Berat was Dan and my first stop on our Albania vacation this summer. This article provides some information on traveling to Berat, as I could not find much good information online prior to our visit.
BERAT ALBANIA – BACKGROUND
Berat, Albania is an Ottoman city in central Albania on the Osum River. Referred to as the “city of 1,000 windows,” Berat is located around a 1.5 hour drive from Albania’s capital, Tirana, and a 5 hour drive from Saranda. Berat is famous for its well preserved architecture influenced by the Ottomans and Byzantines, including both churches and mosques and those famous windowed buildings. Designated a UNSECO site in 2008, Berat is also famous for its hill top castle that is still inhabited to-date. I recommend spending at least 1 full day and 2 nights in Berat to see everything Berat has to offer, longer if you have more time or want to visit surrounding wineries.
For tourist purposes, Berat is split into three areas: the Kala, the Mangalem, and the Gorica area. The Kala is at the verrrry top of Berat and is an inhabited old castle. The Mangalem the old part of Berat, and in my opinion the most important for tourists purposes. When you look at the 1000 Windows view, you are looking at the Mangalem. Gorcia is across the Osum River from the Managlem and is, from what I heard, a bit more modern. All are pretty close to each other and easy to walk between (except the Kala, which is up a steeeeeep hill).
WHAT WE DID IN BERAT, ALBANIA
Compact Berat can be quickly “done” in a day, or can occupy several relaxing days. Dan and I spent three nights and two full days in Berat. We felt like we had plenty of time to see and do everything, but we were not rushed. Here’s what we did, and a few things we missed.
1000 Windows view. The “1000 Windows” view is the postcard of Berat. Catching the view takes only a few minutes, but its worth catching at different times of the day. To see the famous view, cross the Old Bridge to the Gorica area. The best views, IMHO, are from both sides of the Old Bridge.
The Kala (aka Castle of Berat). The Kala is Berat’s second most famous site (again, IMHO). Located a very steep walk (or short taxi ride) from Berat’s town center, the Kala is a somewhat intact citadel built in the 13th century, but apparently dating back centuries longer. Once at the Kala, you will notice that it’s still inhabited and a number of shops and restaurants operate for tourists.
The Onufri Iconography Museum. This museum inside the Kala is dedicated to Byzantine art and iconography and is worth a 30 minute (or longer if you are interested in this area of art) visit. The Onufri Museum is actually inside the 18th-century St. Mary’s Church and holds some fantastic orthodox iconographic paintings, including by its namesake Onufri, a painting headmaster of the 16th century!
Church of St. Mary of Vllaherna. Also in the Kala, the Church of St. Mary of Vllaherna is a bit of a walk from the Kala’s entrance. Due to this, and the 100 F weather, we skipped this church. That being said, its supposed to be well-preserved and I’m confident the views would be great. You can see it way up on on the hill from the Gorica area.
The Ethnographic Museum. In addition to the Onufri Iconography Museum, the Ethnographic Museum gets high marks from visitors. We skipped this museum in favor of an air conditioned nap, but I heard it’s quite nice inside a traditional house.
The Bulevardi Republika. Bulevardi Republika is a pedestrian promenade at the bottom of Berat near the Ostuni river. The promenade is lined with cafes and makes for fantastic people watching in the late evening, especially on the weekends. We loved watching multigenerational families taking their evening promenade and enjoying the day. To do this, we simply set up with drinks and/or shisha at an outdoor table at one of the many cafes (Bar Bazar, with relatively decent cocktails and shisha, was our favorite). If you are more for a promenade yourself, street vendors set up in the evening (corn is particularly popular!) and dogs seemingly without masters will be joining you!
The Old and New Bridges. While not necessarily a “sight,” two bridges in Berat cross the Osum River, linking the Mangalem and Gorica districts. Both are worth a cross over if that interests you. While the Old Bridge is much prettier, the new one sways a tiny bit when you cross it.
Churches and Mosques. Berat is home to numerous churches and mosques that frame the small city’s skyline. Definitely photographable.
Albania wineries. Berat is right in the middle of Albania’s small “wine country.” Yes, like its neighbors Montenegro and Serbia, Albania also produces its own wine, mostly for domestic consumption. In fact, many restaurants will serve their own wine produced by family members. We visited two wineries within about 20 – 30 minutes via car from Berat: the Cobo Winery and Alpeta. We preferred Alpeta due to its stunning setting, but either or both are worth a visit.
WHERE WE ATE IN BERAT, ALBANIA
We definitely did not miss out on good food in Albania. Berat is home to many restaurants, most serving traditional Berati fare – think meats, fresh vegetables, local wine, etc. Here are some of the places we ate – reservations probably not required except at Lili!
LiLi Homemade Food. LiLi Homemade Food is a restaurant actually inside Lili’s home in the Mangalem district of Berat serving local Berati food. And, true to its name, everything is homemade! We loved our meal at LiLi, and it was probably the best of the trip (certainly in Berat)! I’m going to write more on LiLi, but in sum, the food was fantastic, the service top notch, and the entirety of the below pictured table was only $26 USD. Make a reservation and eat here if you are in town.
Restaurant Onufri. Located inside Hotel Onufri, we had our first Berati dinner here. Arriving late, we split a salad and the Vienz or “Berati Beef,” and it was the best Vienz that we had in Berat! The Vienz or Berati beef is actually not beef at all, but fried pork stuffed with cheese. Hotel Onufri’s was excellent. The salad was basically a Greek salad and was quite fresh. We would have dined at Restaurant Onufri again had we stayed more days in Berat.
Eni Traditional Food. Our second dinner in Berat was in the Gorica area, across the Old Bridge from the Mangalem district. Receiving very high ratings on Trip Advisor, Eni serves a simple menu of traditional Berati food. We opted for the Vienz, stuffed peppers and eggplant, a dish of potatoes topped with a local sauce, and local Berati bread with olive oil and garlic. The food was good, but not fantastic as portrayed on Trip Advisor. The homemade red wine, however, was excellent. Our waiter, the owners’ son, also spoke great English.
Piccolo Grande Amore. We had our first lunch at Piccolo Grande Amore based on its Trip Advisor reviews. Piccolo Grande Amore is located on the top floor of a building in the Mangolem very close to the Saint Demetrius Cathedral. After climbing about three flights of stairs, we reached the restaurant and were treated to phenomeal views of Berat, which was definitely the best part about Piccolo Grande Amore. In terms of food, my pizza was meh (and I got ham in lieu of mushrooms…), but Dan’s local lamb stewed in something like collared greens was quite good, especially with local garlic bread.
Heaven Kitchen. We opted here for an early lunch before our wine tour based on the fact that I thought they were serving gyro style sandwiches. In any case, they were not serving same when we visited, but we did split a good sandwich with cheese, tomato, lettuce, onion, and french fries. I also ordered some fries topped with cheese and ham. Both dishes were terribly inexpensive, made to order right in front of us, and were pretty tasty. We came back a second day.
Hotel Bar Kalaja. Hotel Bar Kalaja is a bar and casual restaurant located near to the entrance of the Kala with indoor and outdoor seating. We stopped here post exploring the castle for Birra Tirana, the national beer. The beer was cold and cheap, and the bar was pretty packed when we visited before noon!
WHERE WE STAYED IN BERAT, ALBANIA
Dan and I stayed at the homey Hotel Onfru in the Mangalem district of Berat. Hotel Onufri was very nice, especially for the price. Our room, while basic, included a King size bed, a toilet with a small but large enough shower, and excellent air conditioning and Wifi (both surprising). The total for our room was $45 USD/night and included a basic breakfast. A steal! The feel of hotel was old-school, almost like something out of the 70s that had not been updated. We had no complaints, however, and would stay here again. Wifi and air conditioning were fantastic.
For those looking for a place to stay in Berat, I recommend staying the Mangalem or Gorica districts. This will put you within walking distance of most of the town. Anything further out may require a car and staying at the castle is a far walk from most of Berat’s restaurants and bars.
A ONE DAY ITINERARY FOR BERAT, ALBANIA
For those spending two nights and one day in Berat, I recommend starting your full day with a walk or taxi ride up to the castle. Make your way first to the Church of St. Mary of Vllaherna then back to the the Onufri Iconography Museum. Stop for a snack and a beer before walking back down into town. On your way into town, if of interest, visit the Ethnographic Museum. In the late afternoon, cross the New Bridge and walk over to the Old Bridge, crossing back. You will get the famous 1000 Windows view on this week. In the evening, find a spot to people watch, or promenade yourself, down Bulevardi Republika. End your day with dinner at LiLi HomeMade Food. This is a packed day, especially if its hot, but gets in everything!
TIPS FOR VISITING BERAT ALBANIA
First, the entire town of Berat felt like it was under construction, and would be for years to come. I’m talking half built buildings, downed wires, very unstable walking paths, and the like. As such be sure to wear appropriate footwear and know that Berat is probably not the best destination for those with mobility issues. We walked and climbed a lot of stairs. It was treacherous.
On that note, take care walking around. The driving was a bit crazy from my point of view.
Carry cash in Albanian LEK. Many restaurants only accept cash. ATMs are easy to find in the tourist center of town.
There is a grocery store at the corner of the road leading up to the Kala (credit cards accepted). A good stop for edible souvenirs and food for rentals.
In terms of food, you can’t rely on Trip Advisor or Yelp for good recommendations. Neither are frequently used here.
Also in terms of food, there are lots of veggie options available. That being said, there can be translation issues. Be very specific about what you cannot eat if you have restrictions (maybe even bring it in writing in Albanian?). I ordered a mushroom pizza for lunch one day and received a pizza with ham and peppers…. Proceed accordingly.
There are a lot of dogs in Berat that seem to run around freely without masters. The dogs that we encountered were all friendly but this could be a problem for people afraid of dogs.
STEAL OUR TRIP
Hotel Onufri: Basic hotel right in the center of Berat. Excellent air conditioning and wifi (both up to US standards). Small breakfast buffet included. Credit card accepted. This is also the home of the Onufri Restaurant.
LiLi Homemade Food: Rruga Llambi Guxhumani, Berat, Albania. Reservations absolutely necessary. We made them by walking by 1 day in advance, which was a big gamble, but we could find a working number. Cash only. Excellent English spoken.
Eni Traditional Food: Rruga Nikolla Buhuri, 5001, Albania.
Piccolo Grande Amore: 1 minute walk from Saint Demetrius Cathedral on, Rruga Rilindja 5001, Berat, Albania. Pizza restaurant serving local fare, too. Many steps to reach the restaurant. No elevator.
Heaven Kitchen: No website. Very close to the Old Bridge. Open pretty much all day. Budget food.
Hotel Bar Kalaja: Super casual bar/restaurant for a stop after visiting the castle. Inexpensive.
Cobo Winery: Ura Vajgurore, 1001, Albania. While we did see tourists walk up for a tasting, I recommend reaching out in advance to ensure Corbo is open and a spot is available for a tour and tasting.