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Written by Cassie from Cassie the Hag.
So you’re thinking of visiting Kosovo or perhaps are planning a more extensive adventure around the Balkans? Like many who have fallen for the charms of Europe’s newest country, I truly believe Kosovo is one of the continent’s most underrated destinations.
Now increasingly tourist-friendly and safe to visit, the challenges of visiting a country that only declared its independence in 2008 are far overwhelmed by the many great reasons to add it to your Europe bucket list.
Although it was the unbridled welcome of the locals that left the biggest impression on me following my short trip to Kosovo, it is the integration of unexpected cultural gems with stunning nature that left me wondering why Kosovo isn’t more popular.
These are amongst the reasons why my stop in Peja became a firm favorite during my months solo backpacking the Balkans. (Side note: yes, this is a safe region for solo travelers to visit too!)
About Peja, Kosovo
Peja is also known by its Albanian name Pejë or Serbian name ‘Peć’, which means ‘cave’, presumably after the nearby canyon or caves which you can still visit today.
This small city has less than 50000 inhabitants and is part of the greater Peć district of Kosovo, closeby to the borders of both Montenegro and Albania. Peja is one of the ‘three Ps’ of Kosovo which are often suggested as a recommended route through the country. The most well-known are the quirky capital Pristina and the cultural hub of Prizren. All cities are within 2 hours of each other and accessible by regular and straightforward bus routes.
I simply bought my 4 euro bus tickets upon arriving at the station and was able to stow my backpack below, making Kosovo a pretty relaxed country to travel around. Alternatively, you can rent a car, popular with many who are passing through on a Balkans road trip.
Although on the surface there isn’t much to do in Peja compared to its larger European counterparts, it has some incredibly distinctive historical sites of its own and the surrounding scenery is not to be missed. In fact, Peja is the perfect gateway for hiking the formidable Accursed Mountains or visiting the nearby Rugova Canyon. The mountain ranges here are breathtaking and the waterfalls are amongst the least visited in Europe. Except by the locals, of course, who are sure to give you some great tips during your stay.
Historically, the city was a major religious centre in medieval Serbia, and was made the seat of the Serbian Orthodox Church back in the 14th – 18th centuries. Although delightful monasteries from this period remain in the area, unfortunately more than 80% of people’s homes were damaged during the tragic Kosovo War in 1999.
The city is visibly less modern than others in Europe, although this is no reason not to visit; the tour industry here is noted for its incredibly friendly guides and the comfortable accommodations are fronted by incredibly hospitable locals.
Still not convinced? My hostel dorm was only 2 euros a night (yep, you heard that right) and a meal was never more than 4 euros, although vegetarian options are pretty limited aside from pasta and pizza.
Outdoors Activities In Peja
If you are planning to visit Peja, the chances are you’re keen to use it as a base to visit the nearby natural landscapes. Here are some of the best-known hikes and outdoor activities in the region, all easily accessible from Peja.
Lake Liqenat (Half Day Hike)
This is the easiest hike to access for those travelling through Kosovo on public transport and, although strenuous, is suitable for less advanced hikers. The only bus to the Lake Liqenat hike is at 7am from Peja Bus Station (get off at Kuqishtë, on the bus is heading towards Boge). The bus back is at 3pm or you could arrange a cheap taxi. Pin Kuqishtë to your google maps so you know where to get off. It is also worth pinning ‘Te Liqini’ to your map, which is a restaurant. The hike starts from behind this restaurant.
This hike has incredible views over the cool blue Lake Liqenat, which straddles the border of Kosovo and Montenegro. In fact, you could technically cross the border here just by swimming across the lake! In total, you will see two glacial lakes on this hike, alongside the magnificent peaks of the Accursed Mountain range.
Hasan Peak (Half Day Hike)
This half-day hike is a little taxing, going up to 1900 metres altitude, but doable for anyone of fairly good health and worth it for the scenery. With guides, it’s also possible to take in the snowy peaks during the Winter period, or else you can enjoy the stretching views of flora and fauna here in the spring.
If you don’t have a car, the hikes become increasingly more difficult to access, however you could arrange a driver or use this top-rated tour company. Balkan Natural Adventure has many hiking options available and appear committed to providing a rewarding experience for their guests, at least if their 5 star reviews are anything to go by. The only downside is that for budget travellers they may be a little pricey, starting at a hefty 120 euros. You’d be better off doing the Lake Liqenat hike if you choose to travel on your own and on a budget.
Hajla Peak (7-8 Hour Hike)
Hiking up to 2400 metres with views over both Kosovo and neighbouring Montenegro, this is the best option for adventurous hikers, especially since you can make it an overnight stay. Not only does the base camp have a mountain hut with basic amenities but you could also rent camping gear from BNA for one night, allowing you to continue hiking to the peak the following day if you wish.
This particular hike is also part of the ‘Peak of the Balkans’ trail. This longer trial can be done over up to 10 days depending on your route, crossing through Albania, Montenegro and Kosovo. It is recommended to only do this route with a guide unless you are a highly experienced hiker and is an unmatched way to see these unspoiled landscapes.
Rugova Canyon And Via Ferrata (Rock Climbing And Zip Line)
Whilst those travelling by car can appreciate the 25km long Rugova Canyon and its incredible 1000m depth from afar, those feeling adventurous can take the Via Ferrata option, which translates to ‘Iron Path.’ It refers to a route that utilises ladders and steel rungs without the need for technical equipment, though an affixed harness is secured keeping participants from the possibility of falling. Phew. This way, you can view the canyon via an exhilarating rock climb.
For a perfect day trip, combine it with the nearby 700m zip line, hurtling over the canyon in under a minute.
Those looking for a more relaxing day out – or who are scared of heights – can enjoy walking along the canyon while spotting the many springs and waterfalls in the area.
More Things To Do In Peja
The Old Bazaar
While in Peja itself, you can check out the Old Bazaar. In theory, this is a traditional-style marketplace to pick up some local souvenirs, though the options might seem a little lacklustre with the possible exception of local jewellery artisans. Consider dropping by to relax in a cafe and try some Turkish coffee instead.
Patriarchate Of Peć
One of the best things to do in Peja is to visit the Patriarchate of Peć which is a 30 minute walk from the city centre. Alternatively, you could take a taxi.
This 13th-century monastery is now classed as a UNESCO World Heritage site and is considered an important medieval monument in Kosovo. It’s still in use today and you will see the nuns going about their day. Inside, they will happily give you a tour of the incredibly impressive floor to ceiling frescos.
TIP: Serbian monasteries in Kosovo are usually guarded. You may need to hand over your passport in order to enter, as I did when visiting Patriarchate of Peć. If you forget your passport, you won’t be able to enter. Some travellers have noted they felt uncomfortable speaking to the police force but I had a very positive experience with a welcoming man and a cute dog at the entrance.
Visoki Decani Monastery
Just over a 20-minute drive south of Peja is this Serbian Orthodox Christian monastery. The unique domed exterior is surrounded by an impressive backdrop of pine forest and mountains, but the interior is the real show-stopper. Also a UNESCO World Heritage site, the church still has 1000 preserved frescoes and was built in 1335. It is noted for having the most elaborate examples of stone ornamentation from this period.
White Drin Waterfall & Radaci Cave
Another spot only around a 20-metre drive from Peja, although the waterfall is unfortunately in the opposite direction from Decan Monastery. Still, it’s a great stop on the way to popular tourist cities Gjakova and Prizren, Kosovo’s cultural centre.
Follow the walkway through the forest and over old stone bridges till you reach White Drin Waterfall, a particularly serene spot popular with locals. Also during your visit, follow the signs to Radaci Cave. Also known as ‘Sleeping Beauty Cave’, marvel at the stalactites and stalagmites on display. Tour guides here speak English and the cave is lit up inside with a multi-coloured display, so don’t worry if you’re a little scared of the dark. Bring a jacket and the small ticket cost of 2.5 euros.
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