I have just returned from a press trip with the GNTO (Greek National Tourism Organisation). What’s excellent about press trips is that you will often visit places only known by locals, true hidden gems.
That was certainly the case with The Prespa Lakes in the Western Macedonia region of Greece.
Prespa Lakes is one of the most picturesque locations on Greece’s mainland. However, Prespa Lakes are known for far more than just their beauty. These lakes also boast both unique biodiversity and incredible historical significance.
Before we go any further, it’s important to note that there are two Prespa Lakes. The first is Mikri “Little” Prespa Lake, and the second is Megali “Great” Prespa Lake. However, given the Prespa Lakes locations, both are cross-border.
Mikri “Little” Prespa Lake covers an area of 47.7 km2, of which 43.5 km2 belongs to Greece and 3.9 km2 to Albania. Meanwhile, Megali “Great” Prespa Lake is divided between three countries: Greece, Albania and the Republic of Macedonia.
Relations between these three countries have not always been the best, as I’ll explain further in a moment. However, today, Prespa Lakes are a symbol of cross-border cooperation and unity for the protection of nature and culture.
A Brief History of Prespa
Archaeological records show that the history of Prespa dates back more than 6,000 years. While remains and settlements here are more than 4,000 years old. Subsequently, the history of Prespa could be an article of its own.
However, I’m in no way qualified to write that article. That being said, I do want to provide some context as to the incredible significance of these lakes, especially as it relates to the remaining monuments and cross-border relations.
If you are interested in history, I recommend researching Prespa further and hiring a guide during your visit.
In Classical times, Prespa was in ancient Lynkestis and Lyncus. People called the lakes Little and Great Brygeis. By 148 BC, Prespa joined the Roman Province of Upper Macedonia.
In 1018, Byzantine Emperor Basil II took back Prespa. From there, different empires, including the Despot of Epirus and the Ottomans, ruled for the next two hundred years.
During this time, Prespa’s quiet nature made it a great place for monks. As a result, small monasteries and wall paintings were created, many of which can still be seen today.
After the Byzantine era, residents chose to build several important churches in Prespa. These included the Church of Agios Georgios and the Monastery of Panagia Porphyra.
Meanwhile, in the 19th and 20th centuries, people began building houses in Balkan styles, using stone walls and timber frames.
Sadly, however, many of these houses didn’t survive the Greek Civil War, which lasted from 1946 to 1949. As during this time, many locals had to leave this region to avoid poverty and conflict.
For decades after the Greek Civil War, you could not go to Prespa without special permission and a military guide. This high level of restriction led to Prespa being very underdeveloped.
However, all this changed in the 1970s when Greece began promoting Prespa as a tourism region. In 1974, a section of the Greek Prespa was declared as a National Park.
Meanwhile, in 2000, Prespa Park was inaugurated as the Balkan’s first transboundary protected area. Finally, in 2009, the Greek area of the Prespa National Park was expanded further and now includes the entire lake basin.
The World Famous Wildlife at Prespa Lakes
Humans have been restricted from the Prespa Lakes for several decades. However, wildlife knows no bounds. Subsequently, the ecological biodiversity here could thrive.
In fact, more than half of the species of birds, amphibians and mammals found in Greece can be seen in Prespa. This includes;
- Lesser kestrel
- Great cormorant
- Prespa trout
- European eel
- Dice snake
- European pond turtle
More than 270 bird species also use Prespa as a location for breeding – the most notable being the Dalmatian Pelican. The population of these birds was once in the millions. However, today, it’s estimated that only 10,000 – 20,000 remain.
Every year, 1,400 pairs of Dalmatian Pelicans breed at Little Prespa Lake from March to October. This makes Little Prespa Lake the world’s largest single breeding place for Dalmatian Pelicans.
Best Things To Do in Prespa
The Prespa Lakes and the surrounding Prespa region benefit from several fantastic things to do. Some of the most popular options include;
- Go on a birdwatching tour from the village of Laimos with the Society for the Protection of Prespa.
- Explore the three hermitages along the coast of the Megali “Great” Prespa Lake.
- Visit the church of St. George in the village of Kurbinovo.
- Hike to the village of Agios Germanos, situated 1,100 meters above sea level.
- Take a boat ride along Megali “Great” Prespa Lake to see the frescoes of the rocks that date back to the 14th and 15th century AD.
- Visiting the ruins of the Byzantine Basilica on the picturesque islet of Agios Achilios.
- Take a solar panel boat ride around Mikri “Little” Prespa Lake.
- Go skiing or snowboarding in Vigla (if visiting during winter)
The Best Way to Explore Prespa Lakes
Today, you can explore the Prespa Lakes and the Prespa National Park independently. However, I had a more in-depth experience here on a guided tour.
For guided tours of Prespa and the surrounding areas, I recommend Greek Adventure. I went on a three-hour tour of the Prespa Lakes with a Greek Adventure guide who spoke Greek and English.
The tour started with a gentle hike from the village of Psarades before heading to Cape Roti.
From Cape Roti, it’s roughly a 40-minute hike to the shore of the lake. Here, you can see the first of the three hermitages of the Transfiguration of the Savior.
Following Great Prespa’s shore and passed the second hermitage, Little Ascension. This hermitage dates back to the 15th century. Finally, you’ll visit the best-kept hermitage, Panagia Eleousa, also from the 15th century.
Throughout the hike, you’ll have the opportunity to see various native birds, such as pelicans, cormorants and herons.
The final part of a Prespa tour with Greek Adventure includes a boat trip back to the village of Psarades. While at sea, you’ll have the opportunity to see two additional frescos on the rocks. These frescos date back to the 14th and 15th centuries: Panagia Vlachernitissa 1455 AD and Panagia Panton Chara 1373 AD.