During our trip through Albania in May we also visited Berat, one of the country’s most beautiful towns. In 2008 it was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site as it is a rare example of a well-preserved Ottoman town.
The road from Tirana to Berat is in rather bad shape. Most people use furgons, small yellow minibuses that maintain connections with Tirana and other places in the surroundings. We took a shortcut from Elbasan, which gave us the opportunity to see a magnificent rural part of Albania (see my blog post: Rural Albania).
Once arrived, it was a big problem to find a parking lot for our camper. The town was totally blocked for traffic and policemen with dogs were searching the parks around the central square. Why? We got the information that Sali Berisha would visit the town that very evening due to the upcoming elections. It was an interesting experience to attend this political meeting in the open air: the atmosphere, children in uniform with flags, the long speech of Mr. Berisha – full of words that apparently had to do with “European integrations”, “infrastructure”, etc. – brought me back to the times of Socialist Yugoslavia! Locals were hanging out along the main promenade enjoying the warm evening. The meeting was concluded with great fireworks on the bank of the river.
Finally, we found a place to sleep on the bus station and next day we started to explore the beautiful white town of Berat. We first took a walk to the Osumi river that connects the two old town areas: Mangalem north of the river (a traditionally Muslim area), and Gorica south of the river (a traditionally Christian area).
Far away, on the side of Mount Shpirag, we could see huge letters creating the word “NEVER”. The history of these 100 m high and 60 m wide letters is very special: it took Sheme Filja 10 days and an army of villagers to paint the name “ENVER” in 1968, in tribute to the then communist dictator Enver Hoxha. Now the old farmer has swapped the first two letters with the help of his nephew and a whitewash pump, leaving the word “NEVER” to tower over Berat for the future.
A “must” in Berat is a walk along the peculiar footpaths of the old town, featuring tight paths, many flower and plant decorations and a lot of picturesque architectural details. We were approached by an older man, Vasilije, who offered us to be our guide. He showed us many hidden corners and also took us to a small shop, where we bought some home-made fig jam. Although it was clear that he was really poor, he was cheerful and optimistic, telling us a lot about every-day life in his home-town.
In the afternoon we visited Kala, a castle built in the 13th century with great view of the surrounding area. Getting to it required a steep walk up a cobbled path. The citadel is still inhabited, with many churches and beautiful old houses and it also accommodates two interesting museums.
Berat is really worth a visit, in particular as it has not been discovered by mass tourism yet. And, in spite of the fact that the access road is rather bad, the distance from Podgorica to Berat is only about 200 km!