We had booked one of the many guesthouses in Theth, which is in Theth National Park, one of the most beautiful places to visit in all Albania (at least that is what we were told, and why we visited, and guess what? they were right). The road to Theth, located in The Shala River valley within the Albanian Alps, goes up and down a mountain; up until a couple years ago, the road was only gravel; now it is paved, which was lucky for us. But the route was still a bit intimidating, as I had not driven in more than a year.
After almost three hours, and, once we crossed the town bridge into the village, past the trash horses (literally a set of horses rooting around near a couple dumpsters), we were onto the gravel road on the east-side of the Shala River. The road wasn’t made up of small gravel pieces, but rocks, and it was bumpy and while our rental car agreement said we couldn’t take the car “off-road” we were still worried that a tire would pop. After driving past many guesthouses, we came upon ours, parked our car, and let out an audible “phew,” that we had made it, tires intact.
We were welcomed by the teenage son of the owners, named Aron. Aron’s family ran the guesthouse in the summer and fall, because in winter the roads become impassible due to so much snow, and the family returns to Tirana. It was a family affair at the guesthouse; Aron’s younger brother was usually our waiter,their mother ran the desk and the kitchen, and the dad was often working outside, along with other family members. After we settled into our guestroom on the second floor of the three-story main house, we took in a bit of the view:
Aron’s mother told us that the Cascada de Grunas (or Waterfall) and Blue Eye of Theth are the two “must do” things while in Theth; besides enjoying their home-cooking and the natural beauty of the surrounding area. She said the Waterfall was only a twenty-five minute walk away, and we arrived around six in the evening (and sunset wasn’t until eight thirty) so we figured a short walk and we would see the waterfall that evening.
We headed out without water and not dressed for an intensive hike. After we started the uphill climb, and I was covered in sweat due to the humidity and still high temperatures from the daytime, it became laborious. Over some streams we went, catching views of the waterfall as we grew closer; it was nice being out in the fresh air of nature again, that was for sure.
Finally, after near an hour, we reached the cool air and mist coming off the waterfall; it was truly something to see. We were joined by only a pair of couples, who after taking a lot of pictures, left us and just another female hiker as we enjoyed the quiet and fading daylight in front of the waterfall.
The solo hiker left a few minutes before us, and Jesse and I took one last look at the Waterfall, and then headed back down. We stopped at a little stand that had some tables set out, a cooler with beer, water and soda, and some other snacks, near the base of the trail to the waterfall. I downed a water before we each had a beer and cooled off from the long hike. We finished our beers and headed back to the guesthouse, which looked quite regal as darkness set in.
We had three days in Theth. We planned to visit the Blue Eye but decided to take a day to relax a bit. We walked the main road into town, and took notice of a gathering of people, some under a couple white tents, watching a group of old men with microphones talk on a stage. They were laughing and having a good time, and nearby we saw some other men dressed up in traditional Albanian garb (so we assumed) as well as some teenagers in colorful and traditional outfits as well.
The traditional outfit of Albanian women in the area, for thousands of years (and the young ladies at the back of the stage in the picture below wore) is called Xhubleta, and these were outfits worn by girls prior to marriage, and the amount of silver and jewels on the outfit symbolized the social status of the family.
Also there were a few stands selling wood carvings, another soaps, and some trinkets and bunches of lavender. Soon after, the older men left the stage and a man and woman began singing, and later were replaced by two lute players along with the aforementioned girls in their Xhubleta outfits.
We stopped and watched for a while, then walked on and stopped in the Tourist Information Office, which was staffed by a young woman, who was very helpful, and was born and raised in Theth. We asked her questions and she told us the festivities we saw earlier were for the opening weekend of the summer season there in Theth, which brings many tourists from Albania as well as Europe and all over the world to this tiny mountain village. We thanked her and carried on, walking past the last guesthouse, where there was the general store. We purchased some supplies and took in more mountain views.
We began the walk back to our Guesthouse as the clouds were beginning to gray (see the above picture on the left). The stage where the opening weekend festivities had been was being dismantled and people were dispersing at a leisurely pace. As the sky grew darker, we saw the church of Theth (Kisha e Thethit) in the distance.
Th church was on our way back to the guesthouse, so we took a slight detour to see it up close. There was a long fence that surrounded it, and inside the fence, near the door, was a white horse, milling about. We did not see an open gate, though as rain drops began to fall we saw a couple guys climb over the fence; the horse did not like this, and guarded the door, and they went to talk to an old man who was walking up at the same time.
As the rain started to come down in bigger drops, we didn’t wait to see if the guys made it inside and we left the church area, and started to move more quickly toward our guesthouse. Well, it was a little farther than we thought, and the light rain became a rainstorm, and even our umbrella couldn’t stop of from getting soaked. We were lucky enough to be welcomed inside a bar that was very near our guesthouse, were we waited out the rain before calling it an early night, not before eating a hearty dinner at our place, to be ready for our trip to the Blue Eye the next day.
The next morning we waited with two other families for the minibus to take us to the Blue Eye of Theth (which cost a quite reasonable six euro per person). There was a four-hour hike to reach the base camp, with a 45-minute uphill hike to reach the Eye, but, by taking the bus, one could skip that initial hike, and most everyone (even native people from Theth, like our guesthouse owner and the girl at the tourist information office) skip that part. So, we took the bumpy ride to the base of the hike; there was a river there, the Lumi i Shales, where some people were swimming, there were also a couple of restaurants, bathrooms, and a water spout to refill bottles before and after the hike up.
The sun was shining, the water was clear, and it was a good day to hike. The mother of a family of four, an Irishwoman named Ana, who was traveling across the Balkans with her husband and two teenage daughters (who could not have been less interested in this hike), asked if we wanted to accompany them along with their hired guide; of course we said yes, and got to talk to her as we made our way, first on a flat gravel path in the valley of the mountains around us.
The hike soon turned into an uphill climb up and on and over rocks of all sizes. The sun beat down on us, and soon my arms and legs were slick with sweat. We climbed and climbed, taking breaks as needed, resting where we could find shade, walking past other travelers leaving the Eye, finally passing a sign confirming we were going in the right direction.
On the way up there are two places to purchase beverages, one a literal shack beside the hiking trail, the other a large cooler along the river that kept drinks cool by using running water supplied from the mountain above. Both were welcome sites, but we knew we wanted to refill our bottles in the water from the Blue Eye. We crossed one bridge, where some more people were swimming below.
Soon after we asked a couple of travelers going the opposite way if we were close. They said, “three minutes” and they were telling the truth. We reached the Blue Eye, which had the blue-green water unlike any we had seen; there were also a lot of people; only a couple went into the water, as we put our feet in, and it was freezing cold. But it was perfect to wash my face and head with, cooling off never felt so good.
We filled up our water bottles, lingered for as long as we could, but there were too many people, so we started the trek back down. It was much more peaceful and relaxing on the return trip; it was also nice to see the mountains, valley and river from a different perspective.
We waited for our whole party and then took the minibus back to the guesthouse where I wrote some on my blog at one of the picnic tables outside. Enjoying the nice weather, and especially the view, I listened to some young backpackers talk about their travels. While their conversation was somewhat exhausting after a bit (we also had to listen to them at dinner,) I appreciated their willingness to travel, although they made it seem like a competition on who could get the most words in before the next one spoke.
For dinner we shared two different pasta plates, a Greek salad, and afterward drank Raki and played cards as the sun set, a great last night and trip to Theth. The next day we left Theth, drove back up and down the winding and switchback filled mountain roads; but I had to take some pictures of the homes and valley below.
Our next stop: Lake Shkodër, near the Albania/Montenegro border. Stay tuned!