Travel back in time following the mediaeval Zagoria caravan pathways into a land of myths, tales and ballads. Your ride will pass through ancient ruins of the Ilirian civilization, medieval villages and many remote churches and monasteries. See the mountain bridges built during the period of Ali Pasha, they are a wonder to see with their rare and unique design. The culmination of this extraordinary trail will be the climb on Swallow’s Rock.
You will soak in rural Albanian traditions by staying with local people and riding through vibrant, unspoilt natural landscapes.
The horses used on this ride are local breed mix of Tarpan and Arab horses. They are small but perfectly suited to the rocky terrain being surefooted and accustomed to trekking long mountainous routes, allowing riders to feel confident, relaxed and free to enjoy the stunning views.
You will meet friendly locals and learn about their traditions while enjoying accommodation as guests in local homes. Your luggage will be transported by car with the most necessary things in saddle bags on your horse. The guides are professional and good company. The main objective of this ride is to celebrate the harmony between humankind, horses, nature and culture.
Day 1 Arrive in Gjirokastra, Albania
Plan your flight to arrive at Tirana airport ideally in the morning, but no later than 15:00 – this leaves time for the transfer and to be able to visit the town of Gjirokstra with your guides. From the airport the transfer will be by mini-van or off-road car and will take around 3-4 hours (250km). Settle into your hotel, 10 minutes walking from the centre of historical Gjirokastra.You can have a walk around the historical town of the old Bazaar before dinner. Riders can also visit EnverHoxha’s house, Gjirokastra castle, the church of the Old Bazaar, the mosque of the Bazzar and Skenduli house representing an ideal sample of Gjirokastra traditional life. Dinner will be served at a traditional restaurant. During dinner your guides will be able to speak to you about the trail: possible requests or needs, advice and things which are good to know. We recommend that you buy a map of the area before dinner in order to gain a good understanding of the itinerary.
Day 2-First Riding Day
After a traditional breakfast at the hotel and allocation of horses, we will start to ride through the countryside towards the medieval village of Karjan. This village is traditional, a rural stop of the passing caravans with its small churches and old roman bridge. The road to reach this destination passes through a rural environment; small houses, gardens, traditional farming and cultivation of the land. The route combines hilly landscapes, valleys, small water streams and cliffs. This path also passes along the view of River Drino, “Tree of Life” river. It is the most important water basin in the area and part of ancient pagan beliefs. On your way you will meet the ruins of the castle of Santa Triada reconstructed during 1809-1810 by Ali Pasha, a strategic point to control all the caravan itineraries. The castle ruins were used later during the time of socialism for military issues. We will stop for picnic lunch just near the village of Erind. After around 4-5 hours riding we will reach Karjan where a traditional dinner and accommodation will await at a local family house.
Day 3-Second Riding Day
After breakfast we will continue further north to the villages of Small Labova and the valley of Cajupi. We will follow the ancient merchants stone road of Zhapa with its mountain panorama, wide view of the hills and valleys and ruins of an old market along the road. The first break will be in Small Labova, a village well known all over the south for its wonderful Church and the big houses belonging to the merchants which are now mostly ruined. Labova is the birthplace of VangjelZhapa, the organizer of the first Modern Olympic Games. Zhapa was a well-known businessman and philanthropist who lived around 200 years ago. After visiting the church you will start riding up the mountain. You will be impressed by the mountain’s rare vegetation such as mountain tea, oregano, wild rose and other endemic plants like digitalis or ‘Dig–Dag’ as it’s known locally. We follow the mountain path to the valley of Cajupi where we halt for a picnic under the trees. You will have the chance to taste the Brati famous spring water, a typical station of the old caravans with its small tower “karakoll”. After a nice gallop through Cajupi valley, the trail will follow the medieval Caravan pathway with its famous bandit hideout ‘Hija e Mallkuar’ or ‘The Cursed Shadow’. From here, medieval thieves could rob the caravans passing through Zagoria. The final destination of today will be the village of Nderan, placed in the heart of Zagoria region. We will stay with Vllah linguistic minority family and this will be our destination for two nights. Dinner will be a delicious mix of local products, raki and wine. You can join the local life and accompany the family during the milking process, dinner preparation or have a look at the families other animals and garden. This village is one of the most important producers of mountain honey in South Albania and offers nearly 10 different tastes of honey depending on season and bee pasture.
Day 4-Third Riding Day
This morning you will wake up feeling the effect of the mountain air. Breakfast will be traditional mountain food; fresh homemade bread, cookies, butter, jam, eggs, cheese, honey and milk. A cup of mountain tea is very typical for this region. On your way to Lliar, Hoshteva, Koncka and Nivan villages you will encounter various terrain combining hard cliffs, rivers, woods and rolling hills. The beautiful scent of flowers, mountain fresh air, wild landscapes, shepherds and animals will also be part of your day. You will continue riding to the most important horse pathway of the XVII and XVIII century which used to connect the biggest commercial centres in Southern Albania. A very beautiful natural monument is the Rock of Zhej that can be seen along the way. We will stop for a short break at the water spring of Lliar, reconstructed by Ali Pasha in the early XIX century. We will take a challenging downhill route to the stone bridge where it is possible to take a refreshing swim during summer months. Hoshteva, a unique church which was built in 999AC, has a very particular style with lots of pagan elements in the wall paintings – the people of the village will be pleased to meet us and tell us all about this church. We will also pass by the byzantine church of Lliar and the monastery of Nivan Saint Mehilli, built in 1702. We will ride over the mediaeval bridge built in the same period to connect the monastery with Nderan village, one of the famous centres of medieval livestock fairs and which again will be your overnight residence. We will spend the night at the farmers house again and a delicious dinner in the garden with await us.
Day 5-Fourth Riding Day
This morning will be a really exciting equestrian experience. After a fresh country breakfast we will ride through a mountain valley, perfectly suited for gallops, passing small remote farms, wild cliffs and many historical monuments off the tourist trail. The route through Pogoni region is a true travel in time. We will be passing many Byzantine cult monuments, ancient ruins and mythical natural wonders. Our picnic lunch will be near the most famous stone bridge of Hllomo or Kacarello’s, which is the most isolated construction of the merchant’s period and can only reached by horse. In the afternoon, after 6 hours of riding we will reach the centre of the Pogon region, the mountain village of Polican is populated by a Greek minority. In this village we have the chance to explore some very particular cult monuments of the medieval period. Later in the evening we will enjoy local gastronomic delights.
Day 6-Fifth Riding Day
This morning we will leave the Greek minority behind to reach the town of Libohova. The route will pass through demanding but beautiful mountain landscapes with a vast finish at the Swallow Rock, 500m over the river of Suha. Our picnic lunch point will be the Church of Labova of the Cross – a rare monument representing the oldest church in Albania, built by Justinian the Great in 554. Justinian married Teodora his wife at the small chapel of this village and the villagers inherited her wedding dress for centuries. This church is decorated with an old wooden iconostas full of floral and symbolic animal scenes.
Later in the afternoon we will ride to Libohova, a small town nestled at the foot of the Bureto Mountain. The archaeological evidence indicates a very ancient settlement which reached its zenith in the 17th-century when it became an important commercial centre. We will overnight in a local family house and will taste delicious local food.
Day 7-Last Riding Day
This morning will begin with breakfast in the garden whilst enjoying a wonderful view of the valley. Before we begin to ride we can enjoy a guided walk through the town to the Bektashi cult object and to the tomb of Ali Pasha’s sister, Shanisha. We will ride through rolling hills, forests and fortified villages to reach the Antigonea National Park where we will stop for a visit. We will reach the city of King Pyrrhus, built in 295 BC and named after his first wife Antigona, daughter of King Ptolemeus of Egypt. After the break we will ride 1 more hour to the stable where you can enjoy the experience of letting free your horses. You will be accommodated at the same hotel in Gjirokastra. Your farewell dinner will take place in a small restaurant in the old Bazaar. Later in the evening we can have a drink in a popular bar.
Day 8-End of Trail
After breakfast at the hotel you will be transferred back to the airport of Tirana.