You will understand why. Korca, or Korce, (Korcha, or Korchuh) has long been influenced by Francophone culture, especially since the opening of the French Lyceum in the twentieth century, but there is something in its entirety, in architecture, in the cobbled streets, in the windows with pots of colorful flowers, in cafes and warm and in the eyes of the people.
The peace of a quiet and hospitable city. A heart-shaped city as its poets say, but also a hearth of knowledge. Korca is remembered for the opening of the first Albanian school in 1887 and is still a cradle that raises important Albanian figures.
A city that opens its doors to the explorers and is much loved by tourists.
All the best things to do in Korca (Korçë), one of Albania’s most beautiful cities and unofficial capital of culture.
The small city of Korca (also written as Korçë or Korça) in southeastern Albania might only be 3 hours from Tirana by car, but it feels completely off the beaten tourist track.
As soon as I saw photos of the city’s distinctive architecture, I made a point of including it in our Albania itinerary – even if it did involve making a pretty big detour.
The country’s eighth-largest city by population, Korçë (pronounced ‘kor-cha’) has a history that dates back to the 13th century. It’s known for its role in Albanian culture and intellectual heritage (most famously for being home to the first Albanian language school), world-class museums, beautiful old churches, and pretty architecture.It gets its rather idyllic nickname, ‘The City of Serenades’, from the love ballads men used to belt out from the balconies and courtyards of their enigmatic European villas. Sadly, the sounds of guitar and mandolin don’t fill the streets of Korca like they did in the 1930s – but the town still has the same charm and a feeling of nostalgia.
In fact, this might just be one of the prettiest European cities I’ve been to.
When is the best time to visit Korca?
Korca is an all-season destination with relatively mild weather year-round. Winter brings cold overnight temperatures and snow; while the warmer months see the town come alive with festivals and special events.
If you’re travelling Albania in the off season, it’s a great addition to your schedule.
In April, Korca hosts a two-week-long Spring Fair with outdoor markets and parades. In June, there’s Carnival, in July the Lakror Fest (celebrating the city’s favourite pie and its culinary traditions), in August the Beer Fest, and in October the Apple Fest.
Whenever you decide to visit, there’s a good chance there will be a special event taking place. See more details and future dates here.
CLIMB THE PANORAMIC TOWER FOR A VIEW
When you reach the top of St. George Boulevard you’ll see a rather odd modern building near the tourist information office. The Panoramic Tower isn’t terribly tall, but it’s high enough to give you a pretty incredible view of the entire city from its observation deck.
From the top, you get a 360-degree aspect of the city and distant mountains, including a look all the way back down the street to the cathedral. Korca looks like a model town – almost too cute to be real. I especially love the retro corner building that houses the BKT bank (pictured above). From up high, you also get a feel for how green and clean Korca is.
Be warned – the elevator is often out of service so you’ll probably have to walk a dozen or so flights of stairs to get to the top. It’s worth it though!
VISIT THE GJON MILI PHOTOGRAPHY MUSEUM
As you twist and turn your way up the stairwells of the Panoramic Tower, you’ll notice art posters have been added to jazz up some of the concrete walls. These are works by local photographer Gjon Mili.
Having learned about Mili’s work at university, I was very keen to check out his museum on the top level of the Romanian House. Entrance is free, and you might even be treated to a guided tour with the very knowledgeable curator. There’s even a ‘light experiment room’ where you can try your own hand at light painting.
Mili, who was born in Korca in 1904 and raised in Romania, is best-known for being a photographer for New York’s Life magazine from the 1940s until his death in 1984. He pioneered experimental light photography, worked with the likes of Man Ray, and counted Pablo Picasso among his portrait subjects.
The Gjon Mili Museum exhibits a huge collection of his most iconic frames alongside touching family portraits and letters penned by the artist. Given his prolific career, Mili’s story is tied in with many important historical events. It’s fascinating to see the moon landing, Watergate, and other milestones told through his photographs – I’m sure you’ll recognise more than a few of the shots from popular culture.
Info: The museum is open Tuesday to Sunday (closed Mondays) from 9am-2pm and 5pm-7pm. Entrance is free.