Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Walking through enchanting Ohrid

Ohrid is quickly becoming one of the highlights of a trip to the Balkans, and for a good reason. Leaving quirky Skopje for quiet and pleasant Lake Ohrid made me feel as I had crossed yet another border of former Yugoslavia. Yet Ohrid, with its elegant ancient architecture, is in Macedonia, the same country as bombastic Skopje with its huge statues and its kitsch neoclassical architecture.

Sveti Jovan Kaneo
Let me begin from the best Ohrid has to offer. The church of Sveti Jovan Kaneo is like a perfect postcard. It's just a small 13th-century church on a cliff overlooking the lake, but what makes it so special is the quiet atmosphere. No wonder that in the past it was used as a place for meditation.  The beautiful roof shaped like an half-folded umbrella is one of my favourite features of this church and it indicates an Armenian influence. Just think of the mix of cultures in this small corner of the world. For example, the part of the town on the hill used to be Christian, while the part on the flat land was Ottoman. 

Another picture of Sveti Jovan Kaneo

I reached the church after a short and pleasant hike from the old town. After a gentle bend I saw the church appear in the distance. There weren't too many people (it really depends on the moment of the day) and I spent some time on the hill above the church looking at the perfect view and reading. A woman was painting and every now and then a small group of tourists would come, admire the church and leave after a short time. 

Sveti Jovan from the bend in the road
Nearby there is also a small beach with a couple of restaurants: just the perfect place to chill out. As Ohrid is dotted with monasteries and ancient churches, I kept exploring: I discovered that the church of Saint Penteleimon hosted the first students of the Glagolitic alphabet, which in time became the Cyrill script of Macedonian and other Slavic languages. 

I also ran into the ruins of a fortress, Car Samuil, with an  impressive view, and later into an ancient amphitheater. There is so much to explore that you if you like history like me you'll not get bored. The weather was exceptional and every two minutes there was something to stop for: a nice view, a historical site or a scene of everyday Macdonian life.

Landscape in the old town
The town itself is crumbling in places, but incredibly fascinating. Here old Ottoman traditions meet the Christian Orthodox world. Its cobbled streets all lead to the main square, with a huge tree that is said to be 900 years old. The menus in the restaurants around the square and the bazaar included stuffed peppers, shopska salata, sarma dumplings and other Macedonian specialities.

Charming Ohrid

Ohrid is a small town, so on the second day, having explored every nook and cranny, I decided to take a day trip to Sveti Naum monastery. There is a ferry that leaves at 10 in the morning from the pier and for 10€ takes you there, then comes back after lunch. I discovered that Lake Ohrid was one of Tito's favourite parts of Yugoslavia (he had a villa here) and in the meantime I observed the less developed Albanian side of the lake. 

When I was around Sveti Naum there was an important wedding and even the president of Macedonia was present. The entry to the monastery was 100 dinars (1,60€). It is tiny and dark, as it is inside Sveti Jovan Kaneo church, but the frescoes were somehow fascinating.

Sveti Naum monastery
There were peacocks in the courtyard and some girls were rehearsing a traditional folk dance for the wedding.  There is also another newer church that I liked, some hiking trails, a spring and a couple of restaurants and souvenir shops. It's a nice trip but maybe it would have been better to couple it with something else to fill up the rest of the day.

The newer church near Sveti Naum

I reached Ohrid with a three-and-a-half-hour bus ride from Skopje. If you're planning to visit this beautiful lake keep in mind that it's tricky to continue on to Greece, and in my experience it was easier to get a bus back to Skopje and then another one to Thessaloniki. If I remember well there is more than one company that servers the route Skopje - Ohrid, so one stand could not be able to tell you the timetable for the other company and try to sell you their ticket only.

A view from behind the fortress


  1. Ohrid seems like the perfect travel destination. In fact, Macedonia is a great country for a budget travel!

  2. You make me want to go there.


01 09 10