Judging esthetics Berat is probably the prettiest town in Albania. A wild history with extended occupational periods by both the Turks and the Romans has created a beautiful blend of ancient architectural styles. The river meandering through town and the rocky hills as a backdrop doesn’t hurt Berat’s looks either.
Berat is a perfect example of a place forgotten by time with over 400 of its residents still living within centuries old castle walls. But the modern times are slowly starting to catch up. And with tourism in Albania rising this UNESCO heritage sight is getting increasing attention. Let’s hope it will resist the seductive calls of developers money and stay the beautiful town it is today.
– What to do in Berat –
Discovering the old town
Obviously you are not visiting Berat without seeing the town itself, but it pays off to put a little more time in discovering every nook and cranny of the old town of Berat. Starting at the street with the most bars in town, Bulvardi Republica, walk in the direction of the Berat Castle, which you will see peering over town from up on a 150 meter tall rock face. Walk along the Osumi river and you’ll see the two parts of old town, Mangalem and Gorica.
Mangalem and Gorica
On the Northern bank is the mainly Muslim Mangalem, the South bank is Christian Mangalem. If you pay attention you’ll see the slight differences in building styles. More obvious is the amount of little churches dotted Gorica. Take a couple of hours to stroll around both sides, peer into the little churches and have a drink under a canopy of vineyards in one of the many family-owned ‘hidden’ guesthouses. You’ll never find them if you go actively look for one but will probably accidentally bump into one or two while discovering town.
The city of the thousand windows
Berat got its nickname for the many big merchant houses that make up most of Mangalem and Gorica, which all have large windows overlooking the Osumi river. These houses were built in the 18th and 19th century when Berat was an important outpost in the greater Ottoman empire. The merchants designed the big windows to have a good view of the river at all times, which was very important for trade at that time. Because the town was part of the Byzantine empire (Eastern part of the Roman empire) before that the building style of the whole town is a blend of styles that goes remarkably well together.
Right at the other side of the Bulevardi is Berat University, which sadly closed its doors only very recently due to a change in politics in Albania. The new government decided to heavily reduce state-funded education. Fortunately most students were able to continue their studies in Tirana. The building itself is beautiful and build in an old Roman style. I couldn’t help seeing some resemblance with the governmental buildings of Washington, U.S. as well. You can walk around it and peer into it through the windows. Often times a janitor is around who might allow you to take a peek inside if you ask nicely.
One of the sights not to be missed once in Berat is the Berat Castle or Kalaja e Beratit, in Albanian. Where old town is dominated by a Turkish building style this castle is all Roman. What makes the place most interesting is that a lot of people actually still live here. About 400 people call this part of Berat home and because of that, walking around the castle is unlike walking around any other castle in the area. Its like walking around in the middle ages. You will undoubtedly walk into someones backyard on accident two or three times. The people don’t seem to mind though.
Some locals have picked up on the enchanting effect this part of Berat has on visitors and started to exploit. There are some restaurants and guesthouses up on the mountain which provide the best views to wake up to in the whole country.
Tasting incl. local foods: 1750L
Being one of the two commercial wineries in Albania, the Cobo Winery, about 15 minutes by car from town justifies the visit. Take a taxi if you don’t want to bother with a designated driver. The winery is 100% family owned and they produce the wines 100% organic. The wines they produce are great but the best part about a visit is that you can sample their wines along with some local foods in their leafy shady backyard. Never heard of Albanian wines? You’ll be surprised of the quality of it. Albania is actually a wine-country pure-sang with almost every family producing some wine for their own consumption or to give away to friends.
National Ethnographic Museum
The National Ethnographic Museum is basically an old merchant house, perfectly restored in its former glory. At the entrance you get a booklet with info about all the rooms and items in the house. This is not a full-day visit, or even a half-day. In about an hour you’ve seem it all and read it all. But it does provide some welcome context about Berat’s history which makes exploring all the little streets all the more enjoyable.
– Eating and sleeping recommendations –
Remembered me talking about the Bulevardi Republica as the heart of all the action? True, but this is not the place where you want to go for dinner. most restaurants along the Bulevardi are touristy and the food ill-tasting. Unless you are looking for a cheap kebab, look elsewhere.
There are many good places in town for a bite, some tucked away with beautiful courtyards or romantic terraces overlooking the river. The best food I had in town was at Wildor, which serves mostly traditional Albanian cuisine. Me and Lisan paid 1350 Lek for dinner, including a carafe of red wine.
One of the best spots to have a romantic dinner is at Antigoni, with its charming terraces overlooking the Osumi river and the thousands of illuminated windows in the background after dark. Their Italian dishes top their local food. Prices are similar to Wildor – we paid 1400 Lek.
We found out that Booking.com will consistently give you the best rates on hotels. To make finding the perfect spot a little easier we made a selection for Berat. Click the link below to find the best places to stay in Berat. While booking pay attention to the location. The best places to stay are those close to the Bulveradi Republica, as this will ensure you are located both close to the bus station as well as within walking distance from most restaurants and bars.
Booking rate: 9.4
When I was in Berat I stayed at the Orestiada, a small family-run hotel in the pedestrian zone of Berat. The hotel is located only a few minutes away from all the restaurants and bars, and only a few more from the old town. The rooms are clean, the prices fair and the breakfast home cooked by the mother of the family. This is also why you want to come. The hosts will do their upmost best to make you feel at home. Whether it is by a quick conversation during breakfast or with a drink when you return after a busy day of exploring the town.
– Practical information –
Travel between April and October for good weather and mild temperatures. May and September are the prime months to visit when temperatures are pleasant but not as hot as in summer, and the days long and sunny.
Conversion: 125 lek = 1 EUR
Compared to most European countries, Albania is cheap. Even though Berat is one of the touristic hot spots, prices are very reasonable, even compared to other Albanian locations.
|Daily Budget||EUR 40 (45 USD)|
|Take-away lunch at a bakery
||EUR 0.40 -1 ( 0.50 – 1.10 USD)|
|Meal in a restaurant||EUR 3 – 7 ( 4 – 8 USD)|
|Dorm||EUR 6 ( 7 USD)|
|Double in a 3-star hotel||EUR 30 (35 USD)|
In & Out
Don’t bother about taking taxi’s in Berat as every destination can easily be reached by foot.
Because Berat doesn’t have a railway station or an airport close by, the only way to reach it is by road. There are buses and fugrons, mini buses, coming and going from all larger Albanian towns. Several times a day to Tirana. for 500 Lek (3 hours). Posting a bus schedule here however would not be very helpful as the buses don’t run according to a set schedule. The only thing that seems to be certain is that there are no buses after 15:00 o clock, and the bus to Sarande only departs once a day, between 7 and 8 AM (1200 Lek, 8 hours).