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Published: October 13th 2019
We left Shkodër after breakfast on the balcony at our hotel. The drive from Shkodër to Berat wasn’t particularly scenic for most of the 3 hour journey, largely because of the haze but also because many Albanian cities and towns aren’t particularly beautiful (uninspiring buildings, litter, unfinished gardens). The roads were mostly pretty good though.
We drove into Berat through the new part of town. Eventually we turned around a corner and caught our first glimpse of the beautiful old city Berat is famous for.
Berat is the 9th
largest city in Albania and is also home to a historic centre which, along with Gjirokastra’s, is UNESCO world heritage listed. Berat and Gjirokastra are recognised as rare examples of an architectural character typical of the Ottoman period. Berat’s historic centre consists of a castle (Kala) most of which was built in the 13th century, although its origins date back to the 4th century BC as well as Byzantine churches, mainly from the 13th century, as well as several mosques built under the Ottoman era which began in 1417.
The historic centre is situated on either side of the Osum River; the northern side of the river is home
to Mangalem district and Kalaja (castle) district whilst the southern side is home to Gorica district. Mangalem and Kalaja were mostly occupied by Muslim inhabitants of the city whereas Gorica was mostly occupied by Christians. Jews also lived in the city. The city states that the three religions lived together in harmony.
We eventually found our hotel, which is just outside of the old city, parked our car and checked in. After showing us our room the owner of the hotel, Mira, took us up to the rooftop terrace to show us the spectacular views over the old city.
After checking out the view we headed out to explore. We managed to navigate our way through the narrow streets of the old city to find a restaurant which has amazing reviews, but unfortunately it was fully booked for lunch and dinner on our first day in Berat and closed on our second day. Instead we found another restaurant selling gyros and sat down in the cool of the cave like restaurant to eat. Lunch was delicious and very good value at less than 300 Leke (4AUD) for both of us.
After lunch we went for a walk
through the new part of Berat which is beside the river. It was fairly quiet out, probably because it was 30 degrees and very sunny! We both ended up rather sweaty and hot so decided to pick up some cool drinks and head back to the rooftop terrace to read our books, befriend a cute cat and wait until it cooled down a little.
That evening for dinner we tried out a restaurant which the owner of the restaurant we’d wanted to visit for lunch had recommended. Scott ordered a traditional dish of lamb cooked in yoghurt and egg, I ordered a mixed vegetarian plate (three types of byrek / pie, roast eggplant potato and capsicum, salad, a local hard cheese and stuffed capsicum) and we shared a bean salad and some wine. I really enjoyed my meal, but Scott wasn’t keen on his ‘sour lamb’.
The following morning after a delicious and filling breakfast on the rooftop terrace we set off for Kalaja district. The castle was about a 15 – 20 minute walk from our hotel, up a rather steep hill. The climb wasn’t particularly fun after a very large breakfast!
The Kalaja district isn’t
much like what you imagine when you think of a castle, it is more like a walled city containing more of the Ottoman style houses which make up Mangalem and Gorica districts. We wandered around the town for about an hour and checked out the view from the walls. The Kalaja district was smaller than I had imagined when researching it on the internet when planning the trip, but still quite cute. It was nice to see that people do still seem to be living in Kalaja; we wouldn’t be surprised if in another few years it is mostly (if not all) guesthouses and restaurants.
After our walk around Kalaja we headed most of the way back down the hill until we reached the National Ethnographic Museum of Berat. The National Ethnographic Museum of Berat is in one of the historic houses and has been fitted out to present the traditional uses of the room and display historical household objects. It was interesting to see inside one of the traditional houses and it was quite well presented.
From the National Ethnographic Museum we walked down the hill and through the Mangalem district. Much like the Kalaja district, the
Mangalem district still seems to have quite a lot of locals living in it. It hasn’t all become guest houses, restaurants and souvenir shops yet.
After walking around for a while taking photo we headed to the new part of Berat. The city was much busier today; lots of locals were catching up with friends at restaurants and in Lulishtja park.
That night for dinner we went to a nearby restaurant. We let the waiter choose the dishes and ended up with a yoghurt, pumpkin, garlic and olive oil cold soup; a meat, rice and onion pie, a corn bread topped with spinach; dolmades; a baked ricotta, capsicum, tomato and cheddar cheese dish; Berati beef (beef schnitzel filled with cheddar cheese); chicken oven baked in yoghurt and lemon and homemade bread. I had a wine and Scott had a beer. The food was delicious, but we were very full after the meal. After we were finished the waiter brought us a glass of raki each. Albanian raki is (usually) grape based so doesn’t have the aniseed flavour of Turkish raki, but varies in quality (and taste) a lot. This raki was fairly nasty, but an...experience.
we took some photos of the old city at night from our rooftop terrace before heading back to our room to nurse our very full stomachs.
Berat was a great place for a relaxing visit. It’d be possible to do the city in only one day, but it was nice to be able to spend quite a bit of time enjoying the fantastic view of the old city while relaxing on our rooftop terrace.
After walking around for a while we decided it was time for lunch. Given our lunch the previous day was delicious and good value we decided to get the same again. This time took our food back to the rooftop terrace at our hotel so we could enjoy the view while we ate.
We spent much of the afternoon playing games, reading our books, befriending a (different) cat and relaxing on the rooftop terrace. We popped out briefly to take some photos of Mangalem and Kalaja districts when the sun was in a better position than earlier in the day.
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