When city life, the 9-5, and the monotonous routine of each day starts to get to you, sometimes the only thing to do is to pack up your kids and partner and head off-grid for a weekend.
I was born (almost in the back of a Landrover) and raised on a farm, in the middle of a moor, 10km from the nearest civilization in Cornwall, UK so country life is nothing new to me. It’s something I crave, especially now I have children. The suggestion of heading to Pellumbas for a couple of days to stay in The House in The Village, surrounded by nature, animals, and farmers sounded like absolute heaven.
Pellumbas is located around 30 minutes drive from Tirana. As you head towards Elbasan, a deviation from the main road takes you off into the countryside. With the Ezerni River at our side, we cut through gorgeous rolling hills and lush farmland, dotted with colorful homesteads. After about 15 minutes of bumpy roads, an encounter with some goats, and a check-in with a local farmer with wizened, weathered skin (to ensure we were heading in the right direction), we arrived at our location.
The House in The Village sits by the side of a bumpy trail that will take you up to the famous Black Cave (but more about that later). A traditional Albanian guesthouse, it sits within several hectares of wild garden, complete with fig, plum, olive, and pomegranate trees, and rows of vegetables and other tasty homegrown treats. Turtles of varying sizes lazily hobble through the undergrowth that frames the borders of the garden. I spotted nettles, mint, lemon balm, roses, and some large purple and white flowers that I am yet to discover the name of.
The house is made of rough-hewn stone, has outside Turkish toilets, and a large terrace on the first floor. All the bricks are uneven, the wood is rough and recycled, and the big window at the front floods the inside with light, doing away with the need for lighting. A stone well sits in the garden, creaking satisfyingly as you turn the wheel, bringing cold, fresh water to the surface. There’s a fire pit ready for the evenings, and a long, handmade wooden table and benches which serve as the focal point of the house.
Inside, the kitchen comprises of a floor table (sofra) with handmade benches and mismatched cushions, a traditional stove, oddities and ornaments on every surface, and small murals painted with colorful paints onto some of the bare stones. A selection of several instruments hangs from the wall including various pipes and flutes, a guitar, and a lahuta.
Everything is improvised, recycled, upcycled, and much is made by hand. The kitchen is meat-free and guests cook together and communally, sharing ingredients and meals.
The house and accommodation are no-frills, mismatched, welcoming, warm, and laidback- just what I was looking for.
We were welcomed by another guest, a Mexican filmmaker who was staying there for a few days with his two young daughters. He was joined by a ‘citizen of the world’ (from Norfolk) who is volunteering at the house, in return for bed and board. Later, a journalist from Kosovo and her husband and child joined us, and we were in total a large group of eclectic characters from different countries, cultures, and backgrounds.
Raki was poured out, Turkish coffee was brewed and the children ran wild, swinging from makeshift tree swings and splashing in a paddling pool.
That night, we ate a feast cooked up by the Mexican filmmaker. A vegetarian dish of Indian nature, complemented by the flavors of vegetables and herbs grown in the garden. Anecdotes were shared, laughs were had, raki was drunk, and we watched a blazing sunset disappear behind the hills.
The next morning, I awoke to the sounds of the local Farm Orchestra. For those not familiar with farm life, it typically consists of cockerels crowing, donkeys braying, the dulcet tones of a cow or two, and all the dogs in the neighborhood barking in unison.
While everyone else slept, my daughter and I headed into the village. Pellumbas is tiny and relies a lot on tourism to keep it going. We were welcomed handsomely by everyone we met- even every person we passed on the path, stopped to wish us good morning. From the center of the village, a local man offers tours and trips up to the cave, as well as a selection of local products including tea and honey.
We ate breakfast, stopped to look at some chickens, and headed back to join our group. The day was spent lazing around in the sun and exploring the cobbled paths that weave their way through the garden. While I and my daughter had an afternoon siesta, the others visited the Erzeni River for an afternoon swim. With brilliant turquoise water and plenty of small pools to paddle in, it is perfect for a bracing summer swim.
From the House, the Black Cave is around 1-hour gentle hike away. A karst cave, it sits within the Skorana Gorge, some 500m above the Adriatic and on the edge of the Dajti mountain chain. It is one of only six karst caves in the whole of Europe. 360m deep and 45m at its widest, it is known for its beauty and majesty. The cave has borne remains of human culture from the Paleolithic age, and remnants of the now-extinct cave bear which lived up to 400,000 years ago.
There are also plenty of opportunities for hiking in the surrounding mountains, canyons, gorges, and meadows.
The House in The Village also offers guests the chance to be immersed in daily farm work, distill raki (during the season), and taste a wide selection of local foods. But there is also plenty of fun to be had just relaxing in the garden, listening to the bees buzzing, and enjoying the fresh air and peaceful atmosphere.
For us, it was the perfect way to unwind. The children ran free and feral, we ate and drank well, and took the opportunity to switch off from news and much of social media. We didn’t have to worry about anything, and we left feeling the happiest and most relaxed we have in a long time.
If you are looking for impeccable luxury and being waited on hand and foot, this is not the place for you. But if you want to enjoy the simpler and most natural things in life, a trip to Pellumbas and The House in The Village is somewhere that will tick all the boxes.