It’s late February and in Athens spring has already arrived. The weather is warm, and the flowers are blooming. We decided to rent a car and drive all the way until the northern borders of Greece at the twin Prespa lakes. Avoiding the highways, one is realizing that Greece is not just islands but one of the most mountainous countries in Europe. Driving through the countryside we were not only moving from south to north but also passing from spring to winter.
Two high-altitude lakes and three countries share their waters. Greece, FYROM and Albania created the first transboundary protected area in the Balkans, an example of the harmonic coexistence of human and nature. The Prespa Park is considered an ecosystem of global significance and has been identified as one of Europe’s major transboundary “ecological brick sites”.
After driving for seven hours we arrived, late in the evening at the village of Agios Germanos in the area of Prespes. The village is located at an altitude of approximately 1,100 meters (3,606 feet), on a hillside of the Varnoundas Mountain range. The picturesque settlement has preserve its traditional character with stone houses from the 18th and the 19th century. The best way to explore the village is to follow the architectural route. A circular hike of 4,3 km showing how the village is laid out in the landscape and highlighting its architectural features. The route starts from the village square and the church of Saint Germanos built in the 11th century and winds through stone buildings, narrow cobbled alleys and the recently restored village watermill. Passing bygone neighborhoods and examples of some of the village’s characteristic architecture you can take an impression of what this large and once densely- populated village was like in its heyday.
High mountains surround the two lakes creating a stunning scenery. The area has rich fauna as a result of the great variety of natural habitats and its topography. Brown bears, wolves and wild pigs skulking around the surrounding forests. While more than 260 types of birds have been observed at the lakes, including the world’s largest colony of Dalmatian pelicans at Mikri Prespa, as well as great white pelicans, great white egrets and the EU’s largest colony of pygmy cormorants.
You can’t leave the area without a visit at the island of Saint Achillios which is connected with the mainland through a floating footbridge. A hike of 5,3Km circles the island and passes through monuments dating from the 10th to the 16th centuries. The ruins of the basilica of Agios Achillios, as well as the church at the lakeside monastery of Panagia Porphyra, create a uniquely evocative atmosphere. The 360º views of the lake are breathtaking and gives the impression that you are standing at the heart of the lake.
From Psarades, a little fishing village you can set out in a small boat to explore the banks of the Grand Prespa. The remoteness and the isolation of the area attracted many monks during the Ottoman period, 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 to 16th century, are attractions that will give you an insight into another era.