The small town of Berat is one the major tourist destinations in Albania. Normally this would stop me going there but in Albania it doesn’t mean much. Berat neither overrun by tourists nor an expensive trap. Quite the opposite; it is lovely.
The town is divided into three quarters. There are probably more but the three quarters are the ones you’d care about. Each individual one is beautiful. The Ottoman quarter however, nestled on to the hill side with a castle sitting on top of it is simply breathtaking. What a beauty! If this is how Albania normally looks like I want to move there.
Berat is actually one of the oldest cities of the country. It is situated right in the heart of southern Albania. How many people live there is about as controversial as it is in Tirana. They reckon about 65,000 when they did a census they counted 36,000 people.
Berat is famous as the city of the 1000 windows. Since the 1960ies it is a museum city meaning it is well preserved and even under communist rule was protected. There are no modern buildings or ugly concrete bunkers anywhere in the historic old town.
The three districts that are part of “old Berat” are Mangalem, Gorica and Kalaja. The city started out as a stronghold. Later the town was built left and right of the river Osum. Since there is much space the town remained relatively small. What makes it so special is the location. It is squeezed into a narrow valley so when you walk up on either side you get a stunning view over the entire city.
Most spectacular is the view from the castle. In the distance you see the dark mountains of the Balkan, to your feet the valley with all the beautiful houses. Berat is spectacularly beautiful.
There isn’t really that much to do in town and I can prove it. There is one tradition that at least illustrates my point. It’s the main attraction in local night live. Every evening at 6PM the town folk come out and go to the promenade. They simply walk up and down. The promenade isn’t even that long. It sounds silly but it is quite cute. At least you get to see the locals. They dress up, walk up and down a few times, chat and laugh. Wonderful!
A “must do” is walking up to the castle of course. Awesome location, stunning view and the castle itself is quite alright as well. I reckon the best time is sunrise but I never got to prove my theory. For sunset the town is in the shade of castle hill so it isn’t ideal for photographs. For just sitting on the castle wall and minding your own business sunset is perfect. Most tourists are gone so it is quiet and peaceful up there. One of my favourite spots in Albania I must say.
Another good reason to go to Berat is the local hostel. It is very well run, clean and reasonable. It is situated opposite the castle hill in the district Gorica. It sounds further away than it is. From the pedestrian bridge may be five a minute walk. They even have a small garden where you can pitch up your tent.
When I was there last the hostel tested a little day tour. I am not sure if they still do it but it was worth the money. You get to see some historic sites in the area – difficult to reach on your own – an abandoned beach and a vineyard where you can sample the local wine. It is surprisingly good.
FACTS ABOUT BERAT:
- Berat is probably the most important tourist destination in Albania.
- Berat is one of the oldest towns of Albania.
- Berat is a museum town and as such protected.
- The town is a UNESCO world heritage site.
- Most famous is the Ottoman quarter.
- Berat has an excelllent Backpacker hostel.
- The area code is: +355 32.