Day 12 – The Three Borders & Into Kosovo
6.20 miles / Total Ascent 653m / Total Descent 841m
We awoke to a bright, crisp morning. Despite some slight discomfort, the beautiful views and quiet serenity of the place more than compensated for a somewhat chilly, sleepless night.
|Morning view from the camping barn
We breakfasted, said our goodbyes, and turned our attentions to the first of today’s objectives, the Tre Kujfit (or Three Borders) where the borders of Albania, Montenegro and Kosovo meet. As befits a point of such geographic interest, it is located on the top of a nearby summit – somehow its impact would seem diminished if it were simply a point in some non-descript field.
|Looking back over Doberdol
Of course summits are great for views, but you have to get there first. In this case, that meant a fearsome 350m slog up the steep valley side – a rather rude awakening to the day.
|Bigger mountains above Cerem
The mules made a far better pace that we mere humans (four legs good, two legs bad), but we eventually made the ridge where we paused to get our breath back. Then it was a case of picking up a contour path round the mountainside to reach the rear of the summit and the final steady ascent to the top.
|Three Borders summit, 2232m
Although not huge by local standards, the summit stands clear of other, nearby peaks, and tops out at just over 2230m. Needless to say, there were some excellent views to be had into all three countries, and we spent some time soaking them up, taking photos and commenting in the mountain log book. We could see the route of the previous day, across the nearby hills to the jagged summits beyond, and the hamlet of Babino Polje, where we had stopped during last year’s Montenegro trip, was but a few hours hike away.
Since leaving Vusanje a week-or-so ago, we had been following the route of the Peaks of the Balkan trail pretty accurately. OK, so two of the days (Nderlysa and to Pyramid 18) were side trips, but other than that we had followed the route as set out – from Vusanje, over the Peja Pass to Thethi, over the Valbona pass to Rrogram, through Cerem to Doberdol and to the Three Borders summit.
|Descending into Kosovo
Now, though, as we descended from the summit, we left the Peaks of the Balkans route behind and struck off on a different path into Kosovo. We crossed some boggy moor land, dotted with orchids and alive with frogs, descended through woods, took a wrong turning, found the route again, and finally picked up the car road at a scruffy mountain village whose name we never got to know.
|Village, name unknown
Continuing down, we reached the valley bottom – the end of this section of the journey. We met our driver, said goodbye to Lumi and the mules, and ate our lunch in slightly subdued mood.
|Valley bottom, transport waiting
Then we were heading into civilization once more. A bumpy half-hour drive brought us to the monastery at Decan, the largest Serbian Orthodox Christian church in the Balkans, and a UNESCO World Heritage site. Noted for the beautiful and well-preserved frescoes, the origin of the monastery dates back to the 14th Century, the frescoes were added from the 15th Century and have remained largely intact despite being plundered by the Turks in the late 17th Century.
We had a look round the monastery, and it is indeed impressive. Sadly photography inside is not allowed, so I only have a picture of the exterior. However it is really beautiful inside, and well worth a visit. However, it is still under threat: as a Christian Serbian church inside predominantly Muslim Kosovo, its presence here is unwelcome.
For the sake of brevity and prudence, I’ll skip over the history behind the troubles and the recent war between Serbia and Kosovo: suffice it to say that there is a climate of strained relations between the two countries that will take some time to repair. So much so that the monastery has been targeted during the recent conflict (with attacks by suspected Kosovo Albanian insurgents as recently as 2007, I gather) and currently remains under the protection of KFOR, the international peacekeeping force in Kosovo.
|Seen from our hotel window, KFOR Land Rover in Prizren
After visiting the monastery, it was time to transfer to Prizren. We arrived mid-afternoon, with time to rest and explore the town centre for ourselves. We had a potter round the streets, and treated ourselves to an ice cream before going back to the hotel for a rest and a shower before dinner. We opted for a local restaurant, and had kebab, chips, bread, dips, and salads, all washed down with excellent Peja beer!
One interesting point of note: Prizren is a predominantly muslim city, and we were there during Ramadan. As night fell, the restaurant got very busy, with people ordering and receiving food, only to wait until last prayers were complete before tucking in.
Afterwards, we went for another short stroll. The city really came alive after dark, and for a mid-week night it was really buzzing.