Although it’s still an under-the-radar travel destination, the Balkans located in Southeast Europe, are piquing the interest of more and more visitors. Offering unspoilt landscapes and friendly locals who aren’t yet tired of tired tourists, we can see why it’s such an appealing place to travel to. Our guest blogger Hana Laura of the Walking Wanderess tells us about one of her favourite places in the area…
Macedonia is a little country sandwiched between Albania, Kosovo, Serbia, Bulgaria and Greece. The country is often overlooked by tourists flocking to its better-known neighbours, Greece in particular, which makes Macedonia somewhat of a hidden gem nestled away on the Balkan Peninsula. I am always trying to discover the beauty that is off of the beaten path, and the ancient town of Ohrid in Macedonia fit the bill! When I visited Ohrid in early autumn I experienced pleasant sunshine without the intense heat, and the larger tourist crowds had dispersed. If you can get good weather in September, I recommend this as one of the best times to visit the Balkans. Regardless of the season, there is plenty to do and see around Ohrid.
The most striking feature of the town is perhaps its placement on and above the shore of Lake Ohrid. I remember being totally stunned when I crossed over the mountains west of the lake and first glimpsed its surface. I marvelled at how this impressive body of water could be hidden away in such a tiny country!
The lake stretches out for over 30 kilometers into the distance, and being in Ohrid feels as if you are perched above a giant sparkling sea. The clear waters of Lake Ohrid boast a depth of just under 300 meters which makes it one of the deepest lakes in Europe. I enjoyed many sunrises and sunsets over this lake, which breathes tranquillity and calm into the town every morning and evening.
UNESCO named Ohrid a World Heritage Site in 1979 calling the lake a “superlative natural phenomenon”. Not only is Lake Ohrid one of the deepest lakes in the world, but it is also among the oldest and is dated at approximately two to three million years. Because of its age, Lake Ohrid is an incredibly rare and valuable resource for conservation and diversity research.
During the summer months you can bathe and swim in the cool water of Lake Ohrid, the only problem will be choosing a spot on the 88 kilometers of shoreline! Fishermen from throughout Europe come to the lake to catch prize trout and on a nice day the surface is dotted with boats. Getting a boat onto the lake is as easy as making your way to the harbour where you will be approached by boatmen and offered water taxis for a reasonable fare. Don’t forget to haggle a little!
Take a trip back in time
Though new compared to the lake, the settlement of Ohrid is one of the oldest in Europe (built between the 7th-9th centuries). The architecture of the monasteries and basilicas is exceptionally well-preserved and complete, giving you a glimpse into ancient Slav culture. The Old Town contains a network of equally well-maintained urban homes and winding streets, representing the local Ottoman culture during the 14th and 15th centuries. Within Ohrid’s old urban centre, there are archaeological remains that provide even greater artistic and cultural value to the area.
Explore Old Town Ohrid by foot
Meander through the narrow cobblestone streets and gaze at stacked terra-cotta houses on the cliffside overlooking the lake. Ohrid is the perfect size to wander by foot, but be prepared for the hilly landscape by taking advantage of the abundance of cafes and bars to rest your feet and enjoy a cappuccino or glass of local wine.
As you walk the town it is hard to miss the towering walls of Tsar Samuel’s Fortress on the top of the hill. The fortress was once a major stronghold of the Balkans and was well renovated in 2003. Some of the best views of the Old Town can be found at the top of the watchtower here at the fortress.
Admire the Old Churches
Head back down through the Old Town Park or along the waterfront. The park takes you through a cool green forest and is interwoven with walkable dirt paths. Stay on the main path or explore side trails that lead to the many churches and archaeological sites scattered about the area. If you have time don’t skip the historic churches of St. Sophia, St. Bogorodica Perivlepta, and Plaoshnik. As you walk south along the coast, you will eventually reach one of Ohrid’s most iconic landmarks and my favourite spot in the Old Town: the Church of St. John at Kameo. A small but spectacularly located Orthodox Church that is literally perched on the cliff above Lake Ohrid. Another unmissable sunset view!
Galičica National Park
You cannot visit Ohrid without noticing the towering massif of Galičica to the east. For the best views of Ohrid and the lake, you should head over to Galičica National Park. The highest point is Magaro Peak, and the trailhead to climb this mountain is easily reached from Ohrid on a paved road. The actual climb will require some work, but on a nice day, you will be rewarded with sweeping views of the surrounding mountains as well as Lake Ohrid and her giant sister, Lake Prespa. Be prepared to gain around 700 meters in 4-5 kilometers as you ascend Magaro. The walk takes 2-3 hours, depending on your pace. Download a map and GPS information on your phone before you go, as the trail is marked but not always obvious.
If you aren’t keen on hiking up to the 2,254 meters that dominates the skyline, despair not! The view from the road that winds up into the park is spectacular in its own right, with plenty of rocky outcroppings to admire the diverse landscape below. If you’d like to explore the park more casually, there are plenty of other trails that are less demanding than Magaro.
Take a trip off the beaten path this year and make a trip to this Balkan gem. Macedonia is full of natural beauty and historical sites, and best of all there are still surprises to be had in this wonderful country!
What to do if your holiday goes wrong
Even if you’ve planned everything perfectly holidays can sometimes, unfortunately, go wrong. This could be due to unforeseen injury or illness or other accidents. In these cases not only can it be very emotionally traumatic but it can also leave you worrying about finances, especially in cases where it becomes necessary to seek costly medical treatment not covered by your insurance.
If you have become ill or been injured while on holiday abroad, through no fault of your own, and you’re interested in making holiday claims then head over to Your Legal Friend. Thier experts offer advice covering many different types of accident and have successfully won claims involving accidents in hotels, at sea and on board aircraft.
All words and photos (except the church) by our guest blogger Hana Laura. Hana is the writer and creator of the travel blog The Walking Wanderess. She loves exploring the natural world on foot while discovering and sharing destinations that are off of the main tourist track. Hana is excited about providing truthful and practical information to folks wanting to take a more self-guided approach to travel, especially if it involves climbing up a mountain!