with little apartment-style rooms complete with kitchenette. A quick drop off of our stuff, and we were back out again for a swim in the beautiful, clear water. Not as far as Corfu, though – we definitely weren’t trying to escape.

 Corfu as the sun sets from Old Qeparo

An optional late afternoon stroll to the deserted village of Old Qeparo was planned to coincide with the sunset. Half a dozen of us set off, but we’d slightly misjudged the time. So, rather than rush and get all hot and bothered just before dinner, we opted for a gentle stroll back down as the sun set behind the headland.

Sunset from near Old Qeparo

Dinner was served at a nearby beachfront restaurant. All the usual salads were in evidence, along with soup, potatoes, spinach, grilled vegetables, shrimp and octopus – the food just kept coming, and with only a packed lunch today we were more of a mind to oblige.

It was a great way to end a great day. Even a couple of power cuts and a singalong by the German group on the adjacent table couldn’t put a dampener on things, although trying to eat octopus in pitch darkness is a slightly peculiar sensation. Not as disconcerting as an amateur rendition of “Knocking On Heaven’s Door” though. Now that really does take some digesting.


  1. I'm not jealous of your holidays Jules. Nope. I'n not, I really am not.... Well... Maybe just a little bit. Glorious weather and beautiful countryside. Absolutely brilliant.

  2. It looks beautiful, very Mediterranean in appearance. I have always wanted to go to Albania, there is something exotic about it to me. I am glad to see the reality lives up to my imaginings....enjoy the rest of your trip!

  3. Just catching up. Not jealous. No. Never!

  4. Hi all, and thanks for your comments.

    Sorry I've not replied to comments sooner, but I've had a few computer problems over the last week (mainly through not having one) so I've not been able to reply to comments or add the remaining days yet.

    Hopefully, that's now a thing of the past!

  5. The accounts and the stunning photos are enough to boost Albanian tourism 100%