One of the lesser known 5 Compass sights in Europe is shared by Albania and Macedonia–Lake Ohrid. More than two-thirds of it is in Macedonia. Completely spring fed and extremely old, gorgeous Ohrid, 940 feet deep in places, is like few other lakes. Perhaps its most famous relative is Russia’s Lake Baikal, the oldest and deepest fresh water lake in the world.
Ohrid’s outlet, a major attraction in and of itself, is in the Macedonian town of Struga where its impressive outflow forms the Black Drin River, nickname: Mother of Lake Ohrid. Black Drin eventually empties into the Adriatic Sea.
Deep and unbelievably clear, Ohrid can be penetrated with excellent human eyes to a depth of 66 feet. A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979, it’s reportedly 98% pure and under strict regulation to keep it that way. Its water has historically been linked to miracle cures and neolithic deaths.
We saw settlements on Ohrid’s eastern shore containing clusters of still-vacant vacation homes and restaurants, but there are only 3 real towns on its nearly perfect oval. The largest is the Albanian city of Pogradec. Ruth and I stayed 15 miles from Struga in the town of Ohrid in a resort hotel with an unpredictable power generator. The hotel was across the street from a popular promenade on Ohrid’s curving shore. This town has several nicknames including the City of Light (see photo above) and the Jerusalem of the Balkans.
Lake Ohrid’s source is near scenic St. Naum monastery in Galicica National Park where 30 underwater and 15 coastal springs bubble up through sand. We drifted languorously in boats over these sands to observe the watery phenomenon that feeds 4.7 million year old Lake Ohrid. Our guide called this “an eternal spring of drinkable water”. This was clearly true. He also told us that Heineken has tried to buy Ohrid’s water to make beer and, incorrectly, that the movie Blue Lagoon was made here. By the time we saw it coming through the sand, this incredibly pure water had traveled for 21 days through limestone caves beneath a mountain being filtered and overly calcified.
Another impressibly large lake named Prespa is across a 6-mile-wide isthmus from Ohrid. Prespa has a higher elevation and is more remote, so it’s not quite the tourist lure that Ohrid is. Yet.