Balkans Day 4: Prizren to Kukës

Breakfast at the City Hostel was included in the price and we had the typical soft bread, cheese, salami and jam with orange juice and tea.  As the weather was its usual warm self we decided to take this up on the roof terrace with its views over the city.

The hills behind Prizren in the early morning light.
Sunlight on the roofs of Prizren.

Not being due to leave Prizren until the afternoon we had plenty of time left to explore more of the city.  As it was still early and not too warm we decided to head up to the Prizren Fortress above the city.

Following some vague directions and sporadic signposting we proceeded along a couple of streets near the area of the Sinan Pasha Mosque and eventually found a path up to the fortress.  This was paved in hexagonal stones and would have been a nice walk if it wasn’t built at an angle of roughly 45°!  It wasn’t actually that steep but felt like it.

The path soon levelled out a bit and climbed at a more leisurely pace up to the fortress.

Part of the climb up towards the Prizren Fortress.
Looking out over part of the city and a small Orthodox church on the way up.

Arriving at the top we were a bit disappointed to discover that the fortress flatters to deceive somewhat.  It looks quite impressive from below but the only part which is still intact is the outer wall overlooking the city.

The first fort was built by the Byzantines and it was then occupied and extended by the Serbs before coming under Ottoman control for over four hundred years.  It was finally abandoned in 1912 when the area was liberated from Ottoman control in the First Balkan War and has since fallen into its current state of disrepair although restoration work is under way.

Despite there not being much to see of the fortress itself the views are spectacular.

A view over part of the city during the ascent.
Looking out over Prizren towards the Sar mountains from the fortress.
The view from the other side of the fort into the valleys and mountains behind.
Most of the fortress is in ruins but some structures remain almost intact.

Needless to say the descent back to town was a bit quicker than getting up there and we still had some time to kill before heading to Albania so we had a quick peek inside the Sinan Pasha Mosque which is the city’s oldest.

Although imposing and photogenic from the outside truth be told it isn’t a very impressive sight inside.  The dome and Koranic inscriptions aren’t very spectacular although they are nicely done as you would expect.

The dome of the Sinan Pasha Mosque.
The interior of the mosque isn’t the most impressive in the world.
A closer view of some of the mosque’s design.

With that done it was back to the hostel to pack up and set off for a new town in a new country.  Kukës lies only 20km or so inside Albania and Prizren is just inside Kosova but transport between the two is somewhat erratic to say the least.

No buses ran directly between the two so we tried to find an Albanian furgon (a privately owned car/minibus) which would take us there and got an offer of €10 for both of us direct to our hotel in Kukës.  We took it. €10 for an hour’s journey including crossing an international frontier didn’t seem too bad although when our driver pulled over just after the start of the journey and accepted a package from the back of a van it did seem a bit dodgy.  It turned out to be sausages for a friend on the other side of the border!

The journey took us through some hills on the main Prishtina-Tiranë highway to the border where we were waved through and on along the foot of some magnificent mountains before turning off onto a local road and into the rather dreary little town of Kukës and pulling up at the Hotel Gjallica.

After checking in and dumping the rucksacks in our very comfy room we set out to take a look round the town which despite being surrounded by some amazing scenery is itself nothing special at all.

After changing some money into Lek in a local bank where the lovely young lady working there told us it was her dream to come to Norway we took a stroll along the main street where the hotel is situated and then down another street to try and get some shots of the mountainous scenery.

Mount Gjallica (2489m/8166ft) behind town of Kukës, Albania.
A sadly neglected and dilapidated park in Kukës, which was indicative of the generally run-down nature of the town.

Coming back up this same road we moved on into the other side of the town which wasn’t in much better condition than the rest.  We passed apartment buildings which seemed to be crumbling before our eyes and up to a square which should have been the civic pride of the town.  It contained a couple of official buildings and a memorial to the Kosova War which affected the town greatly but which was shut.

The memorial to the Kosova War.
Looking from the square towards the mosque and Mount Gjallica.
An arm of the artificial Lake Fierze and the mountains surrounding the town.
Despite the natural beauty surrounding Kukës large parts it are run-down like these apartment blocks.

Kukës’ two main claims to fame are that it was relocated from its original location due to the creation in 1976 of the artificial lake pictured above and its brief spell at the centre of the world’s media attention during the Kosova War 1998-99 when the town hosted some 450, 000 refugees fleeing over the border from Kosova.  This is in fact led to Kukës being nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2000 and many of the world’s top Foreign/War correspondents and journalists stayed in the same hotel as us.

Trying to find some nice shots of Lake Fierze we went up a road which leads to an abandoned hotel, part of a failed attempt to create a tourist industry and cash in on the scenic beauty of northern Albania.

Lake Fierze and Gjallica.
A small farm on the shores of the lake with interesting use of a lorry cab!

Returning to the hotel in the early evening we ate in the dining room there with me having a fairly good lamb casserole and Mrs Mjollnir opting for a similar dish of chicken which consisted mainly of bone and very little meat!

Later we sat on the hotel’s terrace and had a few drinks while watching the world go by before retiring for the night.

Mount Gjallica at sunset taken from the terrace of the hotel.

29 thoughts on “Balkans Day 4: Prizren to Kukës

  1. Beautiful photos and great narrative. I’m enjoying your wonderful tour of the Balkans. Blessings from Isabella [Izzy] Rose


  2. I am thoroughly enjoying your adventures through your wonderful photos and fascinating descriptions in a part of the world that is totally unfamiliar to me. I am not sure that I am bold enough to venture off like that with a rucksack and what appears to be only a rough plan. (but I sure am glad that you and your wife are able to do so).


  3. Thanks Mike. Glad you’re enjoying our wee adventure. It wasn’t all seat of the pants stuff as all the hotels/hostels were booked in advance and we knew that transport in Albania was a bit hit and miss but at times we were left wondering what was happening next! All great fun though 😀


  4. I liked this yesterday, now I had the time to read the full article…

    The neglected park in Kukës fascinates me.
    Thanks for sharing from the trip…


  5. Not hard to feel the age of the land. It’s been lived in for so very long that it’s grown tired. The people seem not to hold much hope for the future. I guess thousands of years of ‘civilization’ or, more accurately, ‘exploitation’ has left everything depleted. Still, your images and words bring such an ancient beauty to life.
    Did you manage to sneak out one of buddy’s ‘sausages?’ …might have added a bit of spice to the day 🙂


  6. Excellent post, both the text and the photos. The post confirms that Europe still has much to reveal to travellers who want some adventure and excitement. Enjoy what remains of 2013, Phil (In search of unusual destinations).


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