While traveling through the northern countryside of Albania, one can come across one of the best-known Albanian agrotourism projects. On her Mini-Balkans trip, this happened to E&M author, Nisa Sherifi, who shares, why “Mrizi i Zanave” is worth it of stopping by.
Picture this: you are in a small village in the north of Albania near Lezhe, called Fishte. You see a board sign that reads “Mrizi i Zanave Agrotourism”. “Nice”, you think, and head there, with high expectations that are about to be not only met, but completely surpassed. At least that was my experience, and I’d like to share it with all of you, through not only the words in this article, but the numerous pictures we took in that enchanted restaurant.
Mrizi i Zanave Agrotourism is one of the best-known Albanian agrotourism projects. It consists of a restaurant, a farm, a bed and breakfast, a conference room, and production workshops. However, what makes it so special is its atmosphere, quality, and its principles of proper sustainability.
An experience as untranslatable as its name
“Mrizi i Zanave” was founded by two brothers from Fishte, Anton and Altin, who had spent almost a decade in Italy working in the restoration sector, and had become chefs. It seems this passion runs in the blood of the family however, as their father used to be the cook for the workers “Mensa” of Fishte, a tradition and love for cooking and sharing he clearly passed on to his sons.
The name “Mrizi i Zanave”, was inspired by a book with the same title by Gjergj Fishta, a prominent Albanian poet and intellectual, who was originally from Fishte. The name “Mrizi i Zanave” roughly translates to the fairies’ hideaway, although the word mriz cannot be captured in a single word in English. It refers to a cool place with shade, where animals and other enchanted beings, like fairies, might go to escape the summer heat. And that is exactly the kind of refreshment and relaxation this restaurant and farm provides.
As we drove up to Mrizi, we immediately noticed the large farm that stretched in front of the dining grounds, with its produce, trees, vineyards, and animals. Mrizi sources its food either from this farm, or from the 400 families from the nearby areas that it collaborates with to meet its additional meat, dairy, or produce needs. And with that, Mrizi manages to serve around 100,000 guests annually, sometimes having up to 800 guests a day according to one of the servers.
The staff is around 70 people, who are multi-skilled and versatile, working in the service, production, workshops, and kitchen, and even acting as highly engaging and informed guides of the grounds. In fact, they seem to be quite passionate about Mrizi themselves, as they, and not the founder, were the ones to insist that we tour the grounds to have a real idea of how everything is produced, showing us the true meaning of “Farm-to-Fork”.
The dining experience:
Our dinner at Mrizi was at around 8 p.m. We chose a place to sit among the fresh air, at a table surrounded by trees, and with many curious cats coming to pay us small visits at the price of nibbling on meat and cheese.
After sitting down, we were offered the seasonal juice to begin with, thana juice, on the house, as our waiter explained the menu and how it worked, while another member of staff played beautiful old Albanian songs on the violin a few metres from us.
At Mrizi, the menu is limited to a few main dishes and the meze that they tailor to the number of guests at each table, all seasonal. For our table, the waiter told us they would be arranging a meze for four, and then gave us an overview of the mains, which were two types of pasta, blueberry or mushroom, and four types of meat, namely lamb, sheep, pork, and chicken. Once we began discussing taking a plate of each among each other, the waiter was quick to point that it might be too much food, and told us that two to three mains would be more than enough for our table of four. He was right, but our hungry eyes weren’t convinced, and so we ordered both types of pasta, as well as the lamb, sheep, and pork.
Here are the pictures of this incredible food, almost a third of which we sadly could not finish:
The principle of true sustainability:
However, the fact that he would try to keep us from overordering was something that we all noticed, and found to be quite amazing, as it proved to us that the whole establishment had properly understood and internalized the principles of sustainability, putting it at the forefront, and leaving profit somewhere further down the line. This is visible in their attempts to avoid overconsumption for the sake of profit, and in the ways with which they deal with meat. Their meat is all locally produced and processed, and the portions aren’t overly large to cause an excessively negative impact on the climate.
The point about profit is one that we noticed not only in this approach against food waste for the sake of selling, but also with the overall prices of the food as well as the rooms they rent. Namely, Mrizi has gotten quite a lot of traffic and marketing in the past years, yet has refused to spike prices and make itself somehow exclusive to only a certain group or class of people.
This point was something that I appreciated particularly and spoke to my friends about, hoping that I would get them to understand just how important it was. For context, I was with three international friends, of different nationalities and backgrounds, that live in France like me. Before Mrizi we had been in Shkup*, Prishtina, and Prizren, eating, drinking, and laughing our way through our mini-Balkan trip. We had made sure to lunch and dine both in extremely local spots, as well as fancier ones, with Mrizi being the height of these experiences. However, what we had noticed in the “fancier” spots in Kosova, like Tiffany, was that while the food was very good and very traditional, the clientele was a lot more foreign, with almost a majority of tables speaking in English or some other Western European language.
At Mrizi, it was the opposite, with most of the clientele speaking Albanian, in all its beautiful dialects and variations, from all corners of the Albanian-speaking lands. Likely, the reason for that might be the differences in price. At Mrizi we not only ate completely local and authentic food, we were shown around the grounds and had a complete experience, and it was still cheaper for four of us than the fancy restaurants in Prishtina were for three. Namely, the dinner at Mrizi cost about 80 euros. The room for four, in which even the soap was locally produced, with a breakfast buffet serving the food in the picture below, costs about 95 euros and is the most expensive one there, with the rest being between 30-50.
In conclusion, ‘Mrizi i Zanave Agrotourism’ in Fishte, Albania, is more than just a restaurant or a farm – it’s a sanctuary for sustainability and enchantment. With its limited menu, farm-fresh ingredients, and a commitment to affordability and accessibility, this agrotourism gem embodies the true spirit of eco-conscious dining. In an ever-changing world where the importance of sustainability cannot be overstated, ‘Mrizi i Zanave’ offers a tantalizing glimpse into a future where food, culture, and tradition are celebrated in harmony. It’s a place where visitors can revel in the magic of a fairies’ hideaway, where both the soul and the palate are nourished, leaving an indelible mark on anyone fortunate enough to experience it.
All pictures by Nisa Sherifi.