Mountain highs: trekking without borders in the Balkans

The views from Kosovo’s highest peak are incredible. It’s a tricky thing to confirm in a blanket of murk and howling winds. This is the 2,656m summit of Mount Gjeravica, where a shabby concrete marker displays a defaced plaque commemorating Kosovo’s first and only Olympic medalist.

Climbing the tallest mountains in Albania, Kosovo and Montenegro, there’s more to the itinerary than peak-bagging. The majority of the walking follows one continuous 33-mile trail through Albania’s northern borderlands, criss-crossing between countries with no hint of a passport check. And with bad visibility happily confined to Kosovo’s battered apex, the week succeeds in showing why the region attracts outdoor-lovers. This is a thunderously beautiful pocket of Europe.

The hiking begins a few hours’ drive to the south, with an ascent of Albania’s highest point, the 2,751m Mount Korab. Functioning as an appetizer to the week’s main walk, the climb is a long, hot slog. The slopes are full of grasshoppers and buttercups. You pass tough-faced, welly-booted shepherds. There are snow patches in the higher cols. At the summit, just to muddle the multi-country element further, the panorama reveals the cushion-soft valleys of western Macedonia.

The range sounds like something from a Tintin book and looks the part, too: a roughshod Arcadia of limestone, with colossal blades of silver rock jagging above its meadows and tarns. It feels wilder than many of its western European counterparts.

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