On our second day in Ohrid, we embarked on an excursion to Sv Stefan, an ancient cave church set within the cliffs south of town. We had prepared for a strenuous hike, so when we arrived at the church after barely ten minutes of walking, it was kind of a disappointment. Luckily, the trail continued, and would lead us to the abandoned village of Šipokno.
There are a lot of activities one could choose from during a trip to Ohrid. Scuba diving, paragliding, hiking and sailing are just some of the options available to those who crave action. But “action” is the last thing on the minds of most visitors to Ohrid. This is, after all, where Macedonians come to relax. And for that, nothing’s better than a day spent lounging on the lake.
Throughout the Middle Ages, Ohrid was among the most important religious centers in the Balkans. There were reportedly 365 churches in the small city, one for every day of the year. Most have since vanished, having been destroyed or converted into mosques by the Ottoman Empire, but Ohrid still possesses more than its fair share of historic churches.
Shimmering in the southwestern corner of Macedonia is Lake Ohrid: a UNESCO Heritage Site, and one of the oldest lakes in the world. Over the years, Ohrid has developed into Macedonia’s favorite summer retreat. Whether to play in the pristine water, dance the night away, or just escape the heat, Macedonians and visitors from across the Balkans descend upon the lake in droves.
On the western edge of Skopje, we came across an archaeological dig in full swing, with dozens of laborers hard at work dusting off rocks, writing in notebooks, and carting away earth-laden wheelbarrows. This was the site of the ancient Roman city of Skupi, and the archaeologists were in the process of exposing its massive theater.
The Balkans were a major theater of World War I, and fighting was especially intense in Macedonia, which was part of Serbia at the time. The Allies and the Central Powers sent tens of thousands of soldiers into the land, many of whom would never return home.
After a devastating earthquake nearly destroyed Skopje in 1963, the international community came to the rescue, contributing aid in the form of money, materials, manpower… and art. A Contemporary Art Museum was among the principal projects for the post-earthquake city, and the artists of the world were determined to help make it something special.
We had already hiked to Matka Canyon from the top of Mount Vodno, but made a return trip to check out Vrelo, which is Macedonia’s most famous cave. Although its depths are yet to be fully explored, Vrelo is presumed by many to be the deepest underwater cave in the world.
South of Skopje, on the outskirts of an unassuming village called Markova Sučica, is the Markov Monastir. Built in 1346 by King Marko of Serbia, this medieval monastery has remained remarkably unaffected by the passage of time.