Europe | Macedonia
January 6, 2010
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2009, Monday 21 September: Lake Prespa, Macedonia

Lake Prespa shoreline, Macedonia
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Lakes are the mayflies of landscape - gone in but a twinkle of geological time. One hundred thousand years is about the limit, before silt and sediment do their dirtiest. But there are exceptions. Lakes Baikal (in Siberia) and Tanganiyka (in Africa) are the grandest and best-known, tectonic lakes both. A string of similar, if smaller, limnological living fossils cluster in the rugged backcountry where Albania, Macedonia and Greece meet. For much of the past 50 years the area has been dicey at best, and forbidden - at the point of a border guard's rifle - most other times. Now, however, it's all smiles.

Lake Ohrid is the largest and most-visited. By Balkan standards, it’s a major tourist centre. It's also an ancient cradle of culture: among other things, the Cyrillic alphabet was first devised by monks living on its shores. Deservedly, Ohrid has been granted World Heritage Status, and it's very pretty too. Its sibling, Lake Prespa, however, is much less-frequented. Higher, smaller and remoter, Prespa feeds Ohrid through cracks in the limestone. For six miles water flows underground beneath the mountain that separates the two. Filtered as it goes, the water enters Ohrid like crystal gin. Virtually sediment-free, it is thus responsible for Ohrid's exceptional longevity (5 million years is the best guess). Very much the poor relation, Prespa has none of Ohrid's patina of ancient learning (or promenading crowds). The best it can muster by way of diversion is Snake Island - an abandoned islet seething with water snakes; charming I'm sure. Prespa does, however, offer solitude (outside high summer), somnolence and a quiet melancholy to its sandy lakeshore that comes as a consequence of being of such slight esteem.

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