Friday, 28 July 2017

This July, Splash Around in Four Lakes and a Dam Throughout the Balkans   
As the summer comes into full swing and the temperatures in the region become unbearable, most travellers and holidaymakers to and around the Balkans head to the region's coastal resorts along the Adriatic, the Mediterranean, the Aegean or the Black Seas.

But if you’ve already explored these coasts and are seeking alternative destinations that to cool off by the water, provides you with five enticing opportunities to do so this July. From throughout the region, we have highlighted a group of lakes in a natural reserve in Croatia, three lakes in Serbia, Turkey, Macedonia and Albania and a man-made dam in Bulgaria. Some of them are quite popular tourist destinations; others are spots off-the-beaten track. But they are all places where one can escape the summer heat and combine lounging by the water with some historical explorations and cultural activities.

Lake Palić, Serbia: SPA Tourism for the Nineteenth-Century Aristocracy

Lake Palić is located at the outskirts of the town of Subotica, in the northern Serbian province of Vojvodina. After its water and the mud along its coast were found to have healing properties, it began to attract Central Europe’s aristocracy at the end of the nineteenth century, with what must have been the prototype of modern spa-tourism.

Today, many of the elegant country estates – presenting a mix of Hungarian, Austrian and Croatian architecture, located in the lake’s dried-out marsh lands are being turned into hotels. More and more Serbians head there for the holidays, attracted not only by the quiet, old-style charm of Palić, but also by the many entertainment and relaxation opportunities it offers, including swimming, taking mud baths, sailing and bird-watching.

Read more about Lake Palic and the nearby city of Subotica on

Practical Information:

Lake Facts: Lake Palić occupies an area of 3.8 square kilometres. Its average depth is 2 metres.

How to get there: The lake lies 8 kilometres from Subotica, which is about 200 kilometres north of
Belgrade. Driving time from the capital is just over 3 hours.

Where to stay: Accommodation
in the hotels around the lake ranges between 30 and 50 euro for a double room, including breakfast.

Lake Van, Turkey: Where Ancient Armenian Kingdoms Rose and Fell, at the Crossroads of the Byzantine and the Seljuk Empires

Lake Van is Turkey’s largest lake, located in the far east of the country. Its history dates back to 1000 BC, when this body of water became the centre of the Armenian Kingdom of Ararat, followed by the Satrapy Kingdom of Greater Armenia and the Armenian Vaspurakan.Kingdom.

The Church of the Holy Cross – a royal church during the Vaspurakan Kingdom, stands on Akdamar Island – which can be reached by boat, near the remains of the Van Castle and the southern shore. Although it looks like it may fall apart at any time, the church boasts uncommon, strikingly expressive reliefs – many of which have been defaced, and remains of an extension built later in order to adapt it to a mosque.

Besides the visit of the church, Akdamar Island offers opportunities for picnicking, swimming in the extremely salty water and discovering the surrounding landscapes.

In addition, the rare Van Kedisi breed of cat, known for its mismatched eyes and its unusual fascination with and fondness for water, comes from the Lake Van region.

Read more about
Lake Van on

Practical Information:

Lake Facts: Lake Van occupies an area of 3,755 square kilometres. Its average depth is 171 metres and its maximum depth reaches 451 metres.

How to get there: On what is the longest non-international rail journey in Turkey, you can reach the town of Tatvan, on the lake’s western side, by train from
Istanbul. The Vangölü Express departs Haydarpaşa station (on Istanbul’s Asian side) three times a week at 8:05pm and the journey takes around 42 hours, not including probable delays. In addition, Van is linked to Ankara and İstanbul by daily flights.

Where to stay: Double rooms in the more upscale hotels in the town of Van range between 50 and 80 euro.

Lake Ohrid, Macedonia and Albania: Communist Residences, 365 Churches and the Birthplace of the Cyrillic Alphabet

Straddling the mountainous border between south-western Macedonia and eastern Albania, Lake Ohrid is the deepest lake of the Balkans proper.

The lake’s shores used to be a summer favourite of Enver Hoxha and other high communist officials on both sides of the border, and their residences – then sealed off from the public, are still in place in both the towns of Podgradec, on the Albanian side, and Ohrid, on the Macedonian one.

But while the town of Podgradec has been left largely outside the tourist radar, the town of Ohrid is one of the most popular summer spots not only for Macedonians, but also for travellers from around the region and beyond it. The reason for that is that the lake’s coasts and waters provide plenty of entertainment opportunities, including fishing, sailing and going to the beach, while the town’s steep, cobblestone streets, numerous ancient churches and yearly festival events allow visitors to dip into a historical and cultural atmosphere.

Although the number of Ohrid’s alleged 365 churches – one for each day of the year, is in reality lower, it is nevertheless impressive. The Monastery of St Clement at Plaošnik – up the hill from St John-at-Kaneo Church and under Samuel's Fortress, is where St. Clement invented the Cyrillic alphabet.

Currently, there are at least two on-going archaeological projects in Ohrid: one is the reconstruction of the medieval university of St. Clement, which dates back to the tenth century, and the second one is construction of the Museum on Water, at the former Gradishte settlement, dating back to the Bronze Era. The Museum, which will be built over the actual lake, is expected to be completed by the beginning of December.

And if this were not enough, the Ohrid Summer Festival, which will take place between July 12 and August 20, will feature a programme of around 50 classical music concerts, theatrical performances and several art exhibitions, with attendance by guests from around Macedonia, the region and the whole world, including renowned opera singer Jessye Norman, violinist Sarah Chang, and cellist Nataly Gutman.

Read more about the lake and the town of Ohrid on

Practical Information:

Lake Facts: Ohrid Lake occupies an area of around 358 square kilometres. Its average depth is 155 metres, though its maximum one reaches 288 metres.

How to get there: There are regular bus services to Ohrid from both Bitola and
Skopje. The bus from Skopje takes about 3 hours, and the 177-kilometre distance can be covered in a little less time by car. The town’s international airport connects Ohrid with Belgrade, Ljubljana, Zurich, Düsseldorf, Tel Aviv, Vienna, and Amsterdam, with most flights taking place during the summer.

Where to stay: Although there are several hotels along the lake’s coast, most of them were built during communism and recent renovation hasn’t managed to make their appearance entirely pleasant. A better option may be to find private accommodation in Ohrid’s old part. According to
recent news, private accommodation prices range between 5 to 16 euro per night.

Plitvička jezera, Croatia: No Swimming Allowed in the Natural Reserve's Sixteen Turquoise Lakes

The sixteen translucent, turquoise lakes with their fresh waterfalls, walking paths through the water and sailing opportunities remain one of the top pleasures Croatia has to offer and one of the most memorable and refreshing experiences in the Balkans, as the crowds that flock here all year round and especially in the summer testify.

Located between two mountains, the lakes are divided into two clusters – an upper and a lower one, stretching over eight kilometres and flowing into one another through naturally formed travertine dams. Their varying flora and fauna affect their colours, which distinctively vary from grey and blue to green and turquoise.

The lakes, developed into a resort in the nineteenth and a national reserve in the twentieth century, became one of the frontlines in the Yugoslavian wars, when Serbians from the Croatian province of Krajina used the park as a base in the battles. After substantial de-mining efforts, the park was finally considered to be mine-free in 1998, although the area that surrounds it still has problems with mine contamination.

Exploring the lakes on foot is what most visitors do, by following well-signposted paths that lead them through the area. The park, declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a fragile structural and functional complex, sensitive to natural changes and to incautious human actions. It is therefore recommended to take one of the several guided tours, which use electric boats to shuttle visitors around on the lakes. Swimming and fishing are not allowed anywhere within the park’s confines.

Practical Information:

Lake Facts: The Plitvička Lakes, situated at 480 to 636 meters above the sea level, cover around 2 square kilometres over a distance of around 8 kilometres.

How to get there: The National Park is conveniently located near the main road that connects Zagreb with Croatia’s Adriatic Coast. Distance from Zagreb is 140 kilometres, from Dubrovnik – 446 kilometres, from Split – 230 kilometres and from Rijeka – 180 kilometres. The park is easily accessible by public transport from Karlovac, Zagreb or Split.

Where to stay: There are several hotels in the park, some of them offering superb views over the lakes. In addition, private flats and houses could also be rented, with prices varying between 20 and 30 euro per night for two people. In addition, there are two campsites in the vicinity of the Park – Korana and Borje, which – besides catering to visitors sleeping in tents, also offer bungalows.

Kurdzhali Dam, Bulgaria: Where Old Ships from the Black Sea are Anchored

The dam of Kurdzhali, built in the late 1950s and early 1960s, is one of the largest man-made bodies of water in Bulgaria. In addition to being among the chief water sources of the nearby town by the same name, it provides ample recreational opportunities, a place to cool off during the summer months and a basis from which to explore the surrounding Eastern Rodopi Mountain landmarks.

Pedalos, jet skis and water skis are available to visitors to the dam, as is a rowing base. The water’s richness in terms of the many kinds of fish that inhabit it makes the dam ideal for fishing aficionados.

But if active pursuits are not your thing, the Kurdjali Dam also allows for pleasant idleness. Taking a leisurely walk along the rainbow-shaped dam’s wall – the only of its kind in the Balkans, is truly breath-taking. The sweeping vistas over the dam’s waters, the Eastern Rodopi’s gently sweeping slopes and the town in the distance, combined with a peaceful silence, are both stunning and invigorating.

However, if that also seems like too much work, head to the several restaurants floating on rafts on the dam’s water and enjoy an array of fresh fish. Do keep in mind that the dining experience may prove to be a challenge if the weather is windy and the water is not still, its waves shaking the platforms.

One restaurant is housed in the Emona Ship, a vessel that transported passengers between two Black Sea resorts for over three decades, before it was towed over dry land to the dam.

If nothing else, staying in one of the family-owned hotels on the dam’s banks could serve as a base from which to explore the many archaeological and historical landmarks in the region, as well as the town of Kurdzhali.

Read more about the dam and the town of Kurdzali on

Practical Information:

Dam Facts: The Kurdzhali Dam occupies an area of over 16 square kilometres and its depth varies according to season and the region’s water needs. The dam’s wall is over 100 metres in height.

How to get there: The Kurdzhali Dam is located northwest of the town of Kurdzhali, its wall is about 3 kilometres from the town. The easiest way to reach it is by car, especially because there are several different access points, depending on the activity you plan to undertake. The distance between Kurdzali and the capital
Sofia is about 250 kilometres and driving time is between 3 and 3.5 hours.

Where to stay: There are quite a few family-run hotels along the banks of the dam, most of which offer accommodation at prices ranging between 10 and 30 euro per night for a double, though some are higher. Another option is to stay at the privately rented rooms in town (around 15 euro) or one of its fancier hotels, where a double room costs between 40 and 50 euro per night.




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