The scenery is almost too perfect: A beautiful lake of azure water and an old church overlooking it. There is a reason why Ohrid is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
You know when you see those postcard perfect photos that look so idyllic that you just have to see it for yourself … Well, there you have Ohrid in Macedonia. Or should I say the little church Sceti Jovan Kaneo (St. John’s Church). The church is Macedonian-Orthodox and is surrounded by a small garden. The location by the lake makes it a favourite postcard motif.
Many years ago, the Sceti Jovan Kaneo was one of as many as 365 churches in Ohrid. Several of these churches are ruins today and more and more restaurants taking over the scene in Ohrid instead. We find ourselves in one of them and quite pleased with our table right on the waters edge, with beautiful views over the lake. It’s late in the tourist season, so we have plenty of choice.
The city is a popular holiday destination, especially for Macedonians themselves, but more and more foreigners are attracted to this idyllic place
Ohrid. That is, lake Ohrid and the city of Ohrid. The city is a popular holiday destination, especially for Macedonians themselves, but more and more foreigners are attracted to this idyllic place. Moreover, the Lake and the UNESCO region world heritage site are both a natural and cultural heritage.
Behind us lies the old town, where you can walk along the cobbled narrow streets and then up the steep hill to the old fort. Samuel’s fortress forms the skyline of Ohrid and was once one of the most impregnable strongholds in the Balkans. On the way up, you pass an old amphitheatre, which is still being used in summer, we are told.
When at the fortress you can stay for a while and admire the view. The beautiful lake lies between Albania and Macedonia and is considered to be Europe’s oldest lake. But despite the beauty, the lake has its challenges as well. According to an article, the lake has such a varied biodiversity that it is called The Little Galapagos, a holy grail among biologists. Unfortunately, the growing tourism is a major threat to this, as the authorities on the Macedonian side have some serious building plans along the coastline of the lakeside for luxury apartments and sandy beaches. Important flora and fauna that has existed here for many many years and make an important contribution to the lake is thus threatened.
Tourism means money, but I also hope that the lake will benefit and those who live around it. I don’t know if it’s because we’re here late in the season, or if it is always this way, but the absence of jet skis and speedboats is just amazing. The boats out there are a few smaller tourist boats, but otherwise we see the locals themselves. I must admit I look envious down on the two kayaks gliding peacefully over the clear waters. The water is quiet and calm and that is also a big attraction!
Tourism means money, but I also hope that the lake will benefit and those who live around it
“There was a lot of algae in the water here before”, says the owner of Hotel Victoria outside the Albanian town of Pogradec. A little later in the afternoon we admire Lake Ohrid from the Albanian side. The view is great from here too, where the Macedonian mountains catch the last rays of the afternoon sun. He continues, “Germans have been cleaning it up and now it’s really nice here”. We agree. There are other changes too. Albania is an open country today and there are no boats patrolling the water with floodlights, to prevent people from swimming over to Macedonia. Events that took place under the dictator Enver Hoxha a couple of decades ago.
We head down to the lakeside. The drive from Ohrid town to the Albanian border and the town of Pogradec was great. Curvy roads with small coves, villages and green hills, a beautiful frame around one of Europe’s most beautiful lakes. May they take good care of it.