Berat is known as the City of a Thousand Windows due to the architecture of the buildings that climb the steep hills. They are of Ottoman design and a UNESCO World Heritage Site (really, what isn’t?). When you look up at the hill of the Mangalem Quarter in particular, all you see are windows looking back at you from the long, white buildings.
We went all out and took a taxi from Struga, Macedonia to Berat, Albania. The deal went down in a dusty parking lot where we were supposed to catch the first of three buses for a 7+ hour journey to Berat. The taxi driver didn’t speak much English, but he understood “how much?” and “how long?” The price to comfort ratio was reasonable and the taxi fare fit in our budget. Woohoo! First class for us!
Three hours later we pulled into Berat. I showed the driver the name of our guesthouse and pointed at a location on Google Maps. He seemed unimpressed with the technology in the palm of my hand. “No worries, no problem,” he said, then “Telephone?” I pulled up the telephone number and indicated that I didn’t have voice service on my phone only data. He apparently didn’t have Albanian voice service on his flip-phone either since he was Macedonian. “No problem, no worries,” he said as he smiled. He pulled up to a young man near the central park, asked him a very brief question then took his phone. The young man smiled and stood there patiently. Our driver called the guesthouse, returned the phone to the young man and off we went. No worries, no problems! The guesthouse was very near.
Our hosts welcomed us and our driver with Turkish-style coffee and a cherry dessert in the garden. We sat on the covered patio and watched as they chatted in Albanian with our driver and laughed at who knows what. Pat and I gobbled up the dessert and downed the coffee. I love this country!
When we were in Tirana a group of Polish kids told us about a restaurant they really liked in Berat with authentic food, a charming owner, and great atmosphere. It was dinner time. We were hungry, so we navigated the narrow cobblestone streets up the hill to Lili’s Home-Made Food. It was fantastic and every bit as wonderful as we were told.
There were five small tables in the indoor/outdoor seating area. Hard to describe, but very rustic and welcoming. The wine was made by the owner’s father, the food was cooked by his wife and he made the small restaurant come alive. I won’t bore you with the details of the food we had, maybe some photos, but it was all excellent. A lot of the veggies were grown on the steep lot next door, fresh and flavorful!
At the end of the meal, the owner arrived with a bottle of raki and three glasses. In a casual, but somewhat ritualistic ceremony, he filled the glasses and thanked us for choosing his business. He downed his raki to get back to work, but encouraged us to relax and sip ours. What a pleasant experience!
Our guesthouse hosts recommended that we hike up to the castle in Berat for a little sightseeing. We set out in the morning right after breakfast to beat the heat. I’m not sure, but it seems that every fortified castle that we have ever seen has been at the top of a steep hill with only a couple of entrances through a tall, thick wall so you have to walk half way around to get in… Hmmm, it’s like they didn’t want company or girl scout cookies.
It was really more of a small village with a big wall than a castle. People live there now. There are a few shops, restaurants, and a museum. It is interesting to roam the narrow streets of the village and check out the small museum. If you go to Berat, it is worth a visit. After our visit, a cold beer was necessary before the hot walk back down to our guesthouse. A nap, a shower, and another excellent meal at Lili’s finished the day.
We decided to browse through the Gorica Quarter on the opposite side of the river from the main part of Berat on our final day in town. It isn’t touristy at all. There are a few guesthouses and a hostel or two, but mainly it is private residences in varying states of repair.
We wandered around the neighborhood for a good hour and a half taking photos of the pretty, the ugly, and the weird. As we aimed to leave the Gorica Quarter, a pint-sized granny kept tailing us and holding out her hand for money. She was pretty quick for a little old thing. We finally ditched her but worked up quite the thirst, so we climbed up to the terrace of Ajka for a cold beer and a great view of the Mangalem Quarter. We were treated to fresh nespole, aka: loquat, plucked right from the tree by our waiter as we watched.
Later that night we followed our stomachs up to Lili’s. “Do you need to see the menu?” asked the owner. No, we didn’t. We tried two dishes we had not yet tried; the fergese and the stuffed eggplant. We liked the fergese very much, but the stuffed eggplant was out of this world!
The owner was full of energy, smiles, and excitement. The restaurant was full, but he encouraged, demanded even, that everyone go ‘slow, slow’. We chatted with the table next to us. They told us we were nearly celebrities with the owner since it was our third night in a row at the tiny restaurant.
After our 2.5hr meal, the tables started to clear and the raki started flowing, first one table then the next. The owner came to our table with a second half liter of wine, his treat. We chatted some more with other travelers and sipped the homemade wine. The restaurant emptied as we emptied the pitcher of wine.
The other guests had mostly left when the owner came to our table for the raki ‘ceremony’. He poured us each a glass and himself a glass. All three of us sipped it ‘slow, slow.’ He gave us tips on where to go next in Albania and wrote them down. We said goodbye and thank you to him and his wife. It was almost tearful.
Saying goodbye to our guesthouse owners the next morning was also a little emotional. When the taxi driver came to drive us to the bus station, there were many hugs, kisses, photos, and smiles. I know you are probably getting tired of hearing how wonderful the Albanians are, but it is true, and Berat is the City of a Thousand Smiles.
Hike, Drink, Live, Laugh
[amazon_link asins=’B013M7YI82,0781806097,B00YI5VJW6,B013S1WDUC,B00VJCVFIE,160342475X’ template=’ProductGrid’ store=’vinohikcom-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’80da0db2-5cd6-11e7-be70-679fae45ac56′]