Lake Ohrid – One of the oldest lakes in the world

Lake Ohrid – One of the oldest lakes in the world

Travel

Clear, deep blue aqua in drinking water quality, historic villages and wooded hillsides on its shores … It is one of the oldest lakes in the world with an estimated 2-5 million years and the oldest inland water in Europe. It’s the largest lake in Macedonia, although a part belongs to Albania. It was created by a a geotectonic depression and since 1979 belongs to the UNESCO World Natural Heritage. The Lake Ohrid in Macedonia (F.Y.R.O.M = Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia) !!

It offers tranquility, natural beauty and potential for recreation in the off-season, as well as lively summer tourism with wild parties, beach bars and concerts. Its fauna is very special. Scientific research has already discovered more than 200 animal species that can only be found here and like that the lake contains the highest density of endemic species worldwide!

However one of the trouts, Salmo letnica or Koran, seems to be so tasty, that it far too often ends up on the plates of locals and tourists alike and in the meantime is listed as endangered species! Catching the trout has been forbidden on the Macedonian side, but sad to say on the Albanian side, fishing is still uncontrolled …

Unfortunately, as you can see on most photos, we had a period of bad weather. But in the moments when the sun broke through you could guess how much nicer the area would be in the sun!!

The town, which bears the same name as the lake, is probably one of the most attractive destinations in Macedonia … Ohrid!

The fantastic old town flowing over the two hills of Gorni Saraj and Deboj, is full of houses dating back to the times of the Ottomans, which protrude with each floor, like reversed pyramids, interspersed with countless orthodox churches.

The gardens look lovely in full bloom and enthroned on top sits the 10th century fortress of Tsar Samuil, a relict of times when Ohrid was the capital of the First Bulgarian Empire. But between the old dwellings much less attractive communist buildings stand out. Along the cobbled streets of the old town, you can find both quiet and original quarters with traditional restaurants, as well as fashion chains, junk and souvenir shops and modern takeaways.

Strolling down the beach promenade, partly built on bridges, you can rent a sun lounger, relax with a fantastic view over the lake, have a drink in one of the bars or enjoy a romantic dinner.

At the end of the promenade a short ascent leads to one of the probably most photographed spots in the city, Sveti Jovan Kaneo, an actually unimportant church, which is perched photogenically on a small rock above the lake. Unfortunately, we did not have the opportunity to experience one of the legendary sunsets behind the church …

In summer, the amphitheater, which dates back to the hellenistic epoch, hosts concerts and other events in a beautiful setting.

At the northern tip of the lake lies the town of Struga. Not as rich in history or as splendid as Ohrid, but full of life! Its population as well as those living in the direction of the Albanian border, only 8km further west, is strongly Albanian, which can be seen in the absolute predominance of signs in Albanian language and Albanian flags.
The lake’s outlet to the Adriatic Sea, the Black Drin, is paved with restaurants, cafes and bars, which are especially crowded during summer evenings. And one or the other bar has been caught in the eighties in an amusing manner!

You’ll find excellent Macedonian cuisine in the restaurant “Sv. Nicola”, located directly at the Drin promenade, which serves huge, delicious portions at incredibly reasonable prices not only to tourists but in particular to the locals!

The “Struga Poetry Evenings”, held in summer, are a very special festival.
It is one of the oldest international literary festivals, highlighting the readings held on the bridges in front of thousands of listeners.

South of Ohrid you’ll pass the “Bay of Bones“. It is the reconstruction of a prehistoric pile-dwelling settlement, which existed during copper, bronze and iron age and whose remains were found at the bottom of the lake.
The name is derived from the fact that the inhabitants of the huts used to throw the bones of the eaten animals simply out of the window, as well as all the  other “trash”. And this refuse at the bottom of the lake created a garbage dump which is highly exciting for archaeologists and divers.

The reconstruction of the settlement can be visited and the relics admired in the museum.

If you continue the journey south along the lake, the Galičica National Park is situated on the left hand side. Crossing the park you will reach the Great Prespa Lake.

The park is very well developed for hikers and mountainbikers thanks to the support of the German KfW-Bank and for Macedonian conditions extremely well signposted in Macedonian and English!
Unfortunately, the website is only available in Macedonian.
You can walk through abandoned villages, past unspoiled nature, following 20 hiking trails with different levels of difficulty and among others climb the highest peak, Magaro, with 2255m.

And even if you’re not into hiking it is worth taking a trip to one of the viewpoints, reached via the road P504 between Ljubanishta and Trpejca which leads to Lake Prespa, just to admire the pretty giraffe head formed by the winding road and to let your gaze wander over Lake Ohrid to Albania!

On the southern tip of the lake, on the border with Albania, lies the probably most visited spot in the area. Sveti Naum and the orthodox monastery of the same name. The fact that there is an organized, guarded and charged parking lot with enough space for several tourist buses and that the (admittedly extremely cheap) fees for the toilets are written in 3 different currencies, points out the high visitor numbers.

But do not be deterred …..

Originally built around 895, among others by its patron the Saint Naum, the monastery was nearly destroyed completely by a fire in 1870 and afterwards rebuilt and expanded.
To be quite honest, a visit only because of the monastery would definitely not be worthwhile, unless for religious reasons.

Or you can enjoy the many peacocks cavorting freely in the surrounding parks, which sometimes also like to chase away visitors getting too curious with loud clamour!

The Ohrid springs however are much more interesting!

The lake has neither a single inflow nor several larger ones, but is fed by many small spring brooks. The largest source originates from the Prespa Lake, which is situated  further south on higher altitude. The wellspring leaks from the porous karstic rocks near Sv. Naum.

Between the two waters lie the Galičica Mountains, which are presumably responsible for the fact that, despite the direct connection of the lakes, there is no exchange of living organisms across the inflows.
It is assumed that their porous karst rocks act as a filter, which keeps everything except water from traveling from one lake to the other.

And if you’re lucky like we were, you’ll get there when the delicate, autumnal wafts of mist mate with sun rays and create an irresistible, magical atmosphere!

On the banks of the springs, between several outdoor restaurants, where traditional music is performed by large brass bands, you will find a handful of small boat jetties with little rowing boats.
You should definitely go on a trip with one of these boats!
For an incredible 150 dinars = € 2.50 per person and 30 min, you will be rowed to the headwaters through crystal-clear, ice-cold waters and deep green surroundings, past ducks and other waterbirds, into a silence, getting more and more perceptible. The boatmen know exactly where to discover the small effervescent source exits under a surface clear as glas. Between bright, fine, white embarkments of sand the water is bubbling happily to itself!

 

Amongst tourists from the former Yugoslavia and the neighboring countries, Lake Ohrid isn’t a travel secret anymore, but outside the relatively short summer season it is still an insider tip and you should go there as long as the lake and its villages still exude their Macedonian / Albanian flair!

Sights:
  • Oldtown Ohrid
  • Bay of Bones
Outdoor:
  • Explore the small bays and beaches around Ohrid on a boat
  • Pass the time at numerous bathing places along the lake
  • Hiking or mountain biking in the Galičica-Nationalpark
  • Being rowed through the Ohrid springs
Camping:

Have a look at our extra article here

Food & Drinks:
  • Struga: Restaurant „Sv. Nicola“, Goce Delcev 88  or „Antika“, Boris Kidrich 34