To further explore hiking routes as part of our project, we followed the R 1201 from Struga to drive via the town of Podgorci up into the mountains towards the Albanian border.
Already at the end of the town the solid road surface was over and until we reached our destination plateau, we went up the loose gravel road to around 1,600 meters above sea level, which can only be driven on with four-wheel drive vehicles. We found the track so steep and full of deep potholes.
Every hiker needs a place to rest and rest
When we arrived at a high mountain pasture, we met some young men who were working on small mountain houses up here, which will probably become the future home of their families. Dropouts in Macedonia? It was a colourful mix of different characters who had decided to live on the high mountain pasture, with sheep and goat breeding, or agriculture in short, becoming their life's goal. Our ideas were also very openly received, which would open up additional opportunities for the alpine pasture residents, because every hiker needs a place to rest and rest when they are on the move.
In addition to the intensive exchange of information between the local residents, some of whom spoke German or English, there were also some samples of local specialties, and we were particularly impressed by the home-made sheep's cheese. But the really aromatic blueberries from the plateau were also really tasty.
Up on the border with Albania
During our hike up to the mountain lakes we had already noticed the shepherd dogs present there, so we now asked about their breed and further information. Comparable in size to the Turkish Kangal’s, the livestock guardian dogs initially looked rather lazy and good-natured, but we had to change that a little later.
They brought the herd together quickly and nimbly, despite the sometimes-steep slopes. We also learned that they were very effective at protecting the herds from bears and wolves, which were still in large numbers up here on the border with Albania.
The previously unknown name of this type of shepherd dog is Šarplaninac, a breed that has emerged over the centuries and which accompanies shepherds in Serbia and Macedonia as a livestock guard dog. It was named after the “Šar Planina” mountain range on the border between Kosovo and Macedonia; the first official standard for this breed was established in 1930.
Up to 62 centimetres tall and weighing 45 kilograms, the Šarplaninac is a powerful dog with long hair and plenty of undercoat. The hair is typically a solid colour, ranging from white to tan and grey to dark brown that looks almost black. The ears are small, drooping.
The Šarplaninac weighs up to 45 kilograms
Like all livestock guard dogs, the Šarplaninac is quite headstrong and used to making decisions himself. He is good-natured as long as possible, loyal and eager to work. However, according to our hosts, training requires a lot of sensitivity, as the breed is often alone with its herd in the mountains for very long periods of time and completely on its own. The Šarplaninac is the typical shepherd dog (herd guard dog) of this area of Macedonia. He is used to acting largely independently, which is also important for protecting the herd. Its universality is reflected in the fact that today it is also used as a guard and protection dog by both the military and the police. Even as a family dog, it shows its qualities if people give due consideration to its origins.
We had a very positive impression of the shepherd dogs present in the village because they seemed very relaxed and focused on their shepherds, who only needed to give a few commands and the dogs followed immediately.
Please read as well: