When we headed over to Albania we have to admit to not really knowing where to go, our original plan was something around the lines of heading to the capital, sticking around for a few days and getting the hell out of there! Albania had a fearsome reputation and even as we travelled through the Balkans. But we were pleasantly surprised by Albania and ended up falling head over heels in love with it! Giving such a country a chance and an open mind just proved how much is out there when you don’t allow prejudice to cloud your judgement. In Berat we found an absolutely stunning city, an age old Ottoman town perched beautifully on the side of a mountain. A picture perfect place that just sums up the wonderful landscape, history and people of Albania.
If there is one place in Albania to visit then we would say to head to Berat, it just has everything that makes this country great: history, beautiful landscapes, rural villages and lovely people!
Berat fortress/ Kalaja
One of the most unique fortresses in the world is the one that sits high about this beautiful city, dating back to mostly the 13th century it contains many Byzantine churches in the area and Ottoman mosques such as The Church of St. Mary of Blachernae. But what makes it stand out the most amongst the other numerous fortresses of the Balkans is that many people will reside within its grounds to this very day, it is has a real village feel up here! The history of this fortress stretches back as far as 200 B.C when the original incarnation, sat at an elevation of 702ft was burnt to the ground. The castle also features on the reverse of the 2 leke coin as is its importance to the country and the views from the top are nothing short of stunning!
Mangalem Quarter and the grand Mosques
Situated on the steep hill on which the fortress stands this traditional Ottoman area of the city is the main attraction. Berat is often called the “city with a thousands windows” and staring up at the rows of terraced houses it isn’t hard to see why. This traditionally muslim areas has three grand old Mosques; The 16th-century Sultan’s Mosque which is one of the oldest in the country, the beautifully carved Helveti teqe and the 19th-century Bachelors’ Mosque behind which we stayed in a tiny guest house. Wandering these narrow cobbled streets and getting lost amongst the ancient white washed wooden buildings is an absolute joy.
It may seem that Gorcia is just the same as Mangalem, but by crossing over the river into the equally historical and charming neighbourhood allows you to fully appreciate your stunning surroundings. By exploring the steep and traditional streets you can get the most amazing view over the Osum toward the UNESCO listen Mangalem area and the castle above. But the Gorcia quarter itself is much quieter than its more famous neighbour and as such is a great area to catch local life in full flow!
People watch on Bulevardi Republika
The main road through the town is the real hub of the city, here you will catch all local life, shops, bars and restaurants. Take your time and stroll down its entire length making sure to stop in the park along the riverside of the road. Here you are guaranteed to see a collection of freindly local men playing intense games of chess, backgammon and dominoes on the specially made benches. Then stick around for “xhiro”, the evening stroll down the length of the town that all the old guys take at around 5pm. They walk with their hands behind their backs having a good chit chat about the days events, you will also notice how well dress they always are!
Kisha Shen Triadha (Holy Trinity Church) and the “Evner/ Never” sign
Possibly one of the most picturesque churches in the world, this brick built orthodox place of worship sits on the far side of the hill which it shares with the fortress. Now in a somewhat sorry state of repair the still stunning church is surrounded by wonderful countryside and mountains. From here you can even see the remains of the “Enver” sign famously painted onto the mountains in honour of the one time communist leader, today the faint outline has been changed to “never” to represent the horrors these people faced. A designated cultural monument of Albania this 14th century church is extraordinarily beautiful and hopefully now religion is once again freely practiced it will be restored to its former glory.
Head out of the city to the tropical Bogove waterfall
For a true adventure out in the wild and untamed rural lands of Albania head out for an hour from Berat to Bogove and hike up to the stunning waterfall. Up here you will find the most amazing and serine set of falls that seems transported from some far away tropical lands, and more than likely you will have them to yourselves. You are also likely to loose track of time as is the beautify on display, miss the last bus and have to hitch hike back! But don’t worry, its pretty easy in Albania!
We wrote about the whole amazing adventure here:
Dine with locals
What is better than sampling local food with local people! Well we spend an amazing evening with a family in Mangalem eating home cooked traditional food with Rakia and wine also made by the family. We got some great advice about how to get to Bogove for the day after and also chatted about life in Albania and how much we enjoyed our time here. Lili and his family have opened his garden and home up to tourists to sample some cheap and tasty local dishes, the experience really allows you to not only support local people but get an insight into their lives.
Find them at Rruga Llambi Guxhumani and tell them we said hi!
Getting around Berat
Berat is a small city and really more like the size of a town. This really adds to the unique charm of the place as it feels quite compact and intimate. The majority of the sights are well within walking distance of each other and the main central areas. The cities bus station is however quite a walk from the centre but can be reached on one of the frequent local buses for 0.20 leke a ride.
Have you ever visited Berat?
See just why we fell in love with Albania here: