Heart of the business Agriculture, food processing
Location Go to Map
Nearby Peshkopi, Korab mountain range, North Macedonian border
By car, easy to find right next to the main SH6 national road, approximately 3 km / 7 minutes south of the centre of Peshkopi.Intercity public transport is available to Peshkopi from other major cities. From there, it’s a short taxi ride to Agroturizem Zerja.
8 rooms, double/triple/family, from €25/night; camping in the orchards is also possible.
What to do
Hiking, with trails suitable for all fitness levels. Maps and other informational material are available at the hotel for planning trips, and Fabion can organise a local guide; Peshkopi thermal springs.
What to bring back
Dried plums, a jar of preserved Cornell cherries or Mirabelle plums, dried herbs, a bottle of plum/grape/apple raki, a bag of jufka or one of the other delicacies available at the shop on the ground floor.
The region of Dibra, at the border with North Macedonia, is often overlooked by tourists and travellers. While it’s somewhat tucked away in the northwest of the country, far from Albania’s more well-known tourism destinations and still more difficult to access by road, the area has a lot to offer to the adventurous visitor. Rich agricultural traditions are still alive in the villages here, and a superb example is Agroturizem Zerja, situated right outside the small town of Peshkopi, the region’s administrative centre.
The farm stay is a three-storey traditional-style building right by the main road, less than 10 minutes’ drive to Peshkopi. Make sure not to confuse the homestay with Restaurant Zerja next door, a more modern building complex under construction, which belongs to a relative. Zerja Agroturizem, rather, features a whitewashed façade with wooden balconies, and a ground floor build of stone, where the beginnings of the family business lie.
It is here in his workshop that in 2008 Fatos Zerja started producing and selling trahana, which is made from a fermented dough of flour and yoghurt, and jufka, a traditional local pasta. Both are traditional staple foods in a region where winters are long and cold, and even though this was initially just a side business to bring in extra money for the family, their focus on quality and traditional production methods soon made their jufka popular throughout the region and beyond. Over time, other products were added to the range, and Fatos and his family were able to sell different kinds of jams and fruit preserves, as well as pickles and juices at the small adjacent shop.
The decision to expand the business into a restaurant and guesthouse came in 2018, when the prime minister visited the workshop, saw the potential of the place and encouraged the establishment of a farm stay and restaurant. Over the next year and a half, and with the help of a government grant, this vision was then implemented by the new generation of the Zerja family, with Fatos’ son Fabion leading the way. While his background is in geoinformatics, Fabion developed a passion for tourism while interning at the local tourism information centre in Peshkopi, and used his newly acquired skills and experience to help make Agroturizem Zerja a reality. With an interest in architecture, he oversaw the construction works and with a lot of attention to detail made sure that the finished extension would resemble the area’s traditional style as closely as possible.
Today in his mid-20s, he manages the family-run hotel and restaurant, supported by his older sister Arjana, who is responsible for its online and social media presence as well as anything design related, and his younger brother Albin, who is in charge of the wait staff. The restaurant kitchen on the other hand is headed by Fatos’ wife Dashurie, who puts out the most delicious and beautifully presented dishes the region has to offer.
While the restaurant menu features a wide variety of meals, from lamb cutlets, oven-baked veal, steak and liver, to fli and homemade byrek, the specialty of the house is, unsurprisingly, a family-sized portion of chicken with jufka. To get a little taste of everything, the off-the-menu welcome platter suggested by the wait staff with an assortment of different dishes is also a great choice. In the comfortable restaurant ambience, decorated with various ethnographic items including a traditional sofra, an Ottoman-style low table by the fireplace, musical instruments, a wooden baby cradle, pottery and kitchen utensils, and overlooking the surrounding mountains through one of the large wooden windows, every meal here is bound to leave a lasting impression.
Above the restaurant, the hallways and rooms of the family hotel on the second floor equally strike a nice balance between modern and traditional. The wooden plank flooring is inspired by the common flooring of private houses in the region, while colourful rugs and cushions give the hallway a cosy feeling. The eight unpretentious rooms feature wooden furniture, comfy beds and some nice decorative details. In line with the importance of the jufka production for the family, as well as the sweet, doughy smell that wafts around the house from the ground-floor workshop, a wooden sign board features the name of the hotel above the entrance to the building: Bujtina e Jufkave, or the Jufka Guesthouse.
The food alone at Agro Zerja is worth the four-hour scenic yet windy trip from Tirana – a drive that will be significantly shortened once the new Arber Motorway connects Tirana with North Macedonia is completed in 2021/22. However, once you’ve made your way to this relatively remote corner of the country, it is definitely worth staying for a few days to explore its surroundings.
There are several hikes suitable for all fitness levels within a short drive of the hotel, including shorter walks to the Sopanika cave and waterfall and the Seta gorge near Arras, the village of Rabdisht with its old, still intact stone houses or the scenic Hinoska pasture. For more experienced hikers, Peshkopi is a great entrance point for the long-distance High Scardus Trail, or for a 3-day trek to the peak of Mount Korab (Maja e Korabit), the highest peak of both Albania and North Macedonia. For a more relaxed stay, visitors can explore the quiet town of Peshkopi and the nearby thermal springs.
Even just around the farm there is much to explore. Interested guests can visit the processing facilities where the family and usually up to three other workers make around 200kg of jufka per day. Flour, milk and eggs are mixed into dough, rolled out, dried and cut, before being fully dried for a week to be packaged. Afterwards, just behind the hotel, a quiet 2-hectare oasis of orchards and vegetable gardens beckon for a stroll along hazelnut, apple, quince, pear and plum trees, while the plantation a little further down boasts cherry and chestnut trees. Broccoli, peppers, tomatoes, potatoes, spring onions and a variety of leafy greens and lettuces fill the vegetable beds that are fenced off with wattle fences.
In order for visitors to enjoy the greenery around even more comfortably, Fabion is planning to create a proper walkway and some sitting areas in between the orchards in the near future. He would also like to start raising animals on the farm. Looking at Agroturizem Zerja today, after being operational for only half a year, and seeing how much the farm, hotel and restaurant already have to offer, it is clear that Fabion and his family will continue to strive to provide their guests the best possible traditional Dibra experience.