Our tour in Ohrid and Ohrid Lake
I was with my husband on a self-organized tour in Ohrid last year, where we stayed for a week and had the opportunity to explore both the beautiful renaissance streets of the city and travel with a boat on the lake. Hiring a guide was really helpful, because otherwise may have missed many of the important destinations and sites in the city.
The tour guides told us a lot about the history and specifics of the lake: Ohrid lake is considered to be 2 or 3 million years old, it is the largest lake on the Balkans and one of the oldest lakes in Europe.
Having existed in isolation for so long, many of the fish and plant species found in it are unique or endemic to it. Actually, almost all of the fish species here are unique, and some sponges. I wasn’t impressed by the sponges, but because of this the lake is a UNESCO world heritage natural site. And indeed, it is so large and deep that it looked like a small fresh-water sea to us. The locals are doing their best to keep it as clean as possible, so it is great for swimming too. Since the beginning of the 20th century, swimming marathons have been organized in Lake Ohrid – today a 30 km (18.6 miles) long swimming race from St. Naum monastery to the Ohrid harbor. It is annually held since 1992.
We had many options for travelling with a boat – renting a water taxi was not expensive and it takes you wherever you want. The lake taxi driver suggested that we go to St. Jovan of Kaneo church. The water was crystal-clear and so transparent that we could see into the depths of the lake while we were going into the lake. We made a thousand photos of Ohrid and the mountains from the lake. The church was on a cape, just over the lake and we stopped just under. We had to climbed on a steep path to reach it, but it was definitely worth it. The view to the lake from here was amazing. This truly was one of the must-visit places in Ohrid – St. Jovan of Kaneo church is unique for being built in the 14th century and it is the only church in Ohrid with an Armenian influence. It is believed that it may have been the main church of a monastery which has been destroyed by the Ottomans. Few buildings that are so old are this well preserved. Inside we saw an icon of St. Clement of Ohrid. I noticed that his hand is held in a specific gesture. It looked so mysterious, so I asked the guide and he explained that this is a way of depicting the Holy Trinity in Orthodox Christianity.
Back in Ohrid in the following days we explored the picturesque streets with pavement and houses that were a few hundred years old. We felt as we were going back in time. The city is built on a hill and many of the streets are quite steep – we walked all day and I was thinking of weight loss. Later I learned that walking uphill burns up to 60% percent more calories. It is a rather small city – with a population of only 40.000 and when going there on a family vacation, it allows you to feel in peace and recover from the noise of the big city and work. Fresh air and nature.
Our next destination was Galicica national park. We would have been lost without our guide here – there are hundred of trails in the park and sometimes they are not marked as well, but they are all beautiful nature and one could spend weeks exploring them. We took the Velestovo village trail – it is situated just above Ohrid. This village has only 45 residents and we felt as if time had stopped here. This was a five hour walk to the highest point of the park – one should be well prepared for hiking. In the first 4 km. the trail was quite steep, but then we got to a shrine and a small hut were we stopped for a break. The place was great for a picnic but we had another 10 km. to walk, so we went on. As we got to the top of the hill the trails were better marked and from there you have a opportunity to continue to Prespa Lake or take a path to some of the villages around the park. This was our last day in Ohrid and we had to go back, but we will definitely go back to Ohrid and spend more time exploring Galicica park!