Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Arras, Albania: Agrotourism guesthouse stay

August 2019
Albania in summer

We spent a few wonderful days this first part of August at a small rural guesthouse in the tiny village of Arras near Peshkopi on the Black Drin River. I'm not going to outline our work here, but I just want to highlight the spot as a great place to visit with family. Northwest Albania is not a well known eco or agro-tourism destination but it has some things to offer that you will not find anywhere in Europe.

Firstly, the traditional Gheg Albanians and their authentic farm culture (complete with donkeys and horses, and true organic permaculture farming). They are the most hospitable people I have met in Europe; in this region they are nearly all Muslim with long-time ties to the land and its waters.

Secondly the authentic cultural landscapes. We often just sat dumb-founded at the beauty and realness, the authenticity. Reminded me of Greece of yesterday ('70s). Seeing working landscapes- living villages, next to mountain wilderness and such rich biodiversity.

And finally, the spell-bounding river and spring waters. Waters everywhere. And the Black Drin river: Most of the day it is clear and cool but after 2 PM the hydropeaking floods from an upstream dam in North Macedonia begin: rising waters a meter or so higher and much swifter. The regulated river pulses with floods and ebbs. And its a big river - kids swim, play and fish; older chaps use dynamite and "batteries" to fish. Huge river quarrying and dumpsites prosper alongside tiny villages that remind one of some far off Asian state. Snorkeling here is wonderful in the morning- clear but with plenty of plastic and other submerged garbage. Our friends also kayaked from the Luzli Bridge to the Arras Bridge (a four hour journey).

Despite the sometimes feelings of "a slight craziness" in this unique country...this is a perfeclty safe and certainly colourful experience. Love Albania!

Visit Arras village with your family and friends, highly recommended.

The Black Drin (Drin i Zi), about an hour's drive downstream of Arras.

The Black Drin about two hour's drive downstream of Arras - actually closer to Kukes. Don't dive from the bridge- we didn't. 

Near Arras on the wonderful dirt road leading from the village to Muhurr Village.

Crossing the cool clear waters: about an hour's drive upstream of Arras.

The river near Arrass village hosts about 18 species of fish; this is one of the rarest, confined to springs and river-side wetlands: the Ohrid Minnow - Pelasgus minutus (species ID awaiting DNA confirmation).

Searching for "trofta" in the Setes canyon: fun but sad too (over-fishing probs here)
While snorkeling you can see several species at small pool channels in the wide braided channels of the river - this is a school of Skadar Gudgeon, Gobio skadarensis
Little jewels in the hand: These tiny minnows Phoxinus sp. are cold-water dwelling species in springs along the main channel. Some populations are in reproductive colours such as this one in the springs near the confluence of the Setes and Drini i Zi rivers (below the village of Arras).
After the dramatic gorge. 

Classic Green Woodpecker Picus viridis, on Robinia pseudacacia (an invasive tree from America). This bird is very common around the Arber Guesthouse. An early morning walk around the guesthouse easily gives 20+ species of birds in early August; one of the commonest being the Golden Oriole! 
Yours was truly shocked to find an immature Golden Eagle electrocuted from a power pole on the road in the lower Canyon. Actually I had seen a huge nest in the canyon and was wondering if it was a Golden Eagle; but no live specimen spotted: a sad find. 
Guesthouse Arber, Arras.

View from the Guesthouse Arber, Arras.

Guesthouse Arber, Arras.

Guesthouse Arber, Arras.

View from the Arber Guesthouse, Arras. Wonderful walking country (no dog probs encountered, but beware of goat-sheep flocks when walking anywhere in the Balkans).

Our host at Guesthouse Arber, Vladimir Marku - with family.

Mr. Vladimir Marku showing the new works at Guesthouse Arber. He really helped us explore the region, helped us feel comfortable on the crazy Albanian roads and made us feel totally at home at his home - even giving each of us Muslim names...(photo by Max W. aka Ali).
Urban getaways not far: In the city of Kukes with Vasso and Donard.