Albanian Alps (Prokletije)
Prokletije is a mountain range on the western Balkan peninsula, extending from northern Albania to Kosovo and eastern Montenegro. Its peak in Albania, Maja Jezercë at 2,694 m (8,839 ft), is the highest point, and the 7th highest peak in Albania.
The Valbona River Valley lies in the eastern part of the Albanian Alps.
A national park of 8,000 hectares, it is one of the most beautiful natural areas in Albania. The park lies about 22 km from the alpine city of Bajram Curri. Before entering the valley there is the spring (vrellen) of Shoshan, located only 3 km away from Bajram Curri.
This spring rushes through limestone fissures on its way to the Valbona River creating an attractive canyon, 2-3 m wide and 50 m deep. After entering the valley, there are several picturesque villages.
The first, with alpine style houses, is called Dragobia, and it is where the valley narrows. After Dragobia, at the foot of the mountain where the Cerremi stream joins the Valbona River, is the famous cave where the national hero Bajram Curri was besieged and killed. It was after this event that the city took his name.
Valbona is located 25km away from the city of Bajram Curri and is the most important inhabited center of the valley.It is full of traditional houses that create a picturesque view in symmetry with the natural wonders of the valley.
The final village before arriving in Valbona River is Rrogam.
Rrogam is a remote village surrounded by virgin natural landscapes. The entire valley is resplendent with rare colors and beauty.
The flora of the national park includes a variety of plants and trees, the most widespread of which are the Hormoq tree. The rest consists of beech woods, walnuts, chestnuts, and wild apple. There are also numerous berries, including wild blueberries and strawberries.
The animals in the park include bears, wolves, wild cats, and even herds of wild goats climbing on the cliffs.The valley, the park, and all surrounding area are known for heavy snowfall, which starts in early November and lasts almost until May. The average yearly snowfall in this region is 100 cm.
There are many outdoor activities in the national park, such as skiing, mountain climbing, fishing. Valbona may serve as a starting point if someone wants to climb the Jezerca Mountain, the second highest mountain in Albania.
There is also Vermosh, is located in the northern-most mountains of Albania ,the first thing that we see there along the journey is Qafa e Rrapshit, where we see the crystal-clear waters of the Cemi River creating a beautiful contrast with the surrounding landscape.
During summer, the ponds of the river are perfect for sunbathing and many visitors stop to lounge in the sun and enjoy themselves. Vermosh stands in an alpine field 1,100 m above sea level surrounded by high slopes.
From there the road takes us away to Western Albanian Alps, (Alpet Perëndimore). The journey begins from the cultural capital of Shkodra and wanders 41 km away to the village of Razma.
Situated on a blackberry hill at the feet of the Veleçik Mountain, Razma stands amid lush forests of pine and birch trees. Meadows and amazing alpine pastures abound, drenching any visitor with a keen eye in the beauty of the Balkans.
The road turns from Razma to the village of Dedaj and then onto Boga, a village surrounded by the Alps.
Boga is the perfect place for mountain climbing, skiing, and cave spelunking.
The Cave of Puci is one of the most attractive, situated 1,087 m above sea level and 5 km deep.
This cave is rich in stalactites, stalagmites, and wall veils, and branches into many different levels, five alone at the center. Passing through its curved galleries you can walk into the next cave, the Cave of Husi.
Canyons and valleys in Prokletije
The erosion of the Prokletije mountains by glaciers left many telltale features behind. Deep river canyons and flat valleys wind around the ridges of the mountains.
The largest and most popular canyon is Rugova Canyon. It is situated in Kosovo and is 25 km (16 mi) long from the border with Montenegro to the city of Peć and is 1,000 m (3,281 ft) deep. It has very steep vertical mountain slopes on both sides.
Rivers and lakes
The Prokletije include many of the important rivers of the southeastern part of the Western Balkans. Rivers in this range fall roughly into two main categories, those that flow into the Lim and those that enter the White Drin and meet the Black Drin downstream at the Drin confluence. The southern and eastern slopes of Prokletije fall into the latter category.
The Tara and Lim rivers, two major sources of the Dinaric river system, originate on the northern borders of the Prokletije. The Vërmosh originates in the northwest mountainous part in Montenegro, close to the border with Albania.
As a tributary of the Drina it drains into the Danube and then into the Black Sea. The Lim flows through the Plav lake. The Ibar, which originates on the slopes of the Hajla, takes a similar route into the Danube via the West Morava in Serbia.
In the southern Prokletije, the Drin dominates. It drains most of the ranges with its tributaries and when measured from the source of the White Drin in Radavc to the mouth of the Drin near Lezha, it is 335 km long.
There are about 20 small alpine lakes of glacial origin in the Prokletije. Many lakes are in the Bogiçevica border area between Kosovo and Albania and the Buni i Jezercë trough near the Jezerca and Bojs peaks.
Some lakes, such as Liqenat Lake in Kosovo and Hrid Lake in Montenegro, have become tourist attractions due to their locations and scenery.
Hrid Lake today is a clear example of a well-preserved glacial relief. In the Pleistocene period (1.8-0.01 million years ago) this was a collection area for ice that fell down over steps of rock from surrounding peaks, dragging with it heterogeneous material. Precipitation washed away smaller rocks, but larger ones remain on the southwestern and western lake shore. The lake is 295 meters long, 110 meters wide and about 5 meters deep on average. In addition to precipitation, it receives water from sources near its shores.
Peaks over 2,600 m (8,530 ft)
- Maja Jezercë (2,694 m or 8,839 ft; in Albania)
- Đeravica/Gjeravica (2,656 m or 8,714 ft; in Kosovo)
- Maja Grykat e Hapëta (2,625 m or 8,612 ft; in Albania)
The Prokletije is on the whole the wettest area of Europe. In the village of Boga in the dry valley, precipitation is 3,033 millimetres (119.4 in) per year, and otherwise 2,000 to 2,500 millimetres (79 to 98 in) per year is normal. At higher elevations snow is found even in summer, except in very dry years.
In winter some villages in the Albanian part of the Prokletije are completely cut off from the rest of the world for months due to the very heavy snow.
The vegetation of the Prokletije is among the richest on the Balkan Peninsula and one of the main central European regions for flora. To date, 1611 wild plants have been described in the Albanian part alone.In total, 50 flora species are endemic, sub-endemic and endangered plant species.
The southern edge of mountains have a sub-Mediterranean character. Various evergreen bushes are found in the deepest valleys of the canyons and sunny slopes, and in the higher valleys deciduous Shibljak shrubs are common. In the mountains over 100 medicinal herbs are found, including species of the genus Primula, Satureja and Sideritis.
The levels of vegetation in Prokletije meet the alpine level, from upland valleys through the montane mountain stage on forest-free alpine and subalpine mats and subnivale tundra caused by permafrost in vast heaps of rubble with raw soils.
Large mammal species that have long been extinct in other regions are found here, such as the Eurasian brown bear, grey wolf, red fox, European wildcat, roe deer, fallow deer, red deer, wild boar and European otter.
The highly endangered Balkan lynx, a subspecies of the Eurasian lynx, is mainly found in the Thethi National Park where about roughly 20-50 individuals still roam, though poaching is still a large threat.
Chamois are found throughout the high altitudes. About 720 chamois live between the borders of Kosovo and Montenegro alone.
Bird species include the golden eagle, snake eagle, honey buzzard, peregrine falcon, capercaillie, rock partridge, scops owl, Eurasian eagle owl and the snow finch.
The rivers are home to a growing number of marble trout. Among the amphibians are the alpine salamander (southernmost habitat), fire salamander, yellow-bellied toad and fire bellied toad .
So far 140 species of butterflies have been found, which makes Prokletije the richest area in Europe for butterflies. The Prokletije have one endemic species of lizard, the Prokletije rock lizard or Dinarolacerta montenegrina, named after the range.