Heart of the business Restaurant and animal husbandry
Vendodhja Shko te harta
Nearby City of Korca, villages of Dardha and Voskopoja, North Macedonian and Greek borders, Prespa lakes
By private car, 10 minutes from Korca, follow signs to Dardha, then turn off at the sign for the Shaka dairy before entering the village of Boboshtica, continuing until the end of the road; the last few hundred metres are on smooth dirt road accessible by all vehicles
As of summer 2020, no accommodation. Check with Taverna Xhufka for updates
What to do
Hiking, around Dardha or Drenova National Park; Vasillaq can organise a local guide.
Visiting Taverna Xhufka in rural Korca County feels like a fresh breath of air. A small side road leading to the village of Boboshtica takes you up to the foothills of the Morava mountain range, part of the Fir of Drenova National Park (Parku Kombëtar Bredhi i Drenovës). Especially in the height of summer, when Tirana and the coast are unbearably hot, this is a refreshing area to escape to. At nearly 1000m elevation, the climate is pleasantly fresh, and the simple pleasure of sitting in the shade of a tree with family or friends, in beautiful natural surroundings and enjoying a great meal is guaranteed to give you a Zen moment.
One will be struck by the simplicity upon arriving at the property: at the end of the gravel road, without any grand gate or sign, or even walls or fencing marking out the property’s boundaries. Instead, visitors just pass a large cow barn and park their car on the small cobbled square under large chestnut and willow trees. From here, the bucolic theme continues for the rest of the experience.
When first setting out to open a restaurant for tourists in the village, Vasillaq Xhufka, the owner of the tavern, had a clear vision of what he wanted to create. He himself grew up in Boboshtica until the 4th class, when the family moved to the regional capital of Korca, where both of his parents worked as teachers during the communist period. After the fall of the regime, Vasillaq tried his luck working in Greece, like so many Albanians at the time, but returned after a year and a half. He also opened two different shops in Korca, but couldn’t bear life in the city as his heart drew him back to the village of his origin.
In 1993, when he decided to settle on his father’s land, his friends thought he was foolish for moving to the village instead of leaving for Tirana or abroad. The restaurant’s beginning was indeed hard work. Just a patch of meadow initially, Vasillaq himself started building a road to access the property, followed by an electricity connection, and eventually a small house for the family to stay in, as well as a large barn. As he didn’t have any experience with raising cattle or sheep, he had to learn to take care of the animals from scratch.
And he planted trees all across the property. In fact, all of the trees that provide shade to visitors today or produce walnuts, cherries and wild plums for the family were planted by Vasillaq, who wanted it to resemble as natural an environment as possible. He also to this day refuses to use chemical fertilizer for his meadows, relying on the manure his up to 70 cows and up to 100 sheep and lambs provide, saying that “God himself takes care of that”.
Leaving one’s car for the cobbled stone path leading through the meadow to one of the wooden tables, the experience somewhat resembles that of a picnic in nature. Instead of bringing your food along, however, the restaurant of Taverna Xhufka provides a variety of delicious traditional food the area is famous for. One of Vasillaq’s sons, Piro and Niko, who serve the restaurant’s patrons, will present what’s on offer for the day, and Mirela, Vasillaq’s wife, prepares the food, supported by workers from the village when it’s busy.
Apart from the fresh meat from animals raised on site, including veal, lamb, kid or pork prepared as steak, cutlets, roasted in the oven or as meatballs, there is homemade butter and dhallë, a yoghurt drink, that the family makes by hand. Asides from white cow’s cheese and yoghurt sauce, and the liver and offal on offer, a dish that you shouldn’t miss is lakror në saç, a two-layered pie filled to your liking with cheese, nettles, leeks and cottage cheese, wild greens or tomatoes and onions.
The family also makes their own jam and produces honey from a few hives behind the house. Beekeeping was once a passion of Vasillaq’s father, but after he passed away they scaled down the honey production to simply meet the needs of the family. Vasillaq’s expertise lies in another field: He used to work as a technician at a communist winery and continues to produce wine and raki for the restaurant. Distilled in the traditional way, the family uses the wild plums from the farm as well as grapes they buy across the border in North Macedonia for this famous spirit, as well as for their own house wine. However, if Taverna Xhufka can continue to serve their own wine and raki is in limbo, as regulations on the sale of homemade alcoholic beverages might be changed to comply with more stringent EU laws.
Another aspect about the future of the farm stay is unclear: in 1994, when setting out to realise his dream, Vasillaq started building a hotel in order to provide guests with the opportunity to stay at the farm overnight. The ground floor was also supposed to serve as a restaurant space, as the current building has very limited sitting space for hosting guests in winter or bad weather, and so the restaurant only operates from March to October. Due to a lack of funds construction of the 16-room hotel was stalled for many years, only recently resuming after the family received a government grant in 2018. Eventually the project exceeded the available funds, not least because the granted sum was significantly lower than that initially approved due to a bureaucratic error.
Now, stuck in the middle of a disastrous year for tourism due to coronavirus, and with a half-finished building that still needs significant investment to go into operation, Vasillaq says that if he could do it all over again, he would rather use his own funds to build just a few simple rooms. However, with the situation being as it is, he is now hoping to secure another grant to finish what he has started.
Indeed, when the architectural plans become reality, with tables set out on a large cobbled square outside the new restaurant, the feeling of the place will change. It will give Taverna Xhufka a more modern, refined flair that differs noticeably from the warm and rustic stone and wood building of the restaurant Vasillaq himself built almost 30 years ago. But given the down-to-earth mentality of the host, driven by the pride of his creation and the joy of seeing children play in his meadows rather than the thought of making money, it is certain that Taverna Xhufka will remain a place worth returning to in the years to come.