Zadrima, Shkreli or Malësia e Madhe: an original weekend escape in the unexplored regions around Shkodra in northern Albania

September 16, 2021 || 543 views

By Benko Gjata
co-author of the tourist guides in Italian “Tirana e Albania” & “Albania e Kosovo”

An escape from daily routine, time away from work or life-related stress, an opportunity to recharge your batteries, but also a great occasion to discover century-old villages in hidden valleys covered by the fog of time, to taste characteristic dishes made with rare organic products and to take impressive photos that will leave your friends on social networks speechless: a weekend spent in the rural areas around the city of Shkodra, in northern Albania will reward you with beautiful memories that will last for a long time.
Total surrender to relaxation, under the shade of fruit trees where the peace and silence are only broken by the chirping of wild birds; light and pleasant walks through nature, following shaded, green paths suitable for all; romantic boat trips over the green waters of lakes Shkodra and Vau i Dejës, looking for rare birds and water lilies of extraordinary beauty: these are undoubtedly some of the main activities offered by this territory rich in resources and traditions.

Equally attractive and even more original are the organized visits to farms that apply the principles of organic farming, the opportunity to help (at will) in simple agricultural and livestock work, once daily activities and now completely forgotten especially by those who live in large urban areas, or the experience of shopping for rare and unique handicraft items, directly from the workshops situated in the area.
The itineraries we propose are ideal choices even if you are traveling with your young children and looking for a suitable weekend for the whole family. Activities such as wild swimming (in summer) along the shores of sandy lake beaches, canoeing, outdoor games among the fruit tree plantations, close encounters with geese, goatkids, horses and the very many other inhabitants of the farm yards are just some of the experiences that will make your family vacation in these areas quite unforgettable.
Adult visitors, on the other hand, can enrich their weekend with visits to the province’s famous vineyards and wineries, which offer exclusive tours and opportunities to taste their rare, organic, superior quality wines.

Another special activity is the possibility of organized visits to farms specializing in the cultivation of medicinal plants and the production of spices, herbal teas and essential oils, much sought after for their healing and aesthetic properties.
Whatever your favorite activities are, the ideal accommodation to enjoy them as fully as possible are the small agritourism farms, which skillfully combine hospitality with typical countryside activities. In these new and comfortable structures, built and furnished in a traditional style, you will also have the opportunity to enjoy the renowned characteristic dishes of these lands.
The beauty of untouched landscapes, great biodiversity and rich cultural heritage, together with the warm hospitality of local people, the improved road infrastructure and the ease of arrival (not only from Tirana, Podgorica, Gjakova and Prizren, but also from Pristina and Skopje, the north of Montenegro or the south of Albania) make the weekend in the Shkodra region a very attractive tourist proposal for travelers from Albania and the neighbouring Balkan countries.

Below you will find one of the proposed itineraries. Other tours will be published in future issues of the Travel magazine, but also on the website www.zanamaleve.com.

“DIASPORA” Project

The itineraries were created within the project D.I.A.S.P.O.R.A., implemented by the association “Centro Albanese” (centroalbanese.it), in partnership with VIS Albania (zanamaleve.com), as part of a larger program called “Engaging the Albanian Diaspora in the Economic and Social Development of Albania” implemented by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Albania and funded by the Italian Agency for Cooperation and Development (AICS) in Tirana. The project D.I.A.S.P.O.R.A. aims to support small craft enterprises in rural areas of the Shkodra region, in the fields of marketing and promotion inside and outside the country, thanks to the active involvement of the Albanian diaspora in Italy. For more information we invite you to follow the link: https://www.centroalbanese.it/index.php/il-centro/progetti/progetto-diaspora.

Shkodra Lake and Shkreli Municipal Natural Park:

Beautiful landscapes, rare experiences and great tastes during a completely different weekend between unspoilt nature, picturesque villages and unique handicraft.
Shkodra Lake is the largest in the Balkan Peninsula. The over 400 square kilometers of its total area preserve an extraordinary natural heritage, which rewards visitors with impressive views. Along its shores, in Albania and Montenegro, there are a number of picturesque villages, famous in the region and beyond as favorite destinations of natural tourism and temples of eno-gastronomic excellence.


The proposed itinerary starts exactly on the eastern shores of the lake, in Albania, perhaps the least known and visited part, to continue towards the famous chestnut forest in the village of Reç, part of the municipal natural park of the historical province of Shkreli. Along the way we suggest a series of completely original visits to the canteens, organic farms and ateliers of the artisans of the area: beekeepers, winemakers and producers of rare, flavoured cheeses, but also cultivators of medicinal plants, producers of essential oils and organic cosmetics, who passionately preserve and cultivate age-old, valuable knowledge and crafts.

Ideal duration: 2.5 days, from Friday afternoon to Sunday evening
Ages: Fully customizable according to your tastes and requirements, this tour is suitable for all ages, as well as for families with small children.

Main distances:
Tirana – Shkodra: 103 Km, about 2 hours
Prizren – Shkodra: 194 Km, about 3 hours (including crossing the border point)
Skopje – Shkodra: 338 Km, about 4.5 hours (including crossing the border point)
Shkodër – Koplik: 18 km, 25 minutes
Podgorica – Koplik: 41 Km, about 1 hour and 15 minutes (including crossing the border point)
Koplik – Bajza: 8 km, 10 minutes
Bajzë – Reç: 10 km, 15 minutes
Reç – Gruemirë: 23 Km, about 25 minutes
Reç–Shtoj I Ri: 30 Km, about 30 minutes

Detailed program:
DAY 1 – Friday afternoon:

PLACE OF YOUR DEPARTURE – SHKODRA – REÇ
To fully enjoy the visit to this very attractive, but still little known corner of northern Albania, we advise you to organize your trip so that late Friday afternoon, still before dark, finds you in the agritourism “Rruga e Mullirit”, in the village of Reç, the accommodation we recommend for you on this trip.
The guesthouse, equipped with three rooms furnished in traditional style is located about five minutes from the center of the village, in the heart of nature and the bucolic landscapes of rural Albania.

While the warm reception of the owners Mirash and Zina will make you feel immediately welcome, the hanging swings under the tree branches, as well as the many benches and wooden tables spread all overthe large courtyard decorated with colorful flowers will lure you to surrender to nature. The guesthouse is in fact surrounded on all sides by fruit trees, vegetable gardens and green meadows where many household animals graze free.
The farm is characterized by a great variety of organic products, which are also the basis of the rich and very special menu offered to visitors. Such traditional specialties as baked potatoes with local cheese, grilled or slow baked meat, accompanied by wine and brandy produced by the farmers themselves, stand out. You can enjoy these wonders of the Albanian cuisine in the yard, under the sky illuminated by the moonlight and millions of stars, or by the warm fireplace, according to the season.

DAY 2 – Saturday: REÇ – KOPLIK – BAJZË – GRUEMIRË – REÇ
The fresh air, the deep peace and comfortable conditions of the new guest rooms will make you rest perfectly, allowing you to wake up full of energy and ready to face a day with plenty of memorable visits and experiences, starting from the breakfast table, laid out in the courtyard with fresh village food, which you can hardly find anywhere else.
After breakfast, we suggest you transfer to the shores of Lake Shkodra, for a boat trip back and forth from the locality of Stërbeq (in Koplik) to the place called Syri i Sheganit, a small and beautiful panoramic bay, not far from the border with Montenegro. Taken in the morning, this trip will reward you with beautiful views and photographs of the clear waters, rare birds and vegetation of the lake and shores. You can find the contacts of the boatmen in the website zanamaleve.com or through the owners of the guesthouse “Rruga e Mullirit”.

The trip begins and ends in Koplik, a small town and main center of the Municipality of Malësia e Madhe, with just over 4,000 inhabitants. Border provinces with a documented century-old history, Koplik and Malësia e Madhe have always been a place of meetings, sometimes even clashes, between peoples, powers and principalities across the border. Today this territory is famous in Albania and in the world for the production of medicinal plants, some of which, like sage, with incomparable quality.
For this reason we suggest you to plan at least one visit to the farms of the area, among which we recommend the well-known “Salvia Nord”, specialized in the cultivation and production of over ten types of medicinal plants such as lavender, thyme, rosemary and of course sage (salvia), from which essential oils, spices and rare herbal teas are obtained, all products that you can discover and buy there directly. Another quality producer of these natural wonders is the farm “Vajra Malësie”, which you can also contact for a visit.
The suggested itinerary continues further north, with two other quite original visits. The first in “Kastrati” Beekeeping, in the village of Bajza (about 10 min from Koplik), where you can meet the passionate beekeeper Landi Skaqaj and his family, all engaged in the production of some excellent organic honey, propolis and the much sought afterbee-milk.
Not far from there, in the village of Hot is the farm and workshop where the rare and varied “Veleçiku cheeses” are produced, which you may have enjoyed in one of the best restaurants in Albania and Kosovo. Medicinal plants of the province, but also fruits of the forest, nuts or chili peppers are combined beautifully with the fresh milk of goats or cows of the alpine pastures of the province of Kastrati, creating original cheeses with superior taste. If you notified the owners in advance, you can visit the goat farm and the workshop, as well as, of course, buy your favorite cheeses directly from the shop.


At the end of the morning we advise you to return for lunch to the characteristic restaurant “Shporta e Reçit”, on the table of which you will find a variety of products from local farmers, coordinated by the incubator “Agro-Reçi”, also a high quality cheese producer.
The province along the eastern shores of Lake Shkodra is also the northern most tip of the historic cultivation territory of one of the most famous autochthonous Albanian grape varieties, the Kallmet. For this reason, for those passionate about wine, but not only, we suggest you to spend the afternoon and evening hours visiting the vineyards of the Kantina “Mani” (“Mani” Winery), located in an area of 2.2 hectares in the village of Gruemirë, about 25 Km away from Reç. There you will be greeted and accompanied by the passionate viticulturist Fatjon Mani, who has built the farm and winery after a long work experience in several European countries. At the“Mani”Winery” you will have the opportunity to taste the famous Kallmet, aged in wooden casks, accompanied by selected foods of the local culinary tradition.

DAY 3 – Sunday: REÇ–SHTOJ I RI – SHKODRA – YOUR RESIDENCE
Agritourism “Rruga e Mullirit”, our accommodation choice in this itinerary, is located practically inside the famous chestnut forest of Reç, part of the Shkreli Municipal Natural Park created in 2015 to protect this natural area of rare beauty.
We suggest you dedicate the whole Sunday morning exploring the Chestnut Forest, declared Natural Monument since 1974. The Reç chestnuts, an indigenous protected variety, count today over 30,000 trees, some of which are more than 300 years old. They cover an area of 450 hectares, traversed by numerous, shaded and signposted trails where you can walk all year round.
At the end of the weekend, before returning to your homes, we suggest a last visit to the workshop of handcrafted soaps, “Natyra ime” (“My nature”), in Shtoj i Ri, very close to the city of Shkodra. Founded and run by the passionate artisan Jetmira Kajoshi, this laboratory produces 100% natural cosmetics. If you let her know a little earlier, Jetmira is ready to welcome you and present you some of the techniques and secrets of her art of making organic soaps and creams.