If there’s one place everyone should visit in North Macedonia it is undoubtedly Ohrid. This picturesque town lies on the shore of the lake with the same name, right at the border of Albania and North Macedonia, two countries that surely will make it to the list of the best holiday destinations very soon. While Ohrid is in fact one of the biggest city in the country it doesn’t feel that way. The place looks and feels quiet and idyllic, and the regular part of the city with school, hospitals etc is located further from the lake, giving the shore away for tourism.
Ohrid has a long and rich history, dating back to the centuries BC. One of the most distinctive things about the city is the overwhelming number of churches, some of them so tiny that maybe 5 people could fit in inside. There used to be 365 churches in Ohrid, one for each day of the year, therefore the city was often called Jerusalem of the Balkans. Now there are not so many of them anymore but still there is one on every second corner. The city is also one of 28 UNESCO World Heritage sites that are both on Cultural and Natural list.
I happened to be in Ohrid in November. After falling in love with beautiful Berat it was time to move forward across the border. The day was beautiful, warm and sunny, and already in the very first moment I saw a glimpse of the lake, from the up high road leading to the Albanian-Macedonian border, I knew why everyone was so excited about Ohrid. The lake looked stunning! The hillsides full of autumn colours were gently rolling down to the water that was shining in the sunshine. It was one of the most picture-perfect views I’ve ever seen!
After leaving backpacks we went for a quick walk around, the catch the remaining daylight and enjoy the last rays of sun. There were literally no tourists around, the lakeside promenade was empty, the numerous hotels were closed and that made everything even better. It was such a perfect place to relax, especially considering the circumstances. When it was getting dark we found an empty but nice restaurant for the first encounter with Macedonian dishes and beer, a very successful encounter as it turned out the food there was delicious (and so was in Skopje)! Slowly the restaurant got busier and busier but there were only local people coming. Even if we were in the heart of the Old Town, the most touristic part of Ohrid it seemed we were the only visitors in the city. After getting stuffed with the yummy goodies it was time for a quick walk around. The place actually felt kind of scary and haunted as there was literally not a single person around and in most of the houses there were no sign of life, everything was dark…
The next morning the weather wasn’t so great anymore, it was gloomy and misty yet Ohrid still looked beautiful. We set to explore some more, see the most famous church – Sveti Jovan Kaneo, climb to the fortress and wander the cobbled streets with beautiful architecture. Again, there were no people around, the town felt abandoned. Besides us there was only one organized tour but they just went for a boat ride on the lake. It seemed like we had the town just for ourselves and that felt so good! And Ohrid really was the prettiest!
I think one of the reasons why I enjoyed Ohrid so very much was that we were (probably) the only tourists there. The architecture, the monuments, the nature and the landscape – all the things to do in Ohrid are incredible there, there’s no doubt about that! But while it was a pure pleasure to be there in November I don’t think I’d like it half as much in the summertime… It seemed to be a typical resort, full of random hotels, souvenir shops, various water activities and night clubs. And somehow all of that doesn’t really feel right in that sacred place.
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The Sveti Jovan Kaneo church is probably the most recognizable and the most photographed place in North Macedonia, the only that makes it to most of the postcards. We were the only people who were at the site, we could wander around undisturbed, spend some quiet time just contemplating the area, I could take way too many pictures. Few steps further, in the middle of the forest and next to another church, a brand new huge hotel was being built. That, for me, was the sign of expanding tourism. It made me sad but at the same time I could perfectly understand that – some countries have great industry or goods to export and others have a stunning sites to offer to visitors from all over the world. And that’s fine. But this view made me realize that travelling off season is the best way to discover the world!
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