Endurance Vile Trail Trek
Day 1 (Wednesday): Arrive Tirana
If you’re flying into Tirana’s Rinas airport, we’ll pick you up off there. If you’re coming in by bus, we’ll see you at the hotel! In the evening we’ll meet up for a welcome meal (on us) in Tirana’s lively Blloku district.
Day 2 (Thursday): Tirana to Bizë
A relaxed start to the day - we’ll meet at about 10.00 and take a tour of Tirana’s chaotic little capital, including a visit to a supermarket for any items you really feel you can’t survive without (this is the only shop you’ll see for the next eight days). In the late afternoon we’ll jump in a 4x4 and drive up and over Mt Dajti and into the Çermenika mountains. The asphalt will stop after about an hour - as will we, for supper with a family of farmers. After enjoying the hospitality we’ll drive on another 40 minutes or so until we reach Bizë, a high plateau used by the British as a parachute drop zone. Our tents will already be set up, and Rushdi our mule man will be waiting with raki at the campfire.
Day 3 (Friday): Bizë to Orenjë
Our first day of walking is mostly downhill (mostly). We’ll have a campfire breakfast at Bizë, then load up the mule and start walking. The views as we descend down from Bizë are spectacular. After a couple of hours we’ll stop for some fresh honey with a family of bee-keepers, then wind our way around the hills above Orenjë on an old mule path. We should reach our destination, the same house used as a secret HQ by the Brits, around 15.30 to 16.00. Which in our book is raki o’clock. Our host is the son of the mission’s own host - Ferit Balla. He and his sister will make us feel welcome, and cook a fantastic meal - probably chicken roasted in hazelnut sauce.
Day 4 (Saturday): Orenjë to Çermenika
Now things start getting serious… We’ve a big day, today, so we’ll be on our way by 09.00, assuming Rushdi can get his mule to stand still while he loads it up. We’ve got a big climb ahead of us - in fact the theme of the morning will definitely be “up”. At lunchtime we’ll take a break, thankfully just beneath the summit of the mountain we’ve just ascended (1700m). Here we’ll clamber over some rocks to a secret base used to house an illegal printing press by the partisans during WWII. The Brits were offered it as a winter hide-out, but turned it down - if they’d taken it they probably would have been fine. After lunch we’ll walk on through thick forests for another couple of hours till we reach our campsite - a clearing with a spring used by Davies and his men. We’re high up, here, and the views are wonderful.
Day 5 (Sunday): Çermenika
Another day with a bit of a climb… We’ll walk for an hour or so, mostly on the level, till we reach a remote teqqe, or monastery, maintained by the little-known Bektashi sect of islam. Here we’ll have to take a coffee and a raki with Baba Shehu (Bektashis drink a lot), the area’s much-respected imam, then we’ll start our climb. We’re going right up and over the biggest mountain in the area - 1800m, or thereabouts. The aim is to camp on the other side - but if we don’t make it all the way we’ll just set up our tents somewhere on the mountainside.
Day 6 (Monday): Çermenika to Shebenik-Jabllanice
After two days of campfire food, we think you deserve a treat. Our route today takes us through the village of Fushe-Studë, where the local restaurant is famed for its lamb, slow-cooked in aluminium milk containers. The Brits got shot at here, but we’ll ring up and make sure they know we’re friendly... After a relaxed lunch - and cold beer! - we’ll leave civilisation behind us and climb up to the edge of the Shebenik-Jabllanice National Park, which borders Macedonia. This really feels like the edge of the world… At about 16.30 we’ll reach our campsite, and bunker down for the night.
Day 7 (Tuesday): Shebenik-Jabllanice to Kostenjë
Today’s a big day. But it begins with a descent down an ancient mule path to lull you into a false sense of comfort. After that, it’s another “up” kind of day. We’ll climb along a little used path, which might require some mule manhandling, till we find ourselves in a forest on top of a mountain. We’ll stop for lunch here - which requires a fair bit of effort as it take about 15 minutes to retrieve water from the well due to the length of the chain holding the bucket. Afterwards we’ll push on for a few more hours - the intention is to strike camp above the village of Kostenjë, where the Brits got captured.
Day 8 (Wednesday): Kostenjë to Ballenjë
We don’t have a huge distance to cover today, so can enjoy the views in the morning. At about 10.00 we’ll be on the move, following an old mule path to the very spot where the villagers were hiding the British mission. We’ll spend an hour or so here - it’s very beautiful - then descend down to the village to take lunch with the very ancient Communist commissar and his family. Some raki might be drunk (Rushdi certainly won’t hold back). After lunch we’ll move on, walking a precipitous route out of the village till we reach a suitable campsite
Day 9 (Thursday): Ballenjë to Tirana
In theory, depending on how much raki was drunk at yesterday’s lunch, we’ll be within 30 minutes of the teqqe at Ballanjë. Our lift back to Tirana will be waiting for us here, so we’ll try to arrive by 09.00, in order to make it back to the city at a reasonable time. The roads are very bad, so it’ll be slow-going. All things being equal, we should make it by 13.00. After some downtime to shower and sort kit, we’ll reconvene and head to the Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery in the park to pay our respects to the men who didn’t make it. Then we’ll drink a few beers in their honour, and enjoy an industrial quantity of meat at one of our favourite grills (on us). Tirana’s a pretty lively little city, so if you want to continue the night there are plenty of options…
Day 10 (Friday): Tour Ends
If you’re flying out of Tirana today, we’ll drop you at the airport. Otherwise you have till midday to check-out - though of course you can extend your stay.
This 10-day adventure will follow the path taken through Albania by SPILLWAY, an ill-fated Special Operations Executive mission - but you don’t need an interest in military history to enjoy it! As long as you love nature, trekking, wild-camping and have a sense of adventure, you’ll have a fantastic time.
Small Group Tours With Balkan Secrets
Expect a highly informal experience. We don’t herd you like sheep. For TNT and Tournado
we’ve created some special tours aimed at the 25-40 age range, combining the best of Balkan
culture, scenery and nightlife. If you’re teetotal, you might want to look elsewhere - the Balkans
has a strong drinking culture and it’s not a region that celebrates sobriety. But if you’re a
sociable type who enjoys a beer and the good things in life, you’ll have a great time.
And we should mention, most Balkan countries, particularly Albania, are ridiculously cheap
compared with the UK and Euroland.
Trekking With Balkan Secrets
On our Albanian walking tours, we take you well away from the more established trekking areas
like the Accursed Mountains in the north, where if you throw a brick you’ll knock out a German
pensioner. Instead we’ll take you east, to the mountains of Çermenika, Dibër and Martanesh.
Never heard of them? We’re not surprised. There are very few asphalt roads, next to no
guesthouses, and you’re more likely to meet a bear or a commando than a westerner (seriously
- NATO uses Çermenika for special forces training).
For most or our trekking tours here we have to be self-sufficient, so load up a donkey or two
(mules, technically) with camping kit and everything we need to survive, and strike out into the
mountains. Our treks are not going to be fun if you need spa facilities beyond a river, but if you
enjoy wild camping and chatting to shepherds or wood-cutters over a glass of raki, they’ll be
right up your street. And if you like to take photos, Your. Mind. Will. Be. Blown.
Two nights' 3* hotel accommodation; one night's homestay accommodation; one night's 1* hotel accommodation.
English-speaking guide; muleteer (with mule!).
All camping equipment bar personal mess kit (plate, knives, forks etc).
Campfire meals; two meals in Tirana; one meal in the restaurant at Fushe-Studë.
Transfers from Tirana to the mountains and back.
Airport pick-up if flying into Tirana.
What's Not Included:
Flight; alcohol; tips; meals with village families or shepherds (it can happen - we'll ask you to leave a gift of cash, usually around €5, if appropriate.
Joining the Trek - Flights From the UK
The easiest way to join the trek is to fly direct into Tirana from London Gatwick with British Airways. We'll pick you up from the airport.
Alternatively, Wizz Air has a flight from London Luton to Ohrid, right across the border in Macedonia, on Wednesdays and Sundays. You could spend Wednesday night in Ohrid, then get the direct bus (about €15) to Tirana in the morning and join us there. We would apply a discount of €25, as you'd miss the night's paid hotel in Tirana.
If London Stansted is your preferred airport, Ryanair has a service to Podgorica, just over the border in Montenegro, again on Wednesdays and Sundays. We can arrange a transfer from the airport to Shkodër (about 50 minutes drive) for €35 or so. The bus to Tirana leaves on every hour and costs about €4. You'd reach Tirana by about 16.00, assuming you stop for a couple of hours in Shkodër for lunch.
Returning to the UK
If you're flying back to London Gatwick with British Airways, we'll drop you at the airport.
The Wizz Air return flight from Ohrid to London Luton runs on Sunday, departing 19.05, arriving 21.25. You could catch the direct bus to Ohrid on Saturday morning, giving you plenty of time to explore Ohrid.
Ryanair's return service from Podgorica to London Stansted runs on Sundays, departing 11.10, arriving 13.05. We'd recommend staying Saturday night in Shkodër, close to the border, and getting a taxi to the airport on the Sunday morning.
If you want to follow up the trek with some beach time, there are plenty of buses heading south from Tirana to Vlorë, Saranda and the Albanian Riviera. You can then fly back to the UK from Corfu, to just about any regional UK airport.