The best day trip I took in Albania was to the town of Berat. Old Berat is a UNESCO World Heritage site. It consists of a village built into a Medieval castle, and two lower towns separated by a river – Mangalemi and Gorica. I was only able to visit the castle district due to a small detour involving coffee, but it was well worth it.
As I was exploring the castle, an old man selling water stopped to ask me where I’m from. Once it was established that I’m Greek, he started speaking to me in broken Greek, telling me he had lived in Greece for a few years and his son still lives there most of the year. I bought a water and we continued to talk. He called over his son, Dino, and asked him to give me a guided tour of the village. Dino spoke very good Greek, pointed out all of the major sites in the village, and gave a brief history for each one.
I learned that the castle district was proudly Orthodox, with almost a dozen Byzantine churches to be found mixed throughout the stone houses that make up the village. The people claimed to be descendants of Alexander the Great’s soldiers. Many historians believe Cassander, a king and member of Alexander’s court, founded Berat under the name Antipatreia (Αντιπάτρεια). Antipatros was Cassander’s father and a general in Alexander’s army.
The tour was great, but the hospitality of the people made my trip memorable. I was running short on time to visit the other districts in Berat, but I decided to sit and have coffee with a few of the villagers. All of them had worked or lived in Greece at one point in their lives, one who lived in Giannena for 16 years and decided to move back due to the economic crisis. They talked about their lives in Greece, in Albania, life and even imprisonment (for practicing Orthodoxy) under Enver Hoxha, and their hopes for the future of their village. Most of them expressed a desire to return to Greece, where they said they spent their best years and had many good memories and experiences. I even got a few marriage proposals from the men for some nice Orthodox Albanian girls, and promises of homes and businesses! I politely declined.
Two hours later, at around 3pm, I asked when I could catch the last bus to Tiranë. They asked if I was staying overnight in the village or returning to Tiranë. I said I needed to return to Tiranë, but they were a bit concerned because it was the offseason and the buses and furgons usually didn’t run after 4pm. I thanked them for their hospitality, we quickly said goodbye, then one man drove me down the mountain and waited to make sure I got on a furgon. It was truly one of the best experiences I’ve had while traveling, and I would love to return one day.
Next time, I will definitely stay overnight.