Heart of the business Guesthouse
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By car, take the SH54 from Tirana to Mount Dajti, turning off at Priska Pass and following the road to Verri’s village square. From take the road leading up and continue straight on the dirt road for about 100m. The guesthouse lies on your right-hand side.
By public transport, take a minibus (90 minutes from to Tirana) to Verri, the lower neighbourhood of Shengjergj.
Seven rooms, from €32/night
What to do
Hiking, mountain biking, swimming in the pool, campfire.
What to bring back
Some of Albina’s homemade jam and a bottle of raki.
Behind Tirana’s iconic backyard Mount Dajti lies a valley so far removed from the bustling capital, that it’s hard to believe it’s a mere hour-and-a-half drive away. A windy road leads past the mountain, over the Priska pass and towards the village of Shengjergj. Bujtina Tomadhe, run by the couple Albina and Novruz Çuko, is close to the centre of the lower Verri part of the village with its two cafes and a small restaurant.
The name of the guesthouse is a reference to the area’s historic name, although the exact origin and meaning is disputed. While one version claims Tomadhe developed out of toka e madhe, meaning vast land, another source explains that it’s meant to be read Toma-dhe, Toma’s land, leading back to maybe a local ruler or feudal lord of an earlier time. Yet another explanation is that the name is derived from the name of the goddess of water springs, as the region is rich in natural water sources.
What’s uncontested, however, is the guesthouse’s serene setting, in a green valley surrounded by mountains. The Çukos are from Tirana, but since Albina’s grandmother is from the village, they purchased land here in 2009 and started building the guesthouse in 2012. Surrounding the house is outside sitting area and private swimming pool, as well as a small garden. The garden houses a chicken coop, a small playground, and includes some young fruit trees, including pear, cherry, hazelnut and plum, and a small vegetable patch, where the couple grows onions and garlic. Below the garden, a neighbouring maize field and pastures with grazing cows go complement the sounds of chirping birds.
At first, the two-storey house was intended to be Albina and Novruz’s private house, to provide space for their children and grandchildren during weekend visits. However, they later decided to use a government grant in October 2018 to transform their building into a guesthouse with stone elements and inspired by Austrian Alpine architecture. In April 2019 they first offered their seven small and cosy guest rooms with shared bathrooms. The heart of the house is certainly the common room, with its unique wooden staircase and wooden ceiling, giving the place a warm atmosphere, and its enormous windows, which bring the openness and greenery of the surrounding landscape to guests lounging inside. Historic black and white portrait photographs of men and women in traditional attire add to the room’s character.
While the couple do not have an agricultural background, Albina enjoys village life and has been learning about farming as she goes, picking up skills and knowledge from fellow villagers with whom she keeps close contact and who can give advice on what to plant, and when and where. She enjoys making different kinds of jam, carrot being her specialty, and other preserves, while Novruz’s raki shows off his Skrapari heritage (a region in Albania’s south famous for the drink), with four varieties. All their products, together with a selection of wine, are displayed in the small self-catering kitchen in the basement of the house, where guests can also cook their own meals.
While a sumptuous breakfast is served by Albina and included in the price, light lunches and dinners are available should be reserved in advance, often consisting of fresh salads, soups, or homemade byrek filled with gjizë (similar to ricotta), courgette or tomato and onion. Almost all ingredients, such as the eggs, cheese, milk, meat, fruits and vegetables, are sourced locally from nearby farmers. As an alternative to eating in the house, visitors can take a short walk to the local restaurant in the centre of Verri; eventually, the Çukos would like to create a small restaurant to cater to their guests themselves.
For holidaymakers who want to spend their visit in a more active way than sunbathing by the pool or sipping iced tea in the garden, the area is superbly suited for hiking, and two mountain bikes are available to rent at the guesthouse. An excursion to the old village of Shengjergj further up the valley is a worthwhile endeavour, as the trip offers spectacularly scenic views over the valley, while the Shengjin waterfall, which can be reached by a 30-minute hike, also makes for a nice day trip.
More adventurous guests can attempt climbing Mali me Gropa, the “Mountain with Holes”, which forms part of the Mali me Gropa–Bize–Martanesh Protected Landscape, or take an off-road trip to Bize, Ura or another one of the surrounding villages. Other destinations in the valley include the ruins of the 5th-century Shengjin castle, which can be reached by an hour-long walk via the village of Shengjin, or Shengjergj Castle, a rectangular structure of 100 by 40 metres which contains numerous 4th to 6th century ruins. Back at the guesthouse, you can bring the eventful and active – or relaxed – day to an end, enjoying a barbecue and sitting around the fire in the garden.
Bujtina Tomadhe is undoubtedly a stunning property in a very scenic and rural environment, run by caring, friendly and very hospitable hosts. Once they extend the garden to the neighbouring property to increase their produce, it will certainly become a beautiful example of agritourism near Tirana, though in the meantime it makes for a superb rural guesthouse.