From prehistoric and classical times (when Ohrid was known as Lychnidos, the ‘City of Light’), the Lake Ohrid region has been an important centre of culture and learning. The land itself with its tranquil deep and ancient lake and scenic mountainscapes provides a glorious backdrop for Ohrid’s breathtaking array of religious and secular works of art and architecture. The major centre of southern Slav learning was established here in the 10th century, and since that time countless frescos, mosaics, and icons have been created. Over the centuries an enormous and colourful heritage of beautiful architecture, magnificent artefacts, culture, crafts and traditions has evolved. Combined with its scenic lake and mountainscape, interesting town and village architecture, climate, local hospitality, and delicious fresh food, a visit to the Ohrid area will prove deeply rewarding.
A stroll around the old town,”‘Varos”, and port is a great delight. You can see the colourful market, walk down cobblestone lanes past small shops and boutiques to the quayside for superb views of the lake and mountains, up to the fortress past ancient houses to an even more sensational panoramic view, or along the lakeside to Kaneo where the church of St. John juts out into the lake in one of the most romantic settings imaginable.
Ohrid’s surroundings are just as fascinating. Take a boat trip to the monastery of St. Naum, and see the magical springs of the Black Drim River as they flow into the lake. Hike through the mountains to visit an ancient cave church or a traditional village like Velestovo or Elshani where time seems to have stood still for centuries. Wherever you go, you will notice the clarity of the light, the purity of the air, and the warmth of the hospitality.
Walking, cycling and boat trails in the Macedonian lakesland
The flat areas around Lake Ohrid and Lake Prespa offer a wide network of paths and roads that are readily available for use as walking and cycling trails by all levels of ability and age groups. The local mountains rise to over 2000 meters. Climb to the summit and enjoy breathtaking views of the lakes and numerous quaint villages. Take a deep breath of fresh air and smell wild flowers with the wind whispering in your ears. See a variety of unusual birds, and let their haunting song transport your senses into an aura of tranquillity. The Heritage Trails will take you to many villages where you can experience rural life in Macedonia. Local guides and maps are available from our travel agent. Among the most enjoyable trails are those going through Galicica National Park between Lake Ohrid and Lake Prespa, in the mountains west of Struga around Vevcani, and in the traditional village of Brajcino above Lake Prespa. Whatever your level of fitness, whatever terrain you enjoy walking or bicycling on, you will have the opportunity to observe a rural way of life that has been relatively unchanged for more than a hundred years. You can always take a boat trip and visit some of the localities around the lakes or drift on the lake and take in the stunning scenery.
Experiencing the trails
Choose a trail and embark on a personal discovery of the natural and cultural heritage of the Macedonian Lakeland. Discover the source of Slav literacy and culture and the richness of Byzantine art among the world’s most highly prized religious frescos and icons. Dive into the clear waters of the lakes. Enjoy the unique taste of the Ohrid trout or Lake Prespa carp. Walk amid the peaceful and ancient hills. Savour the breathtaking scenery. Breathe in the fresh air. And, drink from the cool mountain springs.
Tsar Samuel’s Fortress
Until 1018, Ohrid was the capital of the first state of the Macedonian Slavs and where Tsar Samuel (976 – 1014) built his fortress. The three kilometres of towers and high walls, were originally built to protect the town on the three sides not facing the lake. The fortress now dominates the town and provides an excellent vantage point of the lake and the mountains. It is used as an openair theatre stage during the Ohrid Summer Festival.
Gallery of icons
Acknowledged as one of the most valuable in the world, this collection of icons was created between 11th and 19th centuries. Some are covered with silver coatings decorated with miniature figures of prophets and various saints, scenes from the Old and the New Testament, as well as floral and geometrical ornaments. The gallery is located next to the church Mother of God Peribleptos.
In 1516, more than two centuries before the Louvre or the British Museum, the archbishopric museum was established in the church of St. Kliment, making it one of the oldest museums of its kind in Europe. At present, the museum is housed in several premises. The house of the Robev family, an architectural beauty built in 1863, stores the archaeological heritage of the region of Ohrid and Struga from prehistory to present. The ethnographic collection of the material and spiritual culture of the people from this area is displayed in the Urania house. The Museum of the Slavic Literacy houses photographs, copies, and originals of the main documents written in Church Slavic language in both the Glagolitic and Cyrillic alphabets that illustrate the overall development of the Slavic Literacy from its inception to the present.
The Ohrid Plane Tree
The small cobblestone square near the market is dominated by a large plane tree (Platanus Orientalis), one of Ohrid’s best loved landmarks. The tree is 800-900 years old. Its trunk is approximately 20m wide. It has become hollow and in the past has been home to a small barber’s shop and a small café. The large dome of the Ali Pasha mosque is a prominent feature of the ancient plane tree area. This monument of Islamic architecture and art is believed to have been built towards the middle of 16th century as an endowment of the vizier Ali Pasha from Belgrade.
In a tiny park on the outskirts of Ohrid, the waters of the Biljana Springs connect the mountain to the lake. Hundreds of springs feed Lake Ohrid with fresh water, but none is as famous as Biljana. The springs are fed by the waters of Lake Prespa passing under the mountain. They also provide drinking water for the city of Ohrid. The story of the beauty of Biljana Springs is retold through a love song that is one of Ohrid’s most popular traditional songs.
Once a separate village, Velgosti is now one of the suburbs of Ohrid, but it still leads a quiet life. Positioned at the foot of Istok Mountain, this village provides an opportunity to explore the mountain area, and savour the rural life of its inhabitants such as shepherds. Above the village, the monastery of St. Petka provides accommodation all year round in a tranquil environment with a beautiful view. Further up the mountain are the churches of St. Ilija and St. Nikola.
If you are looking for quiet village life, beautiful lake views and unspoilt natural beauty visit Elshani. Traditional life goes on here as if time has stood still. Each family has its own vineyard, animals are still kept and traditional process such as the distillation of rakija are still practised. Woodcarvers and coopers still pursue their trades. A wonderful base for mountain walks, the village offers accommodation, shops providing food and drinks, and mountain guides. The local tourist organisation offers a wide range of organised activities such as guided tours into the mountain and surroundings.
Once a fishermen’s village, located at the foot of Mt. Galicica, in a small bay, 12 km from Ohrid on route to St Naum, Pestani has developed into a modern tourist centre, with good restaurants, cafes, shops and a good hotel (the Desaret). It accommodates families, individuals and groups. Positioned directly beside the lakeshore it is a wonderful place for holiday makers who wish to stay near the lake and enjoy water sports.
A typical example of a fisherman’s settlement on the shores of Lake Ohrid, with houses that are built on the slopes of a steep hill. The village boasts a beautiful pebble beach. Here you can experience the real taste of the fresh rainbow trout as well as other homemade local specialities. Nearby the village is the church of the Mother of God Zahumska, erected in 1361. The church stands at the foot of the Mt. Galicica and can be reached only by boat.
The Spring of the river Black Drim
The springs of the Black Drim are near the monastery of St. Naum. The water feeds forty-five springs from Lake Prespa making a huge, lake like spring, which flows into Ohrid Lake here, and out at Struga 35 km across the Lake. The water is cold and clear like nowhere else, and the area is inhabited by wild ducks and other birds. Take a rowboat tour to see the springs and get closer to this mini paradise.
Galicica National Park
The National park “Galicica” is located between the two ancient Lakes of Ohrid and Prespa. In 1958 it was designated as a National park because of its very high biodiversity, extremely rich flora and fauna and exceptional natural beauty. Take a walk through the grounds of the Park, and at every step you can find rare herbs rich with ethereal oils, colourful carpets of mountain flowers, wild fruits, or you can simply enjoy the serenity and the breathtaking views.
Churches & Monasteries
Early christian basilica at Plaoshnik
The ruins of this monumental Episcopal Church stand on the spot called Plaoshnik, one of the most serene places in the old part of the town. It was probably built and decorated in 5th century when the town Lychnidos was an important Early Christian Episcopal centre. The basilica has been erected on the foundations of an older classical temple and has a trefoil shape. Unknown artists decorated it with magnificent mosaics with figurative floral and zoomorphic motifs.
St. Kliment’s monastery of St. Panteleimon at Plaosnik
The church of St. Panteleimon was built in 893. It was here that the Ohrid Literary School, the spring of the Slavic literary and cultural activity, was situated. St. Kliment established a university and educated more than 3500 disciples who spread throughout the Slavic world and continued his work. During the period of Ottoman domination the church was converted into a mosque. Archaeological finds in this church include St. Kliment’s tomb. He is the patron of the city of Ohrid and all of Macedonia.
Church Mother of God Peribleptos (St. Kliment)
The extraordinary architecture and stunning wall paintings make this church, which dates from 1295, one of the most significant mediaeval monuments in Macedonia. After the conversion of St.Sophia into a mosque during the Ottoman domination this became the cathedral church of the Ohrid Archbishopric and was renamed St. Kliment. The most important treasures of the church, the frescoes, are works of the eminent mediaeval painters Michael and Eutychios whose dramatic expressiveness was the basis for the new trend in Byzantine art from this epoch, called “The Renaissance of the Paleologues”.
Church St. John at Kaneo
The picturesque church of St. John the Theologian dates from the end of the 13th century. Standing alone on the lakeshore on a cliff high above the fishing settlement of Kaneo, it is one of the landmarks of the old town of Ohrid and a favourite symbol of the entire city. It affords magnificent views of the lake, the city, Galicica National Park, and the mountains of Albania on the far shore. In the summer, young men perform death defying leaps into the lake from the cliff below the church.
Church St. Sophia
This cathedral temple of the Ohrid archbishops is the largest and most magnificently preserved monument of church architecture in Ohrid and Macedonia. The exceptionally picturesque 11th century frescoes in St. Sophia are among the best achievements in mediaeval painting from the period of the Macedonian dynasty in Byzantium. It served as the cathedral church of the Ohrid Archbishopric until it was converted into a mosque and later into a storehouse during the Ottoman domination. In 1912 it was transformed back into an Orthodox Church. During the Ohrid Summer Festival, the church is used as a venue for classical concerts and plays due to the exceptional quality of its acoustics.
St. Naum monastery
The church and beautifully renovated monastery hotel complex of St. Naum are stunningly situated on Ohrid Lake. St. Naum of Ohrid, world famous for his miraculous healing powers and a contemporary of St. Clement, built the original church and monastery here in 900. A pilgrimage and healing centre since the Middle Ages, many thousands of pilgrims visit the grave of St. Naum who was buried in the church in 910, in a small, beautifully frescoed chapel.
The 14th century cave church of St. Stephen is built in rock and offers an insight into life centuries ago. There is a small monastery, which offers accommodation in summer for a limited number of tourists. (Ask our travel agent about this). Stunning views of the lake and Ohrid can be enjoyed.