So special and so significant is Ohrid that not only did UNESCO decide to declare the town a World Heritage Site, but the whole lake as well. The lake is one of the world's oldest, and at 938 feet, it is the deepest in the Balkans. Remnants dating back to the Neolithic age are proof that the area around this lake has been inhabited since almost the dawn of humanity, but it is the town of Ohrid, on the northeast side of the lake, that is the premier attraction today in the region, other than the lake itself.
I had arrived in Macedonia in mid-June, just as the country was starting to welcome in summer and people were waking up from winter hibernation. The country was in full bloom and the people were starting to make their weekend trips from Skopje down to the shores of Ohrid, and I decided to follow.
I was in Macedonia for a reason really beyond my own comprehension. I was living in Istanbul at the time and had decided to head over to the Balkans for a vacation, and Skopje was a cheap flight, so that is where I started. Having long been enticed by the sort of mysterious air that the Balkans exude, I was excited, but my first few days in Skopje, although interesting, left me wondering if this was really what the Balkans were all about. I was alone and having one of those moments that all travelers have at some point in time where I was wondering, "What am I really doing here anyway?" I hadn't been back in the US for a year and was missing the comfort of my home in Istanbul. I was at a complete loss of what to do, and then I heard about a place called Ohrid. All the Macedonians talked highly of it, but I had my doubts. Still, though, I picked myself up out of my rut, rented a car, and made my way down to Ohrid. As soon as I arrived, I remembered just why I was doing this.
The lush green mountains, carved out by glaciers millions of years ago, reminded me of the Green Mountains back at home in Vermont. The lake sparkled a brilliant blue-green, and Macedonian children were diving off docks and boats. The sun was shining and the people were smiling. I felt like I immediately belonged.
The city of Ohrid itself is a beautiful collection of cobblestone streets that wind their way up the hills on the side of the lake, lined with old houses, churches, and gardens. From the main square on the lake side, home to the cutest McDonald's I have ever seen (if there is such a thing), as well as street vendors selling mini donuts covered in chocolate and powdered sugar, the main street of Ohrid's modern city, Makedonski Prosvetiteli, bustles with the clamor of shoppers ducking in and out of the street's shops and restaurants. Cafe patrons spill out onto the cobblestone holding frosty glasses of Skopsko, Macedonia's national beer. You can follow this street back into the heart of Ohrid's modern city and the Zeynel Abedin Mosque, which is located right next to chinar, the city's 900-year-old plane tree.
When sunset comes, Ohrid's couples like to stoll down Marshal Tito Quay, along the lake toward the ex-Yugoslav ruler's summer residence, and watch the sunset. It is also in the neighborhood along the quay where you will find Ohrid's budget hotel options. As with the rest of the Balkans, renting rooms in someone's private home is the best option for the budget traveler. Houses with available rooms will post signs in Macedonian advertising soba, or "room." Many of the owners don't speak much English but are plenty friendly. A standard room with a shared bathroom/shower will usually run around $10, sometimes less, especially if it's empty. It would be a crime to not spend the night in Ohrid, but if you want to do it right, 2 nights at least are necessary. The region has way too much to offer.