Lake Ohrid, Macedonia. Could Somebody Give Me A Good Reason To Leave?
“This is as good as it gets. Get comfortable, we’re settling in”. We sat down. Saturday in Ohrid, Macedonia, is much busier than you would think a small lakeside town of 50,000 is capable of. Cafe tables are plentiful, but empty seats are scarce. Strolling locals look that extra bit sharp compared to the weekday crowd. It’s a sunny spring afternoon, but the winter chill hasn’t yet left the air.
There just aren’t that many places in the world like the historic city of Ohrid, Macedonia. Lake Ohrid is the oldest lake in Europe, possibly 10 million years old. And despite over ninety kilometers of scenic shore being shared between Macedonia and it’s neighbour Albania, I’m pretty happy just sticking to a few hundred meters on the East coast of the lake. Ohrid, is the small city of dreams. But it was never in my dreams.
Growing up, I had no idea about the Balkans. As a typical gen-x’er, I was born in the 70’s, grew up in the 80’s, and got drunk in the 90’s. I lived in typical western suburbia, a latch-key kid who wasn’t going to be doing any international travel until I was old enough to get a job and pay for it myself. My interest in the world was piqued mainly by one medium – television.
Like many from the Balkan nations, Silvio Rivera migrated to Australia in the 1960’s – and helped open the eyes of Australians to the rest of the world. For decades, every week Silvio would use his dulcet tones to introduce and narrate one of my favourite weekly programs – “Thalassa”. It was a series of generally European documentaries, where the common theme is life on the water.
Balkan settlements on the Mediterranean and Adriatic seas were often featured on Thalassa. With sparse narration and the sounds of languages I didn’t understand, personal subjects were usually leathery fishermen wearing funny hats – steering their boats through glassy watered ports to offload the days catch, and always accompanied by plentiful cigarette smoking and booze drinking. I dreamed of visiting these communist-era Yugoslavian lands. However, I don’t ever remember land-locked Macedonia ever being featured.
Macedonia wasn’t high on my must-see list. Being from an island nation, I’ve always considered land locked nations with suspicion. Until I reached Ohrid. The lake, and the town, is a beauty. A lengthier description of Ohrid wouldn’t be of much use. Because even more remarkable than the appearance of Ohrid, are the emotions and the feelings created by simply being here. And those feelings, are truly indescribable. It gets under your skin, and makes you question the very thought of ever leaving.
I’m not the only one who recognises how special Ohrid is. UNESCO world heritage sites are recognised either for cultural significance, or for the beauty and importance of the nature within an area. Very rarely, UNESCO finds an area that has both outstanding human cultural value, as well as important natural attributes. Ohrid is one of these few sites worldwide that meet both criteria. In the words of UNESCO, the region of Ohrid “should be protected for the common heritage of humanity”.
click to see an interactive map showing the location of this article
As with the non-stop scenery, the evidence of a long human settlement in Ohrid is abundant. A well preserved but genuine and even rustic old town features a range of distinctive architecture spanning more than two millennium. From ancient stone churches, through to the “new” houses built during Ohrid’s wealthy Turkish period in the mid 19th century. Due to the number of important historic churches (more than 300), Ohrid is referred to as the Jerusalem of the Balkans. Just to prove the depth of culture here, I’ve also been told it’s the “Ibiza of Macedonia”, thanks to the number of bars and clubs – they’re especially heaving during the summer months.
Ohrid’s old streets and alleys are cobble-stoned, winding, and undulating. A 2000 year old Greek ampitheatre sits downtown. Above it, the castle-like Samuil’s fortress looms on a forested hilltop. In between, houses, schools, stores, and restaurants are wedged in. Ohrid may be a showcase of history – but it’s also a real working town with barely any loss of authenticity. I’m not sure if this is an example of how to do gentrification correctly, or if this is just the way Ohrid has always been.
With a huge list of attractions worth visiting, it’s easy to forget that number one thing to do in Ohrid, is to just be here. And dependent on the time of the year, or the day of the week, you may or may not have company. Ohrid definitely isn’t a secret – in the summer months, the population swells and tourists can outnumber locals 3 to 1. Right now, in early spring, it’s a local vibe and tourists are few.
In some ways, it’s a shame that I’m just one of those tourists.
Because, I would quite happily be an Ohrid local.
If anyone can think of any good reason to leave, I’m all ears.
68 thoughts on “Lake Ohrid, Macedonia. Could Somebody Give Me A Good Reason To Leave?”
YES, YES, YES! On the budget!
(I am planning a trip to the Balkans early summer based on your recent posts).
As an aside, this is the finest travel blog we have. So happy to have found it.
Kind words pec. I’m glad you have found me as well. Next up – my budget revealed. I think you’ll get a lot out of it.
Colour photos, beautiful architecture and stunning scenery. Am I on the right website?
For a place to have evoked such word from you as have been expressed here, it must be pretty special indeed. Hopefully you get an opportunity to explore more of the country.
haha – photos not brutal enough for ya Paul? I hope I get to see more of Macedonia as well, but I do feel quite comfortable staying put in Ohrid a bit longer…
wow beautiful a great location to have on my radar, enjoy ;-)
I will enjoy, Rebecca!
Another great post, thanks! Would love to see the suggeted post on your expenses/budget etc!
Cheers Jonathan – I will get a post up soon with expenses/budget for this part of the world. I think people will be surprised with the value it offers.
I am always hearing about how beautiful Ohrid is – your photos are stunning!
Thanks Andrea – hard to take a bad shot around these parts, it’s pretty nice (although, Norway isn’t too shabby!)
Just for historical record, maybe a sidebar of expenses, or even images of menus, stuff that could give perspective on living on the road.
Norway, when did you go to norway!? Need to see those images.
Any how, be well
Hey Laurence… I have a reasonably comprehensive article half-written, covers a lot of stuff. Depending on how popular/well received it is, I’ll make it a regular feature. As for the sidebar, that’s not a bad idea. I’m not sure whether a regular side-bar, or a semi-regular (maybe monthly) more comprehensive article would work better – I’ll have a think.
Norway, I visited a couple of years ago (during my 6 month “training” trip for this journey). Photos and words about the surrealistic Norway National Day, here: http://www.yomadic.com/norway-national-day/
Just stay there Nate! I wouldn’t mind seeing more and more of Ohrid through your eyes! Absolutely brilliant post! Thank you for making us travel to this beautiful place virtually.
haha… Arnab, I think I will stay a bit longer. I asked Phillipa today “why should be leave?”, and the only reason we agreed upon was “to see other places”. Apart from that, we didn’t have any other good reasons! So it’s looking like we will stay longer, I’m taking lots of photos, and will summarise the whole experience soon.
Killer killer. Love the images, the honesty, and my “living vicariously through Nate until I finally get up the cajones to pack my own bags and go.”
Keep up the great work…. and a big YES on your traveling budget comparisons from these wonderful places.
Thanks Mike, kind words. Best advice I can give you is what I was told once – if you have the money to travel, do it. And yes, I will have the budget comparison post, probably up next.
Nate..no I can’t think of a reason to leave, especially as pauline (my partner) and I might must be there in June…have to hang around so we can meet ahahahhaha…but yes the budget..we’re needing a nice interesting and VERY cheap place to spend the summer
Paul – keep a look out for the next post…. and at this rate, I may still be here in June ;)
Very cool to see some of those mountains covered in snow. I’ll give you a reason – I’m trying to get back later this year and want to hang out on your balcony!
ha! I only get a 90 day visa for Macedonia, so you better hurry! PS, the balcony is SWEEEEET.
Beautiful photography. I am from Macedonia, currently away, and always enjoy seeing a new set of eyes discover it in their own way. Carry on.
PS: What type of camera/lens are you using? Your photos have a beautiful smooth/gray depth about them I’ve been trying to find myself. I immensely enjoyed these and the ones of Skopje.
Hi Aleks… I am using a Fuji X-Pro 1 camera – I think they have the most amazing image quality. You could look at an X100S as well (both amazing cameras). Moved from Nikon to Fuji, and won’t be going back any time soon!
So glad to see you love Ohrid so much :)
Makes me really happy to see you enjoying Macedonia – can’t say anyone else I know has been there.
Definitely take your friend up on their offer to stay in Tuscany, and if you get a chance to get down to Thessaloniki, I highly recommend!
Awww thanks Apple. Macedonia is one of my favourite countries so far, I’m not sure why more people don’t visit here. And Ohrid is pretty darn nice! Tuscany is a maybe, as is Thessaloniki – but Thessaloniki is more likely than Tuscany, as it’s really “just down the road” from here. Take care Apple, love to have a drink with you again one day!
Great blog – just recently found it ! Would definitely like to see the budget, and also comments as to how interesting a destination it would be for a family (with a 16 and 12 year old). Looks beautiful !!
Thanks Don. Budget will be coming for sure. As for a family, I guess there’s not a lot of “kid-specific” things to do, but it would depend on what your kids are into. In summer, there would be a lot of swimming, hiking, boat tours, that sort of thing. There’s plenty of local kids around, and they’re all friendly. Most of the “attractions” are of the historical nature, or just simply lazing around and enjoying the beauty – some kids enjoy this, some don’t. Difficult for me to say! If I was a 12 year old here, I would love it. As a 16 year old, I would be searching out other 16 year olds… they all speak English. If you have any specific questions, I’m happy to try and answer.
I’m from Skopje and Im very happy to hear such a nice words about Ohrid .. And, yes, you are right, the town is special, full of churches, archeological sites, legends, naural beauty … There are a lot of beacutifull pleaces in Macedonia, i hope you will have chance to see some of them …. greetings from Skopje:-)
Thanks Kate… I love Skopje as well, such a great city. I will be back in Skopje soon (once I pull myself away from Ohrid!)
Great :-), when you will be in Skopje dont forget to visit canyon Matka :-)
I’m absolutely planning on it Kate… do you think I’ll need a car? Or can a public bus get me to the “good parts” of the Canyon?
I live there, believed or not:-), you can get to the Canyon Matka by bus, number 60, or with car. If you have any problem I will be happy to help you, you can write me on email
Thanks Kate! I did find out about number 60 bus, but ran out of time to visit Matka. I will return…
I’m really glad that you like Macedonia.
While you are in Ohrid, you can visit St. Naum monastery (at 30km from Ohrid). The springs of Black Drim river there are wonderfull
And on the way there also you can visit “bay of bones” museum which has prehistoric settlement on the water (at ~15km from Ohrid).
Also you can visit the town of Struga (on lake Ohrid, 15 km from Ohrid). In Struga, the Black Drim river, mentioned above flows out of the lake and continues its way to the adriatic sea
And last, but not least, you can visit Bitola (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bitola) which is at 70 km from Ohrid.
Thanks K, I plan on doing all those things this week in Ohrid – going to rent a car for the day and drive around the lake. I may get to Bitola, on the way back to Skopje. I really appreciate the tips!
Beautiful photos as always Nate! I am definitely interested to know your budget breakdown… I love this region (through TV and photos only) and am dying to visit, so I’d like to see what I;d ned to budget for! That lake is spectacular, and so old…. love that!
Thanks Andrea… in case you haven’t yet seen it, I have put some typical costs here: http://www.yomadic.com/cheapest-country-in-europe/
Great little video about holidays in Ohrid, while you’re on the subject :).
Thanks Milan – but the link doesn’t work?
Wow, what a find! You can never go wrong with a beautiful town on a beautiful lake. I think being Minnesotan and having any number of lakes a stone’s throw away, I have an affinity for other places that have lakes as a central part of their identity. Plus, they just make for a natural gathering place for locals and visitors alike.
God damn it! I think what happens is, I see a comment from Noelle, and I think to myself “don’t rush the reply, give Noelle a thought-out response”. And then I get distracted with the next article, and then I forget to reply.
So…. here we are almost three months later, and I am replying to you Noelle, with an apology for my tardiness.
It won’t happen again.
Ohrid is so beautiful, just a little correction, the theatre is greek and the only one in the country :)
Thanks Filip – an important correction! I will change this. I do agree with you – Ohrid is extremely beautiful.
@ Filip Yo, yo what’s wrong whit you , E???? The theater, is an amphitheater and it is MACEDONIAN and there are at least 5 five more like this one in Skupi today Skopje , Astibo today Shtip, Heraklea today Bitola,Stribera , Bila Zora……, and there is knowledge about at least 10 more ..of them .Every biggest town , city, in classical times have an amphitheater, and because Macedonia is really pre-biblical historic place ,we have a lot of those classical architecture . But as developing country we are working right now, in fort gear, to bring back all of this beauty ,on the light of the sun again. So Filip you are going whit black propaganda over here, or you’re just poor pitiful, illiterate HATER and net TROLL. Next time before you did talk about Macedonia study you are lesson, or shut up and learn. Have a nice day.
I believe this above poster, a species of idiot widespread in the Balkans, with a regional concentration in Macedonia, would be the reason to leave. Ohrid is wonderful to visit, but Macedonia is very hard to live in. Trust me, that’s what I am doing right now. Our country, and indeed, lives, may seem simple, beautiful, uncomplicated (all of which always insult me when I hear them, I am not a simple, traditional person, I am a full-fledged, complicated person as much as you are), but under the surface teems anger, spite, and a lot of ugliness.
Have a nice day!
Hi Nate, i come from Skopje,Macedonia and i must say these photos of Ohrid are stunning.While you’re there you can check the National Park Galicica,climb on top of it and you can see the whole lake. Believe me, you’ll be stunned at the sight.Anyways if you plan on coming in Skopje again you should check the Milenium Cross on the m.Vodno, the Skopsko Kale and the canyon Matka. I’m really happy that you’re having a great time here in Macedonia and i hope that you will visit us again soon. Cheers from Skopje! :)
Thanks Mihail – some of those things I have already visited, and the others are just giving me a reason to return to Macedonia! Thanks for the info, I had an amazing time in Macedonia.
dear nate, you have not seen nothing yet….you are just a tourist……….smoke the best macedonian grass once a week , eat macedonian mashroums once a week and drink the prilep-dab-beer every day, for a year…..than maybe we can talk about macedonia…..and yes, do not forget to visit the village of galichnik where if you are lucky and succedde convincing some of the locals to sell you a bottle of “grappa di galichani” you might have an experiance of the third kind with the ancient gods of macedonia and the sun….i ve had it for the past 40 years….now i am 74 but look 20 years younger….guess why……..cheeaaaars
Zoran…. where were you when I was in Ohrid! If I come back, you can hook me up. I also look 20 years younger than I am, guess why…. CHEERS!
I’m in Ohrid at the moment, and loving it as much as you did!
Also have an apartment right at the lake, amazing!
I’ll write about it on my blog in a few days :)
Ohrid is amazing. Everyone I have spoken to, loves it there. Enjoy yourself, Stephanie.
What a place! I want to visit one day.
And I would like to be back there one day!
Glad you enjoyed Beautiful Ohrid :)
I was there for 3 months last year AND that was not long enough! I could easily pack up and live there forever :))
I feel the same Vesna, I would be happy to stay there for a *very* extended amount of time… it just felt “right”.
After reading your about tales of Macedonia, I’ve really want to visit this beautiful country. My friends and I have just booked return flights from Skopje 29 November – 2 December. We have about 3 days there, as we fly out early on the 2nd. We can’t decide whether we should stay all 3 nights in Skopje (with a day trip to Ohrid) or 2 nights/1 night Ohrid. Is Ohrid still as beautiful in the winter?
Hey Vaiahyv… spend a night in Ohrid! It’s beautiful in winter for sure. Make sure you stay in the “old town” you will have no problems getting accommodation at that time of year. The bus journey takes a couple of hours or so (maybe three hours), and is quite scenic for a lot of the journey.
Nate I don’t know how I stumbled on this site but it is by far the best travel blog I have seen. You write so beautifully and your pictures leave me speechless.
This is by far my favorite post. I am from the states but I grew up in ohrid, and every day I am away I ask myself why did I leave. It’s amazing how you can write about the emotions one has when being in ohrid so clearly. There is something about the place that stays with you forever.
Thank you so very much for an article that made me smile and tear up with joy, I must meet you one day, I must!
THANKYOU. (I forgot to ever reply here, Al).
I hope we get to meet some time, I think there is a good chance I will be in the USA in 2014.
And if I hadn’t already made it clear, these are the type of comments that make my day.
Your article about my birth place brought me to tears. But happy ones. I’m born in Ohrid and carry name associated to the springs that feeds the lake. Called Biljana springs.. I leave in London now,but I will keep going back to Macedonia and Ohrid. Keep on with your beautiful work.
Amazing. I’m glad you enjoyed reading the article, Biljana.
What can I say Nate, just another flawless piece of writing once again.
I’m currently writing about Ohrid as we speak, and I can’t even come close to expressing it as you have done.
In my eyes, this is the only blog post worth reading on the town.
Keep up the cracking work mate.
Cheers Macca. It’s a tough place to write about – so much, in such a small place. I’m heading back again, in just a few weeks from now. Can’t stay away!
Not sure if you have already done so but if you ever go back to Bitola you should get a jeep driver to take you upto the higher parts of Mount Pelister to see pelsiters eyes – two lakes on the top of the mountain.
Anyway great stuff on Ohrid.- its good to see it finally getting the attention it deserves! All of my friends in England who have visited have loved it & always want to go back!
Just after Greg’s comment I arrived in Ochrid with a partner and kept saying, isn’t this beautiful. It is not only Ochrid. It is not only the lake. Its not only the mountains. It is not only the climate. It is not only the friendly people. It is not only the atmosphere. It is not only the prices. It is everything put together. History, gastronomy, architecture, If you have had your nose in newspapers and books about the political sides of this planet and want to remember the other beautiful side of it, breathe through and regain your confidence that this is still a beautiful planet with peaceful people, Come here and stay her for a while. I am seriously considering living here for about a third of the year – each year.
Hey Mats, perfectly put. I had the same thought… staying in Ohrid for a *looooonnggg* time…
Yes, I would travel anywhere for a good Laksa – as you know :)
(no good Laksa within 5000 miles of Lake Ohrid)
Brilliant post, i was there last week as well. We did not take a boat trip, was a bit rainy day, but going around the town, having some great food or take some coffee it is a nice place to chill out. By the way, the photos are really nice and bright , well done Cs.