Lake Ohrid is paradise. Straddling the border between Albania and Macedonia in the Balkans, the ancient body of water lies at the base of green mountains and stone fortresses. Its perimeter is dotted with towns and villages that are home to some of the most important churches in Macedonian Orthodox history. The most famous of these cities is aptly called Ohrid, and I was excited to enter the 77th country on my 90 under 30 Travel Project there.

Tiled rooftops on Lake Ohrid in Macedonia

If Ohrid is paradise, traveling there from Tirana is exactly the opposite. The bus company that sold me my ticket failed to mention that instead of taking the direct, two-hour route to Ohrid, the bus was going to drive all the way in the opposite direction first.

Boat on Lake Ohrid in Maceodonia

Yes, to get to Ohrid I traveled way out to the city of Durresi on the coast and then traversed the entire country of Albania before reaching the border with Macedonia. By the time I got to Struga, the closest town to Ohrid, I had been on the bus for five-and-a-half hours. While the Albanian countryside was scenic, it wasn’t five-and-a-half-hours scenic.

Old town in Ohrid Macedonia

After sharing a taxi to the town with some fellow Americans that I met on the bus, I staggered up a tiny cobblestone street to my accommodation in Ohrid, Vila Mal Sveti Kliment.

Door in Ohrid Macedonia

I had been upgraded to the penthouse apartment, which consisted of a bedroom, a bathroom, and a large living room with a kitchen. The furniture was beautiful, and the decor was unique to the region.

Holiday apartment in Ohrid Macedonia

But the best part about the apartment was the view. The panoramic windows looked out onto the lake, offering stunning vistas of orange tile rooftops and royal blue water.

Boats on Lake Ohrid in Macedonia

My lodging was located on a quiet street right at the junction between the modern part of the city and the historic hillside where most of the sightseeing highlights were located. After settling into my room, I took a walk in the town.

Apartment building in the old city in Ohrid

I started my stroll in the modern area, where there was a large pedestrianized shopping street. Stores sold everything from clothing to ice cream, and the place was bustling. Further away from the lake, I stumbled upon a 900-year-old plane tree with a massive trunk, as well as a fruit and vegetable market laden with fresh produce, peppers in particular.

Peppers at a market on Lake Ohrid Macedonia

In fact, I didn’t even need to go to the market to find fresh fruit in Ohrid. There was fresh produce all over. Every street I walked down had trees dripping with golden pears, ripe apples, big blackberries, and fat figs. Bright red peppers hung from window sills, and the whole city had an aura of abundance.

Grapes growing in Ohrid Macedonia

As did the lake. After visiting the market, I walked along Lake Ohrid. As I did, I passed fishermen with their reels and saw tiny minnows swarming around the ships in the harbor. The high season had just ended, but there were still a few boats from Ohrid to Sveti Naum, a nearby city with a famous 17th century church.

Ferry from Ohrid to Sveti Naum in Macedonia

With only a day and a half by the lake, I didn’t have time for Sveti Naum. But it wasn’t a problem. The historic part of Ohrid was bursting with religious buildings. Everything from 11th century Catholic cathedrals to icon-filled Orthodox churches and beautiful historic mosques graced the city.

Church of Sveti Jovan at Kaneo in Ohrid Macedonia

On my second day in town, I explored some of these temples to the deities. I started at the tiny church with the big name, Sveta Bogorodica Bolnicka. Originally used in the 14th century to quarantine visitors to Ohrid that might have carried the plague, the pint-sized place of piety was still a working church. The historic frescoes were stunning, and the wood carving in the space above the altar was beautiful.

Pier on Lake Ohrid Macedonia

Speaking of frescoes, I soon moved onto the Sveta Sofija cathedral, which had works of art dating back to the 11th century. The church had been converted into a mosque during the Ottoman period, and hundreds of years of whitewashing the walls meant that the Christian art underneath was remarkably intact. It was breathtaking.

Sveta Sofija cathedral in Ohrid

From there I walked along a boardwalk and beside several beachside restaurants to reach the end of the town. High on a hill overlooking the lake sat the 13th century church of Sveti Jovan at Kaneo. Its umbrella-like dome was reminiscent of the Armenian style, and while its interior was a bit bare, its stunning architecture and beautiful views over the lake more than compensated for it.

The church of Sveti Jovan at Kaneo in Ohrid Macedonia

A set of stairs led up another hill from there, and as I climbed them, the way became a walking trail. Soon I found myself in the middle of an enchanted pine forest. Continuing, I came across a fortress. Built long ago to protect Ohrid from enemy invaders, the walls of Car Samoil’s Castle now act as a great vista point.

Car Samoil Castle in Ohrid Macedonia

Retracing my steps a bit, I meandered over to the majestic modern church of Sveti Kliment i Pantelejmon. While that particular church was built in recent times, it sat right next to a 4th century one with beautiful Roman mosaics and a baptismal font.

The church of Sveti Kliment i Pantelejmon in Ohrid Macedonia

Another Roman creation in the area was an amphitheater. Uncovered in 1984, the classical semi-circle was repurposed for concerts and shows in the city.

Roman amphitheater in Ohrid Macedonia

Not far from there was the stunning city gate, which was just a few steps away from the famous 13th century church of Sveti Kliment. This particular church was so rich in historic art and iconography that I could have stayed for hours taking it all in. It was one of the most stunning interiors I have ever seen.

Exterior of the church of Sveti Kliment in Ohrid Macedonia

After I had made a pilgrimage to all of the famous churches in Ohrid, I spent time meandering up and down the cobblestone streets, passing in and out of an art gallery, a restaurant or two, and a paper making studio with what the proprietor said was one of two official copies of the original Gutenberg printing press (the other being in Bled, Slovenia, another place with a stunning lake that reminded me a lot of Ohrid).

Church in Ohrid Macedonia

At the end of my stay on Lake Ohrid, the owner of my accommodation was kind enough to give me a ride to the bus station, which was several kilometers outside of the old town. I bought my ticket to travel to Skopje, and let myself be lured out of paradise by the call of the capital of Macedonia.

14 Comments on Lady on Lake Ohrid

  1. I have to correct you. There is no two hour ride from Tirana to Ohrid 🙂 The highway is better, going from Tirana to Durres, Elbasan and Ohrid then going through the mountain and believe me its the same distance on time travel because the road through the mountain is not a good one 😀

  2. It always amazes me how much history and ancient buildings, ruins, and art still remains throughout Europe. The past couple weeks you’ve been to so many places that I’ve never learned anything about…I look forward to reading your newest updates every time!!

  3. Considering I’ve been on a church-sponsored trip around the UK and have also traveled other places in Europe, I’m usually not that impressed by yet another church, but these are amazing. The style of architecture isn’t like anything I’ve seen before, and they’re really beautiful.

    • Thanks Andi! The apartment was great, and had really gorgeous views over the lake. I will post more photos to Facebook soon!

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