New yet traditional-style guest houses dot the Thethi Valley, a pristine wilderness region in northern Albania not far from the border with Montenegro.
Bujtina Polia in Theth, the central village, was just finishing an expansion when this travel writer stopped for a night. (Bujtina means guest house in Albanian).
Theth National Park
Formerly inaccessible due primarily to bad mountain roads, the area’s in the midst of a tourist boom. The major draw is Theth National Park, founded in 1966. It is a hiker’s paradise with marked trails winding through thick forests, across meandering rivers, past myriad waterfalls, and around striking rock formations. The International Union for Conservation of Nature, headquartered in Switzerland, has declared this Protected Historic Center of Theth National Park both an Important Bird Area and an Important Plant Area.
The valley is in the Albanian Alps, known locally as “Prokletije” — which translates as “cursed mountains.” The rugged range along the western Balkan peninsula is characterized by steep, sharp, rock-faced summits. The mountains extend well outside of the park boundaries as part of the larger Dinaric Alps, stretching over 621 miles.
Guest Rooms at Bujtina Polia
The rooms are located on the first and second floors of the building, and offer expansive views of the valley. On the ground floor, there’s a large dining room where breakfast, lunch, and dinner are served — and free WiFi is provided.
There is a terrace in front of the house for sitting, chatting, and taking meals outside. The dozen or so staff speak multiple languages, including English, Spanish, French, and Italian.
I stayed in their “king size” room, about 323 square feet. with a king-size bed. I was on the second floor, so I had skylights over the bed and in the bathroom. Since the valley is sparsely populated and there are no through roads, the night sky is magnificent. I fell asleep counting stars.
The bathrooms are small; the shower is not separated from the area with the sink and toilet. Because construction wasn’t finished, bare electrical wires protruded from the wall over the mirror — so I didn’t use the shower. (I’m sure it’s all complete now.)
There’s nowhere to eat in the valley other than the guest houses. The restaurant in the Bujtina Polia is open seven days a week to serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner from 7 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. The staff can arrange almost anything you’d need for hiking, from guiding to horse rental (they also have hiked most of the terrain and are happy to give advice about hiking trails and destinations).
Theth is the main village
Bujtina Polia is located in Theth, a small village of about 400 residents within Shkodër County, Albania. The community is at the center of Theth National Park. There’s a small Roman Catholic church, a kulla, and other buildings in various states of repair dating back to Medieval times.
What’s a kulla? It’s a heavily fortified building (most often a tower) with small windows that serve as shooting holes. An extended family’s kulla was a place of refuge in times of conflict.
Construction of kullas in Albania began with the decline of the Ottoman Empire largely to protect families from the lawlessness that ensued. Even in the late 1990s, kullas were the object of attacks during the war with Serbia. Then there are the blood feuds (think: Hatfields and McCoys).
It’s said that Theth has the best remaining example of a kulla jgujimi (locked-in tower), also known as the Tower of Nikoll Koçeku. It’s still owned by the Koçeku family, which occasionally gives tours (you can see it in the photo, above — it’s the “tall” building almost in the center). Kullas call to mind Rapunzel’s tower from the old fairy tale.
If you go to the Thethi Valley
Rooms at the Bujtina Polia start about 35 euros for a double and range up to 65 euros for a room that sleeps five adults. Meals are extra. You can make a reservation at the hotel’s website or at an online hotel booking site such as Booking.com.
The nearest large town is Shkodër, where you might like to spend a night at the Hotel Rozafa.
(Written by Susan McKee, who provided most of the photos; exterior courtesy of Bujtina Polia)