There are few better places to be in Albania than standing on the river bridge in the charming, easy-going town of BERAT. From this vantage point, you’ll be surrounded by huddles of Ottoman houses, their dark, rectangular windows staring from whitewashed walls like a thousand eyes. On the south bank is the sleepy Gorica district, kept in shadow for much of the day by a muscular backdrop of rock; to the north is the relatively sun-drenched Mangalemi district, from which steep, cobblestoned paths lead up to the hill-top Kalasa, an old citadel whose wonderful interior is up there with the best old towns in the Balkans.
You’ll have great views of Berat from the fourteenth-century Kalasa, a splendidly restored citadel towering above town, which is accessed via a steep, cobbled road. Unlike other such places in Albania this is still a functioning part of town and home to hundreds, yet almost nothing dilutes its centuries-old vibe; visit at night and you’re in for a wonderfully eerie treat. There were once over thirty churches here but just a handful remain; oldest and most beautiful is the thirteenth-century Church of the Holy Trinity, sitting on the slope below the inner fortifications. Churches remain locked for most of the year, but you can ask around to find the key-keepers. Also within the grounds is the Onufri Museum, dedicated to the country’s foremost icon painter, famed for his use of a particularly vivid red. Heading back down the access road you’ll come across the diverting Ethnographic Museum and the first of the centre’s three main mosques.