Ride Overview - Ancient Zagoria Pathway Ride
This horseback riding vacation in Albania will offer some of the most breathtaking landscapes of Europe. This “land of the eagles” will provide an unforgettable and little-known destination for riders. Ancient merchant caravan pathways traverses through Ilirian ruins from the Roman and Helenic periods; past remote Byzantine churches; and across uniquely constructed mountain bridges. Your hardy horse will carry you across rivers, along hard cliff paths, and rolling pastures. The trail begins in 3rd-century Gjirokastraa, a rare example of a well-preserved Ottoman town. From start to finish, you will be immersed in the Albanian rural life and traditions. You will have the opportunity to explore indigenous healing plants combined with ancient recipes of curative preparation of teas. Your meals will be prepared from locally grown food, including local meat and dairy products, a traditional pie called “byrek”, honey, mountain tea, as well as famous Albanian Raki and southern wine. Your lodging includes 5 nights in village family homes and 2 nights in traditional B & B’s. Your local hosts will regale you with ancient tales and myths. In addition, opportunities for invigorating gallops and challenging mountain passes will make this a ride to remember!
“It was a fantastic trip. The horses were great and the riding was wonderful. I believe they are actually part Goat. LOL. We had really varied mountain terrain with both ups, downs and long gallops through the valleys.If anyone asks – we did have to literally climb up a vertical slope of an untamed mountainside and back down the other side. The horses went up and down the rocks with no effort. The guide/host couple were really great and the Albanians families couldn’t have been more hospitable – going out of their way to make sure we were comfortable. The home-stays were not a problem. We did have to share bathrooms with the rest of the group but we always had our own room which was clean and very comfortable. Privacy was really not an issue. In general, the Albanian people have a code of hospitality called Besa in which the guest is the most important person in the home. That’s how they made us feel.” L.M.“Overall the trip was a great success. Not for someone looking for high-end accommodations, but great for riding in untamed nature on strong, sturdy and obedient horses.” S.G.
Ride Itinerary - Ancient Zagoria Pathway Ride
Plan your flight to arrive between early morning to midday. You will then transfer from the airport to Gjirokastra, nicknamed “City of Stone, because most of the old houses have roofs covered with stone. You will meet your guide and fellow riders at lunch and then tour the village of the 17th century Bazaar, Enver Hoxha’s house, Gjirokastra Castle and the Old Bazaar church. During dinner, your next day itinerary will be discussed.
After a traditional breakfast at the hotel and allocation of horses, you 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 see 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. Your group will stop for a picnic lunch near the village of Erind. After around 4-5 hours riding, you will reach Karjan where a traditional dinner and accommodation will await at a local family house.
Your ride will continue north to the villages of Andon Poci and Hundekuq, the Church of Small Labova. and then to the beautiful Cajupi Valley. The road will lead through local farms, old small churches, and picturesque villages. During your ride, you may stop for a Turkish coffee break at a farm family house. The first break will be in Labova, renowned for the magnificent church and the water deposit. Labova is the birthplace of Vangjel Zhapa the organizer of the first Modern Olympic Games. Meanwhile, you will be impressed by the mountain’s rare vegetation – mountain tea, oregano, wild rose, and digitalis (Dig–Dag). A remote mountain path will bring you to the Cajupi valley. 5 hours of riding will end at your lunch point. You will taste the Brati famous spring water, a typical old caravan station and also will visit the small tower of protection from the thieves called “Karakoll.” Lunch will be a picnic under the trees. The topography in Cajupi valley is ideal for gallops and the horses are pleased to oblige. The trail will follow the medieval Caravans pathway with your next stop a famous thief’s strategic dominion, Hija e Mallkuar or the Cursed Shadow. From here, medieval thieves could rob the caravans passing through Zagoria. The accommodation and dinner will be placed in a village house in Nderan located in the heart of Zagoria region. This home of a Vllah family will be your destination for two nights. Dinner will be a delicious mixed meal of freshly harvested food, 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, farming animals and garden. This village is one of the most important producers of mountain honey in South Albania and it offers nearly 10 different tastes of honey as per season and bee pasture.
You will awake to find your lungs filled with fresh mountain air. Breakfast will be a traditional mountain menu of fresh homemade bread, cookies, butter, cheese, honey and milk. The mountainous people drink mountain tea and Turkish coffee in the morning. On your way to the villages of Lliar, Hoshteva , Koncka and Nivan, your riding terrain will vary from granite cliffs to river banks to forests to ascending and descending hills. Your trail will turn into the most important horse pathways of the XVII and XVIII centuries to connect the biggest market centers in Southern Albania. An impressive natural monument, the Rock of Zhej, will be visible along your way. Next is a short break at the water spring of Lliar, reconstructed by Ali Pasha in the early XIX century. Then you will take a challenging downhill route to the ruins of a mediaeval stone bridge (the bridge collapsed on February 2018) where it is possible to take a refreshing swim during summer months. You will pass Hoshteva, a unique church which was initially built in 999AC and last restored in 1866 has a very particular style with lots of pagan elements in the wall paintings as well as the Byzantine church of Lliar and the monastery of Nivan Saint Mehilli, built in 1702. Your group will ride over a medieval bridge built in the same period to connect the monastery with Nderan village. This village was a famous centre for medieval livestock fairs and which again will be your overnight residence. You will spend the night at the same Vllah family house.
This morning, you can expect a really exciting equestrian experience. After a fresh country breakfast, you will start your day with an invigorating gallop through a mountain valley. Your trail is lined with small farms, wild cliffs and many isolated monuments. The whole itinerary follows the footsteps of the old market caravans as they traveled to important fairs. The route through the Pogoni region is a true travel back in time. Many Byzantine cult monuments, ruins of artwork construction, as well as mythic mountain springs and forests dot your path. A picnic lunch will be served at the foot of the famous stone Hllomo bridge. This bridge is the most isolated construction of the merchant’s period and can only be reached by horse. In the afternoon, after 5 hours of riding, you will reach the heart of the Pogon Region. Polican, a wonderful mountain village populated by a Greek minority. In this village, you have the chance to explore some very unique medieval cult monuments in the company of the host family members. Later in the evening, you will explore the region’s gastronomic delights.
This morning, you 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. Your 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, you 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.During the afternoon is possible to take a long walk and visit Libohova’s castle, a Bektashi cult object and to the tomb of Ali Pasha’s sister, Shanisha You will overnight in a local family house and will taste delicious traditional food. This day is a 5 hours ride.
Day 7:This will be a short riding day of 3,5 hours. This morning you will ride through rolling hills, Drino’s valley and few water streams before climbing a steep hill to reach Antigonea National Park where we will stop for a visit. Antigonea was built by King Pyrrhus 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. A picnic lunch will follow in the village close to the stable. 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.
After breakfast, you will be transferred to the airport of Tirana.
*The guide reserves the right to change the itinerary based on unforeseen circumstances.
Ride Details - Ancient Zagoria Pathway Ride
Dates: Sunday through Sunday: All weeks, March 14th through November 28th
Best Months: April to October
Airport: Rinas in Tirana or Corfu which requires a ferry boat to Saranda
Altitude: Up to 1000 meters
Riding Days: 6
Daily Riding Hours: 6 – 7
Riding Ability: STRONG INTERMEDIATE: Confident and in control at all paces including posting trots, two point canters and gallops in open country and narrow ascending and descending trails. Able to lead a horse across narrow mountain trails and bridges. Comfortable with river crossings. Able to tack and untack a horse.
Restrictions: no children
Health: Please consult your physician regarding immunizations.
Group Size: 2 – 10
Horses: Eurasian, 13 – 14.2 hands
Non-riding Activities: fishing, hiking, Butrin National Park, Antigonea National Park
Accommodations: 2* B & B, 3 1/2* hotel
Price: $1,265.00 per person, double occupancy $160.00 single supplement
Small group fee of $150.00 will apply if total group size is 2 people.
*Price is based on USD/EURO exchange rate and will be fixed at final payment.
Included: 7 nights accommodation, horse, tack, guide, all meals from dinner on the first day to breakfast on departure day
Not Included: airfare, visa tax paid at airport (10 euros), transfer to and from airport (70 euros), day 1 lunch, entrance tickets to parks or monuments, extra drinks
Ancient Zagoria Pathway Ride: Gallery
Ancient Zagoria Pathway Ride