Visiting Macedonia and Albania’s gorgeous Lake Ohrid outside the main tourism season is one small step that visitors can take to reduce human pressure on the region’s habitats and water resources. It can also make for an unforgettable holiday experience. Here’s ten of the best inspirations to put your winter hat on and explore another dimension of the Balkan reality!
1. SNOW-CAPPED MOUNTAINS: The wilderness peaks that nestle the Ohrid region are even more mysterious in their winter-white cloaks, yet the micro-climate of the lake ensures that your toes won’t get too cold as you admire the stunning view from the shore. On the other hand, if you’re lucky enough to experience snowfall at lakeside, you’ll awake into every fairytale you’ve ever read. And, yes, they do have happy endings.
2. 6,000 YEARS OF HISTORY: People have been dazed amazed by Ohrid for several millennia, which is why it is one of Europe’s oldest settlements. Incredibly, across all that time, the archaeological record is relatively complete, so visitors can whizz back and forth to pre-history through Greek, Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman empires. At any time of year.
3. EXCUSES, EXCUSES: In the summer, you can swim 24 hours a day, top out Peak Magaro 2,000 meters up in National Park Galichica, parachute down on Ohrid like a swooping hawk, and scubadive back to the Bronze Age. But that’s not exactly relaxation. Winter offers the perfect excuse to cozy up in a big-windowed cafe with a mug of hot coffee without feeling guilty about not throwing yourself off the side of a mountain.
4. ZIMNICA FOOD: For as long as Ohrid can remember (which, as we have seen, is a very long time indeed), locals have been preparing zimnica, a variety of dishes preserved during summer harvests for the barren winter months. If you’re lucky to make some lakeshore friends, which most tourists are in the hyper-friendly Balkan Peninsula, prepare for the salty meal of a lifetime and an authentic experience you’ll never forget.
5. VODICI: Deep in January, hoards of brave swimmers throw themselves into near-freezing Lake Ohrid waters to retrieve a cross in front of thousands of spectators for the Vodici Festival. He or she that dives deepest fastest with the pearliest eyes brings back not only the cross, but good fortune for a year, in an event that breathes tradition from the crispy fish served on the waterside to the piping hot rakija sipped liberally from the morning. Be part of the history.
6. TOPLA RAKIJA: Did we just say piping hot rakija? Macedonia’s comforting national drink, fresh from the vineyards that roll through through the country, gets heated up in the winter so you can too. Locate one that originates in the east, sip gently, and feel yourself glow from within.
7. CROWDS: If the summer crush is not your thing, consider flocking with a different crowd in winter: birds. When the mercury drops in Europe, Lakes Ohrid and Prespa are oases of comparative warmth and unfrozen waters for feathered friends. Hundreds of thousands have been known to drop by so you’ll have plenty of eye-candy for a February stroll. Spotting them in the winter is also easier.
8. WINTER SUNSETS: Saying goodbye to the Ohrid sun is always a spectacular experience, but winter sunsets over the lake are the kind of beauty from which you might never recover. Share your best off-season selfies on the #LakeOhrid hashtag and tell us what makes a winter visit so special. We’ll gladly retweet them for you.
9. EXPRESS ROADS: Because everybody wants to visit at the same time, traffic builds on existing roads, so the Macedonian government and European Bank of Reconstruction and Development have hatched an ecologically insensitive plan to tear apart National Park Galichica on Lake Ohrid’s eastern coast with a new-build express road. Other maniacal machinations seek to concrete up the life-supporting shoreline with vast and vacuous tourism development zones. By visiting outside the main season, you’ll be taking the pressure off existing infrastructure and sending a clear message that preserving elite natural habitats is more important than a summer swim. Please share with others why you made the decision. You’re guaranteed at least one like from us.
10. HEART OF THE MATTER: The summer months may be bold and bright, but that’s only a tiny window on the Lake Ohrid story. September to May are when local people return to their daily lives, and it’s the best chance to get closer to what it really means to live on the shores of a rare ancient lake.
Photos (unless stated) by Kliment A.