Winter is approaching but there are still a few weeks left of crisp clear hiking air awaiting you in the mountains of 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 implemented by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and funded by the Finland government.
What better way to experience this traditional area than by hiking to the old pass to Tetovo, Macedonia. Not only can you walk the old smuggling paths trodden by horses burdened with heavy oil barrels during the sanctions placed on Yugoslavia, but the view into Macedonia with its dramatic mountains and sheer cliffs is unforgettable. The oil barrels from this period are still used to cover houses and storage areas in the region.
This hike is harder and longer than the others I have posted (Restilica to Brod and Brod to Mt. Cule) but worth every second. For those less ambitious the first part of the hike is easy, nestled in a gorgeous river valley and makes an easy 1 1/2 hour round trip hike.
Old Macedonian Pass
STARTING POINT: Brod, from the cemetery
ENDING POINT: Brod, the Mt. Cule hiking path
TIME- 7 hours (long hike); 1 1/2 hours (easy hike)
STARTING ELEVATION- 1,384 meters
HIGHEST ELEVATION- 2,265 meters
DIFFICULTY- Hard or Easy (it’s your choice!)
The path starts on the eastern edge of Brod. Enter the town from the Dragash road and turn left when the road ends. Follow the river up past the mosque until you reach the edge of town with the cemetery above to the left. Climb up the steep hill until you see the source of the river flowing out of the narrow gorge.
Follow the river and the gorge for about 40 minutes until you reach a large boulder towering over the river. From here climb up the hill to the right until you are above the boulder and you see a path that takes you to a flat area (perfect for camping) and a spring to fill water bottles further on. This is where the easy hike ends and the longer hike continues.
Follow the path through the valley until it ends at a river. Cross the river and climb the mountain following a small goat path up to the left of a sharp peak and around it to the right and then up, up, up. Your goal is the top of the mountain so feel free to get there any way that makes sense. Once you reach the top, after a long and steep climb, you will see the top on your right. This is where you will see the old wagon tracks and the remnants of a stone rest house. Keep going up to the right until you reach a drop off and magnificent views of Macedonia where Mt. Tito pokes its sharp head into the sky (yup we climber Tito too!). From here you start your return to Brod by keeping Macedonia on your left and the valley you hiked through on your right far, far below. Check back on soon for a video description of the whole hike as well as a video of hiking/camping tips for the Dragash region!
Make your way until your see the point of Mt Cule (see earlier hiking article) to your left and follow the contours of the path and mountain until you reach Cule. Be careful not to go down the steep mountain as it drops suddenly and is dangerous. Keep on the goat path with Cule on your right across a deep valley and it will bring you around the backside of Cule and eventually down to the normal shepherd paths that lead back to Brod. From Cule head down and cross a small river and you will see a clear path. Just head towards Brod at this point and you can’t go wrong. Remember part of the joy of hiking in Dragash is finding your own way, which is very easy as no trees obstruct your view.
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. 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.