Theth & Bujtina Polia, Always My Destination…

The patio at Bujtina Polia

6 October, 2022

I’ve been in Tirana now for nearly 4 days and my mind always drifts back to Theth. Tirana is the capital of Albania, and its constant movement, noise, and people have me wondering why I didn’t stay a little longer in my dear mountain valley. I met Pavlin Polia last May when my friend Elton sent me on a tour of Valbonne and Theth to look at prospective rivers to fly fish. I blogged that trip in earlier posts, and I decided if I had to leave Slovakia again that I would return to Theth for a prolonged stay with Pavlin and his family. Although Theth sees a throng of hikers, it retains a wildness that is intoxicating. I can recall seeing both wolf and bear scat as I traversed the lower reaches of the Shala River. I recalled my numerous visits to Montana and Wyoming,and in their remote stretches having the identical flavor of Theth. Valbonne, just over the mountain is a great deal less populated, and wears its wildness proudly on its chest. I had planned to visit Valbonne, but after considering my financial bearings, I decided it would have be one or the other.

Pavlin (R), Vlora, their Son Tom, Arian, with Greta (far left back).

I have written extensively about my fishing excursions on the Shala that bore no fish, and I have also remarked about the incredible variety of people – “the cream of the world”- that I have met at Bujtina Polia. I want to focus this post on the staff, Pavlin and his wife Vlora, and my day-to-day mixing with them all.

Pavlin is a quiet man with an epic beard. He exudes patience, especially with my many questions, and he is surrounded by a warm aura at the same time. Vlora is just as patient and kind as a person can be; knowing that in my long stay I would need clean clothes, she instructed me to leave my wash near the door of the laundry room. After my first two weeks (I stayed nearly a month), I felt as if I was sort of family. Their attention would be given to everyone; my couple welcomed people through their open door with the same kindness, and open hearts that I was given.

In the kitchen! Vlora and Pavlin were everywhere. No task was a burden, and they switched roles seamlessly.

I was in awe of how quickly either would change roles and pick up a task that had to be taken on, with no grumbling, and without missing a beat. They could entertain quests, move to the kitchen and help with prep, serve, and clean up with the staff. One just doesn’t see this everyday; they worked together as a team…I wish I had this influence in my own failed marriage. I will truly miss them both until I see them again.


Aside from Pavlin and Vlora, there is a wondeful staff made up of Greta, her guy Aldo, and Mirko. In the kitchen, when Vlora is away in Shkoder with the kids in school, Mikel and Marija ably put out Breakfast and Dinner each day. Some days there are just a few guests, other days and evenings there are upwards of 40+. The entire staff gives even the most mundane task or question their undivided focus. I know from my experiences in the hospitality industry in my earlier days, this is what makes or breaks a hotel, inn, or hostel. The devotion to serving the guests is unparalleled, and all five of them practiced this dedication without fault. “Mirko” is a young man with energy and focus. Aldo has a worldly ability to know what is needed at any moment, and became a great conversational comrade to me. Greta, a darling young lady, was in charge of the operation of the finer datails; the books, and payment of bills. She went beyond just housekeeping to make sure that everything was in place for a comfortable stay. This didn’t just apply to my near month-long dwelling, but for folks that would seem to appear out of nowhere for lunch or coffee. Nothing was beyond reach, they all committed with grace and poise, to even the most demanding guests.

Aldo and Greta

I am very glad that I chose to stay at Bujtina Polia; on days that the weather kept me from the river, I was able to read and write in the dining room, as well as my own room. I had the freedom to relax, unwind on the property, have a cup of Aldo’s coffee, and focus on my work. We always had the most hearty and solid meals for dinner. While I wsn’t going into the mountains like most of the guests, I always felt well-sated by the dinners. In the morning after Breakfast there would always be a side table with bread, meat, cheese, and veggies to make pack-lunches with. If I was headed to the river to fish, I would always avail myself of that table. The food is the purest and best I’ve eaten in a long time (the US not included, no quality there). For me, there was something very satisfying about having a small sandwich, or two, along the riverside, and then finish with a perfect apple. At least I had a full belly as the Albanian Speckled Trout denied and befuddled me.

Marija & Mikel

From the kitchen, the aroma of food would waft through the bujtina all day long. Marija and Mikel, were up early to have Breakfast out and would be up late cleaning the dishes and cook-space after our late dinners….again – the dedication. It was always a lift to greet them in the morning as I would get coffee first, head out to the fence-line to finish my chanting, and then head back in to refuel for the day. Until their children started school in Shkoder, Vlora was always a presence in the dining room, or on the patio. She has a quiet strength, and it is easy to see where the staff gets their dedication from. Pavlin was always on hand to answer questons from the trekking guests, and at time to clear routes with some of the guides. They are a dynamic duo, and they have made a great place to stay. When I talked to some of the other guests about their stay, they would brim with glee and state that they were glad they chose this place and wouldn’t hesitate to stay again.

Starters for Dinner

It is almost a 4 hour trip to Theth from Tirana, but it seems a world away now as I think back to the friends and acquaintances I met there. I have joined a “meet-up” group from the UK, and will look forward to a trip with them, backpacking and visiting far-flung provinces. Geoff and Ingrid (the whole group, actually) took me in as one of their own. I met a couple from The Netherlands, Mariah and Mattijs were great people to talk to and visit with. There are too many to list and I won’t fill this space. Although there were moments that I felt alone, I never felt lonely – there is a big difference. I always had short talks with Pavlin, or anyone else to stymie those feelings…I am very thankful for the experience that Bujtina Polia granted me. I had the time of my life fishing waters that I had no idea about, trying different flies and different methods. Coming away from the Shala River empty-handed was never bitter, after all, fly fishing is like Buddhism – “it’s the seeking, not the finding, that reveals the answers”. Upon reaching the patio, I was always greeted by one of the many dogs, and any number of guests. That alone bolstered my spirits. Every morning in the yard facing the “great wall”, I would finish my askance, and come back in to rub the prayer flag Pavlin had hanging in the dining room…just like home. He had been to Nepal in his travels, he grasped my devotion to Buddhism, and I am forever grateful for that peace and freedom to practice…(bowing).

Although there dozens of places to stay in Theth Valley, I will never consider any other shelter than Bujtina Polia. “Bujtina” is translated as inn or hotel. It can also be loosely inferred as “home”. Pavlin and Vlora made it my home at 700 meters. After my 4-day run through the ringer with the “Norwegian Goddess”, I was comforted by the Bujtina and those magnificent mountains. Pavlin wished me well before I set out after her, was a guidepost along the way, and welcomed me back when I rounded the patio. I would recommend Bujtina Polia to anyone traveling through the Peaks of the Balkans. No one knows the mountains better than Pavlin, and he is THE source for enjoying them to the fullest. Coupled with that knowledge, his warmth, and the overall standard he has set, Bujtina Polia is a must-stay in Theth. Thank you Vlora, Pavlin, and the incredible staff; I will return again and again…(bowing).

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