Continuing my journey through the Balkans, I crossed the border into Macedonia by land from the western end of Bulgaria. Uncovering this part of Europe was a revelation to me. Not only is it within a hop and jump from my base in Spain, the region is also largely unexplored, veering clear from the standard tourist trail. The Balkans have had a conflicted past, racial disparities and political issues; but if you’re looking to uncover an unspoiled destination, then the Balkans won’t disappoint.
Macedonia left a deep impression on me: its warm, resilient people and bounty of unspoiled nature – especially so at Lake Ohrid. The languid atmosphere and poetic setting of Lake Ohrid are reminiscent of the Greek islands, yet distinctively Macedonian. Besides the lower cost of living, the usual tourist crowds are nowhere to be seen here.
Ancient monasteries loom above the dark blue waters while narrow cobbled paths wind their way through the hilly lakeside town of Ohrid. The lake straddles between two countries: On the other edge of the lake lies Albania. On a clear day, you can even see the snow-peaked mountains that run parallel to the border.
Circling the lake, I would spot secret coves lined with stretches of pebbled beaches and turquoise clear waters, and surprisingly empty. My host, Budimir, told me tales of how his family would spend summers here, enjoying a barbeque by the lake and going snorkeling when the heat was overbearing. Although this area is frequented by Macedonians from all over the country, especially in summer, you can hardly find any other foreigner in the area.
Each morning, I woke up to to a sweeping view of the calm lake from my suite in Villa St.Kliment the Lesser. Named after the nearby Orthodox church, the villa is a charming and elegant boutique hotel poised on the hilltop of Ohrid town. My top-floor suite opened up to a breathe of fresh air, sounds of birds chirping outside and a million-dollar panorama. In the comfort of my own room, breakfast was served. Savoring the freshly-baked chocolate croissant and strawberry juice, I drank in the views ahead and dreamt of life in Ohrid.
Historical Monuments in Ohrid Town
Amongst the numerous fishing towns that line the shoreline, the town of Ohrid is said to be the most beautiful, and naturally the most popular among visitors. It’s easy to see why. The town itself is a testimony to Macedonia’s history. During my stay in Ohrid, I wandered around its hilly walkways, constantly stumbling upon well-preserved Byzantine churches, Roman amphitheatre ruins and medieval fortress. Such historical remnants are a rarity in earthquake-prone Macedonia.
The Ohrid Castle stands above the sprawling town, expect to find some of the best views of the lake here.
Perhaps the most picturesque point in Ohrid, the Jovan Kaneo Orthodox Church is perched on the water’s edge to create a poetic setting. As I sat in awe, lovelorn couples snuggled nearby while artists stood by the waterfront lost in their own thoughts.
As the last ebb of the sun fades in the distance, the water takes on a dark shade of blue. Activities around the lake start to wind down as the town puts on a coat of elegance.
Driving up to Galičica National Park
Just a 30-minute drive from Ohrid is the sprawling Galičica National Park. We left the sizzling heat of Lake Ohrid behind, climbing thousands of meters to reach the peak of Mount Galičica. Cooling temperatures welcomed us as we gained perspective of the lake from our new vantage point. Here, patches of snow were strewn around the green slopes – a starkly contrasting scene as the lakeside.
From above, the glassy waters of Lake Ohrid resembled a mirror, reflecting the image of the snow-peaked mountains on its clear surface.