If it weren’t winter, we would have been flinging ourselves off the pier every day..
Like the far-flung oases of palm trees in a desert; a paradise as unexpected as a world in which Americans would someday call Donald Trump president, Lake Ohrid was a surprising gem in the jewel chest that was the Balkans.
Every inch the summer lakeside getaway, without the price tag or the hordes of tourists, Lake Ohrid lies at the southern border of Albania and Macedonia.
Though it’s very much a sunny-weather destination, I decided to dip my toe into the Balkan’s best kept secret (most definitely figuratively rather than literally, it’s really quite cold) on the cusp of winter.
While there was no snow dusting the hills, what traveling in winter means is cool climes that required a heavy jumper, your choice of loads of available rooms, and cheaper food. There’s heaps to do in Ohrid, making it an attractive place for a stop over on your way down to Albania.
Church of St John at Kaneo:
This one is the poster child of all Macedonian guidebooks and posters, and rightly so – it’s stunning. Perched aloft a rocky outcrop that looks over the lake, the teeny church makes for a solid backdrop for your new Facebook display picture. Apparently the church is sporadically open at some times of year, but we’ve yet to witness that.
Wander: The town is beautiful, think wide tiled pedestrian avenues, rambling alleys and a lively beachfront scene.
Sure, you’ve probably reached a point in your trip where a fortress is about as interesting as your Mum’s house back home, but this one’s worth a wander. The hike up to the hilltop rewards the huffer and puffer with some pretty amazing 360 degree views over the town and the lake, so it’s worth it for that alone.
Ancient Theatre: There’s loads of Roman ruins in this neck of the woods, but that should never mean skipping due to bountifulness. This one’s smack bang in the middle of the town on the side of a hillside road, and it’s as lovely as all the others.
The monastery near the Albanian border is a historic place, with roaming peacocks galore, famously clear springs, and a beautiful outlook back to the township.
Stay active: The lakeside has a great running track/ boardwalk, with some free exercise machines dotted alongside.
Dr Falafel: We know, we know, it’s not exactly a local hole in the wall serving up Macedonian fare, and falafel isn’t even a staple of the Macedonian diet for that matter, but you’ll understand when you sample the food here. The falafel AND the hummus are the best we’ve tried in all our travels (and we’ve been living in the Middle East for the past six months), and the servers are friendly.
Villa Anastasia: Not to be confused with Villa Ohrid Anastasia, a place you might turn up in the middle of the night, only to be told the room you are looking for is on the other side of town. Instead, you’ll concede defeat and stay at the similarly-named and equally as quaint one in the centre of town, that comes complete with a private room, kitchenette, large bathroom and TV for the equivalent of about 9 euro. We’re sure there was a heavy “stupid tourist knocked on my door at midnight and is too thick to figure out where the other place is” discount, but it’s one we’re willing to work with.
Sunny Lake Hostel:
We’re not even sure the dude that runs this owns shoes, and that’s exactly the way things go at this gorgeous find. The multi-level building is positioned in a perfect position at a vantage point to oversee the lake with a coffee in hand, on the sunny balcony that makes 10 degrees feel like the height of summer. The highlight? The pastries from a local bakery ferried in by the owner’s mother each morning, piping hot and freshly baked. Get in quick – because the frequenters here have been known to throw them in their bags for later. They’re that good.