Heart of the business Restaurant, fish farm, animal husbandry
Vendodhja Shko te harta
Public minibuses from Gjirokastra/Permet/Leskovik to Erseka/Korca (or vice versa) pass by, ask the driver to get off at Farma Sotira.
By car, the farm is located at a bend in the Leskovik-Erseka SH75 national road, signposted along the approach and at the entrance of the farm.
The approach from both Korca and Permet is long and windy,but despite this being the only main road through the province, there is little traffic and views are absolutely stunning.
In cosy wooden family bungalows with a private
bathroom, starting from €30/night, with one’s own
campervan or tent, or in simple wooden cabins with shared bathrooms.
What to do
Hiking, horseback riding, farm tour, cooking classes, participation in the farm work.
What to bring back
Memories of an incredible mountain horse ride.
If you’re looking to get away from city life as far as possible, Farma Sotira is the place for you. The epitome of remoteness, this farm lies far from urban bustle in the south-eastern county of Kolonja, at 1000m of elevation, close to the Greek border. Anyone travelling from Permet to Korca will inevitably pass by this place, and many will stop to stretch their legs and take a coffee, cold drink, or even a meal. But only those who stay here for a night – or even a week – will discover all that Farma Sotira has to offer.
Initially, the business started out as a fish farm. Jeton Hida, who everyone just calls by his nickname Toni, grew up in the tiny town of Leskovik, a
20-minute drive away. He has a background in mechanical engineering, and worked in Greece for several years, where he and his wife Jonida, originally from Fier, met. Together they returned from Greece and in 1999 tried their luck raising river trout and opened a small local restaurant where they offered their fresh fish. They gave their venture the name Sotira after a village once located here, but abandoned after the Second World War. The restaurant developed well, and five years later, they expanded the business. In 2005, when the farm started drawing in more and more visitors, a few guest rooms were opened.
Today the fish farm still forms the (literal) centre of the business, and around the pools, one finds covered outdoor sitting areas with tables, interconnected with small bridges. Yet, around it the farm has grown considerably and comprises a total of about 20 hectares. Walking around the property, you’ll see animals moving about freely, which will delight young visitors, who are excited to feed the ducks, chickens and geese, pet the cats and dogs, and admire the cute piglets that follow their mother around in search of food. The horse stables and the winter enclosures for the cows and sheep are located behind a cluster of trees, and across a small stream.
In the summer months, the roughly 150 cattle and 400 sheep leave the farm premises to graze further up in the surrounding mountains, which are great to be explored on foot, mountain bike or by horseback. Four of the farm’s twenty horses are available for horseback tours, and the relatively small breed is ideal for the mountainous terrain, including streams, narrow forest paths and grassy slopes. On a horseback ride Toni leads the way, navigating through the network of old dirt roads and tiny trails to find his herds of cattle roaming the mountains, sometimes for days at a time without a shepherd. It seems then quite fitting that Toni is mostly seen around the farm in his cowboy hat.
For those more comfortable on their own feet or wheels than on horseback, the owners are planning to clear and mark a number of trails for hiking and mountain biking in the area so that visitors can more easily explore the surroundings without a guide. The nearby, almost-deserted village of Germenj and the mountain ridge and side valley along the Greek border east of the farm are a few interesting sites to be explored. For nature lovers, this is a great area for spotting eagles, or tracking the footprints of animals such as wolves and bears.
Other activities include a tour of the vineyards of a family friend, from which Toni and Jonida buy grapes to produce their own raki and wine. For more recreational sports, badminton and volleyball fields are available, as well as a swimming pool for guests to enjoy. The main tourist season lasts from April to October, but the family lives on the farm and welcomes visitors year-round
– even in the snowy winters with temperatures reaching -20°C. While they lived in a tiny room above the restaurant for the first couple of years, Jonida’s second pregnancy with their daughter Sara, now 6, convinced the humble owners to build a bigger house, located at the foot of a tree-covered mountain a stone’s throw from the restaurant.
Their older daughter, Florida, is an outgoing 10-year old who already occasionally helps the wait staff serving guests. There are a total of 12 to 15 people involved in running the restaurant, not to mention those on the farm, whose number changes by season. It is hard to find workers in this remote part of the country, and so some Toni has to drive back and forth between the farm and their homes in Leskovik.
Finding workers is not the only difficulty he faces. Toni and Jonida have applied several times for government grants, which have replaced the subsidies which once supported all farmers, but have had little luck do to opaque procedures and the excessive paperwork required. The latest piece of red tape the owners have had to deal with is a new law that allows butchering only by licenced butchers, effectively requiring them to take all cattle to Korca, a 1.5-hour drive. For Toni this means countless kilometres of driving and necessitates a refrigerated truck… or paying hefty fines. These are the added burdens of farmers’ lives in more remote parts of the country.
Luckily, 20 years in business build resilience, and Farma Sotira has been successful despite the obstacles, with a full restaurant of guests enjoying the fresh, organic food. In addition to the trout caught in front of your eyes, the restaurant serves lamb baked in a saç, a large pan with a heavy metal lid which is heated below by a fire and on top with hot coals. Other traditional dishes include lakror me hithra, a two-layered savoury pie filled with nettles, sheep’s yoghurt, oven-baked chicken, duck or goose over rice, and homemade sausages and dried meat. Curious amateur chefs are even invited to take a cooking class and prepare their own meals using the brick oven and outdoor grill.
For a good night’s rest, there are different accommodation options available, covering different price and comfort levels, to suit your needs. There is a large campsite for up to 30 camper vans and some tents, which is popular with foreign tourists travelling with their own vehicles. Close by, there are a handful of small, basic wooden cabins that share bathrooms with the camp. Close to the entrance of the farm, nine wooden family bungalows feature two rooms each, with a double or two twin beds, complete with private bathrooms and Toni’s handmade furniture.
Overall, with its incredible setting, fresh mountain air, delicious food, welcoming and dedicated hosts and a plethora of activities, guests return to this farm stay again and again.