The city of Berat is located in Albania. A little less than a hundred miles south of Tirana, the capital of Albania. How many inhabitants Berat has, I do not know exactly. Different sources mention numbers between 36,000 and 70,000. Berat has preserved an original and traditional townscape. The city, together with Gjirokastra, is considered one of the most popular and beautiful cities in all of Albania.
I have three days to form my own image of the city. My own image of what awaits a traveler in Berat and whether a trip to the city of a thousand windows is worthwhile. And I hope that Berat is still somewhat spared from the masses of travelers who haunt other pretty cities in southern Europe. Even if I am one of them.
On this page you will learn what makes Berat one of the most beautiful cities in Albania and, by extension, the entire Balkan Peninsula.
Table of contents
The most important information about Berat
Berat in Albania is the city of 1,000 windows. All important information about Berat at a glance:
- Berat Castle towers high above the Osum River
- Berat has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2008
- The city is located at a prominent constriction of the Osum valley
- It is famous for the countless windows in its white houses, so that’s why it is called the city of 1,000 windows
- Near Berat the name of the dictator Enver Hoxha was written on a mountain, today it means NEVER instead of ENVER
- The surroundings of Berat are extremely scenic
The road to Berat
I come from the south on this day. In the morning I left from Dhërmi on the Albanian Mediterranean coast. First I went up and down the steep Llogara pass, along the national park Parku Kombëtar i Llogarasë (Llogara National Pak). Later through Flora and past Fier. In Fier stands one of the most impressive abandoned buildings I have ever visited: The former cogeneration plant Fier TEC. All in all it is about four hours drive today, Berat is located a bit deeper in the interior country of Albania.
From Fier to Berat
The dimensions of the former power plant are enormous, many of the buildings are still standing. They are in poor condition. The main hall of the power plant is eerie, the ground heavily polluted with oil. Everything smells of oil in that area. Slowly, the necks of the oil pumps move as I drive past them later in the vast landscape. Albania is one of the European countries with the largest oil reserves. Here in Fier, it was used to generate energy. Since 2007, the power plant has been at a standstill, I drive on to Berat. Fight my way in traffic through the long rows of oil transporters. The closer I get to Berat, the less the traffic.
And Berat welcomes me about an hour later with open arms. Quite in contrast to the industrial desolation of Fier with a beautiful old town in picturesque surroundings. My destination is the Berat Castle. The castle, which is inhabited here in contrast to the castle of Gjirokastra. The old residential houses duck picturesquely behind the thick walls of the castle. It is quite a residential area up here in the Berat Castle.
Stay in Berat Castle
Actually, driving your own car into Berat Castle is not allowed. But when I tell the gentleman guarding the entrance to the castle that I am looking for the way to the Hotel Klea inside the fortress, he tells me to wait. He apparently calls the owner of the hotel. Because immediately a man appears to meet me at the gate. He shows me the way to drive the last hundred meters. And finally I park my car on a large free area. Finally arrived in Berat.
The man actually turns out to be the owner of the hotel and we walk the last meters together. I can only recommend to anyone traveling to Berat: Pick a room in the castle and especially in Hotel Klea. We self specifically picked the hotel because it has a garden. And we need it, because we found an injured cat a few days ago. The cat is now together with us on the way to Tirana. Because there she will find a new home with the Tierhilfe Tirana, we have agreed by phone. And the cat would like to have a comfortable place in the garden in Berat.
Both we and the cat are so lovingly received at Hotel Klea that I would have loved to stay much, much longer. The food in the own restaurant is great, the wide view over the countryside is great. Everything is just right here.
You can find Hotel Klea at Booking.com under the following link: Hotel Klea at Booking.com (Ad)
Walk through the city
After moving into my room, I make my way out to the lower town of Berat. And indeed, this city clearly shows on the one hand why it is called the city of a thousand windows and on the other hand why it is considered one of the most beautiful cities in Albania.
The road from the castle leads steeply down. Cypress trees stand at the side of the road. The pavement consists of old stones, extremely slippery when the rain comes. I have to realize that on the third day of the stay in Berat. But beautiful to look at. And that is more important to me right now.
Berat is located in a narrow place of the Osum valley. The castle of Berat guarded this narrow place. In the city area of Berat, two bridges cross the Osum River. One of them is from the 18th century, the other is modern. I reach the Mangalem district at the foot of the castle and enjoy the many cafes and the cheerful life on the street.
The districts of Berat
The city of Berat is basically divided into three districts: Mangalem, Gorica and the castle (Kalaja). In the district of Mangalam there are the pedestrian zone, many cafes and the old white houses on the slope of the mountain. It is because of these houses that Berat is called the city of a thousand windows.
The Gorica district is located on the other side of the Osum River. The townscape there is a bit more pristine. To get to Gorica, you can take one of the two bridges over the river. In the old bridge, according to legend, a woman is immured. A human sacrifice to protect the bridge. What a crime!
A large part of the inhabitants of Berat live inside the castle on top of the mountain, north of the Osum. From the castle you can overlook the whole of Berat and also very beautiful the surrounding mountain landscape. The castle is mainly used for living, hotels and restaurants are not very numerous. Several churches and a museum are also located inside Berat Castle. In my opinion, the best view is at the southernmost point of the castle. One stands there directly above the valley, the beautiful old houses of Berat lie directly under the steeply sloping rocks.
The Xhiro in Albania
Here in Berat, as in many other places in Albania, there is the tradition of the evening walk, the Xhiro. People of all ages walk up and down the villages and towns. In some places the streets are closed to traffic for the walkers. The walk usually starts between 5 and 7 pm. At the Xhiro you can talk, watch the other people, drink a coffee or meet friends. The atmosphere is always pleasantly relaxed. I think it’s a very nice tradition. And many traditions that people all over the world have come up with are not likeable.
In Berat, the Xhiro leads the adults, the youth and the children across the large pedestrian zone in the Mangalem district. From the pedestrian zone I have a beautiful view of the old houses climbing steeply up the hill at the western end, towards the castle of Berat.
In Albania I often see dolls or cuddly toys hanging on poles or nailed to doors and walls. Also here in Berat. I don’t know what they are meant for. Sometimes it seems to me that they are supposed to be a kind of scarecrow or an amulet against evil. Later I read that these objects are actually used to ward off the evil eye and are part of a pagan tradition. Some of these figures are really creepy.
Here in Berat, in the Gorica district, I discover a particularly creepy doll behind an open gate. It sits with a slumped body on the tiles of a flat roof and grins motionlessly at me from its empty eyes. I don’t know if this really helps to counter an evil eye. It seems to me that the doll itself has an evil eye.
For the sharp eye, by the way: In the background, one of the numerous Albanian police checkpoints.
The surroundings of Berat
Berat is surrounded by mountains and wild landscape. Especially the mountain massif of Tomorr hovers impressively over Berat. Tomorr is located in the national park of the same name (Albanian: Parku Kombëtar Mali i Tomorrit) and is more than 7,874 ft high.
To the west of Berat lies the mountain Shpirag. Shpirag is still almost 3,937 ft high. Easily visible from Berat Fortress, the inscription ENVER was placed there in the 1960s. In honor of the dictator of the Socialist People’s Republic of Albania Enver Hoxha. In huge letters made of stone. A few years ago the inscription was changed to NEVER after its removal failed. By the way, the mountain with the lettering can be seen on two pictures here in this article.
A waterfall in the hills
About a 90-minute drive east of Berat is the village of Bogovë. From there the hiking path begins into the valley of a small river. Why it is worth to walk this small valley a little upstream? After a walk of about 45 minutes you will reach a waterfall.
The path first follows a stony track upwards, leaving the last houses of Bogovë behind. At a fenced industrial building you turn right and follow the small river now directly on its bank. From here on the path is quite beautiful. After another half hour or so, you are suddenly standing directly in front of the waterfall.
In late summer, comparatively little water flows down the rock face here. Nevertheless, the place is beautiful. And even a short bath in the tub under the waterfall is possible. However, the water is very cold even in late summer. It refreshes thereby lasting for the evening in Berat.
You can find the waterfall under the following link on Google Maps: Waterfall on Google Maps
Abandoned weapon production facility
Between Berat and Bogovë is the town of Poliçan, with a population of just over 4,000. Until 2003, Poliçan was home to the largest Albanian arms production facility. It was only a few years before that foreigners were allowed to stay in the area again. Until then, the town was only accessible to the local population. Most of the weapons production took place underground.
During a walk through a peripheral area of Poliçan, I once again almost destroy my car. Since the condition of the road chameleon-like unexpectedly changes from good to extremely bad. I also find some abandoned factory buildings, but I don’t know whether they belonged to the sites of weapons production.
Finding your way around Berat is actually quite easy. If you lose track, you can simply walk up to the castle. At the southernmost tip of the fortress, as mentioned above, is the ruin of a tower from which you can look out over the narrowing of the valley and the entire city. Below are a few tips for traveling to Berat.
Living, eating and drinking
As I mentioned before, Hotel Klea in Berat Castle is one of the best I have experienced in Albania. Both the rooms and the family that runs the hotel are great. The garden and the view are beautiful and the traditional food is great. When you stay at Hotel Klea, you don’t really need to go anywhere else to eat or drink anything. Because there is also raki and wine from their own production.
You can find Hotel Klea at Booking.com under the following link: Hotel Klea at Booking.com (Ad)
If you are looking for a change of pace, it is nice to go to the Hotel Pasarela in Berat’s Mangalem district. The hotel has a good restaurant and a nice terrace with a view over the rooftops of Berat.
Also good and kind of interesting is the café at the Tomorri Hotel. The impressive hotel from the time of socialism has a nice terrace directly at the big square.
Soon you can find here some recommendations.
Albania’s problems with cannabis
Albania has some difficulties with cannabis production. For example, in 2014, the drug gang-controlled town of Lazarat, near Gjirokastra, was retaken by police units using heavy weapons and resistance from cannabis producers. As I drive around Albania for several weeks, the news often reports new clashes between police and cannabis producers. Pictures of police officers on plantations are permanently visible and several people tell me about the problems.
For example, I am once advised against hiking along a certain path in the mountains. It is dangerous, they say. There are numerous cannabis plantations in the area. And the growers and gang members don’t like anyone wandering around in the vicinity. They would even defend themselves with weapons if necessary.
Well, I do the hike in the end anyway, during seven hours no one meets me. So I can neither confirm the warning nor declare it inappropriate. Here in Berat I have no such experiences.
But what I experience when leaving Montenegro confirms at least that the problem with cannabis production is big from the point of view of the Montenegrin authorities. After the Albanian border guard simply waves me through, a half-hour check is waiting for me on the Montenegro side. Maybe it was a mistake to say where I was. In any case, the border policeman who stops me sways his head back and forth grimly, takes my passport and says: “Gjirokastra: cannabis, Saranda: cannabis, Berat: cannabis. Albania: big problem. Control! Please come.”
And then four uniformed men search everything in my car. They roll under the car with small carts and flashlights, use screwdrivers to disassemble parts of my fittings inside, rattle components of the engine. They measure the thickness of my paint to see if there are any cavities or changes underneath and peek into my pockets. Finally, I get my passport back and am allowed to drive on.
And what does the cat do?
Our little cat, only several weeks old, we call Lori. She accompanies us on our way north. We found her on a meadow. She cannot move her front legs. We call the Tierhilfe Tirana to ask for advice. And there they are immediately ready to help the cat. But since we will not reach Tirana for about a week, we make a little house for her out of an old paint bucket. She is not alone in the garden of the hotel. Another little cat already lives there. Good thing, the two seem to like each other.
When we drop Lori off at Tierhilfe Tirana a few days later, she is immediately treated medically and lovingly taken in. It makes me happy to find people there who dedicate themselves to rescuing animals with such perseverance.