Pocket-sized Berat, the city of a thousand windows, is one of Albania’s most enchanting sights.
Cascading steeply to the banks of the Osum River, this Ottoman-era town is a veritable labyrinth of timeworn white-washed streets, uneven cobblestones and of course, the captivating mosaic of window frames that stare out from every wall, capturing Berat’s two halves, Gorica and Mangalem, in an eternal, unblinking staring match across the water.
After six weeks and what had been a fantastic summer in Albania, hiking the spectacular Accursed Mountains, basking on the pebbled shores of the Albanian Riviera and weaving between the impossibly pretty villages of the highlands, UNESCO-listed Berat was my last stop in the country. A bittersweet finale in one of Albania’s most beautiful and atmospheric cities.
However, trundling into town in mid-August when the oppressive summer heat was reaching its sweltering peak, the wonderfully cool respite of my hostel made it far too easy to put off exploring in favour mooching around indoors with the air-con on and an endless supply of cold drinks.
Still, while many suggest visiting Berat as just a day trip, with some of Albania’s most beautiful pockets of nature a mere stone’s throw away, it’s well worth spending the time to explore – temperatures permitting, of course.
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Perched high above the town on a scraggly pinnacle of rock, Berat Castle offers up fantastic views over the valley.
The maze of tiny buildings that peek through the trees at Gorica, the sea of terracotta rooftops that dress Mangalem and the sprawling streets of modern Berat that roll all the way toward the distant mountains.
Perhaps most unique, however, is that between the ancient crumbling castle walls, the tiny hilltop village is still very much lived in. Beside the souvenir stalls that spill across the cobbled laneways and tiny fridges serving up ice cold drinks to visitors that have made the steep climb to the top, washing blows in the wind, beat up cars sputter through the narrow streets and locals set off to begin their daily commutes.
Inside the complex you’ll find a number of mosques, as well as a few Orthodox churches scattered around the perimeter. But for the best views over the city, head towards the flagpole at the far end.
The castle remains open 24 hours a day so it’s a great place catch a sunrise or sunset. Between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. visitors do need to purchase a ticket for 100 lek (€0.80), but outside of these times it’s free to enter.
Bursting with cafes and bars that gaze across the leafy park, Bulevardi Republika is the place to go when the day begins to wind down.
Grab an ice-cream and stroll the pedestrianised street, or order a glass of verë and pull up a chair to see the goings-on along Berat’s liveliest street.
During my time in Albania, when it came to talking food, almost everyone I met agreed on one thing – Berat does it best!
Despite being a relatively tiny town, it’s jam-packed with fantastic restaurants that really raise the bar when it comes to traditional Albanian cuisine. These were a few of my favourites, plus some other suggestions for your visit.
Wildor | For delicious food, reasonable prices and a very welcome air-conditioned room, my absolute favourite place to eat in Berat was Wildor. Set right beside the river, this friendly restaurant serves up all the Albanian staples alongside a few unique dishes as well.
Antigoni | Gazing across the river toward enchanting Managlem, Antigoni’s setting simply lovely. The food’s pretty great as well.
Home-Made Food Lili | In the heart of Mangalem’s maze lies Lili’s, a humble, rustic eatery where you’re welcomed like an old friend to join the family feast. Stumbling upon this place for lunch mid-week, they were unfortunately fully booked, but online reviews are overwhelmingly glowing. It’s perhaps not for everyone, but if you’re looking for an authentic Albanian dining experience, it sounds like the perfect place. Reservations are essential.
Arriving in Berat, Osumi Canyon was right at the top of my list. Ochre cliffs draped in vines, veils of water cascading into a brilliant blue river and the thrill of hurtling down rapids between the soaring canyon walls. It sounded like the makings of a final epic adventure in Albania.
Unfortunately, the number of visitors was never great enough to get a tour going, but it’s certainly on my list for when I return to Albania.
Rafting along the turquoise water of Osumi Canyon is an activity that’s gaining some momentum, while hiking along the rim or through the river water are just beginning to be recognised for their adventure potential. At the time I visited, it was virtually impossible to reach here without a tour or car with the nearest bus reaching Corovoda, but despite being right beside the river, the most impressive features of Osumi Canyon are much further downstream.
It’s also worth noting that the water levels vary dramatically throughout the year, being highest in spring and dropping rapidly by late summer.
Rising steeply beyond the twisting streets of Gorica, this forested hill serves up excellent views as a reward for those that make the steep and rocky climb.
Emerging between the trees, high above the rubble walls of Berat Castle, the scene opens up to reveal an ocean of rust-red rooftops that melt into endless folds of verdant countryside. It’s undoubtedly one of the best views in Berat.
The start of the path can be a little tricky to find, but if you turn up the small alleyway beside Hotel Muzaka and keep heading uphill and up a few stairs you should be heading in the right direction.
In the blazing heat of summer, few things sound more appealing than an icy dip in a natural mountain oasis. Tucked away in the lush Tomorri Mountain National Park, Bogove Falls gush across a cluster of rocks into a small, bone-chillingly cold jade pool.
Getting there independently can be a bit of a hassle with just a few morning buses to Bogove at around 8 a.m. and 9 a.m taking about an hour and a half. From there, it’s a 2.5km walk along a dirt road which turns off into a small trail and sticks close alongside the river. The last bus back apparently leaves around 2:30 to 3 p.m., but I’d suggest confirming the timetable with your guesthouse before setting off.
Easier is to join a day tour organised by many of the guesthouses in town for around €15 including transport and lunch. Similar to Osumi Canyon, numbers were often too few to make the trip so it’s best to ask around in advance.
With the oppressive heat creeping into my bones and making me feel incredibly lazy, outings were often put on hold in favour of laying around the cool confines of the hostel until the overbearing warmth had begun to die off. And so when it came to set off to a winery in the countryside, as absolutely wonderful as it sounded, I just couldn’t be bothered, and that was certainly my loss.
Just 20-minutes from Berat, Çobo Winery is the area’s most famous offering. With a lovely open-air terrace overlooking the river and a long-held family tradition of winemaking, tours here include a walk through the vineyards and winemaking facilities before a thorough tasting of their locally grown vintages.
Maya Hostel |
Set in a beautifully restored 16th-century Ottoman house, family-run Maya Hostel is one of Berat’s newest offerings and one of my absolute favourite hostels in Albania. Big comfy beds, a charming outdoor space and a great breakfast make this an excellent base for exploring beautiful Berat.
Dorms from €10 | Privates from €28
Berat Backpackers |
Though I didn’t actually stay here, Berat Backpackers is the city’s original travellers haunt set in a stunning UNESCO protected house with the original trimmings that give it a thoroughly authentic feel. Guests love the relaxed atmosphere, free breakfast and location near the old town.
Dorms from €10 | Privates from €50
Not looking for a hostel experience? Berat has a number of beautiful, locally-run guesthouses sprinkled throughout town. Check rates and availability for Berat here.
From Tirana, buses leave every half hour from the South Station near the Eagle Monument starting at 7 a.m. until around 5 p.m. The trip takes 2 to 3 hours and costs 400 lek (€3).
Berat’s bus terminal lies 3km north of town with regular city buses – about every 10 minutes – connecting it to the centre for 30 lek (€0.25).