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Berat

Resting gracefully amid green hills and bisected by the winding Osum River, Berat entrances visitors with its natural splendor and architectural treasures that bring Albania’s rich history to life.

Written by
Enri

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Why Visit Berat

Berat is not your average European city. Tucked away in central Albania, this town of Ottoman relics and castle ruins spent decades cut off from foreign visitors under the nation’s communist regime. Since opening up in 1991, Berat has been rediscovering its confidence – and travelers are now discovering Berat in turn.

What to Do in Berat

Beyond the city’s illustrious history spanning 24 continuous centuries, the townspeople make Berat unique – their pride, hospitality, and optimism are contagious for outsiders. As you wander the cobbled lanes and peer into craft workshops, check out mural art, or pose by the medieval castle walls, expect friendly hellos and impromptu history lessons. Berat’s soul is as photogenic as its landscapes.

Scale the Castle

The view from Berat Castle is sublime, but the living village within brings history alive. This fortress citadel, dating back to the 4th century BC, remains inhabited today by townspeople residing in homes from the 13th to 19th centuries. The small Onufri Icon Museum exhibits religious paintings, while tiny Byzantine chapels with elaborate frescoes dot the residential alleys.

Cross the Landmark Bridge

The seven-eyed Ottoman bridge spanning the Osum River connects Berat’s castle quarter to the Gorica neighborhood across the gorge. This graceful limestone bridge offers peerless panoramas over the city’s tiled rooftops and valley vistas beyond. Have your camera ready!

Wander the Old Quarters

In Berat, the past permeates the present. The Mangalem and Gorica quarters below the castle feature elegant 18th-century mosques calls to prayer, and Ottoman homes still occupied by local families. Narrow cobblestone lanes open to small craft workshops where coppersmiths and silversmiths keep age-old skills alive.

Savor the Cuisine

Expect fresh farm-to-table mountain fare at cozy family-run tavernas in Berat, whether mire dhaf (baked lamb casserole), fërgesë (peppers blended with egg), or byrek me spinach (spinach pies) at a waterside restaurant like Mangalemi or Home Restaurant, a meaty regional red pair perfectly with the river views.

Unwind at a Wine Estate

Just 10 minutes outside Berat lie renowned wineries like Cobo, showcasing native grapes like Shesh i Bardhe in smart new tasting facilities. Take a vineyard tour and settle in on the veranda with delicate seafood, cheese platters, and fine local vintages as the early evening light softens the landscape.

Berat’s Storied Past

From ancient Illyrians to feudal lords, from the Ottoman Empire to socialist rule, Berat’s 24 centuries have cultivated a distinct cultural fusion. Walking Berat’s streets, you’ll glimpse this multilayered history – whether passing a ruined Roman aqueduct, the turquoise domes of a 15th-century mosque, or imagery of workers under communism.

Some sights help visualize Berat’s legacy more directly, like the chilling Communist-era surveillance museum or the medieval arms display at the castle. But history also lives on through enduring icons like the majestic castle or time-weathered crafts still practiced using age-old methods in ateliers across town.

Berat honors its past while blending in contemporary verve through repurposed cultural spaces, public artworks, wine bars, and hosting the Onufri International Exhibition of contemporary icons. The interplay of past and present makes inspiration feel palpable.

The Best Neighborhood

Berat’s hip turf is the walkable historic center itself. The castle area is nuzzled by postcard Ottoman houses spilling down the hillside, connected by winding cobble lanes designed for wandering. The city’s living heritage floats dreamily around you.

Check out the super cool Ekspozita gallery along the main promenade, which converted a communist-era shop into a funky creative venue. The cobbled Mangalem quarter across the river tempts with fragrant bakeries, bustling cafe terraces, and duo folk singers serenading diners.

As evening creeps, relaxed wine bars like Bar Lojra Fshehtazi offer local pours alongside indie music as lights twinkle across the ravine. The old town atmospherics speak for themselves.

Where to Eat and Drink

Traditional Recipes at a Waterside Tavern

Don’t leave town without trying Berat’s slow-cooked stews and soupy casseroles using meat, vegetables, and local dairy like feta or kaymak (clotted cream). Mangalemi restaurant creatively updates these hearty recipes with river panoramas.

Farm-Fresh Delicacies

Sample exquisitely prepared seasonal country fare at one of Berat’s destination restaurants like Home Restaurant or White House Hotel’s much-lauded terrace, from foraged herbs to artisanal olive oils and cheeses.

Coffee Culture

Cafes are integral to Berat’s daily social life. Locals linger over tiny cups of bold Turkish coffee or Italian-style espressos for hours. Prime people-watching abounds on the central promenade lined with elegant belle époque cafes.

Local Wine Varietals

The Cobo Winery and Vineyard near Berat makes for a scenic afternoon or sunset pitstop, pouring northern Albania’s promising endemic wines like Kallmet or Shesh i Bardhe. Their relaxed country restaurant provides a delicious excuse to linger for dinner.

Where to Stay

Traditional Townhouse Hospitality

Hotel Restaurant Mangalemi, a restored Ottoman mansion in central Berat, embodies quintessential old-town charm through its wood-beamed architecture and inviting rooms ornamented with traditional carpets and handicrafts. Its unbeatable location will have you feeling part of the community.

Riverside Apartment Living

For a self-catering stay with gorgeous views, check out one of the modern, super clean apartments or Airbnbs overlooking the languid Osum River. Gazing over Berat’s red-tiled rooftops and verdant slopes encapsulates the magic.

Hilltop Tranquility

Just five minutes up from central Berat, guests at the family-run Hotel Belgrad Mangalem feel suspended between the castle ruins and the old town. Its garden terrace framed by the fortress walls makes for an utterly peaceful hideaway.

If You Only Do One Thing…

Make time for sunset drinks at the castle’s highest lookout point, where the entire river valley sprawls picturesquely before you. Watching the summer light gradually soften and ethereal mists rise as church bells chime across Berat’s tile roofs fulfills all the travel daydreams.

Through decades of isolation, Berat has retained authentic charisma and eagerly wishes to share its hidden delights with visitors—Discover Albania’s best-kept secret.

DiscoverCars.com
Although I was born in Albania, I've spent my adult life traveling there as a tourist. Being a native who visits frequently, I can give you an insider's view of Europe's best-kept secret.
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