Prespa (Macedonian: Преспа) is a region surrounding the Great Prespa Lake and Small Prespa Lake. This international region is shared by Albania, Greece, and North Macedonia, which contains a majority of the Great Prespa Lake. North Macedonia's share of the region is completely within Resen Municipality, bound by Galičica National Park to the west, Pelister National Park to the east, the borders with Albania and Greece to the south, and northern parts of Resen Municipality to the north.
Prespa is a popular domestic vacation spot for Macedonians and even receives many foreign tourists. Prespa is home to some of the best beaches in this landlocked country. It is surrounded by two national parks containing spectacular mountainous terrain, making the area a major destination for recreation and wildlife viewing. The area is also home to some of the most charming villages in Macedonia, with the combined beauty of the natural scenery and the traditional village architecture.
Prespa is a rural area of natural beauty and important history. Galičica National Park separates the region from Lake Ohrid. The villages on the western shore of Prespa slope upwards toward Galičica Mountain. On the eastern side, the villages slope upwards toward Baba Mountain in Pelister National Park. This means there are many beautiful vistas to be seen of the lake, regardless of where you find yourself. The views only get better the further up into the mountains you go.
The Prespa area consists of the villages of (from the west going clockwise around the lake): Konjsko, Stenje, Leskoec, Oteševo, Šurlenci, Volkoderi, Pokrvenik, Preljublje, Perovo, Drmeni, Ezerani, Podomočani, Grnčari, Rajca, Asamati, Kurbinovo, Pretor, Slivnica, Krani, Arvati, Štrbovo, Nakolec, Ljubojno, Brajčino, and Dolno Dupeni. Over 4,500 people live in these villages as of the last census.
Prespa's inhabitants traditionally work in agriculture. Roughly half of the apples produced in the country are grown in Resen Municipality.
Ethnic Macedonians form a large majority in the area (77%), but there is ethnic diversity in Prespa with Albanians forming 22% and Turks forming 1%. Arvati, Grnčari, Krani, and Nakolec have ethnic Albanian majorities. Further north of Prespa toward Resen are larger Turkish communities. The Macedonians are typically Orthodox Christians, while Albanians and Turks are largely Muslims. Unlike other parts of the country, there haven't been any inter-ethnic incidents in Prespa even at the height of tensions in 2001.
Prespa, like many rural regions in North Macedonia, has suffered from youth migration to cities and foreign countries. The population in the last census is roughly half the 1981 number. Many villages have primarily elderly residents. In the summertime, the number of people in the area increases with many people returning to homes that have been in their families for generations.
This region's long history is evidenced by the archaeological sites found on the island of Golem Grad, as well as by the medieval churches and monasteries scattered around Prespa. The Ottoman history of Prespa is evident all over the area with the Ottoman-era village architecture visible in most every village.
Prespa was active during the Ilinden Uprising in 1903 and suffered severe attacks from the Ottomans. For instance, the village of Brajčino lost 27 lives and saw fires set to 77 houses and all but two churches.
Ottoman rule finally ended in 1912 when the Kingdom of Serbia (later the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes) took control of the area following the partition of Macedonia. The partition particularly affected this area because natural contact ended with villages south of the border at Dolno Dupeni. During World War I, the region was occupied by the Bulgarians. The Macedonian front ran right through the area. Following the war, Prespa was again under the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes. During World War II, however, it fell under the Italian protectorate of Albania and then for a short period back under the Bulgarian fascists. After the National Liberation War, Prespa was under Yugoslav rule and then a part of the independent Republic of Macedonia in 1991.
Prespa became the center of the attention in 2018 when Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev and his Greek counterpart Alexis Tsipras signed the Prespa Agreement to end the Macedonia naming dispute. The agreement was signed by the Lakeview Hotel and Resort in Oteševo.
There are three ways to get into the Prespa area via car from other parts of North Macedonia, as well as neighbouring Albania. It was announced in 2019 that the border with Greece (at Dolno Dupeni) shall be re-opened for the first time since the 1960s.
- Highway P504 splits off from P501, which runs north-south between Galičica and Lake Ohrid, near St Naum. P504 cuts across Galičica National Park connecting Lake Ohrid's eastern shore with Lake Prespa's western shore. There are a lot of twists and turns on this mountain road but the nature and views are spectacular.
- E-65 is a highway that runs east-west through Resen, north of Prespa. Road R1307 splits from the highway in the town of Resen and runs through the western side of Prespa to the Albanian border crossing. Road 1308 splits off from the highway west of Resen and runs south on the eastern side of Prespa all the way to the Greek border.
- One of North Macedonia's four border crossings with Albania sits between the Macedonian village of Stenje and the Albanian village of Gorna Gorica.
Cabs can be hired from Resen, Ohrid, or Bitola (or further beyond for higher prices). From Resen, fare to the furthest villages of Prepsa should be no more than 600 denars. From Ohrid or Bitola, travelling to Resen is up to 1,000 denars and then onwards to Prespa villages can be about another 700-1,000 denars (cab drivers will often factor in the cost of getting back to their home city in which they picked you up). Agree on the price before getting in the taxi.
The best and most convenient way to get around Prespa is by car. This is a rural region with villages often spread quite far from each other. Exploring the mountainside in Brajčino in the morning, hitting the beach in Dolno Dupeni in the afternoon, and then dancing the night away at the nightclub in Krani is not possible to do unless you have a car at your disposal, even though these three villages are considered neighbours. Just getting to Krani's beach from the village centre of Krani is quite the hike.
A bus company out of the village of Arvati operates a small network of buses that run from the villages of Prespa up to Resen a couple times per day. Ask the locals for bus times. This is convenient if you need to make a stop in the town for certain purchases or to get to a certain village (if you have a ride back to your start). Fare is equivalent to about one Euro or less, depending on from where you get on the bus.
Hitchhikers in Prespa, as in most of North Macedonia, shouldn't have too much trouble hitching a ride. The biggest problem is picking a time of day where there simply aren't many cars passing by.
Aside from the natural scenery, the Prespa area is home to many historical sites. Golem Grad, often mistaken as the only island in the country, is certainly the most unique destination in the area.
Most of Prespa's villages are home to historic churches and monasteries, some standing since the Middle Ages; the more well-known ones are listed below. As most of the churches are locked much of the time, ask around in the respective village for a key if you wish to access the inside. The locations below are listed going clockwise around Lake Prespa from Golem Grad.
- 1 Golem Grad (Голем Град) (2 km S of Konjsko). The largest island in the country, Golem Grad is a part of Galičica National Park. It is located in the corner of North Macedonia, a few kilometers from Greek and Albanian territory. It is accessible only via boat; small tour boats can usually be found in Konjsko or Stenje. The ride is shorter from Konjsko than Stenje (30 minutes vs. 90 minutes), but Konjsko itself is much more difficult to reach by car than Stenje. The island has an area of 20 hectares (50 acres) and is surrounded by caves and cliffs, the highest of which rises 50 m (164 ft) above the lake. Golem Grad is home to diverse flora and fauna. It used to be known for its snakes but it is much more of a sanctuary for birds. The island, uninhabited since the mid-20th century, is also home to many ruins of ancient settlements of varying condition. The archaeological sites include a Roman cistern, six churches, and multiple Roman and Hellenistic houses.
- 2 Church of Saint Peter (Црква „Св. Петар“). One of several churches on the island but the only one completely standing, last renovated in 1934. It was built in 1360 under Serbian King Vukašin. It was built of brick and stone. The frescoes inside are not too well-preserved.
- 3 Monument to the Prespa Meeting of the Central Committee of the Communist Part of Macedonia (Споменик за Преспанското советување на ЦК на КПМ), Oteševo. This interesting communist memorial sits in rough shape, like much of Oteševo. Of all such monuments in Prespa, this is the biggest. It consists of several detached white arched walls pointing upwards. The monument commemorates the historic meeting which took place in August 1943.
- 4 [dead link] Podmočani Ethnological Museum (Етнолошки музеј Подмочани), Podmočani, ☏ . open daily. This museum is located on the main road in Podmočani. It houses a rich collection of over 2,000 pieces of art, jewelry, weapons, coins, and over 160 traditional costumes from across Macedonia. The collection was started by villager Jone Evtimovski and it remains within his home to this day. Ask about the etymology of this village's name (it translates to something funny in Macedonian).
- 5 Prespa Cross & Church of Saints Peter and Paul (Преспански крст и Црква Св. Петар и Павле), Podmočani. This small church was built in the 2000s atop a hill above Podmočani and the lake. A tall Christian cross, which is illuminated at night, was erected next to the church. It stands 30 m (98 ft) tall. The location of the cross and church offers spectacular views of the lake, the mountains, and the nearby plains. The older, main church of the village was built in 1848 and is dedicated to St George.
- 6 Church of Saint Michael the Archangel (Црква „Св. Архангел Михаил“), Asamati. Asamati has long been a multi-ethnic village of Orthodox Christians and Muslims at the shore of Lake Prespa. This 1636-built church looks toward the lake. The frescoes within date from the original construction through later centuries. The church is single-naved with covered porches on each side. Interestingly, the village never had a mosque until 2004.
- 7 Church of Saint George (Црква „Св. Ѓорѓи“) (Kurbinovo). The most important church in the Prespa region, the Church of St George was built in 1191 during the reign of Byzantine Emperor Isaac II Angelos. Located in the village of Kurbinovo, it has rather simple architecture and is one of the largest aisleless churches in Macedonia. It has frescoes both on the outside and the inside. The walls on the inside are covered in frescoes from top to bottom. These frescoes, in very good condition, are what make the church a significant example of the Macedonian Renaissance period of Byzantine art. The fresco of Archangel Gabriel is seen on the Macedonian 50-denar banknote. To reach the church, follow the main road of the village uphill. A typical car can drive up most of this road. In 2020, the church was added to Macedonia's tentative list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
- 8 Slivnica Monastery (Сливнички манастир, St. Mary, or Sv. Bogorodica), Slivnica. This monastery complex contains one church dedicated to the Holy Mother of God. Located on the western slopes of Baba Mountain in a forested area, it can be reached by car on a long paved road above the village. The monastery was built in the early 17th century. The church has two main sections and a prominent attached white bell tower. The frescoes inside the church were completed in the 17th century. The monastery also contains dormitory buildings in the traditional architectural style. The courtyard contains water believed to have healing abilities. Many sightings of the Virgin Mary have been reported at the monastery, the last one being in 2006.
- 9 Church of Saint John the Baptist (Црква „Св. Јован Богослов“), Ljubojno. The village's main church is situated at its center. Its bell tower is the entrance to its courtyard which also contains the village cemetery. The large church was built in 1861. It was burned during the Ilinden Uprising, and then restored in 1921. The apse in the rear is the only section retain the stone block exterior, with the rest being white.
- 10 Ljubojno Monastery (Љубојнски манастир), Ljubojno. Established in the 1920s, this monastery isn't among the more historic of the region but it is an interesting one, mostly because of its location high above the village on Baltan Mountain. The white church and its neighboring bell tower can be seen from the village below and further beyond. It can be reached by a 30-minute uphill hike from the village. On the way up, stop and visit the tiny Church of Saint Athanasius built in 1623. On Saint Peter's Day, when the monastery is visited by many, some villagers offer tractor rides to the grounds.
- 11 Brajčino Monastery (Брајчински манастир), Brajčino. This 15th-century monastery contains a small church dedicated to Saint Petka. Though small, it has significant frescoes done in two periods. The oldest of these, dating from the 16th century, are preserved on the east and west walls of the nave. The other frescoes date from the 18th century. The church's icons date from the 16th century and later. Its dormitories were destroyed in the early 20th century but rebuilt in 1985. The monastery sits in a flat area above the village, about 500 meters uphill from the Vila Raskrsnica restaurant and inn at the eastern end of the village.
- 12 Church of Saint Nicholas (Црква „Св. Никола“), Brajčino. The main village church of Brajčino is this 1872-built church dedicated to St Nicholas. The walls aren't frescoed, though the apse is. The iconostasis was made from 1875 through 1889. The village cemetery is found in the church courtyard, which also looks out to Lake Prespa. In addition to its monastery and this main church, Brajčino has four other churches, a couple of which involve rather difficult but rewarding hikes to reach.
- 13 Markova Noga (Маркова Нога), Dolno Dupeni. Meaning "Marko's Foot", this is an area just south of Dolno Dupeni. It is so named for a stone bearing a footprint said to belong to King Marko. This is the southernmost point of the country. The stone sits within the border area so one must speak with guards to ask for permission to see the stone.
- 1 Ezerani Nature Park (Парк на Природа Езерани) (Ezerani). Covering 1,916 hectares (4,734 acres), this protected area contains important ecosystems within the wetlands and meadows of the northern shore of Lake Prespa. It is a great destination for bird-watching.
Prespa is the second-most popular destination for beaches in North Macedonia after Lake Ohrid. Most of the beaches are sandy. They often have trendy names but Macedonians usually call the beaches by the name of the village in which they are located.
- 2 Stenje Beach (Stenje). Stenje's beach was updated in 2015 with modern facilities. It has multiple dining and bar options as well as a hotel and a church nearby. This beach is also the one located closest to its respective village in the Prespa area.
- 3 Xotic Beach (Pretor). Perhaps the most popular beach in Prespa, this beach in Pretor and its surroundings provide the most amenities. This includes multiple restaurants, a hotel, a youth hostel, and a church.
- 4 Connect Beach (Slivnica). Easily one of the nicest beaches in the country, Connect Beach was established in 2016. This large beach contains a restaurant, a cafe, and a dock with additional seating. There are loungers, umbrellas, and cabanas placed all over the beach, though one must spend a minimum of 100 denars on drinks or food per person to use them. The beach itself is nice and sandy, but upon stepping in the water there are many sharp little rocks, so bring swim shoes.
- 5 Krani Beach (Krani). Part of the large Auto Camp Krani site, this beach has a playground, umbrellas, etc.
- 6 Dupeni Beach (Dolno Dupeni). Located at North Macedonia's southernmost point, at the border with Greece, this beach is south of the village of Dolno Dupeni. There are free umbrellas across the beach, but no chairs or loungers. The beach includes a couple of volleyball nets. The water here can be a little mucky at times. There is a cafe which sits at the entrance to the beach.
Many villages in Prespa have an annual celebration of a particular saint's day, usually a saint to whom a church within the village is dedicated.
- St Petka (Св. Петка) (Brajčino). This celebration is held on August 7th and 8th in honour of St Petka. On the evening of the 7th, villagers and visitors hike up to the Monastery of St Petka (described above in "See") and everyone is served a meal consisting of beans, cole slaw, and bread, free of charge. There is also some music and dancing in the courtyard of the monastery. The next evening, in the village centre, there is a live band playing traditional music and people dance the traditional oro dance. There are multiple vendors set up selling food, toys, and more.
- St Elijah's Day (Илинден) (Ljubojno). Kruševo is the best-known location for celebrations of Ilinden, North Macedonia's main national holiday celebrating the famous 10-day republic, on 2 August. Ljubojno, however, throws a popular celebration for the day. There is live music, food, dancing, and more.
- 1 Vila Raskrsnica (Brajčino), ☏ . Reservations only. Vila Raskrsnica is quite a gem. It sits in one of the most peaceful corners of Prespa, on a trail towards Pelister National Park, and has views of the lake. The interior is decorated wall-to-wall with traditional Macedonian objects. The restaurant is run by one villager who takes reservations based on what she can handle, so call ahead.
- 2 Sunset Club Restaurant (Pretor), ☏ . Overlooks Pretor's beach. It has patio and indoor seating.
- 3 Pizza Bar Pretor (Pretor), ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. On Pretor's beach. Serving pizza and other Italian dishes.
- 4 [dead link] Connect Beach Restaurant (Slivnica). The restaurant at Slivnica's new beach. It serves traditional skara (barbecue) and some other choices.
- 5 Restaurant Markova Noga, s.Dolno Dupeni, ☏ .
- 6 Restaurant Sunset, Pretor, ☏ , email@example.com.
Any restaurant listed above is also a good place to go for drinks. In addition, every general store in Prespa sells beer, wine, or liquor that can be enjoyed with the locals on the seating outside the store.
- 1 Oaza (Krani). It has moved from Dolno Dupeni (where it was more popular). Oaza is a nightclub in Auto Camp Krani. It is only open in summer.
- 1 Youth Hostel Prespa-Pretor (Pretor), ☏ . Steps away from the lake and close to Pretor's beach.
- 2 Lakeview Hotel and Resort (Oteševo), ☏ . This hotel has a private beach and one of the best views of the lake. It has a lot of amenities and seems to offer new things every summer. It also contains a nice restaurant. The popular Macedonian television series Prespav is set (but not filmed) here.
- 3 Hotel Pretor (Pretor), ☏ . Between the main road and Pretor's beach. It has 15 rooms and three apartments. It also has its own restaurant.
- Guest House "Stara Cesma", s.Ljubojno, ☏ .
- Villa Stenje Kostovski, s.Stenje, ☏ .
- Hotel Riva, s.Stenje, ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org.
- 4 Apartments Galaxy, Pretor, ☏ , email@example.com.
- 5 Villa Kirjana, s.Pretor, ☏ .
- Vila Vesna, s.Dolno Dupeni, ☏ .
- 6 Hotel Rot, village of Konsko, ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org.
- 7 Hotel Pretor, ☏ .
- 8 Hotel MVR, village of Shtrubovo, ☏ .
- Resen. You most likely passed through it on your way into Prespa but, if not, stop by and check out the historic Saraj estate.
- Pustec. Albania holds the southwestern portion of Lake Prespa and all of it falls within the Municipality of Pustec. There is a border crossing between North Macedonia's Stenje and Albania's Gorna Gorica, making this a very do-able next stop on a tour of Prespa. There are plenty of natural and cultural attractions on this side of the border.
- Prespa (Greece). Though it sits just south of Dolno Dupeni, Greece's share of the Prespa region is not accessible from North Macedonia's share of Prepa. One must go around Baba Mountain to the crossing between Bitola and Florina and drive southwest or cross into Albania from Stenje and then cross into Greece south of Small Prespa Lake. The trek, however, is worth it to see this often overlooked corner of Greece. There are many important churches as well as the island that was once the capital of Tsar Samuel's empire. Not to mention, more beautiful scenery.
- Just beyond the two national parks bordering the Prespa region are the Ohrid (to the west) and Bitola (to the east) areas. The former is a historic town listed as an UNESCO World Heritage Site along with the ancient lake on which it sits, and the latter is North Macedonia's second-largest city that was once the capital of the Ottoman Empire's European territory.