Albania is not necessarily one of the typical travel destinations and most people even consider the country to be dangerous. Completely wrongly because the country is the undiscovered pearl of the Balkans. The small state in the south of the Balkan Peninsula promises lonely beaches, exciting cities, and a diverse culture. But nature lovers will also get their money’s worth here. In fact, untouched nature and wild fauna are waiting to be explored. Mountain landscapes with an altitude of over 600 meters extend over half of the national territory. In addition, in the north of the country are the Prokletije. This mountain range, which is often referred to as the Albanian Alps, is home to gigantic mountains and breathtaking landscapes. At almost 2700 meters, the Jezerca is the highest mountain that lies entirely in Albania. The foot of the mountain lies in the idyllic Shala valley, in which the mountain village of Theth is located. Theth is well developed for tourism and offers many opportunities to explore the area. Here you can find, for example, the 30-meter high Grunas waterfall or the 60 meter deep gorge of the same name. The syri i Kaltër, a dreamlike waterfall that one would only expect to find in subtropical countries, is particularly popular. On my travel blog about Albania I will introduce you to an exciting hike to this idyllic waterfall, which is also called the Blue Eye.
The route of my hike in brief
If you click on a link below, you will be taken directly to the corresponding section of the route. This starts in the center of Theth, from which a bumpy road leads to the beautiful chapel of the village and continues to the eerie lock-in tower. From here you slowly leave the village and walk uphill along a river to the spectacular Grunas waterfall. This is followed by a short hike to the Grunas Canyon, the rock walls of which plunge over 60 meters into the depth. The following section leads over scree and forest sections along the Shala River until you reach the small town of Nderlysaj. From here the route runs through partly tropical forest and ends at the paradisiacal Blue Eye waterfall. The entire hike is about 20 kilometers, but not very demanding. As the paths are stony, walking shoes are compulsory. It took me around 6 hours. Snacks and drinks can be bought from the locals along the way. I have marked the route and all important points on the map.
20 km (around 6 hours)
Stony but paved, small difference in altitude
How to get to Theth
Getting to Theth by car
Theth is difficult to get to with your own car. The road conditions in Albania are already miserable, but the route to Theth is a completely different challenge. But one after another. From Shkodra follow the SH1 north and turn right onto the SH21 in the town of Koplik. From here a narrow-paved road leads uphill for kilometers. The views are spectacular, and you pass many remote villages. However, the road ends at qafe e Terthores. This is followed by a stretch over scree and forest floor with deep potholes. Additionally, there is no backup on the slopes. Although it is only 16 kilometers to Theth from here, the route takes just as long as the previous 60 kilometers from Shkodra. When I traveled to Theth at the end of 2019, it was only possible to cover the route with a four-wheel drive. However, I checked with the owners of the hotel where I stayed at the time. The construction work is almost complete, and the route can now also be tackled with a normal car. But it is still bumpy and arduous.
Getting to Theth by minivan
Traveling in one of the minivans that take tourists from Shkodra to Theth every morning is certainly more convenient. So, I also traveled to Theth for 10 euros each way. The journey takes just under 3 hours. Every accommodation in Shkodër will be able to get you a ticket. Information is also available at the bus station. Back then, to be on the safe side, I threw myself 2 tablets against travel sickness that I still had from my trip to Asia. Therefore, it was no problem for me to survive the winding and bumpy ride. Because of the pills, I didn’t even feel it when my head hit the ceiling of the van when it hit potholes. I don’t know if these Asian pills would be allowed here.
From the center to the church and the lock-in tower of Theth
My route starts at the tourist information on the river at the entrance to the village. I follow the stony main road to the southeast and decide to take the path to the left when the road splits. A farmer and his donkey pulling a cart with stones come towards me. I make way, get a brief look, and a hello before they head for the house at the fork. There the homeowner is renovating and is already expecting the two of them. My way leads me past houses and meadows where goats graze until I reach the church of the village. The small chapel fits perfectly into the idyllic mountain landscape and will of course be my first photo opportunity.
The route continues along a small path, where you are not sure whether it is a path at all. At the end, near the river, you will reach the quirky lock-in tower. Criminal men used to be voluntarily locked in the tower to escape the blood revenge of other families. They sought refuge until the two families had passed a fair judgment. The blood revenge was an integral part of the culture in northern Albania, but is no longer practiced today. Today the tower serves as a small museum.
From Theth to the mighty Grunas waterfall
From the museum I follow the path along the river and slowly leave the village of Theth. After 500 meters I come to a small red bridge that leads over a small stream. It doesn’t look particularly trustworthy. Crossbeams are missing, but I can safely reach the opposite bank. There follows a short ascent to a farm with a small cafe in the garden. Campers sit on chairs in front of their tents, which are also in the garden, and have breakfast. Certainly a nice place to stay overnight.
After passing the farmhouse, I keep to the left. The following section of the hike is not that easy to see. You know you are right as long as a small stream flows next to you. It’s a steep uphill. The way is arduous because there are a good 100 meters of altitude to be mastered. Finally, I reach the Grunas waterfall, which falls about 30 meters down over a rock trough at the foot of the Boshi summit. I try to get closer to the waterfall, but the turquoise blue water in the pool is ice cold and the wind is driving the cold water into my face. It’s October, but the sun is shining and conjuring up a rainbow at the waterfall. A hiker sits in the sun and reads a book while I sit down and admire the beauty and power of nature.
The Shala River in the deep Grunas Gorge
I hike back downhill on the other side of the river towards the valley and soon come to a junction. A path that is not really visible as a path leads to the right across a meadow. If you pass an abandoned hut that used to be a kind of café, you’ve come to the right place. There follows a small, narrow path through dense forest before I reach the huge Grunas Gorge. A wooden bridge crosses the rugged cliffs that form the narrow gorge. A look down is dizzying. At a depth of 60 meters, the raging water of the Shala River makes its way through the narrow gorge. Despite my fear of heights, I take a few pictures and then follow the same path back to the junction.
Short Facts for your Trip
The season in Theth runs from May to October. I was in Albania in October and was lucky with the weather. It was sunny and around 20 degrees. I met almost no one on the hiking route. So, if you like it quiet, you should also travel in autumn. Certainly, there is more going on in Theth in summer and the likelihood of good weather is also higher. In winter, the village is often inaccessible, and the villagers also withdraw from the mountains. You can find the climate of the individual months on the following website.
Untouched nature along the Shala
The next 3 kilometers of the route always run along the river, which arises from the numerous springs of the Albanian Alps. The Shala flows into the Lake Koman, which is also a popular travel destination in Albania. On the other side of the hiking trail, the gigantic mountains of the national park tower up. Steep rock walls covered with dark green plants shape the beautiful valley in which I enjoy to hike.
A small path leads me through the most varied of landscape passages. First deciduous trees and small bushes shine in the most beautiful autumn colors, then follows a monotonous section over loose scree and huge boulders. Suddenly I’m in the middle of conifers. This change is repeated over and over again. Only the Shala remains constantly in sight or hearing range. Atypical for October it is around 20 degrees in pure sunshine. As a result, the clear water of the river sparkles in the most beautiful tones. I would like to jump in, but the water is just as cold as at the Grunas waterfall.
Stone desert in the village of Nderlysaj
After crossing a stone bridge, I reach the small town of Nderlysaj. The area is like a stone desert. There are no plants growing anywhere, there are stones everywhere. It’s hot, but nowhere does shade offer protection from the scorching sun. It seems to me as if the area is a floodplain and I am walking on the gravel ground. But along the way there are sometimes small houses with gardens where goats and pigs graze. Music is playing from one house and its occupant sells drinks to tourists. I ask myself to whom, because so far, I have only met other people at the waterfall. Behind the house I climb rocks and finally have to cross a deep gorge over a river. Spectacular. That was unexpected.
The Blue Eye or the paradise of the Albanian Alps
A bumpy road leads me out of the village towards the Blue Eye. The sun is high, and the bright gravel of the path enhances the dazzling effect of the sun’s rays. It is dry and dust swirls up with every step. But only the first section is arduous, because the rest of the route is characterized by dense forest. The path runs along a river. Sometimes uphill, sometimes downhill. I have to cross tree trunks or overcome muddy passages. Suddenly a snake sneaks across the path in front of me. It’s bluish and doesn’t look particularly friendly. The three villagers who are sitting in front of a bucket with various beverage cans in the middle of the forest and smiling try to sell me something are more friendly. I have no choice and treat myself to a cool soft drink.
After a while, signs lead me to the Blue Eye. Soon I step over slippery stones and shortly afterwards stand by the pool. Amazing, the most varied shades of blue and green shine towards me. The Blue Eye is surrounded by steep cliffs, but a wooden structure has been erected to the right. Stairs lead to wooden platforms from which you have wonderful views of the picturesque waterfall.
The views of the Blue Eye are breathtaking. And the best thing is that I have this little paradise all to myself. At the top of the rock there is a small stone hut with a garden with benches and tables everywhere. An old woman greets me and holds out a menu. I choose a dish, but she shakes her head. I choose something else, but she shakes her head again. She points to 3 dishes, I choose one of them and sit in the garden. Here I enjoy the peace and quiet until the woman brings me a soup with a huge flatbread.
Shortly before I want to leave, a group of around 20 people reach the waterfall and destroy the idyllic image of paradise. I turn around on the other side of the river and notice that there are benches and terraces everywhere to relax. It seems like all hell is going on here in summer.
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Return to Theth and conclusion about my hike
I hike the same route back to Theth. The villagers are still sitting in the forest selling drinks. The small parking lot at Nderlysaj is full of SUVs that were used to bring the 20-strong troop near the waterfall. Lazy people. On the way back I meet a couple, but otherwise I hike alone through the beautiful landscape. I save the Grunas Gorge and the Grunas Waterfall on the way back.
After 6 hours I come back to Theth. Overall, I really liked the route. The waterfalls, mountains and landscapes are really unique and breathtaking. Those who appreciate wild nature will love this hike. The blue eye at the end is an absolute highlight. In total, the route is 20 kilometers long, but you only have to conquer a few meters in altitude. A good physical condition is still essential. But no relevant hiking experience is required to cope. A hiking map is advisable, however, as the paths are poorly signposted. I hiked the tour in October off-season. Accordingly, there were hardly any other tourists on the road. There is certainly more going on in summer. In addition, there are countless other ways to explore the Albanian Alps. A hike to Valbona, for example, is popular. If you have any tips for the Theth area, please let me know in the comments. I really want to go to Albania one more time. I am pleased that you have read my post.
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