In contrast to other of Europe’s more well-known alpine destinations, the Peak of the Balkans Trail was devoid of hotels and ski lifts. Instead, it generated a striking sensation of solitude and had the same sensation as going into a hidden place at the back of the closet that had escaped notice by the rest of the world.

The Albanian Alps are best known by their regional names, Bjeshkët e Nëmuna and Prokletije, both of which translate to “The Accursed Mountains.” They extend from northern Albania into southern Kosovo and north-eastern Montenegro. But it’s still a bit of a mystery as to how these serrated limestones gained their peculiar name. Local folklore claims that the devil created the jagged glacial karsts in a single day of mischief when he fled from hell. Some claim that the alps got their name from a woman who cursed the mountains when she couldn’t find any water while she and her children were hiking through them on a scorching day. Others assert that Slavic soldiers named the mountains because they found it difficult to march across them. The mysterious history of the peaks serves as a kind of metaphor for Albania as a whole.

Albania has long been referred to as “Europe’s enigma” by travel writers and book authors. But this frequently misunderstood country, which previously made such vain attempts to keep the world at bay, is now utilizing slow travel as a means of inviting people in and imparting knowledge about how a place can evolve and heal.