Not for the faint-hearted, the remote Tropoja region, in Albania’s evocatively named Accursed Mountains, is coaxing adventurers with its “wild beauty and warm hospitality”, says Suitcase magazine. The former communist state was closed to foreigners until the late 1980s and still feels far away from 21st-century Europe. “For frazzled urbanites, what could be a greater luxury?”
Places of note According to local legend, God made the Earth, sky and sea in six days, but Satan carved the Accursed Mountains in one. “He harnessed all his devilish guile to plot a landscape so fierce that the Romans, Ottomans and Serbs never managed to conquer it.” Today the landscape is more welcoming: in spring and summer, “the only sound is the humming of bees kissing wild orchids”. Take a boat across Lake Koman – “one of the most magnificent ferry routes in the world” – and drive through Valbone National Park, which is “breathtaking and terrifying in equal measure”. Journey to Valbona offers accommodation tips and travel experiences, providing much-needed income in an area with 80% unemployment. Its four-night Finding Tropojä: Live Like a Local tour starts at £500, including accommodation, a guide and some meals. Head to Bajram Curri for handicrafts, berry jams made by local women and homegrown produce such as “mountain tea” (a purple-tipped herb from the mint family), as well as unpasteurised cow’s milk in Coca-Cola bottles.
Weather Warming up from May and hottest in July and August. Winter can bring thick snow in the mountains.
Famous faces You won’t find any celebrities here, but singers Rita Ora and Dua Lipa are both proud of their Albanian roots. Mother Teresa is the most well-known Albanian.
To eat Restaurants in Tropoja are family-run, the food is locally sourced and bookings are certainly not necessary. Head to Restorant Mustafa for flame-crisped goat or the hamlet of Velishte to watch the sun set at the Brengaj family’s café. The Nikoci brothers have opened an ambitious restaurant and hotel called Chestnut Hill (1) on their grandfather’s land near Bajram Curri – there’s skiing there in winter.
To stay The godfather of Tropoja tourism is Alfred Selimaj, who opened the first hotel in Valbona in 2004. What began as a spare room on his family’s farm is now the 21-room Rilindja (2), meaning “Rebirth”. The cosy bedrooms have gable roofs and locally woven kilim rugs, and the restaurant is the only one in the region to have splashed out on two chefs. Doubles from £33 a night.