I have traveled to quite a few places. Some highlights include my adventures throughout Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. And yet, it is a small town in Albania that has me determined to retire there.
I had never heard of Berat before. In fact, when I mentioned it to Albanians that I knew, they had never heard of it either. Or had known of it but assumed it was just another town and had no understanding of how special it truly was. In fact, I discovered the town of Berat from skyscrappercity. This is a chat forum where urban development enthusiasts post photographs of the new structures that are being built and developed in cities all over the world. I am actually a very frequent visitor on this blog because I love following the way developing cities are growing and improving.
While looking through all the different cities and towns in Albania to see how the country is improving, I found the thread on Berat. I couldn’t stop looking at the photographs. There was something so charming and special about this town that kept calling me to it. So when I made the decision to road trip Albania this summer, I was determined to visit the town known as the town of a thousand and one windows. I did have to drag my travel buddies to go out of our way to visit it. And I mean drag. But in the end it was absolutely worth it.
The first thing we did once arriving was visit the Berat Fortress. What I was NOT prepared for was how the fortress is still in use! People were living in homes surrounded by ancient stone walls. Restaurant chairs stood on top of timeworn stone pavements. And the view of the town from the top of the fortress was incredible.
The next thing we did (which ironically was not my doing but rather a request of my travel buddies – looks like Berat was winning them over too) was visit the University of Berat. This university is among many that the Albanian government has created in an attempt to encourage education in Albania. For those of you who do not know, Albania was ruled by a communist dictator who disallowed intellectual thinking. In fact, the communist government killed those who they believed to be intellectuals. As a result, the glorification the west has on education, particularly college education, is not as prevalent in the country.
Today, grand and impressive universities are being built all over Albania to encourage the people to find value in intellectual thinking. Other cities that have had these grand universities built include Tirana, Durres, and Fier. Once I saw how massive and stunning the University of Berat was, I wanted to march right on inside and force them get into contact with other colleges around the world. I don’t know about you, but I’m thinking this would make an amazing study abroad/student exchange opportunity.
Finally, the big reveal! The actual windows. I have mentioned already in this post that Berat is known as the town of a thousand and one windows. That is because of the unique architectural style of the homes. These houses each have endless windows in order to brighten them up with as much natural light as possible. This area of the large city of Berat is actually called the old town (the new town which is composed of modern infrastructure) and is much more expansive than what you see in the photographs. The old town is an UNESCO World Heritage Site.
What do I regret the most about this visit? I didn’t manage to do all I wished to do. It’s the kind of thing that happens when you travel in a group. At the top of my list was to visit the two wineries in the area. Berat is known for them. The first, Cobo Winery, has been passed down in the Cobo family since the early 1900s. The second, Nurellari Winery, is newer yet still worth a visit. Berat also has a few museums such as: Ethnographic Museum, Iconographic Museum, and The Edward Lear Art Gallery. A great way to finish off the trip would have been by exploring the river with the Albania Rafting Group located in the city.
Missing out on these experiences is not the only thing that disappoints me. Mostly, I wish I had the opportunity to just explore the many streets and alleyways of the town slowly and leisurely. These pictures do not capture the actual town, just the highlights that I visited. I need more time in Berat. I want to go one summer and rent out one of those traditional homes for a month or two. I want to spend my days taking strolls along the ancient stone streets and my evenings enjoying some Albanian cheese and local wine.