When people described the road to Theth as extreme, difficult and off-the-beaten track, they weren’t kidding!
My destination is a beautiful and remote village nestled within Albania’s Accursed Mountains, almost completely cut off and only visited by the hardiest of travellers during the winter, whereas in summer between 5,000-10,000 tourists from all over the world descend upon this unique and unspoiled corner of Albania.
Whilst planning my trip the name Theth kept popping up as a must-see place, after doing a bit of research I realised how naturally stunning this place looked and it was decided – I MUST SEE IT!
My adventure took place in late March 2017, very early in spring; officially the tourist season had yet to begin. After staying overnight in Shkodër I set off bright and early for the 75km drive, to my surprise the road initially was really good – it even had tarmac! After passing several quaint, traditional Albanian villages we arrived in the town of Bogë a.k.a the last civilisation before “the road to hell”, I mean Theth!
Little did I know that our rose-tinted glasses were about to be dramatically shattered, after being lured into false-pretences by good roads (in Albanian standards), as soon as you reach the highest point called Rrasat e Thores the tarmac suddenly stops and you are faced with what can only be described as a “road”. It’s simply covered with rocks, filled with pot holes and has a 2,500m sheer drop down the side of the mountain that still to this day makes me tremble with fear every time I look at my photos.
I can only insist that if you have a fear of heights, dislike sheer drops or roads that have a mind of their own then this probably won’t be the best drive for you. Adrenalin and adventure junkies – perfect!
The night before we drove along the Rruga per Theth (Road to Theth) there was heavy rain, although this added to our problems it didn’t prevent us from reaching the highest point of the mountain so we decided to push on not knowing what was around the corner. Along the side of the road there were huge piles of snow and ice that the digger had pushed aside the day earlier. Thankfully for us there’s various panoramic photo opportunities along the route but beware that once you start going downhill these passing places become few and far between due to the narrow road. At Rrasat e Thores I got out of the car and was stood in snow that almost reached my waist, but was taken back by the incredible panoramic view in front of me!
Stupidly I hadn’t hired a car that was a 4×4, initially I thought it was but sadly in hindsight I wasn’t prepared for how bad the road would be. As I began to descend the mountain the road got more and more snowy and icy, this made driving incredibly treacherous and pretty much impossible. After reaching a point where a car was stopped in the road ahead, as it’s so narrow it makes passing impossible. We got out to investigate and had the horrific realisation that the road was closed as we saw a digger was hard at work a short distance ahead clearing the snow (and some of the road).
I’ve never really found myself in a situation like this before, I had several thoughts;
- Try to turn around and go back to the top of the mountain and potentially even back to Shkodër
- Push the car as far to one side of the road as possible so that cars can pass and walk the 10 miles down the mountain to Theth
- Sleep in the car overnight and risk hyperthermia and then still be stuck the next day
One of the key things I decided to do on this trip, that I wouldn’t normally, probably turned out to be the biggest saviour – I had bought a local sim card earlier in the day from a Vodafone shop and amazingly had signal and an internet connection (even better than at home!) which meant I could call my home stay and advise them that we were stuck.
As I can’t drive, my boyfriend had the unfortunate task of attempting to turn the car around with unfortunately not much luck as it had churned up the snow and ice leaving huge puddles. Thankfully the men who were operating the digger were kind enough to help. A young guy, probably no older than 22, simply got in the car and somehow managed to turn it around and get it into the side. Simple!
This also meant that option 1 would literally have been impossible and option 3 would have just been dangerous and stupid, therefore we had no choice but to grab our things and venture down the mountain. I was aware that it was almost 3pm, the sun sets at approximately 6.30pm meaning it would be pretty dark by 7pm and believe me I do not wish to be out in the wild where potentially bears, wolves or other animals could have had you as their dinner.
After abandoning the hire car we had the painstaking task of trudging through waist-high snow that the digger had yet to clear. Wet feet, tiredness and hunger started to take its toll, thankfully for us you can see Theth in the valley below which often made it look closer than it actually was.
Nevertheless around 7pm we arrived into the village at dusk, crossing the main bridge we heard a few voices say, “are you okay, can we help you?!”, I think some locals most have thought we were mad and wondered where on earth these crazy people had just come from simply walking into the village. Thankfully Google Maps guided me the whole way to our home stay for the two nights that we’d booked.
I was greeted by Pavel and Vlora, owners of Bujtina Polia Guesthouse who welcomed us and made sure we instantly sat down next to the traditional wood-burning oven to warm ourselves up and thaw out. After walking for just over 10 miles downhill there was only one thing on my mind – FOOD! I was so hungry, thankfully Vlora had everything ready and provided us with a lovely feast that was perfect for the weary traveller. I was so tired and ended up going to bed about 8.30pm, I don’t think I’ve ever fallen asleep so early but believe me it was necessary – if not just to rest my feet. Sadly I didn’t get that much sleep due to having flashbacks and nightmares about falling off mountains and down sheer drops. Bloody overactive imagination!
Thankfully for me as the sun began to rise it shone through the window waking me up to one of the most spectacular views I’ve ever encountered anywhere I’ve ever stayed. This put me in such a good mood and made me eager to go out and explore the valley, even though my feet, calf muscles and blisters didn’t seem keen.
One of the must-see places in Theth is the Blue Eye waterfall (Syri Kalter), a natural pool that’s 3-5m deep. A rare natural beauty, located in a canyon that takes over 3 hours to walk from Theth village, if this place was located in Italy, Spain or Greece it would most likely be overrun by tourists, thankfully for me though we were the only people there.
The weather was absolutely incredible that day, we had clear skies and beautiful sunshine, enough to make this pasty Brit get sunburnt! On the way to the Blue Eye you’ll encounter a number of bridges that vary in levels of state including one which wasn’t attached and one that you could see straight through the tiny planks of wood. Not a great experience for someone with vertigo!
One thing to point out throughout my whole time visiting Theth and the Blue Eye was how friendly the local people are, I couldn’t speak more highly about them. A lovely elderly lady who delivered the milk and cheese to Bujtina Polia didn’t expect to see tourists sat in their living room that day but was so excited because for the villagers it means an income; one that during the winter is virtually impossible due to the road being cut off. Before she said her goodbyes there was only one thing she wanted at 8am – Raki – an Albanian spirit that I like to describe as fire water! That’s one way to start the morning and brush away the cobwebs.
Sadly it was time to say our goodbyes to the Polia family and to Theth, after a rather horrific initial experience it turned out to be one of my most amazing adventures, that sadly for me wasn’t over until we got the car back to the top of the mountain. Thankfully Pavel (an experienced mountain guide) drove us back to our vehicle and was kind enough to help us.
The road had become icy overnight which made things rather difficult when your car doesn’t have 4-wheel drive, thankfully his knowledge and experience meant we strapped ropes to the tires that gave them traction but not enough to make it without help. Ironically another car randomly appeared up ahead, they weren’t even asked if they would help but instantly got stuck in and helped us to push the car up the mountain and out of their way so they could pass. This would never happen in England!
Eventually after several false starts we made it back to where we started – Rrasat e Thores a.k.a the top! Tarmac road awaited, but not before my boyfriend got out of the car and breathed a huge sigh of relief that;
- We’d made it alive and…
- The car still worked! HURRAY
This is one truly off-the-beaten track destination, it’s one of the most remote places to try to access but is hugely worthwhile. Unlike any other part of Albania, Theth is unique, raw and truly awe-inspiring.
Visit Theth for yourself
I highly recommend a visit, to book your stay go to Booking.com and search for Bujtina Polia. Click here using this link!
You’ll be blown away by how incredible the Albanian Alps are, you can also check out the rest of Albania here.
If you’d like to discover more photographs and information from this trip or any others please feel free to ask me any questions. You can visit my Facebook page and please don’t forget to ‘Like’ Travel Geek UK.
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