Located in the farming village of Fishtë in a tranquil corner of northwestern Albania is the beautiful Mrizi i Zanave Agroturizëm Resort. Arguably the country’s most well-known food attraction, Mrizi i Zanave is the epitome of Albanian slow food. It’s part resort, part restaurant, part farm, part winery, and part production facility, and serves some of the tastiest food I’ve ever enjoyed in the Balkans. In other words, there’s a reason why Mrizi i Zanave is the ultimate agrotourism experience in Albania.
At this stunning resort, which is located in a lush mountain valley among sweeping fruit and vegetable fields, humble farms, and modern production facilities, their motto is “Think globally, eat locally.” It’s the perfect way to describe this place, which took my breath away when I visited in August of 2020.
Mrizi i Zanave is truly the ultimate agrotourism resort in Albania, and it all begins and ends with their mouthwatering Albanian slow food. But what exactly is “slow food?” In case you’ve never heard this term before, let’s quickly go over what it entails.
With a seasonal international menu and production that honors the land, Mrizi i Zanave is globally-focused. At the same time, every bite of food served there comes from its own fields or from those belonging to locals farmers from Lezhë.
Here, they honor the tradition of Albanian “slow food,” which is all about keeping the things you eat local, sustainable, and healthy. They do this while promoting clean and fair food and biodiversity. Reconnecting food producers with those who consume the food is another important element of the “slow food” movement. I can honestly say that I ate some of the freshest, cleanest, healthiest, and tastiest food of my life there.
All of that made my visit the most life-changing and most authentic farm-to-table experience of my life. There is something rare and special about knowing that the food that is nourishing your mind and body came directly from the ground you’re walking on. It’s a powerful notion that can shift your perspective on how we should produce and consume food in this world.
When I arrived at Mrizi i Zanave, I was welcomed with open arms by the owner, Altin. He is the brains behind the operation and a wickedly intelligent, kind, hospitable, and creative man. He’s both meticulous and delicate in how he approaches his work on the farm and is a master at innovation. He curates all of the flavors and textures you’ll experience at Mrizi i Zanave.
He graciously took me on a mind-blowing VIP tour of the entire property. For hours, he proudly showed me his kitchens, fields, vineyards, on-site restaurants, and production factories. I will forever be grateful to him for taking an entire day out of his schedule to show me his life’s work and explain everything in such detail.
It’s clear that Mrizi i Zanave has been slowly and deliberately been in development for over a decade. Guests will be able to see the awe-inspiring scope of the place when they visit. Everything was crafted with love, which makes the experience that much better.
As he showed and I explored and filmed, we laughed and joked and admired the property in a mash-up of English and Italian that made me feel completely at home. That’s one of the wonderful things about Albania—you’ll always feel at home there. The people make sure of it.
And while most resort guests cannot take the tour I did, I will break it all down here. To see more of my experience, please check out the video of my morning tour and afternoon/evening adventures.
My day began with my arrival after a 20-minute, early-morning drive from Shkodër. One of the first things I noticed was the farm, where I could see geese, cows, horses, and chickens. By the time I saw the fresh, vibrant-looking tomatoes drying in the sun, I knew this would be my kind of place.
Before I knew it, I had met Altin, who whisked me over to the main building, which, like a lot of the resort, is open-air. There, he invited me to try a phenomenal Balkan pastry called byrek (sometimes spelled burek) made from cornmeal. It set my taste buds on a wild journey that would not end until I left the following morning. I was only five minutes into my Mrizi adventure and I couldn’t stop salivating.
From there, Altin took me to a nearby outdoor seating area on a terrace in the midst of several tall trees. He calls it his “forest” area, which is so tranquil and peaceful, I could have spent all day there. There, he served me a fantastic breakfast spread that began with a smooth and fruity mulberry rakija (a sensational fruit wine that’s extremely popular in the Balkans). I’ve loved rakija ever since my trip to Montenegro (my very first Balkan country) in 2008, and this one was up there with some of the best I’ve ever tried.
Not long afterward, I dove head-first into more byrek and a fruity and fresh juice. I followed that with eggs, goat cheese, petulla (freshly fried dough), mulberry jam, honey, gliko, figs, grapes, blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries. It was probably the freshest and most nourishing breakfast of my life!
The way everything on that table was produced is green and sustainable. It’s a blueprint for how food production should be in general. And it’s the main reason why Mrizi i Zanave is the ultimate agrotourism experience in Albania.
After my first lip-smacking taste of Mrizi i Zanave’s food, I then got a taste of the operation that goes on behind-the-scenes. Altin invited me to join him on the back of his bike and took me down the road to a former prison. The prisoners, cells, and guards are long gone, and Altin took it upon himself to convert the complex into Mrizi i Zanave’s production facilities.
Outside the facility were a number of large, glass jugs sitting out in the sun. They were filled with pine cones and sugar, which would eventually break down to become pine syrup!
I’ve seen a lot in my travels. Things that amazed me and shocked me. But what I saw at these facilities was incredibly eye-opening and made me realize what is possible when it comes to food production. Like their winery. I’ve visited countless wineries around the world, never one that was part of a massive, all-in-one resort like this. As I sipped a delicious red wine that came straight from the barrel, I realized just how important places like Mrizi i Zanave are.
From there, we continued on to another area that immediately made me drool with glee. It was a room filled with drying, cured meat. Hanging from never-ending racks were scrumptious-looking pieces of smoked pork and meaty beef sausages. I also saw some pastirma, a type of air-dried cured beef that’s popular in the Mediterranean and Caucasus region of Asia. It looked every bit as sensational as the kind I tried in Armenia, which goes by the name basturma.
As if the winery and smoked meat weren’t enough, Altin then took me to yet another building, where he produces his own cheese, marmalades, jams, and sun-dried tomatoes.
I’m a certified cheese lover. Whether it’s feta, brie, ricotta, cheddar, blue, or Mascarpone, I will eat it happily. And let’s just say I was happy as a lark in that room. Along the shelves were dozens, possibly hundreds, of wheels of fresh cheese, aging beautifully. I saw the tasty, white goat cheese I’d been eating throughout my travels through Albania. There was also as well as yellow cow cheese and some containing herbs and bits of fruit. I also saw wheels of cheese aging in a large barrel of wine!
Adding to Mrizi i Zanave being the ultimate agrotourism experience in Albania are their jarred jams and marmalades. They came in seemingly endless varieties. I tried some fresh blackberries and sun-dried tomatoes straight from a jar. The sun-dried tomatoes were oily, juicy, and bursting with incredible flavor!
As we headed back to the resort for lunch, Altin couldn’t help but pull his bike by a tunnel on the side of the road. He invited me inside, revealing a cramped but surprising storeroom where he was experimenting with making green cheese!
Despite the heat from the blistering Albanian sun outside, the tunnel was quite cold. As you might expect, a tunnel filled with experimental cheese has a powerful aroma, but in no way was it off-putting. It was yet another example of the ingenious way Altin is constantly innovating the already groundbreaking notion of slow food.
From there, we continued on to Altin’s fields, where he grows everything from artichokes to white grapes to beans. He doesn’t do it all himself, though. He has a lot of help. Altin produces many of his fruits and vegetables, but a lot of the produce at Mrizi i Zanave is provided by 400 local farming families. That’s right. Mrizi i Zanave, the ultimate agrotourism resort in Albania, is a community effort. One of my favorite things about it is that it helps support the locals and their farms.
As you might expect, a place like Mrizi i Zanave attracts an eclectic and varied clientele. Everyone from locals looking for a quick, healthy lunch to traveling foodies stop by looking for a one-of-a-kind experience. It’s only natural that they’d want to take a piece of the resort home with them, which is what the agrotourism farm’s shop is for.
There, you can purchase jams, marmalades, and a number of cheeses that are produced on the farm. I highly recommend their goat cheese, which was like an interesting blend of manchego, brie, and gruyere. If you’re like me, you’ll also be tempted by their collection of smoked meat and their ibriks, which are ceramic pots used to hold rakija. And if you’re a honey lover, you’re in luck. You can buy some fresh off the honeycomb!
To fully understand why Mrizi i Zanave is the ultimate agrotourism resort in Albania, you have to have lunch there. There are several open-air dining halls where you can do this. My personal choice is set on a terrace framed by trellises that arch over the entire dining hall. The trellises are draped with vibrant green vines, creating a beautiful, breezy dining atmosphere.
Before my meal, Altin took me back into his kitchens, were I got to see, first-hand, the painstaking work and ingenuity that goes into Mrizi i Zanave’s menu. I watched the chefs prepare a heavenly-looking roasted goose, quail, grilled sheep shish kebabs, and ice cream that contains coffee, blueberries, and honey. They even make a unique treat from frozen blackberry juice that is served on a stem from the blackberry tree!
Suffice it to say, the meal was extraordinary. I started with an exceptional salad containing ricotta, tomatoes, basil, and oil. The tomatoes were plump and juicy, as they were in season. Altin told me that he knows it’s tomato season when the crickets and grasshoppers start chirping in the garden!
The roasted goose was gamy but every bit as tasty as I knew it would be, and the sheep kebabs were some of the best I’ve had in my life. I also enjoyed an Italian delicacy called fiori di zucca. It took me back to my visits with my extended family in Gubbio, the city in Umbria, Italy where my mother’s family is from. It’s a zucchini flower that is stuffed with ricotta cheese or a sardine, battered with flour, eggs, and beer, and then baked or fried.
My aunt in Gubbio makes it all the time when I visit during the summer months and having it at Mrizi i Zanave was yet another reason why I felt so welcome while I was there. Between the kind, hospitable people and the food, I couldn’t help but feel warm and fuzzy–the same way I feel when I’m sitting around my aunt and uncle’s dinner table in Gubbio. Regardless of where you’re from around the world, I guarantee you’ll feel the same when you visit.
The other highlight of my meal was a unique dish I’d never eaten before: blueberry yufka. A one-of-a-kind creation by Altin, this dish combines yufka or tagliatelle pasta with a sweet and tart blueberry sauce and rich, fermented cow cream. I’d never had anything like it before in my life.
The combination of tart, sweet, and creamy with al dente pasta was unreal. This dish easily makes my list of one of the best and most unique foods I’ve eaten in my travels. I could taste the freshness of the blueberries and the pasta, which is second only to the pasta I’ve eaten in Italy. The rich sauce stained my teeth, lips, and tongue purple, but it was so worth it!
Dessert consisted of multiple courses of delicious confections. They included a yogurt cake with wild berries, which had a nutty crust that reminded me of blueberry pie. The frozen blackberry juice on the blackberry stem was essentially the healthiest blackberry popsicle you’ll ever eat.
There was also a blueberry ice cream with pine syrup. It was an awesome combination of tart blueberry and a honey-like syrup with earthy pine notes. And I can’t forget about the creamy custard tart with fresh berries. But one of my favorites was the coffee ice cream, which they had topped with roasted coffee beans. They added an additional layer of coffee flavor and a palate-pleasing crunch!
I’m not usually much of a dessert guy. I’ll almost always choose something savory over something sweet, so it says a lot about the quality that I ate them all! Just another reason why visiting Mrizi i Zanave is the ultimate agrotourism experience you can have in Albania!
NOTE: You can also eat dinner on this terrace at night when live musicians will come to play for the guests. While they expertly tickle the ivories and play gorgeous violin music, you can have many of the dishes I mentioned above. I also recommend the tender pork kebabs with yogurt and the melt-in-your-mouth goat!
There are many agrotourism farms around Albania. But the thing that sets Mrizi i Zanave apart as the ultimate agrotourism experience in Albania is its scope. That includes its hotel, a gorgeous, upscale space that has the luxurious feel of a boutique hotel. It also has a relaxed, tranquil atmosphere that, again, feels like home.
The hotel, which is really a large, stone house, only has nine rooms, so space there is limited. But when you stay there, you realize how lucky you are to be able to experience it. The hotel overlooks Altin’s expansive property and provides magnificent views of the grounds. You can also see the farmland and the surrounding hills and distant mountains.
Its rooms are spacious and high-quality. Mine was called The Horse and providing me with a king-sized bed, a twin bed for a child or a friend, and a modern bathroom with glass walls. But my favorite feature of the room is its exposed stone walls, which have a large, glass cutout set into the corner so you can enjoy the view of the resort from your bed.
I’ve never seen anything like it in all my years of traveling. It made me yearn for the day I could return with my family so they could share this awesome experience with me.
In my thirteen years of traveling the world, I have never experienced a place where they produce meat, vegetables, wine, and cheese; have several on-site restaurants; and have a world-class hotel all on the same property. Everything runs efficiently and the people who work there take great pride in what they do. It’s a true testament to what hard work, a dream, and smart collaborations with locals can do for a community. It’s also a show of what you can do when your number one objective is to create an amazing experience that your guests will never forget. Book a trip to Albania today to experience the innovation at Mrizi i Zanave for yourself. Trust me, it will change your life.
Mrizi i Zanave Agroturizëm
Rruga “Lezhë – Vau i Dejës”
Fishtë, Lezhë 4505
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