Considered one of Europe’s deepest and oldest “basins”, Lake Ohrid is a pure natural beauty nestled between Macedonia and Albania.
Its calm and clear waters, together with the charming views of the still, mute mountains surrounding the lake, create an irresistible attraction to hopeful visitors from all over the world.
Although the lake is constantly replenished with the flow of three rivers, most of Ohrid’s water comes from another lake – Prespa – which is located on the other side of Mountain Galičica, inside one of the most attractive National Parks in Macedonia.
When we discovered the Lake, we immediately figured out that the best option to relish all this spectacular panorama should be cycling the about 90 km perimeter of the basin. The idea to cross twice the border by bike was also increasing our enthusiasm for this new appealing sport challenge.
The main towns on the banks are Pogradec in Albania, along with Ohrid and Struga in Macedonia
Therefore, we decided to set Pogradec as our base camp. We moved from Tirana to Pogradec by minibus (in Albania is more common to get around with this kind of cheap transport). There, we had reserved an economic accommodation (Hotel Unik) which was the only one on the web to include (free) bike rental.
The bikes provided were indeed quite old and rudimentary, with partial gears and loose brakes : ) But it was fine: the route did not look so prohibitive in altitude. So no worries !!
Our firm plan was to start cycling the lake early in the morning from the left bank (i.e. Pogradec), to later cross the Macedonian border and eventually arrive to the sublime village of Ohrid at around midday (after approx. 55 km cycling) with enough time for visiting the superb Old Town, eating something and recovering after doing more than half of the way.
After a hefty breakfast, we hence set off at 8 o’ clock in the morning of a warm, sunny day. The temperature seemed ideal, between 15 and 20 degrees.
The first part from Pogredec to Lin, the last hamlet before crossing the Macedonian Border, is quite flat and all coasting the lake, with new cycling lanes that can be exploited to avoid the carriageway.
From time to time you have to carefully dodgle the local fishmongers occupying the bicycle path with their fish stalls.
In the way you can regularly see skeletons of abandoned tourist buildings, campings or discos. Local people told us that some years ago, a boom in tourism took place in this part of the lake and people decided to exploit it with this kind of infrastructure, degrading the landscape as a result. Eventually the authorities resolved to take measures and ordered to destroy these monsters and leave clear the shore of the lake. The operation was not finalized yet : )
Once you arrive to Lin, after 23km, the way starts to become curvy and steeper for 4 km, until the desired border (Qafë Botë in Albanian).
There, in the blurred attempt of buying some water, we unfortunately experienced a small incident with an aggressive dog (sometimes they get hostile with unknown, approaching people). Luckily no serious consequences : )
Having survived the canine ambush, we joyously crossed the Macedonian border, friendly welcomed by the customs authorities.
After the border the way goes down quite abruptly for almost 10 km before arriving to the pleasant Struga, the second most popular tourist destination lying on the shore of Lake Ohrid in the Macedonian part.
Ohrid was just 15 km far away but the clock had already hit midday. We had to hurry up a little bit. We had thus to push full throttle to reach our following check point with safe time to accomplish all our purposes.
There is a panoramic, comfortable pedestrian / cycling path you may take for about 5 Km quitting Struga.
Then the narrow straight lines (about 10 km in total) severely dishearten your mission for a while : )
But finally in Ohrid we were triumphantly welcomed by the massive walls of the upper Old Town, where the solemn Gorna Porta opens the way. The way up is fairly demanding after 55 km riding. In a few steep streetches we had to even carry the bike. Besides, the cobbled streets make it all a bit more difficult. But the top is not so distant.
Inside the city walls the main attractions are:
1. The Medieval Car Samoil’s Castle: Where we enjoyed the most fantastic views of the bay.
2. Plaošnik: After crossing down a wooden path, this old basilica gave us a peaceful rest in our route.
3. The Church of Sveti Jovan at Kaneo: Most scenic, photographed symbol of the entire Macedonia, this 13th century church is placidly situated in a remote cliff over the lake, in front of clear and crystalline waters.
After wandering about the busy and popular narrow streets of the Old town and lower seafront, it was finally time for a well deserved good lunch in one of the many bustling restaurants facing the lake. We had to recover our forces for the final rush: still 35 km to reach our goal !
At around 4 o’clock we left the agreeable spot to resume our way. Fortunately, the first kilometers after Ohrid are mostly flat with quick ups and downs. Very fast and manageable. You stay close to the lake through easy natural paths.
Later, however, after passing Trpejca the only accessible way winds steeply up to the surrounding hills. The incline there gets to 10 % in some sections. It was the toughest, dispiriting part, especially after 70 Km riding.
Trpejca is the last traditional fishing village in the bay, before a series of sloping hills which we had to strenuously overcome.
In order to soothe our sorrow, we tried to indulge ourselves with some stops to get temporary relief and take some pictures of the fascinating landscape.
In one of these stops, we recognized the typical bunker built in the communist period. Nowadays, these ghosts from the past are almost all abandoned and decorated with vividly colourful graffiti.
In another section, we wanted to provide evidence of the road conditions right after Trpejca:
Close to the Albanian border, we crossed a secondary road to enter the Galičica National Park, whose stunning mountains were imposing witnesses during all our track.
Finally, 6 Km away from our starting (and ending) point and with the sunset suggestively raising upon us, we crossed back the Macedonian border to enter again Albania with almost 90 km in our wrecked legs.
Cycling the full perimeter of Lake Ohrid was a truly amusing and stimulating challenge for us, (also because we felt a bit out of shape : ) but the unique and sublime natural atmosphere turned out to be definitely worth to be experienced like that.
That night we obviously slept tight (and a little bit burned for the sun : ) but dreaming about the next charming and attractive bet.
And you ? Did you have any experience like that abroad ? Any suggestion for the remaining part of our itinerary ?