Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Peaks Of The Balkans: Albania, Montenegro & Kosovo - Day 4

Day 4 - Lepushe to Vermosh via Greben Peak

9.10 miles / Total Ascent 820m / Total Descent 1110m

Breakfast, as usual, was taken early in the morning - and a fine morning it looked to be as well. We were moving on today, so as well as all the packing there was time needed for a round of thanks and goodbyes to Ilya and his family for their hospitality. This stop genuinely felt more like a homestay than a guesthouse: we had been looked after well and made very welcome in their home.

Readying to leave

We were again to have an additional local guide today - this time, Ilya's wife. I never did properly find out the names of Ilya's wife and sister, and was cautioned it was impolite to ask - this being an area of very traditional customs and beliefs. 

The view northwards along the valley

Yesterday's walk took us into the hills to the southwest of Lepushe. Today we were heading northwards, over the ridge into the village of Vermosh via the rounded summit of a low peak called Greben (1840m). The weather was fine as we left the village via a forestry road that climbed gradually up the hillside.

Stane, with the Berizhdol ridge on the horizon

Before long, we left the track for paths that took a more direct route upwards, every now and again crossing the forestry road. Eventually, we reached an open area of meadow beside a stane. We had to watch where we were putting our feet as the grass was teeming with young chicks - Endrit said they were called something like Rock Chickens. This sounds more like a local name than an exact one, and I suspect they are young Rock Partridges, which are quite widely found in the upland areas of this region. 

Young chick: there were dozens scurrying through the long grass

We carried on, climbing once more through woods before reaching open ground again, with views to the far peaks all around. Then it was just a short stroll up to the summit. In the space of under half an hour, though, dark cloud had begun to build. It had come much cooler, too, and there was a definite sense of rain in the air as we posed for pictures.

The group on Greben summit, dark clouds racing in

So we didn't linger too long. Greben is not the highest or most testing of summits, but it is somewhat exposed and breezy enough that getting wet would have been uncomfortable, and there can always be thunder and lightning when the rain comes.

Once off the top, we made a short stop for drinks and a snack, then began the descent into Vermosh. Before long the clouds dispersed, the sun came out again, and we ambled past more of the idyllically situated summer farms.

Sheep being driven up to graze on the pasture

Continuing the descent, we passed sheep and cattle being led up to the good grazing. Ilya's wife knew one of the old ladies driving the animals, so we stopped for a brief chat. The hillsides in these areas look to be open to anyone for grazing, and that would be the case according to the authorities - there are no walls or other boundaries to divide the areas up. But all the locals know which family has the grazing rights to a particular area, and these divisions are well-respected. 

Crossing the stream

We continued on our way down, crossing streams and stopping to pick wild strawberries. Lunch was taken on a small piece of flat ground beside the trail with logs and stones for seats and more wild strawberries to pick. It was a very relaxing spot, and we all ended up having a brief snooze in the sunshine.

Wild Strawberries

The final descent was by way of a steep, rocky path, strewn with loose stones and perfect for a slip or a tumble. So we took our time, so as not to fall or turn an ankle. Eventually, we reached the village and the road. Ilya's wife grew up in Vermosh, and asked if we would like to meet her parents. Of course, we said yes!

Turkish coffee and raki (note the respective sizes)

Albania hospitality being what is is, it wasn't long before offers were made for coffee, tea, cake and raki. Again, we said yes! The old man came out and sat with us. Via Endrit, he told us some very personal stories about his life under the Hoxha regime. For no reason other than heresay, he was arrested and forced to work in the mines for 15 years, only being freed in 1990 after the regime collapsed. It was a harrowing time - some of the things he witnessed should not have to be seen by anyone - and he said he struggled to come to terms with life back in the village on his return. While he was telling us these stories, two eagles could be seen soaring above the ridgeline - a poignancy that was not lost on us.

The old man and his wife by the door to their house

After this wonderful show of hospitality, we went to check in to our guesthouse. However the owner wasn't about, so we went to a nearby bar for beers, and bumped into a Polish couple from Wroclaw who were doing a motorcycle tour of the Balkans.

Guesthouse in Vermosh

Eventually, though, the guesthouse owner returned and we checked in. Our accommodation was in small rooms in a log cabin, with comfortable beds and each with an en suite bathroom - very nice! After showers, we went for dinner: Endrit had to go and sort transport for the following day, so we were on our own for dinner. The owner didn't speak English, and we didn't speak Albanian. Happily we found we did have a common language, though, and the meal was conducted in French. Et voila! noodle soup, grilled meat, salads and potatoes, with fruit for afters, and beer, coffee and raki to finish. Excellent!

Lulled into another soporific state by fresh air, exercise, alcohol and too much food, we all turned in by about 9.30pm.


  1. Another superb set of accounts. Jealous!

    Your Rock Chickens are in fact little Rock Partridges - found throughout the region's uplands. We often see the adults on Macedonia's peaks. A cousin to our own Red-legged Partridge

    1. Thanks, JC. I did wonder if they were young Rock Partridges - I've seen them before, but I wasn't quite sure enough to definitely label them as that without confirmation, so thanks for that. Hope you enjoy the remaining posts as I get through them.

  2. A nice interesting day that one Jules. Even though it looks lovely and peaceful, there's some locals that carry the memories of not such a nice period of history.