It didn’t take much to convince us to travel to Berat. Our guide book used phrases like “best preserved Ottoman town in Albania,” and “city of a thousand windows” to describe it. And to top is all off, the entire town has been designated a UNESCO world heritage site.
Berat Albania Travel Guide
We rented a car in Tirana and decided to tour the Albanian country side. Berat was our first stop, located only 100 km’s from the capitol. However the first thing that we learned when driving in Albania is; take the Google Maps suggested time…. and double it. We had gone on a day trip from Tirana to Shkoder. The highway on that route must have been recently upgraded, because the drive from Tirana to Berat was something else all together.
Getting to Berat
The most popular way to travel around Albania is to do what the locals do and hop on a furgon. These mini buses travel between all major towns and cities, stopping at villages along the way to collect more passengers. There are not really fixed time tables or stops. You just wait for one, and when you see it, you flag it down. As much as this entire system sounded wonderful and adventurous, we had a 10 month old baby with us and an exorbitant amount of luggage. We rented a car, which of course, came with its own brand of adventure. If you are thinking of renting a car in Albania, we recommend reading this post first. Driving in Albania will be one of the most terrifying things you ever do, but it will provide some of your best travel stories later on.
What to do and see in Berat
Berat is a very small town and can easily be discovered on foot and in a day. The atmosphere of the town is very calm and serene, and you could easily spend more time there. Those with an eye for photographer or painting/drawing will be drawn to the amazing scenes that can be found wandering the narrow cobbled streets, or the vistas looking down from the fortress on the hill top.
The Kala – The fortress or castle of Berat lies at the stop of a very steep and very roughly cobbled street. The first time we walked up there it was dark and it was raining and the cobbles actually snapped the front wheel clean off our three wheeled pram. Not ideal. We managed to somehow drag it up the rest of the way and at the top we were rewarded with one of the best displays of true Albanian hospitality.
But anyway… the castle. The castle is mostly from the 13th century, and the little town within it’s walls is still inhabited. There our houses, shops, and restaurants within these ancient dwellings. There are a few really picturesque churches overlooking the town below, but most of the experience of being in the castle will be had by simply wandering the streets.
Onufri Iconography Museum – This museum, located within the castle showcases some of the work of the 16th century icon painted, Onufri and some others.
Berat Ethnographic Museum – This museum was closed when we visited, but is located partway up the hill on the way to the castle.
Apollonia – The ancient ruins of Apollonia are not too far a drive from Berat and we visited as a day trip. The ruins are located near the town of Fier. There is a nice museum here as well showing some of the artifacts discovered in this area.
Where to Eat
We were in Berat for two nights and had two very incredible dinners there. Details of where we ate are below.
Restaurant Manglemi, Berat – This restaurant is set at the bottom of the hill in Berat and is also part of a hotel. We didn’t stay here, but we came for dinner one night and were not disappointed. Generous portions, a great selection of local food, and a good wine list makes this one a winner.
Bar Restaurant Onufri, Berat – This restaurant, set up at top of the hill in Berat, in the fortress is a truly unique experience. There are no menus. You sit down, and you will be brought plate after plate after plate of things to try until you simply can eat anymore. This is a great place to really sample some typical Albanian cuisine, and is also one of the places that we experienced the famous Albanian hospitality.
Where we Slept
We stayed at a hotel called White City which is located near the river and the base of the hill towards the castle. The hotel is very fresh and clean and appears to have been renovated very recently. We were travelling in the off season so got an exceptionally cheap rate and were also upgraded to the suite at the top of the hotel. The wifi was excellent, there was complimentary breakfast and a welcome beer, and there was also secure parking out front.