In putting the trip together I didn't want to spend all of my time in Skopje, but where to go? A search of ideas brought a lot of results and highly recommended was the town of Ohrid which is located in the south-west of the city on the side of a lake of the same name.
Drive time is estimated at between 3 and 3.5 hours and wanting to spend a day there, but also make it back to Skopje I decided to leave very early catching a 5.30 bus. In my walk the day before I popped into the bus station and checked times and availability. I can't guarantee how busy these get in peak season but that this time of year I had no issue getting the ticket on the day of travel.
This was my bus and there were half a dozen of us on this occasion. Most started the trip from the station but there were a number of pickups on the way out of Skopje. As there's no clue where those are I'd recommend getting on at the station.
The drive went without a hitch and offered some spectacular views of the mountainous scenery. Macedonia has a large number of mountain peaks, most of which haven't been climbed.
We stopped briefly half way along the route atop a cold mountain. A large number of stray dogs would run around us checking for food.
The rest of the journey was much the same as the first half going over a couple of peaks before heading down the coast to the town of Ohrid.
The Ohrid bus station is located about 20 minutes walk away from the lake side. The bus did stop closer on the way in but I wanted to know where to be picked up from and was happy to remain on the bus to the station as I knew that would be a valid pick up point on the way home.
It was nice of the bus station to report the times of the return buses. Do make a note of the times and aim to return on the penultimate bus so you have contingency if you miss it. One thing I hadn't appreciated was that there are a number of bus companies sharing this route and you may have to pay a small surcharge if you return back on a different one that you travelled in on. The station guard will check your ticket or you can let those in the booth check too.
From the bus station you can catch a taxi, I chose to walk it.
Ohrid is the birthplace of the Cyrillic alphabet and they're proud of that.
Lake Ohrid is a UNESCO site, which as I get older I find more of a reason to go somewhere. This place is quite special in that it is listed for both cultural and natural reasons. There aren't many places that do both.
The interesting bit of the city sits on a peninsula overlooking the lake and most of my visit would be spent exploring that.
Ohrid at one time had 365 churches, one for each day of the year. Whilst there aren't that many now there are still some worth visiting starting with St Sophia's which supposedly has been around since the 800s but in it's current guise goes back to the 11th century. It started off as an orthodox church but became a mosque later on. It's now a paid for exhibition of some lovely frescos if you can part with 100 denars (around £1.40).
From St Sophia's I followed the coast and found this beautiful cliffside walkway called The Kaneo. There are a number of bars here which are likely lively in the peak season evenings, not so much at 9am in March.
The lake is one of the larges and deepest in the Balkans and for the tourists there are some boat trips which I would have liked to have done but due to the low tourist volumes at this time of year they weren't running any today :(
The walk along the Kaneo leads to this utterly beautiful site. This is the Church of St Jovan which has been here since the 13th century.
It's in such an incredible location. I spent a little bit of time sat above it taking in the view...and getting my breath back. It's quite steep ha!
Continuing the ascent from Jovan's I found myself going around a construction site and through a forest. This path would lead me to the next church, St Clements. The complex is referred to as Plaosnik.
This complex is part of a reconstruction project but the building is incredible. Like Sophia's this started as a church but became a mosque.
The ascent up the hill continued and I initially headed off in the wrong direction. You can avoid making this mistake by heading back to the forest and walking up the hill to the fort.
At the top of the hill is Samuil's fortress, a similar construction to that in Skopje.
Again I had the urge to climb up as high as I could and did the walk alongside the eastern edge battlements overlooking the city.
This is a typical house in Ohrid with floors increasing in size as you go up. The city street lights also incorporate this design. You can see one in this shot.
The city theatre is an old style amphitheatre.
Over by that pillar is another of the famous churches. Don't be an idiot and miss it, as I did.
I got distracted by the upper gate and headed through that and back down to the bottom of the hill.
A nice view of the fort.
Back down at the lake side I chilled for a bit befriended by some of the stray dogs and pondered why swimsuits can't be binned.
No swimming, obvious or cover please!
I thought it would be clever to walk to the end of one of the jetties.
Having it full of water part way along and having to tip toe along the edge made it a little bit precarious.
This is me making it to the top of the hill for a second time to hit the church I missed.
This isn't it.
This is it. This is the Periplevta church. Like some of the others it is home to some very old frescos which are amazing.
I'd done the hill twice now so I made my way back down for a quick bite before heading back to the bus station. Skopsko is the local beer and it's not bad at all. The salad is a Macedonian salad and is tomatoes, onion and roast peppers. The tomatoes were really really good!
The journey back was as easy as the journey out and I took the opportunity to catch up on spotify whilst enjoying the views.
Ohrid was a good call and I will add my recommendations to those looking for places to visit.