Trip Report for the Secrets of Prespa and Ohrid

A tailor-made tour for four friends

27 April – 11 May 2019

Tour leader: Chris Mounsey

Introduction

The full trip report is found below the gallery and map, which you can jump to at any time using the menu. If you're viewing this on a tablet, then the floating menu will be a bit of a nuisance; it turns off for mobile but not tablet. Sorry about that.

 

As a supplement to the written trip report, the gallery contains photos and videos from the tour in chronological order. If you click any of the images it'll open the slideshow view and you can then see all the images full size and uncropped. You can close the slideshow at any time and go back to the thumbnails.

 

Itinerary Slideshow

Photos and videos from the trip, in chronological order 

 
Handrawn Prespa map

Early arrival: Saturday, 27 April

You were wizzed into Ohrid two days before the tour started, to be collected by a taxi driver who told you that “Ohrid Old Town and Map” are all my middle names. Like a human sat-nav, he was. Or so you relayed to Chris M after.

 

Sunday, 28 April

Another day in Ohrid with, if Chris remembers correctly, a boat trip on the “world’s largest, deepest and oldest lake” for AH and MH (not quite), together with a reunion for M with pygmy cormorant.

 

 

Day One: Monday, 29 April

We met just before breakfast in the lobby of the Vila St Sofija hotel. Once on the road, we set off south along the shores of Lake Ohrid - with M spotting goosander - until we started climbing the incredibly scenic mountain road inside Galičica National park. We stopped at a spring to meet Dejan Dimidzievski, a forestry engineer and park warden, who took us on a walk up to one of two incredible viewpoints over lake Ohrid, where swallowtail quickly made themselves known and M clocked coal tit. The first of the trip’s short-toed eagle (snake eagle) was seen high above, favouring as they do the easier pickings on the limestone to the western side of Prespa. And we have a record for M seeing (or hearing?) an Orphean warbler at the lookout over the lake. Chris M doesn’t remember that, but noted it down…

 

Lunch

We stopped below the glacial cirques for a packed lunch with a pair of jays and some chaffinch and chiffchaff, before taking a walk to the vast karst plateau behind the old ski station. As well as some lovely views of a male rock thrush, the muddy road was full of bear, boar, fox and roe deer prints, with some beech marten faeces thrown in for good measure. As we walked on under slightly less moody skies, we realised that there were two different sets of bear prints, with two different gaits. Mum and cub!

 

Skylarks were in the air as Dejan stopped to tell us about the park’s new project to reintroduce fallow deer, which are intended to graze the plateau and keep the forest in check, specifically to protect floral diversity. And as if on cue, we came across the first orchid of the day (Dactylorhiza sambucina ???). The skies also brought us another short-toed eagle, close to us on the skyline, and M was 99% sure about a honey buzzard. Cuckoo, hoopoe and corn bunting were also heard throughout the day, and pretty much throughout the trip. Add in whinchat, stonechat and northern wheatear were seen a few times too, with males and females of all.

 

Afternoon

Now entering the Prespa basin for the first time, from about 1,200m, we descended to the lakeshore and checked into the Lakeview hotel for a two-night stay. We took a break for coffees (the first and last of the trip).

Dinner

Just up the road from the hotel, we sampled a range of traditional dishes from Mario and Dario. Ajvar (charcoal-grilled red pepper paste), tzatziki, beans in a clay pot, stuffed peppers and heaps of whitebait. All washed down with some T’ga za Jug red wine and a few ‘yellow’ raki. We were then treated to a classical guitar duet from the two brothers.

 

Whilst not a birding trip, M and Chris M kept a list of what chanced by us, which I’ll include at the end of each day, with a full list at the end. But we were by no means being militant about it; quite a few went unrecorded through the trip. I’m certain we saw blackcap, but I didn’t tick it. There’ll be more missed too.

 

New bird species: 28

Goosander, great crested grebe, cormorant and pygmy cormorant, short-toed eagle a.k.a. common as muck eagle, honey buzzard, common sandpiper, skylark, barn swallow, house martin, whinchat (m&f), stonechat (f), blackbird, rock thrush, northern wheatear (m&f), chiffchaff, Orphean warbler, coal tit, magpie, jay, hooded crow, house sparrow, tree sparrow, chaffinch, goldfinch, greenfinch, corn bunting

 

Coffees (not including breakfast): 6

Collection of macchiato and espresso, with a Skopsko beer chaser, at Lakeview with Dejan

 

Day Two: Tuesday, 30 April

 

Morning

We started with a walk overlooking the lake, never far from the non-stop call of great reed warbler, and ended up at the old Hotel Europa. It offers a great vantage point over the lake, where M picked out great crested grebe amongst the pelicans and cormorants, and we gazed across to the Pelister mountain range, which we’d journey to tomorrow.

 

On the walk back, in the woodland by the hotel car park, we stopped to enjoy the birdsong of blackbird, tits and nightingale, and were especially lucky to be rewarded with views of the latter singing.

 

Moving to the other side of the lake, we visited an ethnological museum in the village of pant-wetters (‘Podmochani’. No joke) that specialised in wedding dresses from the various districts and religions during the Ottoman era. The collector, Jone, didn’t speak English, but as luck would have it his brother, Blazhe, was back visiting from America and translated for us.

 

Lunch

Today's was genuinely light (seriously! It was this time! First and last time too): Shopska salad together with peppers, a medium-sized slab of feta, yoghurt, ajvar and peppers, at the appropriately named ‘Relax’ café bar on the eastern shores of Great Prespa.

Afternoon

From there we took a windy road up to the village of Kurbinovo to see a man about a key. Which man, and in which house, was a mystery. We’d been told that he was easy to find because he never left home. A hermit perhaps. And if he did, someone else would be home with the key. Naturally, when we had lunch at Relax they told us that he moved to the city ages ok. But on parking in the village ‘square’ and gesturing the international signs for ‘key’ and ‘10th-century monastery with incredible wall paintings’, we found out that he was back home for the holiday weekend. Our luck was in, and after a few more hairpin turns we arrived at the monastery of St George, complete with shepherd, goats and puppies on patrol. Whilst a lot of protective, internal scaffolding disrupts the views of some wall paintings, we were able to see the angel to the left of the Virgen Mary, still in terrific condition above the alter after three centuries, which is reproduced on the 50 denar note.

 

Also visiting that day was a historian from the Bulgarian ministry of culture, who had come to see ‘the most beautiful painting of Gabriel in Orthodox art’, along with her equally enthusiastic husband, who explained how elated he was to be seeing his fourth church of the day and maybe one hundredth of his week’s long-overdue holiday.

 

Up until that point, Chris M had understood that the angel they say is the most beautiful was the angel on the note, but the historian (whose name escapes me and I can’t find her business card at the mo) took some of us back inside to explain that the treasured image of Gabriel was actually in the top left corner of the church, which was now hidden by beams.

 

The church is also known for having the only painting of saints Cyril and Methodius together with Clement of Ohrid, one of their disciples and to whom the design of the Cyrillic alphabet is often ascribed to (there are a few different versions of events around this hence ‘often’).

 

There's a walking trail between some of the monasteries on the mountain, but we decided to drive to the monastery that gives the Holy Water Trail its name, St Bogorodica (Saint Mary), which was built on the site of a spring. We were told it would most definitely be open and we wouldn't need to search for the key. It wasn’t. But M and Chris M did see a great spotted woodpecker, and potentially a hobby, so all was not lost (ish). And the views back over the lake? Something else.

Evening

Back to Mario and Dario’s we went, for another light dinner of local kebabs stuffed with cheese, pork bites, shallow fried whitebait and more of that yellow raki (which I’m drinking in England as I write this report. Smuggled some out).

 

New bird species: 50 (49 seen +1 heard)

Dalmatian pelican, little egret, grey heron, great spotted woodpecker, nightingale, great tit, blue tit, Eurasian nuthatch, starling.

 

 

Day Three: Wednesday, 1st May

 

Morning

Leaving the Prespa basin, we journeyed east around the northern edge of the Pelister national park and mountain range, heading for the ancient city of Heraclea Lyncestis against a massive traffic exodus coming the other way. Clearly, everyone was going to Ohrid for May Day, or they knew something that we didn’t. Had someone in Ohrid stolen the giant and unexplainable coffee cup from the Bitolonian’s favourite roundabout and they were marching en masse to retrieve it? Stranger things have happened in the Balkans.

 

Anyway, to Heraclea. An open museum, we strolled through its streets and two basilicas, admiring the red-rumped swallows in the air, gorgeous poppies and Glanville fritillaries on the walls, and incredible mosaics that portrayed hunting scenes and the wildlife of the time.

 

We next moved a mile or so north to the present-day town of Bitola, (coming from Obitola, a Slavic word for a monastery. The city’s name in Greek and Turkish being Monastiri or Manastir, due to the large number of monasteries on the mountains all around the city). We had a walk along the central pedestrian street, past the military academy (attended by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk), the reconstructed cinema of the Manaki brothers (first Balkan cinematographers), and the good people of Bitola all out in the street, enjoying the Balkan café culture. A bit early for lunch, Chris M forced everyone to sit down for a coffee and some people watching, where we bumped into Peche from the national park.

 

Lunch

Something different today, as we went Anatolian with a Wagner salad twist at Vino Bure in the main square. Spicy breads (lachmachan), fondue and Imam Biyaldi, with a very quaffable local white wine from the Tikves winery. Afterwards, further immersion into Balkan culture took the form of visits to the old Bit Bazaar and both the Ishak Çelebi Mosque (16th c.) and St. Demetrius church (19th c.). We also spotted our first tree sparrows of the trip, white wagtail on the river through the centre of town and the eastern European subspecies of jackdaw – Corvus monedula soemmerringii – with its white semi-collar.

 

Afternoon 

Leaving Bitola, we took the road that climbs the slopes of Mt Pelister, which lead us to the old ski chalet that is Hotel Molika, at 1,400m asl, or 4,600ft. We sauntered along a forest road that took us to one of the nearby so-called “stone rivers” – characteristic remains of the glacial period - through a fine example of Molika pine forest. This five needled pine is endemic to the Balkans and its largest concentration is found on these slopes of Pelister. No luck on nutcrackers, but a cuckoo was heard, just like everywhere we’d visited so far, and as luck would have it, it landed on top of a pine tree not too far from us.

 

Evening

Back at the hotel, we dined in true ‘behind the curtain’, socialist-style with pork fillet and trout, paired with an upgrade of the Tikves winery’s Vranec – this time just pure Vranec grapes rather than the blend in Tga Za Jug – and some Skopsko beers.

 

 

New bird species: 6

Cuckoo, common swift, white wagtail, jackdaw (soemmerringii), tree sparrow, red-rumped swallow

 

 

Day Four: Thursday, 2nd May

 

Morning

After checking-out from Molika, it was back down to the plains and we were soon crossing into Greece. Right on queue, as we darted along the new motorway, a Montagu’s harrier was hunting over arable fields. Our first stop was an extended beekeeping chat and demonstration with Haris, with local pepper and cheese pies, salads and homemade lemonade prepared by his partner, Fotini. Fantastically, and just like two years ago, golden orioles were in the trees and all of a sudden, a nightingale popped down onto the lawn for a feed.

 

As well as seeing the few hives Haris keeps in his garden for demos, we went with him to his family home, where he was able to give some more in-depth answers to questions on beekeeping in this part of the world. White storks nest on many of the pylons in the plains, and also on top of the bell tower of the nearby church.

 

Afternoon

Driving up and up, we passed the ski station and then descended again into the valley of the River Ladhopotamos, before up again for the final mountain pass to enter Greek Prespa. The obligatory stop was made at the viewpoint over Lesser Prespa. Cracking.

 

Evening

We checked into the guesthouse for the next few nights, To Petrino, a traditional stone house in Ayios Yermanos, run by the brilliant Ms Thomai. Once unpacked, we walked down the gentle slope to the village square for a dinner of sheep rib, dwarf cow, black pig, trout and chips with mixed salad.

 

New bird species: 4

White stork, Montagu’s harrier, collared dove, robin.

 
 

 

Day Five: Friday, 3rd May

 

Morning

After a hearty breakfast with Thomai and her husband, we crossed the isthmus, noting our first of many red-backed shrikes and another Montagu’s harrier, and drove toward the fishing village of Psaradhes. Once in the village (the name means fishermen in Greek), we took the boat to visit the hermitages and caves of Lake Great Prespa. Leaving the jetty and great reed warblers behind, we skirted along the coast with both pelican and cormorant species perching on the shores and flying low over the waters. Almost close enough to touch, one really gets an idea of just how large pelicans are. Europe’s largest wingspan at 2.5 – 3m. It was also a good opportunity to gauge the difference in size between the two cormorant species. Up on the cliffs and in the skies we had an array of bird species, with black redstart, crag martin, alpine swifts, rock dove and, for M, a lesser kestrel.

 

We stopped to see the two old frescoes of Holy Mary painted onto the cliffs, next to the ruins of a long-abandoned hermitage. For centuries a small number of hermits would dwell in the caves of Prespa to escape the rest of the world, some of them commuting between this and other sites, many of which we were able to see over the next hour. Going around cape Roti, where the deepest point of the lake lies (55m), we found ourselves very close to the point where the borders of the three countries meet.

 

Near the Albanian border the boat moored up to an old jetty next to a large cave and we climbed the 100 or so steps up to the largest skete (monastic community) of Panagia Eleousa (Holy Mary the Merciful), dating back to the 15th century, which is estimated to have housed 20 or so monks.

 

We were a good 90 minutes on the lake and so it was time to return to Psarades for a short walk and then lunch, which was Prespa carp steaks with beetroot stalks.

 

Afternoon

Staying on the west of Lesser Prespa, we drove up to Vrontero – the only village in Greek Prespa that doesn’t have a view of the lake.

 

First though, we stopped on the corner outside an abandoned village to delight in a bee-eater colony.

 

On to Vrondero then, a village traditionally associated with livestock farming, where we met Dimitris, a Vlach shepherd, who was sharing a glass of tsipuro with a friend. He took us on a walk where he shared some of his life stories and knowledge of medicinal plants. Semi-nomadic shepherds, the Vlachs (or Aromanians in English) have moved their flocks from winter to summer pasture for centuries, at least since the times of the Roman Empire. Dimitris’s storytelling blended with views of little owl, yellowhammers and turtle doves.

 

Back in the village to freshen up before dinner, MH and AH saw Spanish sparrow.

 

Evening

It was a special dinner today, at Nikos’s coffee shop and distillery, as we celebrated a birthday and also the Prespa premiere of Prespa Bean Veloute! It was such a success (for my tastebuds at least) that Nikos cooked only that for the next group in May. Gastronomic trailblazers.

 

New bird species: 15

Great egret, lesser kestrel, rock dove, turtle dove, little owl, alpine swift, bee-eater, crag martin, black redstart, great reed warbler, red-backed shrike, linnet, goldfinch, cirl bunting, yellowhammer.

 

Day Six: Saturday, 4th May

 

Morning

Julian joined us today and we started at one of Greek Prespa’s now famous birding spots: barred warbler corner. M had some luck eventually on the way back, but he was the only member of the group who saw one. There are maybe only a few individuals and it’s not easy to see them unless you stake them out for a while.

 

On top of old mullein we saw many more whinchat and red-backed shrike, with turtle doves on the electricity cables, the larvae of the spurge hawk moth and an unidentified orchid – another Dactylorhiza I think. D. purpurella – the northern marsh orchid?

 

Walking toward the river mouth and, unfortunately, the recent storms had destroyed the willows where a male penduline tit made a nest, but we were still welcomed by sand martin, and even a little ringed plover, with its gorgeous gold eye-ring. I seem to recall Julian heard penduline tit around, but maybe not actually. Certainly, we didn’t see them.

 

Continuing around and there were more bee-eaters, and we heard but couldn’t get a sight of golden oriole. Amazing, given how incredibly yellow they are. We did enjoy being swooped upon by swallows though. Literally flying between us and below head height.

 

Kyriakos joined us briefly to deliver his wife’s homemade packed lunches. Greek salad in a wrap with savoury muffins and a flapjack. We also bumped into Berend, a Dutch researcher who’s been coming to Prespa every year now for six or seven years, helping the Society for the Protection of Prespa (SPP) with studies of Prespa’s unusual greylag geese population. Ah yes! We saw greylag geese.

 

On the way to the island, we stopped by the sluice gate that controls the water level in Lesser Prespa, which helps maintain the wet meadows so essential to water birds and the fish population. It’s another good place for penduline tits. And again, a nest seen the week before had been destroyed by the storm. Rotten luck.

 

Lunch

We weren’t having much better luck with the weather, so we ate our packed lunch inside the nearby tavern, with some chips.

 

Afternoon

Julian next took us up to the small hill that overlooks Lesser Prespa, the island of Ayios Achillios and the colony of Dalmatian pelican, who nest in the reeds alongside the white pelicans, cormorants, herons and egrets. He explained about the history of the wetland restoration undertaken by the SPP, of which the sluice gate is a part of, and the conservation success story that has enabled this site to become the world's largest breeding colony of Dalmatian pelicans.

 

Walking over the bridge we were greeted by close views of squacco and night heron, and our luck increased when we had good views of little bittern, a bird that breeds here in low numbers and is far from being a gregarious egret. 

 

I also noticed a rather unusual dragonfly for the region, which I looked up later and, having double checked with some friends, identified as female yellow-spotted whiteface (Leucorrhinia pectoralis). The southernmost part of its range is generally further north than Prespa, so this was a good sign. Friends explained that if a male could be found it would be doubly interesting, but a solitary female could have blown off course, or been confused by the unseasonably cold spring.

 

At the other end of the 700m floating footbridge was the island of Agios Achillios. Until the year 2000, the island’s inhabitants had to commute with boats, with the exception of harsh winters when they walked across the ice. The island is famous as the short-lived capital of Tsar Samuel, the scourge of the Byzantine Empire in the late 10th century. He built a palace here along with a cathedral to house the bones of St. Achillios, the ruins of which stand today.

 

Moving up the hill from the palace and who did we bump into but a penduline tit. Finally. Worth a celebratory beer in the island’s tavern, with its veranda looking out over the lake.

 

 

New bird species: 20

Mute swan, greylag goose, mallard, ferruginous duck, little grebe, white pelican, little bittern, night heron, squacco heron, marsh harrier, buzzard, kestrel, moorhen, coot, little ringer plover, hoopoe, crested lark, sand martin, barred warbler, penduline tit.

 

Day Seven: Sunday, 5th May 

 

Morning

Being halfway through the trip called for a late breakfast, then an amble around the village of Ayios Yermanos, where we’d been staying the last three nights. Once home to more than 2,500, it now has around 100-120.

 

With the weather looking like it was going to turn, we headed straight for Albania, via a roadside drop off of packed lunches from Kyriakos.

 

Afternoon

Once at the border the heavens really opened and we witnessed some interesting scenes as a couple of HGVs almost jack-knifed or went the wrong way through customs. Some equally fascinating cargos of enormous marble blocks too.

 

Checking in to the wonderfully homey ‘White House’ in Korce, we went for a coffee on the 6th floor of the Sky Café, to survey Albania’s second city and cultural capital.

 

Evening

After a break and freshening up, we met Ema in the square, a young woman born, raised and working in Korce. She took us on a short walking tour of the centre, past the 15th-century mosque of Mirahori Illiaz Bey (was it Ramadan? Did you go inside? Or that was another group?), the clock tower and into the recently done upmarket sector. We gorged on local sausage, pork chops and salads before a walk up the recently pedestrianised street, past the white silhouette of the cathedral of St George (now a library) and back to the hotel.

 
 

 

Day Eight: Monday, 6th May

 

Morning

Leaving Korce, we ascended the mountain pass to re-enter the Prespa basin. The pass itself offers great views over the plains and also perfect rock and scrub for the trip’s first blue rock thrush and our black-eared wheatear – we had males and females of both too. A cracking breeding site. We saw the nest of rock nuthatch too, but not the birds. There were more short-toed eagle (becoming pests now), and a fly-by by a goshawk.

 

Moving on over the mountain pass and into the plateau, we stopped a couple of time in the hope of sighting our first lesser grey shrike; friend to the red-backed and woodchat. There were a few false alarms with northern wheatears, and a stop for a female red-backed shrike led us to a young white wagtail that had sadly perished, but no lesser grey. Further along, leaving the plateau, we stopped again at a yellow kiosk, with commanding views of Great Prespa, looking back to the cave that we visited on the Greek side.

 

Descending toward lunch in Zaroshka, we paused repeatedly for various birds fluttering around the scrubs and trees. Crested larks were everywhere and, as we stopped by a fence, AH noticed a lovely little warbler, which I managed a distant snap of and Julian later confirmed that it was an Icterine warbler. Quite the treat as it’s generally migrating through to breed further north.

 

Lunch

Just before lunch, we picked up a ‘hitchhiker’. As Chris understood ‘hello’ and the name of the village she wanted to go to, she was convinced he could speak Albanian or Macedonian or both. We dropped her off and parked by Hotel Ilo, overlooking the reeds and lakeshore. The traditional dish in these parts is carp steak in a shallow sided pan with roe and a white sauce, which we paired with our first Shoskpa salad – sort of like a Greek salad, but with creamy feta grated over the top.

 

Afternoon

Full of food, we drove north, along the lakeshore, to meet Valentina. And on the way - requiring near enough emergency stop – there it was, with its back toward it, a lesser grey shrike, showing marvellously for us.

 

Continuing on, we picked up Valentina in her village. A school teacher in the local high school, we tried to do a favourite walk of mine on the opposite lakeshore, through the old terracing and a lakeside wood. We managed to find some wonderful lady orchids – with Valentina telling us the local name is 'swallow flower' – before the rain set in. It looked better further south, so we tried another walk under the crags by the next bay. Alas, the rains followed us and we got a bit of a soaking. Some nice views of crag martin though and, hunkering down from the rains, AH and MB came across a chequered blue (Scolitantides orion). This was another stroke of luck given the rain and how this butterfly is very local and sporadic, and here at the southern edge of its range. Walking quickly back to the vehicle and we saw a great reed warbler fly by and then stay for a few seconds at the top of a reed. A bird we’d been hearing all week, but not seen well.

 

Given the rain, we stopped for a coffee and a chat with Valentina, where MH sampled another frothy Nescafe and suggested they consider a switch to Kenco…

 

Driving back to Korce, we stopped at the pass again, with the rains having had abated, and quite the reward we received, with lovely views of hoopoe and, working in and out of its nest, a rock nuthatch. A perfect end to a day’s nature spotting, especially given the showers.

 

Evening

Our dinner was close to the hotel, at the villa of a national here, Germenji Themistokli. The owner and chef served us salmon and potatoes with some lovely carrot cake and a bottle of Riesling.

 

New bird species: 7

Goshawk, yellow-legged gull, mistle thrush, blue rock thrush, black-eared wheatear, great reed warbler, Icterine warbler.

 

 

Day Nine: Tuesday, 7th May

 

Morning

We drove up to Voskopoje for the morning, in the mountains to the west of Korce, it was the far larger city up until the 18 century. Indeed, it was one of the largest cities in the Balkans, with 4 cathedrals for each of its four quarters, 20 other churches and the second printing press in the Balkans after Istanbul. We met Anxhela who showed us two of the cathedrals still in relatively good condition, and a church up on the hill now just used for funerals. The masonry, wall paintings and wood carvings were on another level (figuratively), demonstrating just how important and wealthy this now village once was. Sharing the tour with us were an Australian forest ranger and a Polish woman who were backpacking through Albania.

 

We shouldn’t forget that there was time for a coffee before meeting Anxhela (always time, even if it meant we made the Australian and Polish tourists wait), and on our way between churches, there was the quickest of glimpses at a ‘lifer’ for M – a wryneck. The village was surprisingly brilliant for birds, possibly due to the meadows circling the houses still being traditionally grazed, even though there are fewer heads of livestock than decades ago. Serin were everywhere.

 

Lunch

Our guide recommended her favourite restaurant, which served up a feast of local pie with spinach, rooster and pilaf rice, pickled veg and a sponge cake dripping in honey.

 

Afternoon

Having an extra day in Korce, which folks on the fixed Secrets of Prespa and Ohrid don’t get the chance to enjoy, we were able to next visit the Medieval Art Museum. This newly opened building now houses many of the precious icons from churches in Voskopole and elsewhere in Korce district. One enters to a wall of hundreds of icons before walking through the rest of the museum with images in chronological order.

 

With time on our hands, we next took a personal tour with Dorian around the archaeological museum, learning about the Neolithic settlements, some of the first and most important in Albania and the wider region, which were excavated near the former Lake Maliq, outside Korce.

 

Evening

Our final Albania dinner saw a return to Kooperativa, where we tucked into more sausages, kebabs, salads and chips.

 

New bird species: 2

Wryneck, serin.

Day Ten: Wednesday, 8th May

 

Morning

We had a bit of a later breakfast before driving north toward Lake Ohrid and the border with North Macedonia. Dorian had pointed out on a map where the old excavations were on the shores of the former Lake Maliq and told us that, whilst they were now used for agriculture, there would be a clear difference in colour. He said it’d just be obvious that that’s where the dig was. We couldn’t quite imagine what he must mean but sure enough, when we parked up by the side of the road in the middle of seemingly nowhere, with no signs of the remarkable significance of the location in European history, there were a couple of fields that had to be where the digs were. Amazing to think that there was a lake here and, 6,000 years ago, dozens of houses on stilts in the swamp.

 

Crossing the border, we immediately came across the monastery complex of St Naum, who, with Kliment, Cyril and Methodius, developed the Cyrillic language and spread it throughout the Slavic speakers of the time. The Bulgarian Emperor dispatched Naum to Ohrid, where he formed a church that is the site of the monastery. Since the Tito-era however, the complex has been a hotel and restaurant. We had a good look around before continuing north to Trpejca – the San Tropez of Lake Ohrid.

 

Lunch

Saving the best meal to (nearly) last, the family running the Ribar restaurant treated us to their incredible charcoaled trout on a terrace by the shores of Lake Ohrid. Some view.

 

Afternoon

Another museum we usually can’t stop at on the fixed tour is the ‘Bay of Bones’, a reconstruction of the stilt houses that would’ve been found here and also by Maliq where we were in the morning.

 

Evening

Checking in again to Villa St Sofija, we walked up to the Roman theatre and ordered some local casseroles and grilled trout for dinner.

 

 

 

Day Eleven: Thursday, 9th May

 

Morning

Our final day together and another new one for Balkan Tracks – showing people the nunnery of St George and monastery of St John. The latter of which Chris himself had not visited, but a friend in Resen knew a nun there, Sister Efimia. She gave us a fabulous tour of the church and ticked off all of Martin’s questions before we sat down for coffee and Turkish delight with an album of the incredible mitres that the nuns are famous for; the latest of which was recently presented to Pope Francis on his visit to the country.

 

Another half-hour north, continuing along the River Drin and more gorge-ous scenery (see what I did there), we arrived at the restored monastery of St John. A father was on hand to guide us around the church and its phenomenal wood-carved iconostasis.

 

And then it was back to Ohrid. But we stopped to eat our packed lunches by a bridge under a precipitous mountain village. We hoped to see dipper, but dipped. Ho ho.

 

Once back in the Old Town, it was time for Chris to drop off the minibus and we were left to say our farewells.

Friday, 10th and Saturday, 11th May

 

With Wizzair only flying in and out on Saturdays at this time of the year, you enjoyed a relaxing final day in Ohrid’s old town, before the morning flight the next day.

 

Thank you again and we hope to see you again in another corner of the Southern Balkans.

 

 

 

Bird Species List

 

NOTE: do remember that we weren’t birding; ordinarily 120+ species would be seen in a week's birding around Prespa in May. But the list here is rather quite pleasing considering that we were just bumping into them without seeking them out.

Seen: 93

 

  1. Mute Swan

  2. Greylag Goose

  3. Mallard

  4. Common Pochard

  5. Ferruginous Duck

  6. Goosander

  7. Little Grebe

  8. Great Crested Grebe

  9. Great White Pelican

  10. Dalmatian Pelican

  11. Great Cormorant

  12. Pygmy Cormorant

  13. Little Bittern

  14. Night Heron

  15. Squacco Heron

  16. Little Egret

  17. Great Egret

  18. Grey Heron

  19. White Stork

  20. Short-toed Eagle

  21. Marsh Harrier

  22. Montagu’s Harrier

  23. Common Buzzard

  24. Honey Buzzard

  25. Northern Goshawk

  26. Common Kestrel

  27. Lesser Kestrel

  28. Hobby

  29. Common Moorhen

  30. Common Coot

 

 

 

Heard, but not forgotten (or seen): 2

 

  1. Cetti’s Warbler

  2. Golden Oriole

     

  1. Little Ringed Plover

  2. Green Sandpiper

  3. Common Sandpiper

  4. Common Redshank

  5. Yellow-legged Gull

  6. Rock Dove / Feral Pigeon

  7. Collared Dove

  8. Turtle Dove

  9. Little Owl

  10. Common Swift

  11. Alpine Swift

  12. Bee-eater

  13. Hoopoe

  14. Wryneck

  15. Sky Lark

  16. Crested Lark

  17. Sand Martin

  18. Crag Martin

  19. Barn Swallow

  20. Red-rumped Swallow

  21. House Martin

  22. White Wagtail

  23. European Robin

  24. Nightingale

  25. Black Redstart

  26. Whinchat

  27. Stonechat

  28. Common Blackbird

  29. Blue Rock Thrush

  30. Northern Wheatear

  1. Black-eared Wheatear

  2. Barred Warbler

  3. Great Reed Warbler

  4. Icterine Warbler

  5. Chiffchaff

  6. Orphean Warbler

  7. Great Tit

  8. Coal Tit

  9. Blue Tit

  10. Penduline Tit

  11. Eurasian Nuthatch

  12. Western Rock Nuthatch

  13. Treecreeper

  14. Red-backed Shrike

  15. Woodchat Shrike

  16. Lesser Grey Shrike

  17. Magpie

  18. Eurasian Jay

  19. Jackdaw (soemmerringii)

  20. Hooded Crow

  21. (Northern) Raven

  22. Common Starling

  23. House Sparrow

  24. Spanish Sparrow

  25. Tree Sparrow

  26. Chaffinch

  27. Linnet

  28. Goldfinch

  29. Greenfinch

  30. Serin

  31. Cirl Bunting

  32. Corn Bunting

  33. Yellowhammer

 

 

A Few of the Trip's Recipes

 

Most of the chefs don't write them down, so we've trawled the internet to find the closest recipes.

We've not included recipes for these two, which are very simple:

  • Tzatziki (yoghurt with cucumber, garlic and black pepper)

  • Shopska salad (bit like a Greek salad, but with grated creamy feta)

Ajvar

Spread from roasted red peppers

https://www.curiouscuisiniere.com/ajvar/

Melitzano-salata

Aubergine dip for crudites or spreading

 

http://www.mygreekdish.com/recipe/melitzanosalata-aubergine-salad-dip/

 

 

Grilled aubergine with garlic

Nb. The Imam Biyaldi aubergine dish is a whole other thing.

 

https://www.bbc.com/food/recipes/grilled_aubergines_with_73271

 

 

Politiki salad

Coleslaw without the mayonnaise (ish)

 

https://www.kalofagas.ca/2012/03/15/politiki-salata/

 

Stuffed ‘Florina’ peppers

Those long red ones, which in Greece are often referred to as Florina

 

http://www.mygreekdish.com/recipe/stuffed-peppers-with-feta-cheese/

 

 

Stuffed bell peppers

With rice and mincemeat. Many recipes for use tomatoes, but peppers are the winners for us.

 

http://www.mygreekdish.com/recipe/gemista-stuffed-tomatoes-peppers-and-onions/

 

 

Fasoladha (bean soup)

Nikos makes it different every time, depending on what he has to hand, and does the measurements by eye, so the web is as good as anywhere to get an idea of quantities from which to experiment with. They always use the small, white bean here though. Not the ‘giant’ or ‘elephant’ bean. I’m afraid I don’t have his veloute recipe. I should ask him!

 

http://www.mygreekdish.com/recipe/traditional-greek-bean-soup-recipe-fasolada/

 

 

Soutzoukakia (Greek meatballs – kofte)

We had these with, but more often without sauce

 

http://www.mygreekdish.com/recipe/soutzoukakia-baked-meatballs-with-tomato-sauce/

 

 

Feta Psiti

Feta oven-roasted and then used as a dip for bread. Here they’d put it in a ceramic pot, not aluminium foil

 

https://www.lemonandolives.com/baked-feta/

 

 

Gigantes - Beans in the oven

This recipe is basically as the locals would do it, although they’d use dill and not cinnamon.

https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/12229/gigantes-plaki

 

 

Spanokotirokopita

Spinach and cheese pie

 

I’ve got Hugh Ferallingly-Whats-his-name’s vegetarian book, which is a grand book in of itself, but he does a spinach and cheese pie recipe, which I googled and found here

 

https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2011/oct/14/spinach-recipes-hugh-fearnley-whittingstall

 

 

BALKAN TRACKS

CONTACT

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info@balkantracks.com

0044 (0)7506 381757

 

 

Unit 8A, Red Lane Mill, Sunny Bank Mills, Farsley, LS28 5UJ

UK

 

 

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