Although it is technically possible to explore Berat, in Albania, on a daytrip from the country's capital Tirana, if you really want to understand the city then it's worth staying for a night or two. Often referred to as the "the town of a thousand windows," Berat is most famous for the white houses of its old Ottoman town, which sprawl up the hillside as if stacked on top of one another, and which led to it being given UNESCO World Heritage List status in 2008. Considered one of the best preserved examples of this kind of architecture in the Balkans, the town attracts visitors from all over the world, keen to see how this region would once have looked way back when.
Although a very small city, Berat is separated into three main neighbourhoods, each with a distinct flavour and origin: Gorica and Mangalem, which were the original Christian and Muslim neighbourhoods respectively, and Kala, a residential area encompassing the old citadel on the top of the hill, which is still inhabited today.
It is in Mangalem that you will find the houses for which the area is so famous, as well as The King Mosque, whose friendly caretaker is more than happy to explain a little about its history if you ask. Gorica, which sits on the opposite of the river, has received less investment and so has more of a shabby chic vibe than other parts of Berat, but is no less charming.
Kala, the fortress on the top of the hill where Berat's castle is located, requires a steep and sometimes slippery walk uphill, but offers spectacular views over the town, ancient ruins contains a number of Byzantine churches and tiny chapels. Lived in to this day, this section of town might not be what first draws visitors here, but it is often what they remember best.
Another important sight in this city is the beautiful 18th century, seven-arched bridge that connects the two sides of the river. Although it doesn't seem all that special when you're actually walking across it, from further along the river it's really quite beautiful, especially in autumn when the trees either side of it change colour.
Wine - The area surrounding Berat is also home to a number of wineries; book a tour of one and do some taste-tasting, preferably while tucking into cheese and olives. If you're a fan of red wine, then The Nurellari Winery may be the one for you.
Osumi Canyon - The dramatic Osumi Canyon, roughly an hour and a half drive away from Berat, has waterfalls, steep cliffs, natural swimming pools and incredibly blue water. It's a particularly good spot for white-water rafting, but there is no public transport and almost no hiking trails here, so it is best explored with a guide.
Although the city does not have a railway station, it is still relatively easy to access as there are direct buses between Berat and Tirana, as well as other towns including Gjirokastër and Sarandë in the south of the country. If you're driving, be warned that the roads through the Albanian countryside aren't exactly best condition, to put it mildly, but your nerves of steel will be rewarded with some stunning scenery.