During our few days of exploring Ohrid, we also looked at the possibility of heading across the border into Albania. It was an interesting option, especially with the resort town of Pogradec being so near. At the same time, it didn’t really attract us to head to another resort town. Instead, we wished to see more of Albania itself. That is how our target was set on Korçë, a town with a long history in southeastern Albania. But as I didn’t want to drive in this part of Europe and we failed to find a good option for a private tour, we eventually ended up on a small tour bus heading towards the border crossing at Saint Naum.
Tea and Coffee in Pogradec, Albania
The tour guide on the bus was for some reason unprepared to have to speak English. He was much more comfortable with the Dutch language and many of our fellow travelers came from the Netherlands. A few of us, however, expected English and the guide had to be reminded about this several times. Needless to say, the Dutch friends on the bus did a lot of translating. The others were really friendly and from the start, we talked quite a bit with especially a Dutch couple, but also with a couple from India. So the information from the tour guide was eventually not the main entertainment.
Our first stop was in the earlier-mentioned resort town of Pogradec. I’m quite sad to say that this stop really reminded me why I usually avoid tour groups. We started our stop here with a cup of tea or coffee in a small café. The stop was followed by a walking tour through one of the markets and a neighborhood that fitted their story. A story that many times focused on the poor Albanians. The way many people in the Balkans talk about their neighbors does really give me a bad feeling. So my opinion about our tour guide was honestly not top-rated when we got back on the bus for the drive towards our main target, the town of Korçë.
Lunch in Korçë, Albania
Korçë is the eighth most populated city in Albania and where we were going to have lunch in a local restaurant. This is the home of the Birra Korça, the local beer and the third-largest beer producer in Albania. The two largest brands of beer in Albania are Birra Tirana and Birra Stela. Our tour bus dropped us off near the town center and our guide had once more to struggle with presenting everything in both Dutch and English. Well, it took way too much time in my opinion and we probably lost a lot of time that could have been used to see more of the town.
Eventually, we reached the main pedestrian street in the center. At this time I would have loved to head out myself for a longer walk, but that was just not possible. We eventually found the restaurant where we were going to be treated to local food for lunch. Unfortunately, we ended up in the basement of the restaurant instead of the outdoor seating. My apologies if I don’t sound too positive. In hindsight, it is small things like this that remind me why I never opt for tours like this. The food was, however, good and it was really nice to finally have a beer. Well, anything to drink, really. The temperature on this day was a bit too high to spend on a bus, even with somewhat working air conditioning.
After lunch, we continued towards one of the central squares where the large Orthodox Resurrection Cathedral is located. It is an impressive church, but our guide once more got stuck on any connection with North Macedonia and the local Albanian unwillingness towards its construction. While large parts of the group enjoyed its interior we and a few more finally had some time to actually take time to see the surrounding square. We didn’t run around, but at least we could take in the atmosphere and sounds of the town. The Resurrection Cathedral was actually built as late as 1992. The former Cathedral in Korçë was demolished by the communist regime in 1968.
A Break in Pustec, Albania
Sadly we left Korçë without exploring much more of the town. Instead, we headed back towards the border, but not towards Lake Ohrid. This time we were heading towards Lake Prespa. Before reaching the border we made a stop in the village of Pustec. This is a village that is home to a large part of the Macedonian minority in Albania. Here the Macedonian language is the main language and even the schools teach in Macedonian.
For us, we got to see the center of the village and visit a local family that has set up a museum. Well, a museum with old objects that had been collected from other people in the village. Interesting idea, but it was hard to find it really fascinating. For some reason, we reached the tour bus before our guide and were really happy to have the time to find the local grocery store. Many of us were by now in need to find refreshments before continuing towards the border. Once we and another couple walked away to the shop a huge portion of the group followed and did the same. The mood in the tour bus was a lot better once everyone had some sodas and water again.
Amazing View of Lake Ohrid, North Macedonia
Between Lake Prespa and Lake Ohrid is the national park of Galičica. The highest peak here is Magaro, reaching a height of 2,255 meters above the sea. From the shores of Lake Ohrid, this is a height difference of around 695 meters. We did, of course, not drive across the peak itself, but we did reach a fairly high altitude when crossing these mountains. And with the sun, sadly, in front of us, we did eventually get an amazing view of Lake Ohrid far below us. This was in the end the nicest one of our stops during the day. There is just that feeling when encountering a scenery like this. I wouldn’t have minded if we would have stayed here a few hours until sunset. But it was the last day stop of the day and we were soon on our way back to Ohrid.
In general, it had been a quite nice day. The main drawback was the feeling of being limited. Not being able to move around and explore as we wished. A feeling that was highlighted by the guide wasting time presenting everything in two languages. It did, as mentioned, remind me why I prefer to explore on my own or in smaller groups of friends and like-minded people. We kept this is mind when exploring more of North Macedonia and later Kosovo. But for this hot summer day, we still had a last evening to enjoy in Ohrid before it was time to go back to Skopje.
Join us and read more about our Balkan adventure here: Summer in Macedonia 2023