Two high-altitude lakes and three countries (Greece, Albania and Fyrom) that peacefully share their waters. Here in Northern Greece, there is an undefined borderline where no creature needs a passport, whether human, fish or fowl. The whole area around the lakes is called Prespa by residents of Greece, Albania and Fyrom. It’s a veritable ark of wildlife and culture.
What to do in Prespes
The National Park: lakes, valleys and age-old cedars
The core of the National Park covers all of Mikri (Small) Prespa and a few lakeside areas, giving it a unique identity that was formalised in 1973 by the Ramsar Convention as an International Protected Wetland. The wetland of Mikri Prespa with its boggy valleys and reedbeds constitutes the nucleus of the protected area. A second zone includes the ancient cedar forest near Mt Devas.
Hermitages and rock paintings of Prespes
From Psarades, the little village smack dab in the middle of Megali (Big) Prespa, you can set out in a small boat for a different kind of voyage. The natural beauty, along with its remote location, attracted many monks during the Ottoman occupation, who built their hermitages along the shores of the bigger lake. Today these small monastic structures, as well as the rock frescoes from the 14th-16th century, are attractions that will give you an insight into another era. The boat ties up at an improvised jetty at the base of the rock. Leap out and start exploring.
The dance of the pelicans
The birds of Prespa play the leading roles in this adventure. And, yes, they even dance. They follow the thermal currents in the air and begin to form circles. As they rise, the radius of the circles they trace grows. One behind the other, until the whole flock is drawing circles in the air. When the leader perceives that it has flown higher than the 2000m high Mt Varnoundas, it suddenly breaks the circle and leaves. The rest copy him and off they go. But where? Like us, they’ll travel to other lakes, such as their beloved Kerkini to the east. And when they tire of that, they’ll be back.
Agios Achillios: the basilica in the heart of Prespa
The perfect photo op, this island setting has heard the click of millions of cameras and the whirr of countless videos. It isn’t just the Macedonian scenery. Thousand-year-old memories and monuments veiled in myths and legends form the ‘heart’ of Prespa. This is where Tsar Samuel of Bulgaria built a magnificent basilica especially for the mummified remains of Saint Achillios, an early bishop of Larissa in Thessaly, when he conquered that city in the 10th century. Today this romantic ruin is the most important site in Prespa. The island is reachable by a long wooden bridge.
Psarades on Megali Prespa
The road ends at Psarades, which means fishermen, and you will see lots of them. Built at the end of a natural fjord on the big lake, it will remind you of an Aegean village. It has been declared a listed settlement.
Agios Germanos and its 11th-century church
The largest of the Prespa villages, Agios Germanos or Gherman snuggles under the rugged bulk of Mt Varnoundas and is the trademark of the area. Here you’ll find two churches joined together. The smaller one dates from the 11th century and is of inestimable value. The larger 19th-century church appears glued to it, as if it’s trying to drain its ethereal energy.
Hidden gems of Prespes
Peerless beans, never better
You won’t know what beans are meant to taste like until you’ve had a bowl of heart-warming bean soup (fasolada) or a plateful of baked giant beans (gigantes) from Prespa. They owe their sweetness to the altitude, with the beanfields by the lake to be found 900m above sea level.
Rare dwarf cattle
If you’re lucky, you may catch sight of the herd of dwarf cattle, just one metre tall, grazing freely in the vicinity of Psarades and Agios Achillios island, the only place where they can be found. They are an endangered species.
Cape Roti, for a ‘supernatural’ view
Just 20 minutes’ walk from Psarades will get you to this headland at the end of the fjord, where you’ll have the whole of Megali Prespa at your feet. It’s a place of extraordinary beauty.