Thethi - A view from our expert author

Thethi Valley Albania by Tomas Laburda, Shutterstock© Tomas Laburda, Shutterstock

A taste of the traditional highland life, Thethi is superb for hiking.

About 50km northeast of Kopliku, at the head of the Shala River, lies the national park named after its largest settlement, the charming village of Thethi. The area was a tourist resort during (and, indeed, before) the communist period and its attractive, traditional features were accordingly maintained, while in other parts of highland Albania they were destroyed either deliberately or through neglect. Edith Durham visited Thethi in 1908, and described her stay there in her book High Albania. ‘Life at Thethi was of absorbing interest,’ she wrote. ‘I forgot all about the rest of the world, and … there seemed no reason why I should ever return.’ The modern visitor’s reaction is likely to be similar – Thethi seems to have changed little, except that it now has electricity, running water and Westernstyle toilets.

There are 200 houses scattered across the valley, although only a handful of families live there all year round. Most people who have not left for good spend the winter in either Shkodra or Kopliku, and return to Thethi in May to work their fields; they leave again in October, after the harvest and before the harsh winter weather sets in. The houses are built of the local grey stone, and roofed with shingles (wooden tiles). They are designed to be easily defensible – these mountains were once the heart of blood-feud territory and every family needed to be able to defend its menfolk against revenge. Of especial interest is the ‘lock-in tower’ (kulla e ngujimit), the only one remaining of its kind which is easily accessible to visitors. The tower was used when a family was ‘in blood’– that is, when it was involved in a vendetta. The men of the household locked themselves in and lived in the tower until some other unfortunate relative had been killed or the blood feud had been reconciled. Women were not in danger of being killed in a blood feud, which is just as well since the men would otherwise have had nothing to eat.

The village is predominantly Catholic; the area is so remote that the Ottomans left it largely to its own devices and the villagers had no reason to convert to Islam. The shingled church, in the centre of the main village, was there when Edith Durham stayed in Thethi. There are several other traditional buildings which can be visited during a day trip. A longer stay in Thethi will allow you to explore further afield and see the many beautiful natural phenomena in the park. There are also many longer treks for the fit and well equipped, including the popular hike across the Valbona Pass to Tropoja.

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