Mrizi i Zanave

Heart of the business
Restaurant, farm and production workshops

Location
Go to Map

Nearby
Shkodra, Lezha

Transport

No public transport; approach by SH1 national road
between Shkodra and Lezha, turnoff to secondary road
to Fishta, follow signposts to Mrizi i Zanave.

Lodging

9 rooms, from €40/night.

What to do

Tour around the farm and food processing workshops.

What to bring back

A gift basket (made by local artisans) with selected products from the farm’s souvenir shop; pottery, jam and cheese, among other products, are also for sale here.

Information

No compilation of Albanian agritourism farms would be complete without mentioning Mrizi i Zanave. The poster child of Albanian agritourism is the brainchild of chef Altin Prenga, who established the restaurant and adjacent farm in the village of Fishta in northern Albania.

Altin, together with his brother Anton, emigrated to Italy as a teenager in 1998, and started out washing dishes. Soon, he started training as a chef, following in the footsteps of his father, who was a chef in the village’s mensa (large cafeterias serving traditional food) under communist rule. Returning to his roots in Fishta after 11 years, he was determined to put his experience to use and open his own restaurant. Inspired by the famous Albanian poet from his village, Gjergj Fishta, he named it Mrizi i Zanave, the fairies’ hideaway, and set out to create a magic venue to match Fishta’s epic tales in the eponymous anthology.

Arriving at Mrizi i Zanave, the vibe is buzzing. No wonder, as 100,000 guests are served here annually. A total of 70 workers are involved in all aspects of the farm’s production, food processing and restaurant. Produce, dairy and meat products are additionally gathered from 400 nearby families, who in addition to what they grow themselves, forage for food such as berries or greens.

The road to the premises leads past a field with a couple of greenhouses on the right and several rows of olive trees on the left towards the parking area, covered by grapevines and decorative squash vines. From there, the entry to the restaurant is located a few steps up. If you’re looking for a meal composed of only the freshest and most local ingredients, make sure have a table reserved beforehand, as even during weekday lunches, the place is packed and you might need luck to secure a free table.

When Mrizi i Zanave opens its doors at exactly 12pm for their lunch guests, a sheer army of wait staff pours out of the kitchen to personally present the menu (as nothing is written), take orders, and bring course after course of

Various appetizers, hardy main courses and imaginative desserts. The restaurant is a member of the international Slow Food Convivium, and focuses on regional dishes and seasonal variations, so the menu is continuously adapted throughout the year. Depending on the season, the starters can include dried tomatoes, different kinds of pickled vegetables like okra or aubergine, olives, dried meats, sausages, plates of different homemade cheeses accompanied by pine-flavoured syrup, byrek , a filo pastry with various fillings, deep fried zucchini flowers and grilled vegetables. The food is not only flavourful, but also beautifully and creatively presented. Overall, one finds traditional and well-known Albanian dishes with a modern spin, reflecting the composition of kitchen staff of both local women as well as professionally and often internationally trained chefs.

However, Altin, who works together with Anton as head chef, are not intending to sacrifice the authenticity of their dishes in order to please everyone’s taste. While some businesses might choose to include restaurant staples like spaghetti, at Mrizi you will find only homemade pasta, known as jufka, served with mushrooms or a blueberry sauce. This emphasises Altin’s view that it’s easy to go abroad and then bring something back to sell it in Albania, but it’s much harder to return with your experiences and work with the local surroundings to create something original, which truly suits the place. This follows Mrizi i Zanave’s motto “Think globally, eat locally!”.

Pulling off this task requires some courage, but also allows Altin to maintain sustainable farming and sensible business practices. Few places in the country would refuse to offer canned soft drinks, but at Mrizi i Zanave they are nowhere to be seen. Instead, there is a variety of freshly squeezed fruit juices on offer. This way, rather than producing heaps of trash from soda cans, the leftover pulp from the juice goes back to the farm to feed the 500-600 geese living there.

To get a deeper view of the workings of the farm, visitors can take a tour around the fields and workshops. The latter are housed in the former village prison, which Altin renovated and transformed into food processing workshops in 2018. A few minutes’ walk, past vegetable patches and a vineyard of Kallmet grapes, the cluster of buildings are arranged in a rectangular shape, forming an inner courtyard with flower beds and some large olive trees. To the right is a brand-new winery, where the Prenga family started production in 2019. The visibly engaged and enthusiastic workers are supervised by Anton, who oversees the process together with a local and a foreign consultant to ensure the quality of the finished product. Next to the winery, meat is being dried and smoked, and processed into sausages.

In yet another building a handful of workers are preparing every conceivable kind of jam, lëng thane (a type of juice made from the Cornell cherry) that restaurant guests receive upon arrival, as well as jarred dried tomatoes in oil. Opposite this, milk from surrounding farms is made into different kinds of cheese, ranging from something like ricotta to hard, aged cheeses. While the production facilities are state-of-the art, Altin still likes to fall back on traditional methods and materials, like the wooden barrels used during the communist period for storing cheese in water, the likes of which are currently hard to find. Similarly, the old stone mill used for milling wheat or corn into flour is time-proven, though with a modern update. It is located at the end of the parking area below the restaurant, and while solar-generated electricity replaced the original water power used to run it, visitors can get a vivid view of how grains were traditionally ground (and in some remote villages still are) in Albania.

Last but not least, the Prenga family have given yet another part of tradition and family history a contemporary spin. The old stone house on the highest point of the farm property that once belonged to Altin’s grandfather was restored in 2018 by the family and converted into a guesthouse. A ruined corner of the building has been creatively turned into a floor-to-ceiling glass window, creating an eye-catching mix of the traditional stone and wooden elements with modern materials, both inside and out. Rooms are rustic and cosy, with contrasting sleek, glass-paneled bathrooms, and decorated with lots of attention to detail.

It’s this mix of tradition and modernity, the attention to detail and the authentic experience that makes Mrizi i Zanave a truly special place for local and foreign visitors alike.