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krisek Ohrid - A travel report by Krys
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Ohrid,  Macedonia - flag Macedonia -  Ohrid
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krisek's travel reports

Steeped in history and a lovely lake. Ohrid.

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The resort-like town of Ohrid, at a great lake of the same name has a laidback atmosphere, a few remarkable UNESCO-inscribed sites, and a wide range of places to eat, drink and party. Almost a perfect destination.

The little church of St Jovan in Kaneo district, lit up at night.
The little church of St Jovan in Kaneo district, lit up at night.
Ohrid at Lake Ohrid on the Macedonian side was a very pleasant place indeed. It had a lakefront crescent promenade, whose south-eastern side boasted a number of hotels and villas plus a few cafes and bars, and the north-western end had superb cafes, restaurants, clubs, lounges and a few hotels. The older part of town was concentrated at the northern side of the crescent waterfront. It featured a number of old Byzantine-style and early Christian churches, had more restaurants and hotels around narrow and steep alleys, and was topped with a large fortress flying giant Macedonian flags.

Another feature of Ohrid was that the older part of town was separated from the newer part by a semi-circular pedestrianised boulevard, which started at the main square right at the port, and run almost around the fortress hill. This was the place for shopping, grabbing fast food snacks and pancakes, and do banking.

The coach station was in a remote part of the new town, but it was about 15-20 minute walk from the port. So, not too far. Taxis hovered at both the station, and a few yards from the pier, right behind the traffic barrier, as the core and old part of Ohrid had restricted vehicle access.

I arrived in the afternoon, about 17:30. It was Friday, so many hotels were full. I ignored the touts at the coach station offering apartments and rooms and walked down towards the lake. I wanted full flexibility and decided to look for a hotel. After being turned down by two of the lakefront large hotels, I eventually found a four star villa, which was in fact a hotel as well.

I loved Ohrid! If I could, I would stay longer. Not only did it have interesting places to visit, but it was also extremely pleasant to sip cappuccino, beer, stout, and wine literally inches from the waters of the lake. Or taking boat rides, or lounging on the bars, or hopping in the clubs, or just staring at the centuries-old monuments being lit up after sunset.

Favourite spots:
The church of St Jovan, at sunset.
The church of St Jovan, at sunset.
The little St Jovan church perched on a raised rock right by the lake, at the end of Kaneo part of Ohrid was amongst the most picturesque spots. Particularly early in the morning and at sunset. There were 3 routes leading there. One was a boat ride from the Ohrid port (€5 or 300 denars negotiable). The other was along the lake shore, sometimes on piers resting on the side of the cliff. And the third one was via the fortress and the basilica (see below). Views from the cliff looking down on the St Jovan's, the lake and the mountains around, some with snow still on them, were fantastic. It was also a great little place to hide away. In the morning, before 8am, there were not that many people there at all. A minor, and almost unnecessary little thing spoiled the spot a bit. It was an 100 denars entry fee. Unless one was very religious and interested in the iconography, there was little reason to pay the fee. I had a peek and concluded that the church looked more dramatic from the outside.

What's really great:
Main town seen from the lakefront promenade, the citadel, and the giant flag on a post.
Main town seen from the lakefront promenade, the citadel, and the giant flag on a post.
I really liked how tidy Ohrid was. There was no rubbish anywhere, and the lake looked clean. The magnitude of cafes, cafeterias, bars and restaurants overlooking the lake and the mountains was another great characteristic of the town. It created a resort feel. People were welcoming, and the ambiance was relaxed. There was no rush in the streets (only in the kitchens and bars - as service was swift), limited traffic was allowed in the immediate vicinity of the lake and in the old town, and Ohrid boasted a long, semi-circular pedestrianised boulevard complete with shops, banks, bars, clubs, restaurants and little eateries.

Uh, and I have to say that the giant flag (5x10 meters minimum) on an at least 30 meter-tall post, right in the middle of the waterfront promenade was making a great impression on me. It was a very nice touch and it reminded me that I was in fact in Macedonia!

The basilica of Panteleimon, seen from the Samoli's fortress.
The basilica of Panteleimon, seen from the Samoli's fortress.
A little boy called Ivo, who gave me a short ride on the lake, stated that there were 365 churches in Ohrid. One per each day of the year. Well, I knew there were many, but I only saw a selection.

Above the town, a large fortress of Samoli's stood. It was still being restored, but it already looked great. The views from the top were spectacular, particular one towards the basilica of Panteleimon.

The basilica was perhaps Ohrid's main sight. It was truly remarkable. It had a classic Byzantine Orthodox design, and made entirely of stone. The area surrounding it was under an excavation on a very large scale. Foundations of other even larger cathedral, just 30 yards away, were uncovered and opened for public. In addition, there were many other foundations and arched cellars being unearthed. A truly incredible place!

Ohrid also had an ancient Greek theatre open for public, but not in a dramatic location, as it was surrounded by houses.

Villa Dea, room #33.
Villa Dea, room #33.
I ended up staying at the Villa Dea, right by the lakefront promenade, claiming four stars. Most rooms had balconies overlooking the lake. All were self-contained, had TV set, phone, desk, armchairs, air-conditioning, and free high speed wifi. I got a twin room #33 (€35), on a third floor without a balcony but with a side lake view. The beds were comfortable if a little narrow, had colourful sheets, and adequate pillows. The super clean and tiled bathroom had a modern shower cabin, but the shower head could not be fixed above one's head, as the holder was at a hip level. Hot water was never a problem. Clean white towels, toilet roll, and simple toiletries were all provided. There was also a hair dryer.

The personnel were friendly and spoke good English. They had a tour agency, and their local tour was just €9 (two people minimum required), covering all UNESCO-listed sites around Ohrid.

The Objectif Bar
The Objectif Bar
Ohrid's nightlife seemed to be concentrated at Kosta Abrash street. My favourite venues were:

- Liquid, had an exceptionally pleasant decor. Round wood'n'reed tables with glass tops had four artificial reed armchairs with cushions. Wrought iron armchairs surrounded trendy raisin square tables. Square wooden tables had trendy fabric upholstered square armchairs. Dimmed lighting and candles in stained glass lanterns made the rest. So cool! These were taken away when Liquid turned to club, to create a dancefloor.

- Kadmo, next door, was more rustic than trendy, but also very pleasant, had wifi, and a little more attentive waiting staff.

- Hemingway, opposite, was a tiny open-air lounge with extremely comfy sofas and a very good selection of spirits, but it seemed a little snobbish, perhaps.

The Objectif bar at the waterfront in the other part of town, was very popular until very late at night. And on my way to the hotel!

St Sofija Church
St Sofija Church
Lake's shore, including the piers, was one of the best spots to kill time and hang out. There were a few bars and cafes with tables on the waterfront pavement. One of them, the Gigolo Bar, had seven round, glass-top tables right at the water's edge, and the view of the fortress on the top of the hill was superb from there. Well, imagine this, there is a little, slightly rocky armchair, a little glass-top table holding an ice-cold beer as the lights of the night and the illuminated castle flicker on the surface of the lake and reflect on the table.

Cafeteria Panteleimon by the incredible basilica and extensive archaeological site had a terrace overlooking the lake. It served perfect macchiato and blueberry juice! It was a superb spot for a break from the early morning sightseeing.

Jazz & Blues The Duck Cafe at the main square was fantastic for excellent live music. The quality of the tunes was exceptional! It was very popular. Their music travelled all the way to the lakefront park.

Half roasted chicken with chips at the Neim Restaurant.
Half roasted chicken with chips at the Neim Restaurant.
My first restaurant was the Pizza Nemo near the lake in a little alley in the old part of the town, towards the Kaneo district. They had a comprehensive menu, and not only featuring pizzas (200-350 denars), and they were flexible - one could swap ingredients with no problem, no questions asked, and no additional fee - and the service was swift! Very swift. I also had, finally, dark beer, Laško Temno (80 denars) there. And all served with a smile. I ate there twice, it was so good.

My second restaurant, for lunch, was the Neim Restaurant at the end of St Clement of Ohrid Boulevard. They offered simple traditional dishes (soups, goulash, moussaka, stuffed peppers, fish, etc), but it was their roasted chicken that lured me in. I ordered half chicken and Pepsi. The spot was very popular with local Ohridians and Macedonian visitors. The chicken was nice and crisp, came with chips and a salad (all for 250 denars).

Other recommendations:
The Samoli's Fortress.
The Samoli's Fortress.
Ohrid had an airport, but in June 2010, it was not yet very busy. It was fit for international traffic with proper immigration facilities. Something told me that in near future, Ryanair, easyJet and Wizzair would open regular services there. Really, it was just a natter of time. Already international charter flights operated in the summer.

Other than by air, Ohrid had road links. The capital, Skopje, was about 3.5 hours away, and there were about 8-10 coaches daily, costing 520 denars (£6.95).

Theoretically, a boat service to Pogradec in Albania was possible, but when I visited, it was not operating. Again, I think it was only a matter of time. It would require building immigration facilities at both towns, or at least ensure appropriate process aboard. Unless both countries join the EU and the Schengen area.

There were a few very interesting places around Ohrid, which could be explored in two all day excursions (incl. Sveti Naum Monastery), but not all on public transport.

Published on Wednesday June 30th, 2010

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