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Reviews 14 Jul 11

Camping and Hiking in Kosovo's Backcountry: Brod to Lake Shutman

Discover the unspoilt wonders of Kosovo's Dragash region with Todd Wassel's new guide to hiking this area

Todd Wassel

Working for the United Nations and as a Travel Blogger/writer has its moments: sometimes they intersect in an amazing experience or opportunity that just leaves me wondering how I ever became so lucky.

If anyone ever tells you a dream job does not exist, share this story with them and then get working on making it come true.

In the run up to my new guide book release (The Mountains of Dragash, Kosovo: Hiking and Nature Tourism Guide) I led a group of 30 people into the Dragash back-country for a weekend of hiking, camping, and getting back to nature (ie getting very wet on the hike in and out).

The trip was part of a larger effort to develop a nature tourism strategy for the isolated Municipality of Dragash, and to create a series of value chains to help locals benefit from increased tourism.

The project is sponsored by the Finish Government, and is being implemented by the United Nations Development Programme.

We have been working on this hiking guide for about a year now and I have written about hiking in Dragash a number of times on Todd’s Wanderings as the work has progressed.

Some of the hikes include Brod to Mount Cule, Brod to the Old Macedonian Smuggling Pass and Restelica to Brod.

You will notice a pattern here as the picturesque village of Brod features heavily in my hikes. The beauty of this little village, tucked into a protective valley and wrapped lovingly in a series of crisp rivers, is undeniable. Add in the cultural traditions of the locals, numbering about 1,000, delicious cheese, succulent lamb and a dramatic landscape accessible just a few minutes from town and the tourism potential becomes clear.

The latest hike is the same one that we arranged for the 30 person weekend and the text is the same as you’ll find in the soon to be published hiking guide, due out in July 2011.

The Guide contains 12 of my favourite hikes and three mountain biking trails around Dragash Municipality, along with tourism information, easy to follow maps and local knowledge.

Starting/End Point: Arxhena

Hotel or Old Road near Brod

Starting elevation: 1384meters

Highest Elevation: 2120 m

Distance: 8.82 Km

Duration: 6 – 7 Hours round-trip along the same path

Difficulty: Easy. There are very few steep parts to this hike.

If you are looking for a more serviced experience feel free to contact me and I’ll can pass along your message to a contact person in the village.

We organised horses to pack up our tents, and for food to be prepared for dinner and breakfast the next morning.

This is just the beginning of mountain tourism in Dragash and we are hoping to lay the foundation for sustainability where locals benefit monetarily, the environment benefits from conservation and tourists have a unique amazing experience.

Brod to Lake Shutman/Sutman

This is one of the best known hikes in the Brod region with a well worn path, and stunning views through the Brod Gorge and into the southern rolling alpine fields where Lake Shutman/Sutman lies. The lake is more of a pond and is shallow with a muddy bottom but beautiful nonetheless.

These small lakes are called mountain eyes due to the resemblance of human eyes when viewed from the mountains above.  This hike can also be combined with two other hikes in the region, Mt. Vraca or the three Peaks hike, which begin and end at Lake Shutman/Sutman.

The lake also provides a nice place to camp for those wanting to explore more of the southern area of Dragash/Dragas.

Hiking Route Description

You have two options where to start.  You can either start directly from Arxhena Hotel and climb up the steep ski slope behind the hotel which meets the path further on; or you can start from the beginning of the main path along the Old Road closer to Brod which is longer but has a more gentle climb up into the mountains.

If starting from the Old Road, follow the main dirt road out of Brod towards Arxhena Hotel with the river on your right hand side.

After the last house between the hotel and the village, just past the rusted skeleton of an old car on its side under a tree, the river passes under the road.

As the river moves to the left side of the road you will see a small concrete water-tap structure on the right and the power lines begin to diverge from the road.

Turn right here and follow the grass road uphill following the wooden electrical poles. This is the start of the Old Road to Macedonia that was never completed.

Eventually the grass route will turn to a dirt and rock path.

Follow this further into the valley until you are directly above Arxhena Hotel. It is here that the ski slope intersects with the main path.

I love a nice mountain lake. These post glacial lakes are often called mountain eyes as they look like eyes looking up into the sky when seen from the mountain tops above.

Continue following the well-travelled path south into the river gorge. Make sure you stay high up on the path and do not descend to the river and cross it.

There is a path on the other side of the river but it is more difficult and does not lead directly to the lake.

More than two thirds of the way to the lake you will see a beautiful waterfall where the river rushes out of a narrow rocky gap. The top of the waterfall has a nice area to rest and have a picnic.

You can access this area by leaving the path behind after the waterfall turning left, crossing the river at its highest point and then walking back to the waterfall. See the map for further indications, as there is no dedicated path to the waterfall from this side of the river.

After passing the waterfall you will come to a point where the path becomes narrow and less clear.

This is also where you will see a shepherd’s building which doubles as a sharr dog breeding hut. Stay away from the building, as sharr dogs are very protective, even if they are cute when they are young.

Stay closer to the mountain on your right and you will eventually make out the path that leads out of this valley and up into the valley with small but beautiful Lake Shutman/Šutman.

Text and photos come courtesy of www.toddswanderings.com, which is crammed full of information about hikes in Dragash, as well as great travel tips for the Balkans and beyond.

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