Not quite a thousand windows, but we’re sure it comes close
We more or less ended up in Berat by complete accident, hitching a ride over the border from Lake Ohrid, Macedonia, to find ourselves in a stranger’s car with two other hopefuls who proceeded to run down a bus on our behalf (but you can find more on that below). After four rides, an 140 kilometre journey that took much, much longer than it would in a world with non crater-marked roads (read: it took six hours) and as the sun dipped below the hills, we’d arrived in a place we’re not sure we ever really wanted to come to. Don’t get us wrong, we are so glad we did…
We can only assume our host knew we needed to be wined and dined as soon as we got there, because that’s exactly how they operate in the Town of One Thousand Windows. Cue, the cutest little UNESCO site in the whole of Albania.
Wander: The Town of One Thousand Windows was named as such, probably because the naming dude got sick of counting after 86. But also because if you stand and stare at it from across the river, all the Ottoman-type houses look like they’ve got a thousand windows (at least we think that’s pretty much the story). While it sounds solely the realm of a double-glazers dream, it’s actually a beautiful outlook, and some of the most remarkable examples of Ottoman housing around. The cobbled stones and the winding alleys (which are unceremoniously steep, might we add) of the old town and Promenade make for a solid afternoon of getting your steps up.
The hilltop castle isn’t your typical European castle (well, it kind of is. But it’s quite cool nonetheless) and definitely worth the hike (and pre-burning the best Albanian food you’ll ever eat) up the side of the hill for a look. The view over Berat and the surrounding valleys is unparalleled, and even better; the citadel inside is still inhabited. Wander the paths, have a chat with its residents, poke around inside a church (at least we think that was allowed) and stop in to a bar or a shop. You’ll probably accidentally adopt a goat at some point throughout the day too.
Homemade food Lili – there is a reason this unassuming, hole-in-the-wall has retained an unheard of 5/5 on both Google Reviews and Tripadvisor – with gushing reviews spamming the internet at every turn. And for once, it’s truly justified. Another locale with a fondness of making you work for your food, you’ll find Lili up a winding, and very steep, cobbled path in the Old Town. Don’t let the utter lack of anything resembling a restuarant fool you – pull up one of a handful of chairs in the courtyard, as the owner brings over a large picture board perched on a chair for you to peruse. Once you’ve ordered, his wife in the kitchen will whip up your meal (we can only imagine she is an utter goddess), as he brings you a refreshing drink. You’re not allowed to leave before he shares a shot of homemade rakia, though, and guys – if that’s not modern hospitality I just don’t know what is. As you leave, you’ll be plyed with homemade jams and preserves from what we assume are relatives, which although would be grating anywhere else, you’ll buy 17 because your food just filled you with so much faith in society. Please, if you’re going to do one thing before you die – order the fergese. A delicious blend of ricotta, goat cheese, garlic and peppers, dished up with bread and infused with love.
Lorenc Guesthouse and Hostel – If inappropriate touching from the owner of a place you’re about to sleep at without a lock in the door is something you’re after – then look no further. Lorenc is your man.
Jokes aside, this might be the highlight of your trip to Berat. When I arrived, it was almost 8pm and I was completely exhausted. Lorenc cured any fatigue by breezing into the room, whipping me outdoors to the bar, pouring me some homemade wine, and grabbing me by my waist for a touch of a waltz as the music hummed along in the background. Now, I’ve got to make it clear here, contrary to my misleading intro, none of this was dodgy. The emphatic Lorenc has an energetic air and a way about him that seems almost whimsical, where dancing with the man who is taking your money for a bed for the night is completely acceptable. The rooms are simple, but clean, and you’ll be sitting inside with a cup of tea in one room, as you hear the chatter of Lorenc’s extended family in the next room (the idle chatty and happy laughter kind, not the screaming and yelling at each other about how much you dislike one another kind). Best of all, it’s a beautiful old heritage house and the walk up the stairs to get there is probably a week’s worth of exercise.
How we got there:
Now, we don’t recommend it – but I actually hitched a ride from Sveti Naum, near the border between Macedonia and Albania. Actually, I trudged several kilometres from the monastery as cars raced past and ignored my huffing and puffing and my arm outstretched, and then basically forced myself on two hapless gents pulling into border control, who were just trying to get on with their Sunday drive. Twenty minutes later, in Pogradec, they dropped me off to a little woman in a kiosk who told me she would find me a way to Berat. Taken parallels aside, I willingly went along with her plan to get me to Berat when she screeched across the road to a dark BMW with tinted windows who had been trawling the streets, and shoved me in the door as two other girls made room. Still trying to quell all Taken comparisons, I managed to make decent small chat with the two other well confused travelers, neither of which were going to my destination – well, the one who spoke English anyway. Absolutely denying I was in any way in a remake of a Liam Neeson film, I wondered if the two extremely attractive girls in the back – who I presumed were ‘escorts’ – and I would ever make it to our final destinations. An hour later, I was in Elbasan as the last bus to Berat pulled away from the kurb about ten minutes ahead of us. My fearless driver, who I had now accepted was more desperate salesman than rogue people trader, screeched off down the street tooting and waving at the bus to stop. Now, in any other country, this would prompt an immediate response from the vehicle subject to this commotion. Not so in Albania, instead this cat-and-mouse chase carried on for a good fifteen minutes – right down the main road of town. When I finally hauled myself onto the bus, much to the chagrin of the driver and its passengers, it took another hour and a half or so for me to be dropped on a nondescript corner, in a nondescript town with the instructions to ‘wait here’ barked at me through a moving window (sorry I can’t provide a better marker for this. But tell the bus driver in Elbasan you’re off to Berat and we assure you he’ll know exactly the nondescript corner to leave you on). After 20 minutes or so, another little furgon, who all seemingly deal in nondescript corners, plucked me from the gathering darkness and dropped me the 15 kilometres down the road to Berat (read: another few days of bumpy driving). From the bus station, it’s about a 20 minute jaunt into the middle of town.
Oh – and my fellow passengers in the first car were actually highly educated lawyers. Just real attractive ones.