New Years, Krujë Style

kruje, albania

If a person was so inclined, they could hop in a jalopy for the short trip from terrific Tirana to close-by Krujë. It’s a conveniently uncomplicated cruise. Unless you miss the Fushë/Krujë turn at Arrameras. Then it might not be. In such a scenario it could become quite complicated indeed.

If one were to commit such a blunder, one would have to make a u-turn at the next available spot (I forget where), drive back south some distance past where you can see the Fushë/Krujë exit on the opposite side of the highway to where you can effect another u-turn to once again head north (I forget where), execute said u-turn, and, on the second run, be sure to pay attention to the clearly-marked signs indicating the way to Krujë. Easy peasy.

Once on Rruga e Krujës, you know things are going to be alright. The road leads you through Fushë and then past colourful farms and fields before winding its way up the breathtakingly beautiful mountainside, through trees, past quaint shops and cafes, until eventually delivering you to your destination: Krujë proper.

“Morn dawns: and with it, stern Albania’s hills robed half in mist, bedewed with snowy rills.”

~ Lord Byron, Childe Harold

The trip can be confidently navigated even in the pouring rain. And in the darkness that fell after missing the turnoff and spending more time than anticipated darting around in search of where to cross highway SH1 so you can get headed back north. But it’s fine. You’re fine. You can eliminate any confusion of driving to Krujë by taking this tour, amazing hospitality included.

Once settled into your presidential suite at Hotel Panorama Krujë, any minor inconveniences experienced during the recent trip are soon forgotten. It’s even possible that after parking in the garage across the street and checking in to this fine hotel, the very welcoming concierge(s) will clear a parking spot directly in front of the hotel doors for you, and after re-parking, you’ll only have to move your luggage a very short distance.

Albanian hospitality is truly a thing one needs to experience to understand. Whoever is taking care of you in any given situation in this wonderful country will probably improve your day in some fashion or another. Unless I imagine, you piss them off. I suspect that Albanians are exactly the type of people whose kindness one shouldn’t take as a weakness. Nice people are always the worst ones to cross.

The restaurant in the hotel serves what one might expect in Albania, a veritable cornucopia of comforting cuisine, morning, noon and night, along with a typically tasty assortment of various libations. Including local wines worth trying. So a person could be excused for not eating at any of the other restaurants in Krujë (there are many) if only visiting for five days.

If you were feeling particularly comfortable just lounging about your presidential suite and didn’t fancy the idea of elevator-ing down for a bite, you could conceivably dial up the restaurant, order whatever you happen to be craving, and it would be delivered to your lodgings with the same stellar level of hospitality you would’ve been shown had you dined in-house.

Does it get any better?
It do.

I don’t know where you spent New Year’s of 2021, but, amidst a world of Covid hysteria, traditional celebrations were not practiced in many parts of the world.

The town of Krujë is not big, the population of Krujë county in total is not vast (around 60,000 inhabitants), but the balcony of the presidential suite offers a fantastic view of not only Krujë Castle, but the town and lowlands below (the name: Hotel Panorama Kruje, is no exaggeration), and on the above-mentioned New Years, minutes either side of the midnight countdown, the sky was lit up as far as the eye could see and the hills rumbled with cracks, pops and booms of a lively celebration. It sounded of people welcoming both the gifts and the challenges of the future, not hiding away from them.

Happy New Year from Krujë, Albania!

If given an option to script the perfect celebration for welcoming a new year in such strange times, my imagination wouldn’t have delivered what transpired. A fitting celebration in what was once the capital of the first Albanian state.

Gjergj Kastrioti, known as Skanderbeg, is a/the national hero of Albania, and rightly so, he laid many a sound drubbing on the Ottomans during the mid-1400s, often outnumbered and out-supplied. Repeated feats anyone would doff their cap to. He was the first leader of a united Albania, though not all of what is now modern Albania, but enough of it to matter. His legacy is an impressive one, and well worth the time to get acquainted with.

The principal attention-grabber through the presidential window of that suite in Hotel Panorama Krujë is undoubtedly Krujë Castle, the seat of Skanderbeg’s rebellion against the Turks. Skanderbeg repelled three massive sieges on the castle in the 1400s with usually no more than 3,000 defenders to accomplish these feats. Even Mehmed II “The Conqueror” couldn’t manage to oust him and his people from Krujë, and the Ottomans didn’t take the city until ten years after Skanderbeg died.

From what I can gather, this Albanian warrior and his men were as hard as the stone that still makes up the castle walls. It’s no small wonder that a traveler of Albania often encounters businesses, parks, streets and various monuments and attractions named either Kastrioti or Skanderbeg. I now count him as one of my heroes, and I’m not even Albanian.

On a warm, sunny day, one may be motivated to spend a day or so exploring the castle, the ancient bazaar below, one or both museums within the castle walls, or perhaps eat at one of the surprising number of restaurants atop the hill or along the bazaar. Or perhaps a hike at the nearby National Park of Qafshtama with its fresh mountain air, crystal clear springs and lovely green nuances. It has been the single source of drinkable water of the Albanian royal family.

I can attest to the fact that doing so would be time well spent, and not at all a source of regret. Mustering the motivation to leave the comfort of the room, with a glorious view of craggy mountains, a castle, an ancient wooden bazaar, and the emerald hues of Adriatic off in the distance, would probably be your biggest challenge, but once that’s overcome, the rewards are myriad.

So, should you have a few days or a week slated for R&R, a time set aside to shirk duties or delay obligations, and a notion to enjoy the creature comforts of Krujë yourself, I highly recommend it.

Top Sights to see in Krujë

  1. Krujë Castle
  2. Museumi Gjergj Kastrioti
  3. Ethnographic Museum
  4. Old Bazaar (Pazari i Vjetër)
  5. National Park of Qafshtama

If you loved this post, you can find all of our Balkan journeys to feast on here.

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