While Greece will usually bring pictures of turquoise waters and alluring beaches to your mind, there is a place that is treasure for wildlife lovers, and all those who seek tranquillity and delicious local food – the Prespa Lakes area.
At the end of June, I had the opportunity to visit this relatively untouched region as part of an info tour within the I-Tour project funded by the Interreg IPA CBC Program “Greece – Republic of North Macedonia 2014-2020”. Located in three countries – Greece, Albania and Northern Macedonia, the region is relatively far from the main airports in Greece, but the way there is worth it – in the last part you will enjoy majestic forests, and among the many picturesque bends are warning signs: “Beware of bears!”. It feels as if you are going to a magical hidden place.
The great treasure of the region are the two lakes – the Great and the Little Prespa Lakes – the highest tectonic lakes in the Balkans. A true paradise for nature lovers, the lakes and the surrounding area are permanent or temporary home to 275 bird species, 23 fishes, 22 reptiles, 11 amphibians and 60 mammals (https://www.spp.gr/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=17&Itemid=14&lang=en). The area boasts the largest colony of Dalmatian pelicans in Europe.
If you wish to explore the natural beauty of the lakes and its astounding biodiversity, you should better start at the visitor centre of the Society for Protection of Prespa, where you will receive information about both the opportunities for birdwatching and tourism in the area and the activities for biodiversity conservation. The cooperation between the three countries on whose territory the lakes are located is an example of a really good practice in nature protection. The lake can be explored on a solar powered boat, followed by a visit to the famous Church of St. Achilles on the namesake island, where the tomb of the Bulgarian tsar Samuel was discovered. The island is accessible through a platform over the water, which connects it to the mainland.
There are also 10 hiking and 3 cycling trails, ranging from 1 to 4,5 hours of walking/cycling, most of which combine natural and cultural heritage. On some of the trails, visitors can follow an audio guide using QR codes (e.g. the Agios Germanos – Laimos hiking trail). More information can be found on the website of SPP (https://www.spp.gr/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&catid=9:prespa-trails&id=231:prespa-trails&lang=en).
If you wish to take a guided tour, opt for the boats in the village of Psarades. You will have the opportunity to observe Dalmatian pelicans, pygmy cormorants and other water fowl, as well as impressive cave churches on the shore.
The region has its distinctive food too – giant white beans, which you can buy almost everywhere or taste in some of the cozy tavernas.
With is serenity, preserved nature and rural landscapes, the destination is set up for slow travel and is the ideal place for birdwatchers, families or anyone wishing to escape from the fast-paced modern life.