Albania: a journey along the wild Vjosa River

Raft, hike or bike along this stretch of some of Albania's most scenic landscapes

A view across a bend in the Vjosa river, surrounded by mountains
The Vjosa is said the be the lasty truly wild European river west of Russia
(Image credit: Mathias Calabotta / Getty Images)

Rising in the Pindus mountains of Greece, but flowing for much of its 169-mile length through southern Albania to the Adriatic Sea, the Vjosa is said to be the last truly wild European river west of Russia. It has never been dammed, canalised or redirected, says Alex Crevar in The New York Times – and six months ago, after years of campaigning for its protection, it was finally granted national park status in Albania, along with several of its tributaries. Travelling along it takes you through a landscape of sometimes breathtaking beauty, where vineyards, orchards and olive groves "intermingle" with meadows of wildflowers, amid towering mountains cloaked in forests of oak, ash and pine. Ancient bridges span the river's "turquoise" waters, and here and there it rushes through gorges and box canyons where the rafting is superb.

Spanning a bend in the river 20 miles from the Greek border, the little town of Përmet is an "adventure hub" from which you might set out on such rafting expeditions, as well as on guided riding, cycling and hiking trips. Nearby lies Ferma Albanik, a pleasant guesthouse with a restaurant supplied by local family-run farms. Albania is "renowned" for its food, and the Vjosa Valley "sets the bar even higher", with wonderful fruits and vegetables, river fish, mountain honey, cheese, wine and more. Within easy reach of the guesthouse is the Lengarica Canyon, where there are several hot spring pools beside an Ottoman-era bridge.

Perched beside the Drinos River – one of the Vjosa's protected tributaries – is the beautiful old town of Gjirokastra, from which you might follow Albania's new Unesco Cycling Route to the Vjosa Delta and the Adriatic. Along the way are fine historic sites, including the ruins of the ancient Greek city of Antigonea. The delta itself is "heaven for birders", although it is not part of the national park, and is currently threatened by a new airport development.

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