Mountain shepherds, enormous Sharr Dogs, free roaming horses, pristine babbling streams and dramatic mountains are just a small taste of what awaits you in Dragash. Located in the southern end of Kosovo, Dragash is an oasis of untouched natural beauty and traditional villages sandwiched between the borders of Macedonia and Albania. Ignored by the Yugoslav government, the area never received development money for tourism despite its wealth of flora, fauna and cultural traditions. Luckily, this also spared the region the communist era concrete hotels and restaurants that mar similar regions in Kosovo. To help spur sustainable eco-tourism to the region and highlight an untouched wonder in the Balkans I’m helping to write a hiking guide to the Dragash Region funded by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). The last hike was a steep climb from Brod to Mt. Cule.
Easy Hike from Restelica to Brod (or the other way around)
STARTING POINT: Restelica (or Brod)
TIME- 2 ½ hours one way
STARTING ELEVATION- 1,492 meters
HIGHEST ELEVATION- 1,972 meters
The villages of Brod and Restelica sit on opposite ends of a fork in the road that begins in the town of Dragash. Representing the southernmost villages at the end of their roads, and Kosovo, they are only about 10 km away from each other by the mountain trails but it takes more than an hour to reach the other village by car. Each village has its unique atmosphere and a hike through the mountain passes between the two is an easy way to explore both the surrounding nature and the character of the small villages dotting the Dragash region. Their isolation from each other has reportedly bred a healthy rivalry between the two villages. You will have to decide for yourself which town speaks closer to your own heart. No matter which you choose you are sure to fall in love with the surrounding mountains, sweeping grassy fields reminiscent of New Zealand, and a local population eager to host the rare visitor.
I would recommend starting your hike from Restelica as you start higher on this end and the pass is less steep to reach, allowing you to enjoy your hike down to Brod. This will also allow you to stay the night in Brod in the only hotel in the area, Arxhena. The hotel sits 3 km from the town of Brod on the way into the mountains. Their attempt to build an insanely steep ski hill has marred the surrounding beauty, but the staff is friendly and accommodating. Their lamb is delicious, fresh from the town of Brod, and don’t forget to try the salty Sharr cheese.
Starting from Restelica:
Enter the town until you reach a sharp left hand turn that switches back on itself. Follow this road up into the main part of town. Keep following the road until it turns right and leads you out of town to the South and then into a river valley (pictured at the beginning of the article). From here the walking path follows the river into the valley. After about 20 minutes you will come to a fork in the valley with a smaller river flowing into the larger from the left. Leave the path here and follow the smaller river up into the valley on the left. After about 100 meters a path will start on the left side of this river. Follow this up along the river to the pass that leads down to Brod. On the way up you’ll find a spring where you can refill your water bottles.
Just before the top of the pass there is a Sheppard’s hut where a lot of Sharr dogs live. Give it a wide berth just to stay safe as Sharr dogs can be very territorial. Once over the pass follow the mountains down to the left. You’ll be able to see a rocky cliff in the distance, head toward this. You will hit the old road towards Macedonia. At this point you can either walk down the steep, eroded ski slope towards Hotel Arxhena if you are staying there, or continue to follow the old road north and it will eventually bring you gently down into the town of Brod.
Starting from Brod
Just follow the directions above in reverse. If you are starting from the Brod itself it is best to turn right across the river just outside of town to begin your climb along the old Macedonian road. If you start from the Hotel you are forced to hike up the ski hill, which is hot, dusty and very steep. Be careful not to follow the well worn path towards the glacial lake in the south. Instead once you are just above the hotel turn west and head up over the mountains were the path is smaller and made by sheep. Don’t worry too much about the path at this point, just get up and over the mountain pass and you will see where to go.
Don’t forget to look out for the wild goats that live in the cliffs above Arxhena hotel. They come out in the morning and later afternoon. A small restaurant called Ramce by the river (before you reach the Arxhena hotel coming from Brod) is a perfect place to relax and search for the goats. Ask the owner for this binoculars. They also serve great lamb so stop by on your way back from hiking. Just remember to call in advance and they need 1 hour to prepare the lamb properly (tel 029-285-119). They are only open in the summer but the scenery, cold beer, goat viewing and fresh meat can’t be beat.
If You Go
Driving from Pristina it takes about 2 1/2 hours to reach Brod by car. Drive to Prizren and follow the one way roads through the city taking a sharp left at the city center and following signs for Kukes and Dragash where you will take a right hand turn to leave the city. Continue on the road to Kukes for about 15 km until you come to an intersection with signs pointing left to Dragash. Turn left and follow this road into the valley for about 30 km until you come to the town of Dragash itself.
Going to Restelica: Just after entering Dragash and climbing the hill to the beginning of the town take your first right hand turn. Follow the road for about 40 minutes until you come to Restelica, the last town along the road.
Going to Brod: Continue through Dragash center following signs for Brod. The road after Dragash winds its way through the mountains for another 20 minutes until you come to Brod, the last town along the road.
If you have any questions about visiting Dragash just post a comment below. Or share your stories and tips for visiting this wonderful area of Kosovo.
If you do visit, please leave a comment below as I will be sharing your experiences with the Mayor and the communities to help encourage them and show them the value of their resources.