The Albanian Alps, also known as Prokletije and the Accursed Mountains, is a mountain range on the western Balkan peninsula, extending from northern Albania to Kosovo and eastern Montenegro. Its peak in Albania, Maja e Jezercë at 2,694 m, is the highest point, and the 2nd highest peak in Albania and the highest in the entire Dinaric Alps.
Both the highest peak in Montenegro, Zla Kolata at 2,534 m (which is also partially in Albania) and the highest in Kosovo, Gjeravica at 2,656 m, are here. The highest peak in Albania, however, is Mount Korab, part of the Korab range, at 2,764 m high and in the east of the country on the border with the Republic of Macedonia (making it Macedonia’s highest point in addition).
The southernmost glaciers in Europe were recently discovered in the Albanian part of the range. The regional economy is based mainly on agriculture, emigrant remittances and tourism.
Location and relief
The Albanian Alps, the southernmost part of the Dinaric Alps, stretch more than 40 miles from Skadar Lake along the Montenegrin–Albanian border in the southwest to Kosovo in the northeast. The southern boundary of the Albanian Alps is found at the river Drin and its tributary Valbona. In a broader sense the Alps also include the mountain ranges to Kosovska Mitrovica with the Hajla and Mokna massifs.
From Skadar lake, the mountains stretch northeast along the Cijevna river area, then curve slightly to the east in the direction of Gjeravica summit above Metohija (450m) basin in Kosovo. From here, the Alps turn northwards over the Bogićevića massif and Čakor pass, and continue with another row of mountains. The Albanian Alps finish in the area of upper Ibar river valley near the city of Kosovska Mitrovica, just after the Suva Planina (1,750 m) massif that encircles Metohija basin from the north and northwest.
The Albanian Alps are ethnographically and sociologically diverse due to many tribes living in the region as sheep herders. Names of various Albanian tribes (Hoti, Gruda, Kelmendi, Kastrati, Dukagjini, Shkreli, Shala, Nikaj, Krasniqi, Gashi and Rugova) refer to their geographical locations within the range.
Canyons and valleys
The erosion of the Albanian Alps 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 long from the border with Montenegro to the city of Peja and is 1,000 m deep. It has very steep vertical mountain slopes on both sides.
Valleys common at lower altitudes are also found at the alpine level, creating mountain passes and valley troughs. The most well-known valley to be high up in the mountains is Buni Jezerce in Albania. Buni Jezerce means “Valley of the Lakes” and it contains six small glacial lakes, the biggest being called the Big lake of Buni Jezerce.
Rivers and lakes
The Albanian Alps 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 Albanian Alps 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 Albanian Alps. The Vermosh 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.
The Drin dominates in the southern Albanian Alps. 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. However, not all of the Drin flows near or parallel to the Albanian Alps. One Drin tributary is the Valbona, which drains into the Adriatic Sea, and its eastern tributary the Gashi River. To the west of the Albanian Alps is the Cijevna, which drains the northwestern part of the Montenegrin-Albanian border area to the Adriatic. Water levels fluctuate due to the karst hydrological drought in the Albanian Alps. Some rivers or streams, such as Perroi i Thate in Albania, dry out completely during the summer droughts. Although the Pecka Bistrica in Kosovo is short, it is very powerful and carved the Rugova Canyon.
There are about 20 small alpine lakes of glacial origin in the Albanian Alps. Many lakes are in the Bogiçevica border area between Kosovo and Albania and the Buni i Jezerces 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.
The largest lake is Lake Plav in Montenegro. The lake lies at an altitude of 906 meters above sea level in the Plav valley, nestled between the Albanian Alps and the Visitor range. The surface area of Lake Plav is 1.99 square kilometers and it extends north-south for some 2,160 meters.
Waterfalls are also found in some parts of the range. The White Drin Waterfall in Kosovo reaches a height of 25 m. Because it is not far from the city of Peje, it is easily accessible and frequented by many visitors. The Grunas Waterfall in Albania is 30 m high and is in the Thethi National Park. The Ali Pasha natural springs in Montenegro near the town of Gusinje are the premium attraction for the town.
The Albanian Alps is on the whole the wettest area of Europe. In the village of Boga in the dry valley, precipitation is 3,033 millimetres per year, and otherwise 2,000 to 2,500 millimetres 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 Albanian Alps are completely cut off from the rest of the world for months due to the very heavy snow.
The vegetation of the Albanian Alps 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. Because of its altitude and its favored habitat, the range is one of the centers of arcto-alpine relict flora of the Balkan Peninsula. Out of 77 arcto-alpine species of former glacial flora on the Balkan Peninsula, a little over 50 species can be found in the Prokltije.
The levels of vegetation in Albanian Alps 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. A real snow level is not widely spread, although in the high altitudes snow and fern fields can also keep during the summer on four very small glaciers at high altitudes, the highest one found in the shade of Jezerca.
Beech, fir and silicate spruce forests dominate the mountain areas. Rarely, however, the Northern Europe species are found, typically the Scots pine Pinus sylvestris. The drought-resistant Mediterranean-sized black pine Pinus nigra is also common. Aspens Populus tremula grow in damp sites alongside mountain maple Acer pseudoplatanus and Norway spruce Picea abies. The Albanian Alps is one of the southernmost areas where spruce grow in Europe. The “combat zones” of the forest are formed with dense thickets of mountain pine Pinus mugos. Conifers like the snakeskin pine Pinus heldreichii are on carbonate rocks and the Macedonian pine Pinus peuce of silicates are typical elements of the endemic Balkan flora. These are of special interest for natural history.
Valbone is a village in the Kukes County, northern Albania. It is part of the former municipality Margegaj, and situated in the valley of the river Valbone, south of the mountain Maja e Thate. At the 2015 local government reform it became part of the municipality Tropoje. As one of the main settlements of Valbone Valley National Park, it provides appropriate accommodation for visitors and tourists, mostly in typical alpine houses or inns