The Grebaje Valley is set in the heart of the Prokletije National Park south west of Montenegro, next to the Albanian border. There you can find mountains as emblematic as mount Taljanka and mount Volušnica, but also the majestic Karanfili peaks and Vezirova Brada pass. Here is a true paradise for outdoor lovers! It is surprisingly very quiet, still unknown despite its breath-taking landscapes. This is a place you should not miss if you are doing the Peaks of the Balkans trail. It is only a slight detour from the official route but it is really a must-see and something you will never forget!
From Plav to the Grebaje Valley
This is the second time we leave the official Peaks of the Balkans route marks. Today’s itinerary was supposed to take us from Plav to Vusanje through a particularly long stage (27 km) with a hard ascent (+ 1140m) and descent (-1080m) but supposedly one of the most magnificent, offering crazy staggering views on all the mountains around. We’ve decided to skip it as we are a bit short on time and really want to hike in the Grebaje valley instead (it can also be written down as Grebaja or Grbaja). We don’t know why this valley is not on the official route but we do think it really should have been, considering its crazy amazingness! Also, the forecast is supposed to improve drastically very soon, and we are very much willing to take photographs of the Karanfili Peaks under the best light conditions we can find.
From Plav, we take a taxi to Gusinje. From there, we walk to the Grebaje Valley, following a narrow countryside road for eight easy kilometres. We have to stop every five minutes or so to photograph thousands of cute insects flying around, happy that the sun has finally come back. The amazing biodiversity of the Balkans will never stop to amaze us! Deborah, our Canadian walking pal, is as fond of flowers and insects as we are, so she is perfectly okay with our very slow pace.
The Grebaje Valley
We are surprised to find a guard at the entrance of the Grebaje Valley. We have to pay a fee to enter the National Park, which we find quite reasonable: 1€/day/person, plus 3€ for the right to camp. Soon after the entrance, we come across numerous restaurants and guesthouses. We didn’t know that this place was touristic at all!
We rent a cute chalet at the last restaurant, the Eco Katun Maja Karanfil. We really like the place. It is quite cheap, the food is excellent and the view is sensational! Ismar, the young owner, speaks a very good English and has many tips and information to share concerning this valley and the trails that can be hiked around. By the way, you should ask him for the map of the surrounding area and tracks that he made! It is very good, and we found it very useful in the mountains.
“All the tracks in the Grebaje Valley are very well marked, he explains. We make sure they are! You will see… It is a real paradise here! I really don’t know why some of the tracks weren’t included in the Peaks of the Balkans route… Surely there must be some politic reasons underlying there!”
The valley is U shaped, surrounded by high sharp peaks, like a titanic jaw of a Balkans wolf. We walk to the end of the valley, looking for the rock formation called the kissing cats overlooking the summits. We feel like we have arrived in an impregnable fortress enclosed by vertical walls no men could have ever built. We’ve got only one thought in mind: we want to see what’s on the other side! But we’ll keep this for tomorrow… For now we have to retreat as fast as we can, as a violent mountain thunderstorm has arrived above us and is currently trying her best to wash the mountains away with icy cold water.
The sun comes back minutes later, fighting hard the low dark clouds. Suddenly, a bright dagger pierces through the angry storm, offering us one of the most beautiful shows nature could give us. We don’t know exactly how long we’ve stood there with our cameras (nor how many pictures we’ve taken) as we were completely mesmerized by the quick changes in the landscape, by the terrible fight of the elements, by the moving light and darkness, by the swirling clouds… Nature at her best!
Summits of the Grebaje: Karanfili peaks and mount Taljanka
The following morning, we wake up under a bright blue sky. No clouds on the horizon! We set up for a 6 hours loop on the ridges of Mount Taljanka and Volušnica from where we are supposed to get the best views on the Karanfili Peaks. We’ve decided to camp up there half way, only the two of us, for a romantic evening in the mountains. We have to climb up for two hours through the woods until we reach a small pass. And over there…
Do you know the 9th symphony of Dvořák, called the New World? Well, listen to it loud, let your mind wander and you will have a raw idea of the intensity of the feelings we got when we stumbled on this spectacular vision!
No words would be strong enough to describe such a stupendous landscape. No doubts, pictures will do a better job there! We are walking on the ridge, following a narrow track that seems to be suspended in time and space. The higher we get, the more spectacular is the view. The Karanfili are facing us, and we feel so tiny…
Further on, we find the perfect place to set up the tent. We are totally alone. We let our big backpacks at the tent then run -fly!- up the ridge to the golden summit of mount Taljanka (2057m), from where we get a global 360° view on the national park.
From there, we watch helplessly as low menacing clouds run towards us. “Massive thunderstorm”, we yell. We run down the slope as fast as we went up and jump in our tent just in time before the storm explodes. Thunders roll and echo violently over the Balkans. Raging winds try its best to unpeg our tent and throw it in the emptiness below, without much results fortunately. The high grass around us is battered, bending in all directions. It feels like we’re at sea, surfing on a massive rocky wave. We are not feeling entirely safe, alone up here in this terrible weather…
About one hour and a half later, the storm calms down. It is well-known from photographers that post-apocalyptic lights are always the purest, the strongest, the most beautiful, the most powerful… Today is no exception. We enjoy a wonderful sunset over the Grebaje Valley and the Karanfili Peaks.
To be the only witnesses of such a magical event always gives us a strange feeling. We feel incredibly privileged to be there but also feel that our presence is absolutely not needed, that we are two ugly imperfections in this too beautiful scenery. Earth doesn’t need spectators to display a new amazing show every day. The synthetic fabric of our tent, the electrical light of our head lamps, the metallic bangs of our aluminium water bottles… All this seems terribly out of place in this raw natural immensity. But the wild mountain air swirl thankfully inside our civilised heads, bringing a joyful confusion in our organised thoughts, violently opening our enclosed mind on this wide world. Is that what is called freedom?
We leave the tent early morning, mingling with the half-darkness of dawn. From our crazy promontory, we watch as the soft glow of the morning sun slowly runs on the crests and peaks, like a layer of thick golden honey. Low clouds in the valley turns into a delicate whipped cream. Even the crisp morning air has a sweet taste!
We pack our tent and start our walk down in the valley, feeling sorry to leave this amazing place. It is time for us to leave the Grebaje Valley and come back on the official Peaks of the Balkans trail for our last hiking stage. We meet again with our friend Deborah at the Eco Katun Maja Karanfil Guesthouse and share a taxi from there to Vusanje, the start of tomorrow’s track.
M. & Mme Shoes