Peaks of the Balkans-Day 2: Çereme to Doberdol

Hiking the Peaks of the Balkans

Day 2: Çerime to Doberdol

This is the third in a series of posts about our experiences taking on the Peaks of the Balkans trekking circuit. I traveled with my daughter Rebecca and a friend Nev Chamberlain from the UK.  We decided to make this journey without hiring a guide. 

If you want to read the series from the beginning, start HERE

In the last post, I will provide the resources that we used to make this excursion a success. I will also discuss the pros and cons of hiking the Peaks of the Balkans independently.

Meadow near Cereme, Albania

Breakfast was served at 7:00 am at our Çerime guesthouse. We were off soon afterwards. From this day on, we tried to get as early a start as possible because it had become apparent that I was the slowest one in the group. As a result, we needed more hours to get to the next night’s lodging.

At the end of each blog post is a video recapping highlights from the day’s  journey.

Nev and Becca would patiently wait for me at intervals during the entire trip, but it did mean that we were soon passed up by almost everyone who began the day after we did.

Map for Day 2 Route
Our route from Çerime to Doberdol
Village of Cereme, Albania from above
View of Çereme as we left in the morning. (Photo: Nev Chamberlain)

Honey flows throughout the Balkans and it is easy to see why. There are beehives everywhere—and mostly they are painted lots of bright colors. We would pass countless beehives on our trek. I am sure the bees are happy right now with all the wildflowers in bloom everywhere.

Behives in the Peaks of the Balkans
Wildflowers in the Peaks of the Balkans
Wildflowers in the Peaks of the Balkans

The distances between guesthouse on all stages of the Peaks of the Balkans circuit varies between 17 and 22 kilometers. Most hikers in excellent condition can easily make these daily distances. I could attribute some of my slowness to age—indeed most walkers were well under 50 and most appeared to be less than 40 years old. But I have always walked slower than most people. I am certainly slower than Nev and Rebecca when going uphill. Nev and I travel at about the same rate going downhill and we all seem to walk at a similar pace on the flat and easier ascents and descents.

Rebecca and Nev hiking between Cereme and Valbona

We also like to take several rest stops during the day to let our legs and hips recover. At any rate, we did depart the Çerime guesthouse first, but within the first two kilometers, all the other guests had passed us up.

Today, as we had expected, was easier overall. There was an easy uphill until about the halfway point (9 kilometers.) Then we had lovely rolling hills and ridges to traverse for the rest of the day. There were no real hurdles.

At about 9 kilometers we encountered this sign: 

Sign advertising refreshments 100 meters away

Yes! There was a café right out here in almost “the middle of nowhere!”

We walked a little way down this dirt road and found refreshment.

HIking road near Doberdol, Albania

It was a treat to stop an enjoy coffee and coke before continuing on to Doberdol—a fairly easy descent.

Nev enjoying coffee and cola at a small cafe on the Peaks of the Balkans Tral
For some reason, having coffee in a little place like this in the middle of a hike is a real treat. Don’t ask us to explain why. (Photo: Rebecca Fulton)

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More and more guesthouses are popping up on this trail every year. It seems that the shepherds and others who own property up here are taking advantage of the growing popularity of this trek. In fact, the owner of the café is in the process of building several huts on his property for guests.

About two kilometers after the café, we came upon this guesthouse and café which was not on any of our guesthouse lists. A woman and young girl approached as we walked up encouraging us to have coffee, beer, or to stay overnight. But we had just had a break and alas, we had reservations in Doberdol.

New Guesthouse near Doberdol, Albania

Doberdol, Albania in the distance
The village of Doberdol. At the end of each day, our next overnight stop was a very welcome sight.

When we got to the river in front of Doberdol, we found the footbridge had been washed out. It was possible for four-wheel-drive vehicles to ford the river, but for us, it was a different story.

Nev found a “promising route” across, but he fell in when he stepped on a slippery rock. In his words, he “had a lay-down in the river.” I am sure it made for a cold bath. Unfortunately, his boots were still wet the next morning.

Rebecca and I were then inspired to take our boots off and walk across.

Cathy wading the river in order to enter the village of Doberdol.
Becca taking a video of Cathy crossing. See the video at the end of this post. (Photo: Nev Chamberlain)

Walking up the hill, we passed two nice guesthouse compounds before coming to Bilbil Vatnika. There was a beautifully-crafted covered bridge inviting travelers over the creek, but the guesthouse was a bit of a disappointment.

Covered bridge leading into the Doberdol guesthouse
It seemed odd that the guesthouse had such a perfectly constructed covered bridge over the creek, but much of the rest of the compound seemed “unfinished.”
Food served at our Doberdol Guesthouse
The food was okay. I did like the spaghetti once I added the sides of sheep cheese and roasted peppers to it. But there was little protein in the offering, which trekkers need.
The beds were thin mattresses on a hard platform in this cabin—i.e. not very comfortable. But that hardly matters when you fall into bed exhausted anyway.
Outhouse at Doberdol
The bathrooms were rudimentary and a bit of a walk away from the cabins. In the bathroom near us, a hose was attached to the sink faucet that was to be used to flush the toilet as well as for washing hands and brushing teeth.

These issues would not have been worth writing about except for an incident that happen just before we left the next morning. Rebecca had paid for our lodging before breakfast, which included full board. We wanted to be able to leave immediately after breakfast because it was not served until 7:30. It is customary in these mountains for guests to be offered coffee or tea as we arrived and again after meals. It is expected that you will pay for and beer, wine, or soft drinks that you consume. But so far, no guesthouse had charged for coffee or tea.

We were donning our packs when the host came out and said, “Oh I forgot, you need to pay for tea and coffee.” There were two Dutch women there packing their tent up. We all looked puzzled. Rebecca asked, “How much?” and the host said, “A Euro??” questioningly, like she was not so sure. Then someone asked “For each? Or all together?” And again the reply was a question, “For each—five euros??”

We had heard that this is a kind of scam that sometimes happens up here. The guest is all ready to leave and suddenly there are additional charges. The Dutch women and we stood our ground and said that all the other guesthouses include tea and coffee with meals, and that the host should have informed us in advance if there was an extra charge for them. She relented but was obviously annoyed. If she only had understood that we would have been happy to pay if we had been informed in advance.

Not once on the entire rest of our trip were we asked to pay for coffee or tea. This kind of practice by a few scammers, makes it difficult for other reputable hosts in these mountains to be able to offer welcoming refreshments or other free services without the guest being wary of being scammed. And that is too bad.

All that being said, the guesthouse was a certainly adequate—we slept, we ate, but compared to all the rest of our guesthouse experiences, it was a disappointment.  

Guesthouse in Doberdol, Albania
Bilbil Vatnika guesthouse: I am afraid that we cannot recommend it.

Note: We later became acquainted with some other trekkers who had stayed at Bashkimi Guesthouse nearby and they were very happy with the accommodations there.

And now for the video!

Up Next: Peaks of the Balkans Day 3: Doberdol to Milishevc

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