Mountains of Albania with the blue unspoiled river of Vjosa.

Hiking Southern Albania

Hiking in Albania doesn’t require rental cars or expensive taxis to access great trails and there are lots of options. Every town we visited had a beautiful backdrop of mountains that provided trail heads within walking distance. We won’t claim to know where the best hiking in Albania is because we haven’t traversed every trail, but below are the trails we did hike in the order of our path through Albania. You decide which would be your favorite.

Our path through Albania started in the south at Lake Ohrid, continuing on to Korçë, Përmet, Gjirokastër, and Ksamil. Next week’s post will cover northern Albania from Tirana, Krujë, Theth, and ending in Shkodër by Lake Skadar.

Animated map of Albania showing the places covered in this post, in the order we visited them.

Lake Ohrid

People know Lake Ohrid for its great depths and crystal clear water. It is surrounded by mountains that provide spectacular views of rugged landscapes and the blue lake beneath them. It is a destination worthy of a vacation.

Our review of the timeless water of Lake Ohrid details the hiking available on both the North Macedonian and Albanian side of the lake.

Tushemisht boardwalk
Boardwalk on Lake Ohrid in Tushemisht, Albania


Public transportation from Lake Ohrid to the coast is limited and can be a long journey. We chose two overnight stops, Korçë and Përmet, on the way to the Albanian Riviera. This allowed us to enjoy the scenery and fit in a few mountain hikes.

Korçë rests in a fertile valley. Trees, lush green grass, flowers, fountains, and artwork fill the city park. We could both imagine living in a place that offered such a peaceful park. Between walking around the city, it’s old bazaar, strolling through the park, and walking up to the memorial, we walked a little over 7 miles (11.6 kilometers) and only climbed 220 feet (67 meters) of elevation. If we had more time, we would include a trek up the next hill with a chapel at its peak, but we only planned one night here as a stopover.

Park in Korçë with green grass, flowers, tall trees, and a fountain
Korçë city park
Memorial above the city of Korçë
The memorial on the hill behind Korçë offers nice views of the city.

Established in 1496 at the heart of Korçë, the Mirahori School proudly asserts its status as Albania’s first educational institution open to both boys and girls. Unlike today’s government-sponsored schools, educational establishments during this era were typically founded and operated by religious organizations. This historical context challenges the common Western perception that religious institutions stifle intellectual development. Travel experiences have consistently shown that such organizations, which placed a high value on education, made many educational opportunities possible. The Mirahori School’s library, for instance, housed a diverse collection of books, including works by popular authors of the time, medical texts, and a variety of other literary works.


Përmet serves as both a brief stopover and a destination deserving of a more extended stay, particularly for hiking enthusiasts. Although our visit was brief, spanning just two nights, many opt to linger longer to explore the many hiking trails in the area. However, accessing some of these trails requires costly transportation to the trailheads. Given our limited time, we chose a hike that didn’t necessitate a taxi ride.

View of Përmet , Albania from the top of City Rock. Mountains surround the town, some with a bit of snow still on their tops. a clear bluish river meanders through town.
View of Përmet , Albania from the top of City Rock

Arriving late in the day, we spent our first evening exploring the charming mountain village and the Vjosa River that meanders through the town. This river is one of the last wild rivers in Europe, free from dams and other major human interventions. Its crystal-clear waters shimmer with a captivating blue hue under the sunlight.

The City Stone

A prominent feature in the town center is the City Stone, a sizable rock outcrop situated alongside the river. Ascending a mere few flights of stairs, we reached its summit, which afforded us a panoramic view of the city below and the remnants of an ancient castle perched on its top.

View standing above Përmet , Albania as we started on the hiking trail.
On the trail from Përmet to Lipe

Përmet to Lipe and Leus

The next day, we hiked from Përmet to Lipe, and then made our way to Leus. The trail offers many viewpoints of the snow-capped mountains and the lush green valley below. As we stood on a rocky outcrop near Leus, enjoying the view of the valley, another hiker approached us.

“Do you know the way to Leus? I think I’m a little lost,” she said, introducing herself as Sabine. We pulled out our phones and reviewed the trails together. Her map, downloaded from Google, did not have any of the local trails. She had data coverage, so we helped her download Organic Maps. Sabine’s phone displayed all options in German, but Trin, with his Geman language skills, helped her with the options so that she now had a good map of the trails.

We discussed travel, politics, and happenings around the world. Then we went our separate ways—us to Lipe and her to Leus. After Leus, the trail seemed to disappear at times with no discernible route forward. Thankfully, having the trail maps on our phone GPS led us in the right direction (we do not carry local data or cell coverage). I thought of Sabine several times, thankful that she now had a map. I could see why one could get completely lost on the “trails.”

Later that day, when we arrived in Leus, I was happy to see her again. She asked to join us for the rest of the trail back to Përmet, and I was excited to have her along and learn more about this interesting woman traveling on her own and exploring new cultures. She is an archaeological botanist, and I couldn’t wait to hear more about her findings.

Hiking tip: Install Organic Maps (a free app) and download the country map. Set Organic Maps to the outdoor setting and show contour lines.

Gjirokastër Fortress sits on a prominent hill that overlooks the entire valley.
Drino Vally with the prominent Gjirokastër Fortress


Gjirokastër Castle, perched high on a hill, is an impressive Ottoman-era fortress that offers breathtaking views of the surrounding city and the Drino Valley. Dating back to the 12th century, its stone walls and towers have witnessed centuries of change and conflict. The fortress is stunning from every direction, as is the long, fertile Drino Valley flanked by the Gjerë and Lunxhëri mountains.

Climbing through the steep streets that wind through the city and cling to the mountain behind the fortress provides not only magnificent views of the fortress itself but also leads into the mountains beyond, to the Ali Pasha Bridge. The Ali Pasha Bridge is part of an extensive aqueduct built in the 19th century by Ali Pasha of Tepelenë to supply water to the Gjirokastër fortress.

Trin looking down towards the Ali Pasha Bridge nestled deep in the valley
The Ali Pasha Bridge deep in the valley

Constructed from local stone, the aqueduct bridge blends into the landscape, with its elegant arches spanning the rugged terrain. The bridge offers a great destination and provides superb views of the valley in all directions during the journey.

Circumventing the fortress, exploring the old bazaar and climbing through to the Ali Pasha Bridge was a 6.5 mile (10.4 kilometers) day with 560 feet (171 meters) in elevation climb.

Trin walking across the arched Ali Pasha Bridge that spans a valley. The mountains are green with yellow blooms.
Ali Pasha Bridge

Ksamil, The Riviera

Riviera is Italian for “coastline,” but the term often evokes images of luxurious, tourist-filled shores. Naturally, we felt drawn to visit the Albanian Riviera. The problem is, popular tourist spots rarely top our list of favorites. Despite the hype, we wanted to see it for ourselves.

A beach on the Albanian Riviera crowded with beach chairs.
This is the low season on the Albanian Riviera

After seeing the crowded beaches and feeling the icy cold water, we opted to hike along the mountains to enjoy the views from a higher angle. Unfortunately, a trash heap partially buried the trail that begins in Ksamil. We could either hike over the garbage or navigate around it to reach the trail on the other side. Choosing the latter, we circumvented the heap and began our climb up the stairs to the trail on the other side.

Past the trash to a trail of snakes

Again, the path seemed to end at a gated fence. According to the map, the trail followed an old canal on the hillside. Using the canal as our guide, we traversed the mountain. The trail was intermittently visible, but we continued following the edge of the old concrete canal. With no shade, the full sun made it a scorching journey. Snakes frequently crossed our path, slithering away as we approached or lounging in the bushes.

Trin standing on a sculptured hand reaching out over the water of the Albanian Riviera
It just looked like a cool spot to take a picture. Ksamil, Albania.

About 300 feet from the road at the end of the canal, the trail disappeared entirely. Dense brush, about five feet high, stood between us and the road. We bushwhacked through, tapping the ground with our walking sticks to alert any snakes of our presence, giving them a chance to slither away before we stepped on them.

Since the supposed trail on the other side of the paved road was blocked by a locked gate, we followed a dirt road until we came across another path that led to old bunkers. These bunkers, dug deep into the stone mountaintops, seemed to be a favorite hangout for cows, made evident by the thick layer of fresh dung on the floor.

The trail ends at a viewpoint above Manastir. We found a rocky outcrop to sit on, eat lunch, and enjoy the breeze. Then we began the hot hike back, this time taking the lower trail that followed the coast. Along the way, we passed a pile of blankets, a mattress, and other trash that reeked of death. I hoped there wasn’t a person underneath. Further along the trail, a herd of goats entertained us with their antics, lifting our spirits as we continued.

The best part of the day – in the water

Trin swimming in a the crystal clear waters of the Albanian Riviera
Trin taking a dip in the Albanian Riviera

Overheating, we searched for a place to take a dip. Far from the tourist beaches, we found a spot along the rocky coast to access the cold, refreshing waters.

Our apartment had a balcony with views of the sea, providing a perfect end to each day. Overall, we enjoyed our stay in the Riviera, but it ranked as our least favorite stop in Albania. However, we did not explore the entire Riviera. We stopped in Sarande for a walk along the coast and stayed in Ksamil. You might just find the perfect spot we missed on your trip.

Stay tuned for Northern Albania

Our favorite hikes are in northern Albania, but this post is getting long, so the write-up on those will have to wait until next week. In the meantime, I’ll be sifting through hundreds of stunning views to decide which ones to include in the post. Stay tuned!

A blue door surrounded by a stone wall in Leus, Albania
Leus, Albania

6 thoughts on “Hiking Southern Albania”

  1. What awesome pictures! But that beach scene – I can’t even imagine how bad it is if this is the off season. WOW!

    1. Yes, I definitely don’t want to be on that beach during peak season! But we did love Albania and hopefully for others visiting the Riviera there are options that we didn’t see that would be better.

  2. Once again you have shared absolutely breath taking pictures with wonderful explanations.
    What fascinating experiences you two are having!!

    1. Thank you Jodeen! Northern Albania, coming next week, was even better. We had such a great time in Albania. All of the Balkans really have been beautiful.

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