When planning the 10-day Balkan trip for us, it never occurred to Johny to explore Ohrid in our itinerary, and I would have been really angry at him for skipping one of the most beautiful destinations in Eastern Europe. I stumbled upon a picture of St. John at Kaneo on Instagram just a few days before we departed for our winter holiday, only then did I realize that this awe-inspiring piece of architecture is located in Ohrid, North Macedonia. I knew right away we had to add Ohrid to our list and it turned out to be an unmissable highlight to our journey.
Due to our tight schedule, a day trip to explore Ohrid from Skopje planned at last minute was all we could afford. Yet that one day was already enough for us both to fall deeply in love with this ancient town.
Straddling the mountainous border between North Macedonia and Albania, lake Ohrid is one of the oldest and deepest in the world, and here lies one of the oldest settlement in Europe. Nicknamed as “Jerusalem of the Balkans” or “Balkan Pearl”, Ohrid region once had 365 churches (one for each day of the year) even though only 70 of them are preserved nowadays.
Ohrid boasts the perfect combination of great architecture, stunning nature and intriguing history, which made us feel like travel back in time.
Explore Ohrid in the winter – Is it worth it?
I’m being brutally honest here: Winter is a wonderful time to visit Ohrid! Undoubtedly, Ohrid is beautiful all year round, and surely the old town is more lively and eventful on a warm summer day. However, when covered in snow, Ohrid looks as if plucked straight out from a fairytale, bearing an irresistible charm with laid-back atmosphere.
Moreover, winter visit offers an awesome opportunity to dodge flocks of tourists pouring into the city since neither of us truly enjoys an overcrowded tourist hotspot (say Venice any day of the year). Therefore, visiting Ohrid in the low season allowed us to freely stroll the deserted cobblestoned streets, visit the attractions without queueing up or take pictures without anyone blocking the background.
Having only one day in this fascinating destination, we decided to explore the old part of the majestic Lake Ohrid as much as we could on foot.
Journey to the divine old part of Ohrid
From the Upper Gate, we started to wander around the old town of Ohrid. With the sublime lake and mountain ranges set perfectly in the background, the old quarter has a network of cobblestoned streets running through a collage of traditional houses, cozy cafes, lovely boutique shops and beautiful churches.
The waterfront on a winter morning was rather deserted, which undoubtedly allowed us to enjoy the fresh air and peaceful atmosphere. The only noise we heard came from the seagulls circling the sky above the harbor. It was a pity that many shops in in the bazaar were closed during our visit, so we could only do window shopping through the display windows.
We stumbled upon Saint Sophia, which was a charming medieval church situated beautifully in a garden. Built in Byzantine style, Saint Sophia has an intriguing history of being demolished, rebuilt and converted into a mosque at one time, placing it among the most significant monuments in North Macedonia.
We then followed the narrow path along the waterfront en route Church of St. John at Kaneo. I remember vividly that it was such a fun walk as we got to admire endless gorgeous views to the azure water, rugged cliffs, pined woods and out of the blue, a badass cat parading with a big fish in his mouth.
The moment my eyes captured St. John at Kaneo, I couldn’t think of another church that is more impeccably situated. I have my long list of favorite churches, such as Notre Dame of Paris, St. Mark of Zagreb or Hagia Sophia of Istanbul, which are all brilliant. However, I couldn’t help but noticed a strong sense of greatness and belonging surrounded this little church. I really love that its architecture is simple, without any pretensions, yet still looks impressive.
Our prized spot was no doubt the bench on top of the cliff, from which we could look down to the church and the placid lake stretching out to the horizon. As we happily savored our late breakfast, we decided that it would be great to come back here catch sunset later.
From St. John, we headed uphill through a wooded area and passed by on the way Plaoshnik though unfortunately the site was undergone some renovation/maintenance work. Therefore, headed straight to Samuel’s Fortress.
Samuel’s fortress, once one of the most fortified strongholds in the Balkans, consumes the city’s skyline, making it an incredible spot to shoot panoramic views of Ohrid.
After feasting our eyes, it was time to enjoy some real food and what is more appealing than lunch by the lake? It was such a relaxing experience observing happenings on the waterfront while savoring delicious pizza washed down with cider.
Since we set our heart to catch sunset at St. John, we started to to walk back there at around 4. The sun sets pretty early during winter and we had to make it back to the bus station before 6 to catch the last bus back to Skopje. We made the right decision to come here has the scene at the end of the day is splendid.
As the sun was going down the horizon, the blue sky turned to a pale shade of pink and yellow while the snow hit by the last daylight sparkled beautifully. It was an indescribable feeling of serenity and calmness being there, as if nothing else mattered.
As the last trays of sunlight faded away, we jogged ourselves all the way back to the station, ending an unforgettable journey to Ohrid.
When writing this post, I still can reminisce the breathtaking panoramic view of the city which was covered under layers of snow. Ohrid no doubt made it to the list of places we both love to revisit and we highly recommend you to explore Ohrid in your itinerary if you are planning on a trip to the Balkan.