24 Hours in Berat
Berat is one of the most historic and oldest cities of Albania. That said, it can easily fill your entire day with beautiful landscapes, rich culture and a deep heritage. This UNESCO-protected site is divided into three large neighborhoods; Mangalem, Gorica, and the medieval castle. The Osum River forms the boarder between the first two. The medieval castle, amazingly enough, is still inhabited. Overlooking all are the city’s famous windows! Plan your 24 hours in Berat well, and you can enjoy so much of what it has to offer!
The best way to begin your day is with an early breakfast and coffee at Hotel Guva. This beautiful hotel is strategically positioned on the Mangalem side of town. This affords it the best views of Gorica, right across the river. The atmosphere is so nice and relaxing here that you may have trouble leaving.
Late Morning Promenade (9am)
Once you have finished your breakfast, take some time to stroll around the narrow cobble-stoned alleyways. These will take you on a tour of Berat’s traditional and well-preserved houses. Here, you can study Berat’s famous windows from up close. At the end of your walk, make a stop at the Medieval Center. This center is a religious and social complex which includes the Halveti Tekke, King Mosque and other significant monuments and relics from the city’s rich history.
Leave some time in the late morning to head toward the famous Castle of Berat. If you like hiking, you can climb to the top of the city where you will find the castle. However, the roads accommodate cars as well. Here, devote at least one hour to walking around the impressive fortifications and enjoy the amazing panoramas. This is one of those places that makes you feel as if you are traveling in time.
Visit Onufri Museum (10am)
Within the castle walls, you will find the Onufri Museum, one of the most important museums in the entire country. Here, you can see the beautiful paintings of one of Albanias most famous painters. The namesake of the museum, Onufri, was known for an especially vibrant shade of red. You will also have the chance to view works from many other great national artists such as Kostandin Shpataraku and David Selenica.
Head straight to the Holy Trinity Church (11am)
While still within the castle neighborhood, head to the Holy Trinity Church. Be sure not to miss this stop as, along with its beautiful architecture, you will get a nice chance to see more of the castle grounds. From here, you will get the best views of the Tomorr and Shpirag mountains as well as learn about their haunting legend.
Lunch (12pm – 1pm)
Berat is nationally renowned for its delicious meat-based culinary tradition. On your way out of the castle, you will run across several tavern-style restaurants serving this traditional cuisine.
If you feel like descending into town, we suggest either Homemade Food Lili or Mangalemi restaurants, both located within the Mangalem neighborhood. Both are superb and affordable.
If you do choose to go down to Mangalem for lunch, make sure to stop by the Ethnographic Museum. Here, you can learn more about the culture and lifestyle of Berat throughout the ages.
Visit Sami’s Antique Shop (2pm)
While the shop itself may not be one of the most hidden gems on the list, the items that you can find within most certainly are. It houses a treasure trove of unique and historical items. It is located on the road that winds up towards the Kalaja, just next to the Jewish museum.
Sami is a fascinating character; he shuffles around the shop, pointing out artifacts of interest and showing you his collection of photos from his past. A long-retired professor and journalist, he was a good friend of Ismail Kadare (a very famous Albanian). He has a story to tell about every item in the shop.
Piles of tattered papers, photos and documents, cabinets full of Ottoman silver and bejeweled rings, delicate beaded silk shirts from 250 years ago and woven rugs made of itchy goat’s hair… this place is Aladdin’s cave of wonders for the intrepid antique hunter. Oil paintings pile up against the wall, reams of brightly colored fabric spill out of an old, painted crib, and pocket watches tick away in perfect synchronicity as the smell of time gone by permeates your nostrils.
See the Stone Carver of Berat (3pm)
24 hours in Berat wouldn’t be complete without visiting the Fani family. The Fani family home sits high up on the Mangalem side of Berat, just below the imposing walls of the castle. The family has lived there for almost 400 years, handing down the craft of stonemasonry from father to son. Today, Xhoxhi Fani is passing the trade to his youngest daughter, but the family is fraught with the worry that this noble craft will die out completely.
If you visit any church, square, or stately establishment in Berat, the chances are that Xhoxhi’s hands have played a part in its stonework. From painstakingly chiseling fireplace mantels, to beautifully sculptured fountains and busts, his work is unmistakable in its grandeur and painstaking attention to detail.
Those who are lucky enough to get an invitation can spend a few hours in the Fani house. In it, they can explore his studio and the family home before enjoying a selection of homemade liqueurs and candied fruits on the terrace. From up here the view across old Berat is utterly breath-taking. Enjoy it while you indulge in conversation and sweet treats while a couple of friendly cats brush up against your ankles.
Enjoy Saffron Farming (4pm)
Depending on when you visit Berat, you could be in for quite an unexpected surprise. Four years ago, a man named Sheme Ruci had the idea to start growing saffron. He now employs up to 60 people to plant, cultivate, harvest, and prepare the saffron for export to international markets such as Italy and beyond. The crocus blooms for just three weeks at the end of October. If you time your visit just right, you could end up being taken to look at the rolling fields of purple flowers. Sheme’s son himself, who helpfully speaks good English, will show you around. The smell of the delicate violate flowers combined with the buzzing bees and the vibrant color as far as the eye can see is a once in a lifetime experience.
Try Some Wine at Kantina Alpeta (5pm)
Kantina Alpeta is located in Roshnik, 25 minutes outside of Berat. Owned by the Fiska family, they grow olives, grapes, tangerines and other fruits. Additionally, they make raki and a fine selection of wines. You can sit in their garden and enjoy magnificent views over the valley and beyond while sipping on oak-aged raki and eating a spit-roast goat from the family-owned restaurant in the village. As you sit here, take in the peace and tranquility of your surroundings. All that will disturb you is the tinkling of a cowbell or the braying of a lone donkey as it wonders by aimlessly.
While Berat is famous for prestigious and long-standing cantina’s such as Cobo and Nurellari, the small places like this are different. They allow you to totally disconnect from the outside world and to immerse yourself in a truly authentic, Berat experience.
Take a nice stroll along the Osumi Promenade and stop by at Hotel Turizmi. This hotel is an iconic landmark and the longest-running hotel in the city. In addition to giving you a taste of the elite Communist-era hangout spots, it offers a tasty dessert called “Mont Blanc.” The hotel has served this dessert, originally from Milan, for decades.
After dessert, follow the river to Gorica Bridge. The bridge itself is one of the most celebrated monuments in the country. This very well-preserved 18th century bridge is 129 meters long. If you walk along this bridge, you will reach the other side of Berat and enter the Gorica neighborhood. Similarly to Mangalem, the best way to see Gorica is to freely stroll along its roads, discovering spectacular traditional houses at every step.
Dinner (7pm – 8pm)
When it comes to food, try the famous restaurant Antigoni. It is one of the most well-known places in town and serves excellent traditional Albanian food. Enjoy byrek, patëllxhanë te mbushura (eggplants cooked with onions and tomatoes), salce kosi (yogurt sauce) and baklava, the sweetest cake of the Balkan Peninsula. Antigoni is the best option for your dinner. Above and beyond its amazing menu, it offers breathtaking views over the old houses of Mangalem.
Address: Antigoni Restaurant, Rruga Kristaq Tutulani, Berat, Albania,
Berat is not exactly the liveliest town in Albania. Compared to Tirana or Saranda, there isn’t much going on during the night. If you still have energy after dinner, the best thing to do is to walk along the Osumi River and admire the town from a different perspective. To end your 24 hours in Berat, order a raki (Albanian liquor) at Hotel Muzaka. Enjoy it while admiring one of the most beautiful towns of Eastern Europe.
Address: Hotel Muzaka, Rruga Kristaq Tutulani 36, Berat, Albania,
Sleep at Hotel Berati
While many people are quick to choose modernity over old-fashioned comfort, we recommend the latter in Berat. There is nothing better than big stone fireplaces, authentic fabrics, traditional art work, home cooking, and coziness. This is exactly what the Hotel Berati has to offer. From the friendly smiles of the owners to the basic, comfy, yet unmistakably Albanian rooms, you feel like home here.
The vast entrance and restaurant area is designed and crafted by the hands of Xhoxhi Fani. His wife even made most of the laces and fabrics by hand. It feels like you are stepping into someone’s home. Sheepskin rugs and runners, woven geometric patterns on the floor, and the cheese filled petulla for breakfast just heighten the experience. This will be your favorite place to hibernate during your next 24 hour visit to Berat.