But the hotel he called was booked. He makes another call and books me a room at Hotel Muzaca, a hotel in a traditional stone building that sits on the banks of the Osum river, in the shadows of the Berat Castle, a Byzantine-era fortress that sits on a rocky bluff high above the river.
I arrive late, but the restaurant stays open for me. I bring in a bottle of the Cobo Vlush and share a glass with a couple from the Netherlands and with a fellow American, Jeff, who is on holiday from his job as a teacher in Russia.
The Vlush wine is rich, decadent, and yet expressive and with the aromatics of flowers, cherry, and berry. Wonderful.
I wake up early and ride five kilometers to the Berat Castle. It’s a bit nerve-racking when I arrive at the steep hill leading to the castle is under construction. They are getting ready to pave the road, so it’s full of marble or golf-ball sized polished rocks, deep. This, of course, I contend with on a morning where I decided to forgo the usual riding gear as I knew I’d be hiking around the castle. I certainly don’t want to drop Doc on this loose gravel. It’s especially challenging because many groups of tourists climb up and down the road, many elderly people who slip and slide as they walk up and down. I need to commit and be steady on the throttle to make it up without incident, I don’t want to negotiate around hordes of castle-happy tourists.
I make it. Coming down will be another story.
The fortress is well preserved and inside are nearly one hundred small stone houses built during the 13th century. Some of these have been converted into guest houses, cafes or gift shops. There’s a mosque and at one time many churches. One still sits on the cliff, and a massive discern with arched roofs is impressive and reminds me how important water was for the Byzantines—or anyone.
Steeped in history and the climb to the top, I’m rewarded with fantastic views of the Osum River and the bends and twists it takes as it winds around the scenic village of Berat. And from the top of the castle, I can see miles and miles in all directions. I’m sure I can see the new Cobo Vineyards, I’m just not sure where—as vineyards and olive groves dominate the landscape to the south and west.
The landscape paints a picture in my mind of the future of Albania. With the history, passion, and I hope the changing attitudes of some Albanians, that there is much more prosperity for this country in the future.