Monday, 28 July 2014

Peaks Of The Balkans: Albania, Montenegro & Kosovo - Day 2

Day 2 - Shllapit Waterfall, Selca

9.20 miles / Total Ascent 1235m / Total Descent 885m

We were on the road shortly after 8.00am, leaving Shkodra and heading for the mountains. For a while we drove across flat ground with lake Shkodra to our left, heading towards the northern town of Hani I Hotit, then struck off into the mountains on a minor road that paralleled the Montenegrin border. 

Initially the going was good, as we wound up into the hills on a metaled road. Beyond Rrapsh-Starja, though, things changed, and we plummeted on hairpin switchbacks down a near-vertical mountainside into the next valley on a rough, unmade road that was in the process of being repaired. Welcome to Albania!

The road into the Kelmend Valley
(Photo courtesy Marianne van Twillert-Wennekes/

By now, we were definitely "off the beaten track". The Kelmend Valley is considered remote, even by the standards of the area, and is certainly spectacular - as the descent into the Cemi gorge proved. The Montenegro border, in places barely 1 kilometer away, tracks the crest of the steep-sided mountains opposite, the summits towering almost a vertical mile above the valley bottom.  

We made a brief stop for refreshments in the village of Tamarja (where Aleks, our guide on a previous Albanian trip, grew up) then carried on to Selca along the unmade road - a journey that offered a full body workout as we were thrown hither and yon inside the van! 

Setting off from the road at the start of our first walk

The walk to the Shllapit waterfall starts from near Selca (the track in the above picture being the main road through the valley). The going was quite gentle at first, but it was already quite warm (though nowhere near as hot as it was when we last came to northern Albania) and there wasn't much in the way of shade. However there was plenty of water available, and we drank our fill as we climbed.

Looking back on our route: path on the left

River crossing

As the ravine narrowed, we threaded our way back and forth across the river, accumulating height as we went. Although we had to push through some thick bushes as we rounded the end of the valley, the path was quite clear for much of the way, and we reached the waterfall in good time.  

Shllapit Waterfall

Spray and rocks

We took our lunch on a grassy bank overlooking the falls, keeping to the shade and taking advantage of the cooling breeze and the fine mist carried by it.

The falls as seen from our lunch spot

After lunch, we carried on - climbing through woods up the hillside to reach the higher ground beyond. For some reason I was feeling the heat a bit, so I stopped for a short break, took some rehydration salts, and in no time at all felt much better. 

Meadows and mountains

At the top of the climb, we came out from the trees to reach flat pasture and signs of life: first a barn; then houses; then people, going about their backbreaking work in the full heat of the day. Tough people, these highlanders.  

However, there was an idyllic quality to the scene - beautiful meadows, sunshine, high peaks and fantastic views - that almost made the toil required to survive here seem appealing.

Through the hay meadows

We began the gradual descent back towards the road, passing the hamlets of Mregu and Ostrici on the way. For the most part the going was easy enough, although on one loose, steeper section I slipped and ended up grazing both elbows. How do you manage that in one go?

Finally we reached the road, and met up with Ilya, our host for the next two nights. The mini van that had brought us to Kelmend that morning had returned to Shkodra, so now we had to squeeze seven of us and all our luggage into Ilya's 4 x 4 - which was cozy, and not always comfortable on the rough roads. Still we all got there in one piece, and I managed not to leak blood all over the upholstery.

We arrived at the guesthouse at about 6.30pm, so there was only time for cups of tea and quick showers before dinner. We had a variety of local foods, plus beers and homemade Blueberry raki - a lovely way to relax and end the day. What with fresh air, excercise, food and drink, an early night was had by all.

Today's was a good walk, with quite a bit of variety and some great scenery. All in all, it was a reasonable undertaking given the late morning start. And, as a warm-up walk, it served the purpose well - having both warmth and up! - and even the few minor mishaps along the way could do nothing to spoil the sense of an excellent first day.


  1. Well the road up the mountain side looked interested Jules :/
    Love the second photo of Shllapit Waterfall, the contrast of colour is very striking, and I bet it was a nice moment when you appeared on the higher ground :)
    Both elbows?

  2. Beautiful country. What a fantastic place to visit. I'm going to enjoy reading the rest of this Jules. :-)