It’s described as the jewel of Macedonia’s crown – the southern town of Ohrid certainly had a lot to live up to. I was incredibly excited about visiting this place, a picturesque town sitting on the edge of a gigantic lake just 3 hours away from the Macedonian capital of Skopje. Straddling the borders of Albania and Greece, Lake Ohrid had rave reviews for its natural beauty and with the weather forecast promising blue skies and sunshine, everything seemed to be pointing towards an unforgettable destination.
There are loads of departures throughout the day from Skopje to Ohrid with both full-size and minibuses plying the scenic route from North to South. I had been told in the summer months that buses could fill up pretty quickly and whilst it was only June, I decided to play it safe and booked a space at one of the desks in Skopje’s bus station the day before. The staff behind the desks speak good English so it’s easy enough to book a ticket. It’s a lot cheaper to get a return ticket than a single. It’s an anytime return and you can use it any time within 30 days. I’ve heard different quotes for prices – I guess it depends on the company. I took the 11am minibus with Klassic Kompani and that cost something like 620 MKD (£8.50) for the return journey. I think that’s one of the cheaper ones.
When the bus arrived in Ohrid, it stopped a couple of times – once in the central area and once at the town’s bus station which is about a 20 minute walk from the centre. My hostel – Villa Anastasia – was just down the road from the bus station so it was easier to get off there. The hostel was great, the staff were super friendly (and they gave me free ice cream when I arrived!). It was a straightforward 15 minute walk to the lake from the hostel which I quite liked actually.
The lake itself is dazzling. Ohrid is a place where the weather makes all the difference. I spoke to someone in Skopje who was there when it rained and said it had a negative impact. Luckily, I avoided the rain and it was absolutely stunning the whole time I was there. It was as if someone had put a filter on my eyes. I’ve never seen so much blue – the lake, the sky, the mountains. Ohrid isn’t a major tourist hotspot for Westerners but it really should be. The promenade along the lake is fantastic, wide and open with a number of bars and cafes on the other side of the road. Eventually it opens up into a park and a square which had a great atmosphere, particularly as the Euros were on. The bars round there were great for people watching whilst sipping on a £1 beer.
Further along, Ohrid merges into the old town where the bulk of the sightseeing attractions are. The historical town with its Greek and Roman influences would be interesting enough in itself but the real draw is the unparalleled view you get over the lake. The best viewpoint is from Samuel’s Fortress at the top of the winding slopes of the old town. It costs 30 MKD (40p) to get in and for that you can climb to the top of the turrets and get a magnificent view of Lake Ohrid in all its deep blue goodness.
I was at Samuel’s Fortress for a while because I just couldn’t take my eyes off that view. It’s definitely up there with some of the best views I’ve seen. The pictures don’t do it justice. Even in other spots across the old town you get some brilliant views of the lake. It’s all a bit of a maze – if you look at it on a map you wonder how you’ll ever get out. But that’s part of the fun, wandering amongst the cobbled streets. At one point, I accidentally walked straight into someone’s garden and had to discretely shuffle back out.
Another good spot is at the St. John Kaneo Church which is at the very bottom of the old town. You’ve got to pay to go inside but it’s free to wander the grounds which is really where the magic happens. Sitting right on the edge of the town, it’s basically the final point on land before the enormous blue lake and so it makes for a brilliant spot, not to mention the fact the old church is a photogenic wonder in itself. The church is more or less the symbol of Ohrid.
You can (and I did) spend hours wandering amongst the hilly streets of Ohrid’s old town, though your feet won’t thank you for it. Not only is it fun to stumble across ancient monuments, such as the old ampitheatre, now used for concerts and shows, but it’s fantastic to keep turning round, admire the breathtaking view and remind yourself you’re in paradise.