Heart of the business Restaurant and guesthouse
Vendodhja Shko te harta
No public transport; by private car, follow the A1 national highway from Tirana/Shkodra towards Kukes/Kosovo,until the turnoff for the centre of Rubik. Before reaching Rubik, turn left after the bridge, then turn right towards Katund i vjeter; Bujtina Dini is not immediately signposted, but follow the main road, past the school and small clinic, and you’ll see a signpost after a few metres on the right.
6 rooms, from €30/night
What to do
Hiking – information with regional maps available at the InfoKulla along the highway near Rubik, or online at https://hikingmirdita.com/trails-maps/ – see “Rubik_Map”
The guest house of Kol Marku and his family is located about 5 kilometres from Rubik, in the county of Mirdita, perched in a small valley that’s characterized by lush greenery and tranquility. Despite being just a few kilometres off the main highway that connects Tirana with Kosovo, the setting is very rural.
Driving along the small asphalt road that leads to the village of Katund i vjeter, past stone walls and along a stream, there are a surprising number of cars, despite it not connecting to any larger town. However, the picturesque surroundings and fresh air have led to a surge in roadside restaurants in the area that attract plenty of patrons from towns and cities in its vicinity.
Katund i vjeter is part of the government’s “100 villages” project, which aims to revive villages and rural areas and create new prospects for those who have not yet left, or have returned. And Bujtina Dini, run by Kol and his family, is contributing to the success of the endeavour. Kol is originally from the village, and grew up in an old stone house that stood in the very spot of the guesthouse today. Before the 1990s, he worked as a miner, later in a factory, and then tried his luck going abroad for work. He returned after four and a half years on Crete, Greece, to find another job working in road construction.
He had plans to open a restaurant and lodge for over six years, and when other businesses that opened down the road started drawing in increasing numbers of clients, he decided to follow his own dream. He reused the stones from his ancestors’ old house for the new lodge, as well as for the adjacent house recently built for himself and his family. As the works went on, it became clear the costs exceeded the calculations, and so only the restaurant on the ground floor was finished, with the remainder of the plan left unfinished for a number of years. Eventually, with a grant from the Agency for Agricultural and Rural Development, two more floors with guest rooms covered in wood panels on the interior and exterior were completed in April 2019.
Bujtina Dini, named after the old family name, lies at the bottom of the valley surrounded by 700-metre mountain ridges; behind the house, the forest climbs up the steep slopes. There is a signpost which points out the steep driveway to visitors just a few metres behind the village’s school and local health centre. The land leading up to the house is used by the family for growing tomatoes, beans, squash and hazelnuts, among other products, and has a small stable for a few goats and an enclosure for the 50 or so chickens that roam around the farm.
Throughout the property and around the guest house there are more fruit trees, supplying the family with peaches, Cornell cherries, apples, figs, lemons and walnuts, in addition to a few grapes and herbs. Whatever Kol Marku can’t produce himself, he buys at the local market of Rubik, the small town nearby, as the valley has suffered from mass emigration. Very few remain in the village in farming or animal husbandry. For the same reason, the wait staff and other workers come from Rubik, too.
At the core, Bujtina Dini is a family business though. While Kol’s wife Hale is one of three chefs in the restaurant kitchen, his son Arjel, who finished his business studies in Tirana, helps with the finances and accounting of the restaurant, and waits occasionally as well, too. He has an interest in the old kullas in the area, traditional fortified tall stone houses that used to serve as refuges, and was involved with the renovation one of them in a neighboring village.
The restaurant has seating inside and in front of the restaurant, but the most pleasant tables, especially in the mid-summer heat of July and August, are found in the slope behind the house, surrounded by woods. The menu features the usual kid meat, byrek and salads, but also has dishes on offer that are more original, like potatoes filled with kaçkavall cheese or dried meat, or dhallë, a refreshing yoghurt drink, prepared with goat milk. The meat and milk come from a village high up in the mountains on the route towards Kukes, while their house wine is bought from a local winery in Bukemira near Rreshen. One highlight to end a meal at Bujtina Dini with is a special, homemade dessert, a kind of torte made with parfait and jam, sandwiched between two layers of biscuit. With its fresh and tasty food, the restaurant has made a name for itself and guests come from throughout the region during the week, and from further cities like Fier, Elbasan, Durres and Tirana on the weekends.
When spending a couple of days at the guesthouse, the surrounding mountains and forests offer great hiking opportunities, and information on the extensive trail network in the region can be obtained at the InfoKulla tourist information point next to the highway near Rubik. The InfoKulla in itself is a worthy destination, as it hosts a small museum about local flora, fauna and history, as well as an exhibition of ethnographic items from the region.
For visitors who would like to stay at the property, the guesthouse offers six rooms with wooden interiors and simple, private bathrooms. Some nice details like the handmade curtains and ethnographic elements give the rooms a personal touch. In addition to the central heating that keep the rooms toasty warm in winter, the family is also planning to install air conditioning units in the near future. To further improve his guests’ experience, he is planning to create a small stand to sell produce and food products for people to bring home, and to try and produce his own wine.
While the business is going well, it brings a new set of problems with it for Kol. The infrastructure of the village is hardly suited to the large number of visitors, and problems like unannounced electricity cuts, or fluctuation in voltage that damages electric appliances are the result. The small road gets crowded easily on the weekends with day-trippers moving in and out of the valley, and mobile phone coverage can still be patchy. Lastly, street dogs come all the way from Rubik due to the lack of infrastructure for food waste disposal of the area’s restaurants leftovers. The family is hoping for the municipality to take action to improve the situation for guesthouses in Katund i vjeter soon so that tourism can continue to grow and bring back life to the village.