Albania is becoming more and more famous for its stunning coastline, crystal waters, and pristine sandy beaches, but in my mind, where the real beauty lies is in the mountains.
North to south, east to west, the Albanian landscape is punctuated by vertiginous mountain ranges that frame almost every horizon, rising up from the plains like jagged sentinels. Some are covered in lush forests and greenery, others lie naked in their stony glory, and some conceal secret enclaves where you can almost forget the hustle, bustle, and turmoil of the outside world. One of these places is the village of Theth.
Located in the north of Albania within the borders of Shkoder County, the village of Theth is a remote, unspoilt, tranquil and utterly breathtaking locale, at least 2 hours away from the nearest sign of ‘civilisation’. Designated as a Protected Historic Centre by the Albanian government, the village also sits within the Theth National Park, an area of outstanding natural beauty.
According to the locals, they all share a single common ancestor, Ded Nika, and it is understood that the population moved to Theth around 350 years ago. They did so in a bid to preserve their Catholic traditions at a time when the Ottoman armies were rampaging across the country, imposing Islam on the Albanians.
British writer and anthropologist Edith Durham visited Theth in the early 20th Century and quite rightly observed “I think no place where human beings live has given me such an impression of majestic isolation from all the world.”
I share her views, and upon visiting last year, I described this place as “the heart of Albania.”
Situated in a valley flanked by a rugged and all encompassing mountain range, the village is only accessible by a single carriage track that requires a 4×4 and driver who is not afraid of heights. The road winds around the sides of the mountains for several miles with a sheer drop of hundreds of feet on one side, and solid rock on the other. You need at least 2 hours to get to Theth once you exit the main road and its advisable to get a guide to drive you- once you undertake the journey, you will understand why!
It is also worth noting that the village is only accessible in the late spring, summer, and early autumn as it is completely cut off by snow in the winter. Whilst some do make the perilous journey in the winter months, it takes around 6 hours and as most of the locals leave when the temperature drops, there is little to do when you get there.
As the road passes over the summit of the range and starts its descent into the valley below, you will notice guest houses and camp sites lining the way. There are all manner of accommodation options available from chalets to tents to ex-communist holiday camps that have been turned into peaceful retreats. We opted for the latter and despite the power going off for two nights in a row, we were treated to the finest home cooking by candlelight, and some of the headiest local red wine I have ever had the pleasure of ingesting.
The centre of the village comprises of a few guest houses, a shop, a coffee shop, and a couple of houses scattered either side of the river. If you follow the river down, you happen across the iconic Theth church- the subject of many a famous instagram shot. From there you can also visit the “lock in” tower- a relic of the blood feud times where families that were “in blood” could seek refuge until a solution to the dispute was found.
Other attractions include Grunas waterfall, the Thethi Blue Eye, a working watermill which still grinds corn for the villages inhabitants, and a small ethnographic museum. There are also a number of great hiking trails nearby and for the more experienced hiker, there is a wonderful (or so I have been told) trail that takes you all the way to Valbona, via the Albanian Alps.
Apart from hiking and exploring, there is little else to do in Theth except eat, drink, relax, and breathe in some of the freshest, cleanest and sweetest air you will have ever come across. This lack of ‘things to do’ is part of the beauty and attraction of the place and it is one of the few locations I have ever been to where I have felt I could really switch off.
Theth is an oasis of calm and a true hidden gem, nestled away in the highlands of Albania. If you are coming to Albania, no trip is complete without experiencing this truly incredible place.