Saint Naum (Sveti Naum) is a village located 25-30 km from Ohrid (depending on the chosen means of transportation), situated right next to the Albanian border. Besides the monastery bearing the same name, which is one of the main tourist attractions in the area, St Naum also offers tourists a beachy strip of sand, a souvenirs alley, a traditional restaurant and – what impressed me the most – the extraordinary springs of Lake Ohrid and the Black Drim river. But let’s take each at a time!
After the boat trip that took us close to the lake’s right coast (as we’re looking at the map), we reached St Naum little port around 11:30. Immediately after setting foot on steady soil, we ran into the statue of the saint who was apprentice of Saint Cyril and Methodius. Carved directly in a tree – which allows us to see how the saint’s feet transform into the tree’s roots -, the statue is another miracle that Saint Naum performed after his death, as it stood erect ever since the year 2000, when it was inaugurated, despite general expectations.
We climb next to St Naum Hotel and among gorgeous peacocks up to the entrance in the monastery. There, right above the main gate, we saw a mosaic showing one of the most important and well-known miracles performed by St Naum. A poor man had no other means to live by except for the fruits of his land, that he worked using a plow with two oxen. As one of the oxen died, the man went to St Naum to seek help, but the saint sent him back home, assuring him that everything will be alright. Indeed, as the man returned home, he saw a tamed black bear yoked at the plow in the place of the dead ox.
To visit the church of St Naum we had to pay a fee (it was 100 denars/person last time I was there). Beside a lot of old and wonderful frescoes, inside the church we saw the saint’s tomb. The legend says that if we draw near and put our left ear and right hand on the tomb stone, we could hear the saint’s heart still beating. But only if we believe in St Naum’s miracles! The truth is, in fact, that the limy soil under the church is crossed by springs that create similar noises to a beating heart.
From the church’s courtyard, situated well above Lake Ohrid’s level, we get a breathtaking prospect over the lake, as well as some faint idea over precincts of the Albanian town Pogradec, also situated on the lake’s shore.
As we descend from the monastery you can visit a small but very beautiful chapel, that of St Petka. From here you can take healing water, that legends say has beneficial effects in eye disease treatments. Everything links back to the legend of the saint that gives the church its name. Petka was a very beautiful girl. When the Turks conquered the region, an Ottoman leader saw her, fell in love with her on the spot and decided to marry her. The girl preferred to claw her eyes out than allow a non-believer to enjoy her beauty.
In a couple hundred metres we got to the entrance to Ostrovo restaurant’s garden. We crossed it and got to the boats that, for 2 euro/person, took us on the waters of the canals from which Lake Ohrid is born.
As the area is protected, any improvement or change of the canals, as well as usage of motor boats, are completely forbidden. I never thought to be closer to that image of Thai boats flowing on still waters, in a silent frame, in perfect harmony with the nature. Now and then we saw water coming out from the limestone on the bottom of the canals, at times we noticed it springing from among stones, as it infiltrated from Prespa, the neighbouring lake, through the mountain’s rocks. A thousand years ago, Ohrid and Prespa were a single lake, but they’re now separated by Mount Galicica. The maximum depth of St Naum canal, in which 35 springs flow directly, is 3 metres, but the water is so crystalline and clean, that you feel like you can touch the canal’s bottom with your hands, if you bend over the boar (highly not recommendable!). The rowing boy told us – it’s true, in Macedonian – that the purity of the water is close to 90%! He proved it by taking a glass from under a bench, taking water from the canal and drinking it all. It was cold and pleasant, tempting, but be warned that it could be too cold and give you stomach problems. Sometimes we could see the bottom of the canal, some other times that was covered with water plants. The colour palette throws us from surreal turquoise to marine green and countless hues for which not even us, women, couldn’t make up names! Our attention is drawn permanently by water snakes, little tortoises getting a tan, ducks going under for food, the branches of evla, a tree that contains 21% water and from which the colour red is extracted for different types of paint. Rocks, plants, birds, water, everything is under protection! As we continued our boat ride, we could see from the water the ancient church of St. Anastasia, dating from the 5th century, built over subterranean springs which intersect in the shape of a cross.
After a dreamy half hour it was high time we came back with our feet on the ground and give into our senses, which informed us about the lamb slowly cooking on a stake, the pie baking in the earth oven and the other delicacies the guys at Ostrovo prepared for us. Whether you choose a table inside the restaurant, on the terraces (which is actually a pontoon over the canal) or in the garden, you will be surrounded by peacocks and bunnies running about freely and undisturbed through your legs. A filling meal – and very, very tasty – was around 10 euro / person (might be more now).
If, however, you have a smaller budget, you can buy food from one of the terraces that line up on the souvenir alley. The cooks will grill juicy pleskavica and fat sausages right in front of you. And I’ll stop here with details on food, since my mouth just started to water!
On the souvenirs alley you’ll find magnets, T-shirts, CDs, mugs, rakija bottles (some sort of local brandy), trinkets and many more Ohrid or St Naum branded objects, as well as ceramic / earth pots, specific to Macedonia, which are for cooking beans. About pearl jewelry, you have to know some things, if you ladies are tempted. There are only 3 families in Ohrid that produce original pearls. But these are not pearls found inside clams, but the mother-of-pearl of certain clams, prepared by a secret recipe, mixed with different natural substances. The resulting substance is given different shapes, so some pearls can be more rounded or more elongated, depending on the buyers’ preferences. The final pearl can be white, cream-coloured, beige and transparent in the same time. A set of pearls reached 70 euro last time I visited Ohrid: 20 euro the earrings, 15 euro the one strand bracelet, 35 euro the one strand collar. If a layer of mother-of-pearl taken from the scales of a fish living in Lake Ohrid is added to the pearl, the final product gets even more expensive. One of the 3 pearl-producing families, Risteski, has a shop right at the entrance in Ostrovo Restaurant. The pearls that you can buy from the souvenir stands, much cheaper and without any certificate, also make a nice souvenir.
Don’t forget that the boat that takes you back to Ohrid leaves the port at 16:00. If you have some time left, take advantage of the pretty decent beach strand and take a dip in the lake. Take my advice and do that as far as possible from the point where the springs of Lake Ohrid flow into the lake, as the water coming from the canals is much colder than that from the lake. There’s a grass meadow between the beach and the souvenirs alley, where people play football and similar sports to pass the time.
At 16:00 the boat starts moving, taking you back to Ohrid. Since the return trip is made on higher speed, you will get to the harbour around 17:00. However, if you go to St Naum by bus or car, you don’t depend so much on a fixed schedule and can dedicate more time to shopping, strolling around or relaxation.
I haven’t thought yet what other delightful places from Ohrid or nearby it will make the fifth chapter of my travel guide. Until then, you can enjoy the information on the road between Romania (Craiova) and Ohrid, the spectacular sights you can discover during a guided tour of Ohrid old tow, as well as the stories Lake Ohrid provides. Until next time, dream of Ohrid!
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