Lake Ohrid is a UNESCO protected lake and town in South-West Macedonia. Squeezed into the border of Macedonia and Albania, it is a heady combination of crumbling villas, terracotta tiles and gigantic statues. This is a town where you will fall in love – with early morning mists hovering over the lake, with deserted castles and monasteries and with delightful, natural springs bubbling from emerald waters.
I’ve put together five top things to do in and around Lake Ohrid, enough to tempt even the cold-hearted into a romantic clinch. These fabulous destinations are like a tempting vixen or charming prince, impossible to resist.
St. Naum monastery
A visit to the monastery is as much about the journey as the arrival. You feast on beautiful coastal views, and glimpses of the Bay of Bones, the President’s summer house and the only five-star resort on the lake.
The hulking outline of mountains rising on the opposite side of the lake in Albania add drama to the monastery’s location. Like a guardian angel, it perches on a rocky outcropping, overlooking the bay. It’s free to visit the inner courtyard but 100 Den to go inside the small monastery (30 if you are a student!)
Inside, frescoes line every inch of wall space, so dated they look like smudged crayon drawings which have rubbed away over time. A sense of serenity overwhelms me and I find myself reliving the sensation of meditating on an Indian retreat.
Once you have taken your ecclesiastical fill, wander down the hillside towards the few restaurants and village shops. En route, you will pass boat owners touting short trips into the emerald green springs. Negotiate a price and jump onboard.
St. Naum springs
It’s silent apart from the water lapping at the hull of the boat and the oars splashing as we row slowly through the springs of St. Naum. Vivid green waters hide gurgling springs below, the main supply of lake water. We can just make out huge bubbles spewing from the ground into the cold waters like potions in a cauldron.
My tour guide, Nikola is something of a storyteller regaling me with tales of previous mishaps on the boat. I struggle to understand everything he says but am happy to stare into the crystal clear waters and thank my lucky stars I am fortunate enough to be here.
We row (yes, Nikola is crazy enough to allow me to take the oars!) to a tiny monastery hidden in the bush, the colours so vivid it looks as though the pop filter on my camera has been applied to the scene. It’s truly stunning, like a quaint little cottage hidden in the woods.
Cost: the boat trip costs 10 Euro per person and you can book your own trip with Nikola at Nikoturs.
Samuil’s Fortress, Ohrid
This fortress is a Goliath. With remearkably well preserved walls, a huge inner courtyard and a gigantic flag fluttering above, it can be seen from almost anywhere in Ohrid. If you want specatcaulr views a little closer, however head to the church of Perivleptos where you have the perfect vantage point of the castle.
It pays to get here early too. Although the official opening time is 9am, I arrive at 8.30 and wander through the gates to find myself alone. Like an excited child, I rush up onto the ramparts to admire spectacular views of the town slowly waking from a slumber, wisps of hazy clouds lingering. The video gives you an idea of how fabulous this attraction is (100 Den or 30 if you are a student) especially when you have it entirely to yourself. I have one of my quiet, wow moments, one where I feel a little overwhelmed with a wondrous sense of delight.
Does anyone else experience that sensation when travelling?
St John at Kaneo Church
The Wizz Air site proudly displays a picture of this church, which probably sub-consciously influenced me to book the flights. It’s a red terracotta delight perched high on the cliff, above stunning azure waters. I’m drawn to it like a moth to a flame, carefully skittering down the hillside to take a closer look. The architecture resembles many other churches in the area (365 apparently!) with a small dome in the middle and pale-red brickwork.
You can reach the church by following a boardwalk along the base of the cliff from the old town of Ohrid. After passing a little shingle beach, the path weaves its way up the hillside until you arrive at a bluff overlooking the church.
The monastery of St Pantelejimon
In the shadow of the castle and high above the water, another monastery greets you with roman pillars suggesting a grand, bygone era. It is clearly an auspicious monument as our visit coincides with that of the Macedonian president meeting Serbian orthodox priests. My curiosity gets the better of me and I decide to pay the 30 Den (student price or 100 for adults: £1.50) so I can get my first glimpse of the president.
I wander around the church, snapping pictures of the mind boggling roof shapes then stop to sunbathe. I am basking in the shade of the roman ruins when a posse of people emerge into sunlight. I immediately identify the president (something about the scary looking bodyguards surrounding him!) who passes by so close I can almost reach out and grab him (but I don’t fancy being shot today!).
His security is pretty limited and I’m astonished that I can get so close with no security clearance and no search. It makes an amusing interlude to my day but I soon forget about it in my quest to discover Ohrid.
These are just five treasures of Ohrid which you may fall in love. Even an ice maiden would struggle to resist this town’s charms.
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What do you think?
Which of these places do you think you would fall in love with? Or have you visited Ohrid and already fallen in love. I would love to hear your thoughts.