THE TRAVELER Alex Robertson Textor, a prolific blogger (Spendthrift Shoestring) and the author of a low-budget Caribbean guide who fell in love with travel as an 11-year-old, when his family lived in Vienna for nearly a year and explored Europe together. He travels about 12 times a year on assignments for The New York Times, Budget Travel, and Eurocheapo.
THE PLACE Despite its position on the banks of Macedonia's magnificent Lake Ohrid, and despite the fact that it just so happens to be the most popular tourist destination in Macedonia, Ohrid remains unknown to most American travelers. But it's reaching an on-the-verge moment—like Prague 20 years ago—that should grant early North American arrivals serious bragging rights. "In the height of summer, Ohrid is full of European visitors, and there's a party atmosphere," says Textor. "Lots of people rent a car or a taxi for the day and circle the lake."
When Textor took the loop, he pulled over 18 miles south of town at the sight of Sveti Naum. "It's a stunning monastery right on the border with Albania, dating back to the year 905," says Textor. The complex, with commanding views of the lake's blue-green water, has a church gilded with elaborate frescoes and a restaurant next door. "The monk on duty will pass out a shot of rakija, the local firewater, with your admission ticket," he says.
A stroll through Ohrid, one of Europe's oldest human settlements, reveals layer upon layer of history, from 5th-century tombs to a 2nd-century B.C. Roman amphitheater. In the mazelike Old Bazaar, stalls hawk silver filigree jewelry and treats like leblebija (roasted chickpeas) and foamy coffee. Newer developments include nightclubs along Ohrid's beaches and the Museum on Water, which opened in 2008 and incorporates artifacts into a replica of a late Bronze Age/early Iron Age village.
But Textor gravitated to the intricate Byzantine churches. He was enchanted by the 13th-century Sveti John Kaneo—perched over the transparent lake in an iconic, beautiful way—and by the frescoes within Sveta Sophia. "Keep in mind that this is Orthodox territory," notes Textor. "Churches in Italy and France are generally far less intimate. Orthodox churches tend to be more cluttered, very small, and very intimate."
THE DETAILS It's a three-hour bus ride from Skopje to Ohrid, 011-389/22-466-313, sas.com.mk, $11; Villa Rustica, villarustica.com.mk, doubles from $31.
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