The Lovely Surprise of Lake Ohrid
“It is also a fact that not one in a million Englishman has been to Ohrid.” Rebecca West, Black Lamb and Grey Falcon.
Dame West penned those words in the 1930s, but they don’t seem so far off today. Ohrid is the pride of Macedonia, a country I’m ashamed to admit I couldn’t have pointed to on a blank map before our move to Serbia. American travel to the Balkans seems to be largely limited to Croatia, and most Macedonian tourism appears to be from neighboring countries. After the tenth Serbian told us to see Lake Ohrid, we decided to follow their advice. We’re glad we did: Macedonia (not just the lake) is an underrated Balkan gem. We were only in Macedonia for three days, but it’s easy to imagine spending a week or more exploring this American-overlooked country.
Since we didn’t have a lot of time to explore Macedonia, we drove past the capital city of Skopje and went straight to Ohrid. Yet when we reached Ohrid, we were wary. It hardly seemed like the quiet, peaceful place we had heard about. The dusty outskirts of the old town were crowded and bustling with aggressive apartment brokers and fruit vendors. We drove through the graffiti-covered stone gate of the old town and wondered if the city had changed, or if people’s memories had been enhanced with the passage of time.
Fortunately, we were wrong.
The old town of Ohrid features cobblestone streets, stone houses, and white buildings with red-pitched roofs. The atmosphere is relaxed and the people are friendly. There are several pedestrian zones by the lakefront with cafes, shops and roasted chickpea kiosks. We were there in the off-season (which I’d highly recommend) and had the morning streets practically to ourselves.
But the highlight of Ohrid is its incredibly gorgeous lake.
Lake Ohrid is ringed by mountains in Macedonia and Albania. The lake is wide, deep-one of Europe’s deepest-and surprisingly clear. Churches and monasteries dot the shoreline. If you’re a history or geology buff, it gets even better. It’s a tectonic lake (millions of years old), and hosts numerous endemic species, including the famed Ohrid trout. Unfortunately, the trout has been severely overfished in recent years, and restaurants should not serve it. Other types of trout are widely available and delicious.
The lake doesn’t just provide food. It’s also the source of famed “Macedonian pearls” made from the plasica fish. It’s a surprising source for such pretty jewelry.
Fancy fish jewelry comes at a price, though. Even the fake Macedonian pearls sold on the street were about 30 Euros. I liked the idea of having such a unique souvenir, but not when it was three times cost of a pizza dinner for two at Leonardo’s. I’d rather be worn out from several trips than wearing proof of one. Macedonia is not very expensive, but stretching our denars allowed us to see (and share) more of this lovely country. More to come on Macedonia…