- Author: Katie Mastin, Paul Mastin
- Difficulty: Easy
- Region: Krujë
- Length: 42.58 km
- Max Elevation: 1234 m
- Total Elevation Gain: 1254 m
- Total Elevation Loss: 1359 m
The hike from Kruje to Burrel is an excellent introduction to hiking and backpacking in Albania. The entire route follows a clear road that alternates between asphalt, gravel, dirt, and macadamized stone. The views of the mountains are breathtaking and the superior quality of the road enables the hiker to relax and fully enjoy the rugged beauty of the scenery. Although having a GPS is always helpful, it is not necessary for this hike. A compass, however, would be advisable.
The route can be hiked in a brisk two days, or drawn out over a more relaxed three day adventure. Its close proximity to Tirana is also convenient for those who have a desire to explore the countryside but are under a time constraint. There is a national park, Qafe Shtama, with a small hotel, restaurant, and a few private cabins halfway between Kruje and Burrel, but its hours and months of operation are slightly unpredictable, and it would be better to come fully equipped and supplied.
The hike begins in the town of Kruje about one kilometer away from the city center. To get to Kruje from Tirana one may either hire a private taxi (prices will range from 2,500 to 3,500 lek) or take a bus from the bus station located at the main train station North of Skenderbeg Square. The schedules change seasonally, but the bus drivers who drive for other cities will know when the bus will be leaving. Busses also go to Fushe Kruje for 100 lek (the town at the base of the Kruje mountain) and from Fushe Kruje is not difficult to find a taxi or a mini bus to Kruje.
Adventurous travelers may choose to travel by mini bus (the most popular form of public transportation in Albania). A mini bus called a “furgon” (pronounced just like it looks) and there are furgon stations located throughout Tirana. The stations are unofficial and unmarked, but are easily recognized by the plethora of mini busses and drivers shouting for the town to which they are driving. Furgons leave constantly throughout the day, beginning at dawn and ending just before dark. There are few furgons that go directly to Kruje, but the ones that do travel there are located at the Zogu i Zi station. To get to Zogu i Zi, walk north-west from Skenderbeg Square (with the museum on your right and the Opera House behind you) until you get to the ring road (“Unaza”). Or take a taxi to the station for 200-300 lek from the city center. At the cross roads, there are drivers there that will be shouting for Kruje or Fushe Kruje. If you are unable to find a mini bus directly to Kruje, take one to Fushe Kruje. Mini buses to Kruje are usually 200-250 lek and 150-200 lek to Fushe Kruje. Once in Fushe Kruje, walk east towards Kruje and the mountains and keep an eye peeled for a mini bus with a Kruje sign on the winshield. Mini busses drive up every 20 minutes or so, and should cost 70-90 lek.
Once in Kruje, ask the driver to let you off at the road to Qafe Shtama (pronounced “CHA-fay SHTAH-mah”). There is a road sign for Qafe Shtama about 10 minutes after entering the outskirts of the city that points to the left and says “Qafe Shtama, 26 km”. The asphalt road off to the left is the start of the hike.
Kruje to Qafe Shtama
The hike from Kruje to Qafe Stama is approximately 16 miles (26 kilometers) and wanders through a series of green valleys and dry alpine bowls. The hike begins on a narrow asphalt road that runs steadily downhill through a series of villages and suburbs for a few miles. On a sunny morning these towns present a pleasant combination of traditional Balkan village life and relaxed Mediterranean attitude. Boys playing marbles, women hanging laundry and caring for grapevines, and older men walking arm-in-arm down a dirt side street are all sights that are likely to greet the bemused hiker.
After a couple of miles, the road turns to dirt, begins to leave the village, and winds slowly uphill until it opens onto a wide gorge with a quickly flowing river at its base. As the road continues along the right side of the gorge it becomes evident that Albania is still in the process of creating appropriate waste management infrastructure; the otherwise beautiful drop to the river is marred at regular intervals by massive quantities of trash that has been dumped along the roadside. This sobering reminder of ecological disregard is short-lived, however, and the road continues into a large bowl overlooking a sweeping valley criss-crossed by dirt tracks. In the winter and early spring, the distant that form the back of the bowl are covered in snow and present a lovely panorama.
Although the road is inexplicably devoid of Enver Hoxha’s iconic bunkers, several storage rooms and tunnels carved into the mountain on the right side of the road testify to the country’s communist past, and are worth a brief exploration for modern history enthusiasts.
Follow the road around the side of the bowl and approach the backside of the rocky craig upon which Kruje is built. The road enters the “village” of Noje that is, in reality, a lone gas station and pair of cafes. A few minutes after Noje, four huge camouflaged water tanks are good landmarks to reassure skeptical hikers that they are still on the correct road.
Several miles after Noje, the road forks and presents the hiker with two options. The left fork continues around the bowl and ends in a series of small villages. Hikers who wish to press on to Qafe Stama and Burrel should take the right fork and walk uphill out of the bowl. Although the incline is not insignificant, the view at the bend around the mountain is magnificent. A series of snow-capped peaks stretch into the south-west and the Tirana reservoir sparkles in the nearest valley. Mt. Dajti (easily recognized by its tell-tale radio and cell phone towers) rises directly ahead of the road, and the roofs of Tirana peek out between the mountains on the right.
Follow the road and enjoy the views as you pass through two more small villages. The road winds its way through several mini-bowls. At the first of these small bowls, just after the second village, there is a lovely patch of grass located about 100 meters down from the road on the right. The ground is soft and large enough for several tents, although it is not perfectly flat. There is a water source ten minutes up the road, and despite a bit of bush-whacking, it is relatively easily accessible. The next available spot for pitching a tent is 2-3 hours away at Qafe Stama, so for the weary and footsore, this is an ideal location.
For those continuing, after the campsite, the road continues around the bowl and crosses a sizable stream by way of a sturdy bridge and continues up the mountain. On the side of the mountain away from the campsite, a second major split in the road is visible. At the fork, continue right and walk up rather than down to the valley. The road slowly changes from dirt to macadamized stone as it ascends. Hikers will pass occasional dwellings, and a small village scented with peach and apple blossoms in the spring. Local residents are usually glad to stop and chat with hikers who know even a few Albanian phrases, and even visitors who can’t speak a word may be treated to as much freshly picked fruit as they can carry.
Soon after the road leaves the village, it begins to switchback and the vegetation transitions from oak scrub to evergreens. Almost abruptly, the path leads into the national park of Qafe Shtama. The park entrance is approximately 1,100 meters above sea level, and is marked by a pale green sign that says, “Parku Kombetar Qafe Shtama”. Although the park extends a sizable distance, the main area is within 50 meters of the sign. There are several cabins that may have housed tourists in bygone days, but have been recently claimed by locals and their livestock. There is a hotel and restaurant just past the park entrance. The hotel’s hours are rather fluid, but it is generally open from late June to late August. At other times of the year the proprietress may be willing to open a room, and if you can find her, she will almost certainly be able to provide hungry hikers with fresh bread, cheese, and vegetables year round. The hotel is a large white building with a red-tiled roof, and a gorgeous view of the mountains from the second floor. The proprietress is very friendly and helpful. Although she speaks no English, she speaks a little German and is used to communicating with nature-loving foreigners. In the summer, she can usually be found on the hotel grounds, and in the off-season, neighbors can give information about her whereabouts to guests who stand forlornly near the hotel long enough.
To the right of the hotel stands a small Qafe Shtama water bottling facility. The sign on the side of the building says “Fabrika e ujit Qafe Shtama” and it’s difficult to miss.
There are not official campsites in the park but there are several inviting pieces of ground within 200 meters of the hotel. A 10-15 minute walk up the road brings hikers to a particularly lovely spot of flat, green grass surrounded by towering pines. There is a stream across the road, and the area is large enough for 4-5 tents to fit comfortably.
Qafe Shtama to Burrel
After leaving the park, continue up the main and only road that leads to the top of the nearest mountain. After 20-30 minutes, hikers are rewarded by the sight of Burrel lying in the distant valley below. There is a small section of an abandoned military base at the top of the hill that can be used as a landmark, as well as some sizable power lines. Follow the road slowly down the mountain and enjoy the spectacular view. It quickly becomes evident that the road has led into yet another bowl. A few miles from Qafe Shtama the road splits. The right fork leads downhill to a village in a valley and a construction zone. Hikers who want to continue to Burrel should take the left fork that continues around the side of the bowl. The road is carved into the side of the mountain and can be easily seen for several miles. (Resist the temptation to descend into the too early.)
After a few hours of walking, the road finally crosses the last sizable mountain on the left side of the bowl and begins to descend down to Burrel. A large, partially active military base lies just over the mountain. The juxtaposition of barbed wire and “caution-munitions” signs with the serene alpine backdrop presents a unique opportunity for powerful photography.
The road continues downhill for several miles and eventually dumps out on the Burrel plain. Once the mountains end, the road quickly becomes populated by bustling villages. At this point, weary hikers may wish to hail a mini bus or hitchhike the remaining few miles into town. If not, continue on the main road that will eventually lead to the center of Burrel. Mini busses go from Burrel to Tirana and several other major cities throughout the day.
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