Kruja sits on a hilltop, not far from Tirana. We went there on impulse, booking a room as we set off. We were thrilled when the ordinary-sounding ‘Bar Restaurant Merlika’ turned out to be right inside the scruffy, rambling walls of Kruja citadel. In the afternoon heat we climbed the steep cobbled streets, through the likeable handicraft bazaar and past the museum designed by Hoxha’s daughter and her husband. (Enver Hoxha was the communist leader of Albania from 1944-85, who ruled with an iron fist.)
Beside the castle tower on the skyline, is the Ottoman home of Artur Merlika and his young family. Their restaurant, on the shady terrace, has the most amazing views over the plains to the ‘Accursed’ mountains in the north, and across to the coast. Our simple but comfortable room looked out over this terrace. Inside the main house we lingered in the beautiful traditional rooms created for entertaining – with their separate spaces for men and woman. Everything in them was handmade, from the woven carpets to the skillfully made heavy-lace curtains depicting the Albanian two-headed eagle and an image of Skanderbeg on his horse.
Artur Merlika was a charming host. As the day visitors departed back to Tirana in their coaches, he organised sunset drinks for us with that stunning view. Later he came and chatted about life under the various regimes that have ruled and misruled Albania. We heard that the house was built by his great-grandfather and, like many other homes, it was taken away from the family by the communists. It was only returned to them years later. Artur was particularly proud of his grandfather, an intellectual who, he discreetly said, had ‘served’ Albania. Later, after we left, we googled his grandfather’s name and found that Mustafa Merlika-Kruja had been Albania’s Prime Minister just before Hoxha, from 1941-43.
Comfortable rooms at Bar Restaurant Merlika, Rruga Kala Kruje are available through http://www.booking.com or by phoning direct +355692131 162