The Monastery of St. Naum is a magnificently massive complex, located 29 kilometers south of Ohrid, on a plateau close to the Albanian border. It is, without any doubt, one of the most attractive Macedonian tourist destinations. With a wonderful surrounding area, the St. Naum Monastery is a popular day trip where you can enjoy both nature and religious heritage.
Visited by pilgrims and travelers alike, this eastern orthodox monastery is one of the few with locational and architectural splendor. Overlooking the Lake of Ohrid, the walls provide breathtaking panoramic views of the entire bay area.
With serene surroundings, picturesque scenery and religious history, the Monastery of St. Naum (also known as Manastir Sveti Naum) sets the prevailing archetype that runs through the entire country of Macedonia – this is truly a land where wonders of nature blend perfectly with some of the most captivating monuments of religion.
Discovering Macedonia without visiting the Saint Naum monastery is an incomplete trip. If you are anywhere near Ohrid, this place is a must visit – a day well spent, in what is arguably one of the biggest attractions in the entire region.
History of the Monastery of St. Naum [Sveti Naum]
The original monastery was built on this very same plateau, in 905 by Saint Naum of Ohrid himself. Taken down between the 11th and 13th century, the monastery was then rebuilt in the 16th century as the multidomed byzantine structure that you see today.
St. Naum of Ohrid (Sveti Naum in Macedonian), was a medieval scholar and writer, who together with Saint Clement continued the task of spreading Christianity among the Slavic speaking people of the region. Building upon the work of the sainted brothers Cyril and Methodius, St. Naum is associated with the creation of the Glagolitic and Cyrillic scripts.
Known as a living saint for the many miracles he performed, St. Naum of Ohrid died in 910, at the old age of 80, and was buried inside the monastery. Myths and legends say that you can bring your ear to the stone coffin and hear his heartbeat even today. The tourist guides, on the other hand, will tell you that it’s the water of Lake Ohrid crushing against the rock formation down below.
Saint Naum the miracle worker (Sveti Naum cudotvorec) was credited with healing many alignments of the mind, as well as providing speech to the mute and helping physically disabled people to walk again. The border, therefore, was crossed even by Muslims from Albania who came to pay respect and seek help for their troubles. The small town of Pogradec is located just conveniently nearby.
At one point, around the 16th century, the St. Naum monastery served as a Greek school. It was always, in one way or another, connected with literacy, teaching, and continuing the work of Saint Naum and Clement, and the sainted brothers Cyril and Methodius.
In the 20th century, the monastery was briefly held by Albania (from 1912 to 1925). It was later returned to the Kingdom of Yugoslavia as a gesture of good will between the two nations.
The architecture of the St. Naum monastery
If you observe the architecture of the central church, you will see close resemblance to that of Saint John (Kaneo) and Plaoshnik, but little to no resemblance with the rest of the northern Macedonian monasteries.
This is one of the first monuments of Slavic church architecture, built during byzantine times.
The central part of the monastery complex is the church of the Holy Archangels, and it is the most captivating building in the entire region. Surrounded by tall cypresses, traditional buildings and stone walls, it is nicely secluded.
The complex is heavily fortified both by location and exterior walls, and you cannot see the central buildings from the outside. On the coastal part, archaic buildings are visible from below, with stunning architecture form the Ohrid region. Once the monastery dormitory rooms, these are now part of the ethno hotel, where luxury and tradition are nicely merged. The apartments make this area into a resort, and they have breathtaking panoramic views over the lake.
The interior of the church is well known for its characteristic wood craving, which is very old, dating back from the 17th and 18th century. Inside the church, the icon of the holy Assumption of St. Naum is still there, representing the oldest item of the theme.
The core of the monastery complex is a lush and serene garden, with fountain streams and colorful peacocks. An attraction on its own, these birds are a popular highlight of the entire region as well.
You can enjoy wandering around the garden, or sitting on the wide stone walls overlooking the entire bay area. Needless to say, the complex will provide countless of picture taking opportunities, and you will drain your battery or memory card soon after arrival. That’s why I always recommend for people to visit this magnificent monastery at least twice – once for uninterrupted enjoyment, and then for picture taking and everything else.
The surroundings of the Monastery of Saint Naum
While there are plenty of things to do inside the complex, the surrounding area is equally attractive. While inside, make sure to visit the central church of the Holy Archangels, the tomb of Saint Naum of Ohrid, and the well near the main building where you can throw a coin and make a wish.
The peacocks are decorating the yard, so make sure to capture few photos while they parade around the church as well. Enjoy the garden, or perhaps visit the restaurant inside the complex, and sip fine Macedonian red while enjoying the lake view. The food is delicious, and perhaps one of the best representatives of traditional Macedonian cuisine, so take your time with the menu and feel free to ask the waiters for a recommendation.
If you are a photography enthusiast, the St. Naum monastery complex will offer picture taking opportunities aplenty. You can set your timelapse camera on one of the stone walls, essentially capturing the entire bay area as the clouds cover the skies above, or take pictures of both inside and outside the monastery. As drone tourism is gaining traction, expect this place to become a true playground for drone enthusiasts as well, since the layout is mesmerizing offering dynamic footage regardless of your takeoff position.
Springs of Lake Ohrid
Stretching for several kilometers the site nearby is known as the springs. With huge pockets of water, changing color as the vegetation grows, it is one of the most surreal places in the Ohrid region and Macedonia as a whole.
You can take a boat ride through the springs, which takes approximately 20mminutes, enjoying this amazing scenery from up close. Immersing yourself completely, you will forget about everything else in its surroundings.
And this is perhaps the chief reason for visiting the Saint Naum monastery complex – there are so many attractions nearby, diverse enough that you will process weeks’ worth of scenery even before noon.
The springs almost connect the two lakes under the Galicica Mountain, esnetially bringing water from the Lake of Prespa, feeding the Black Drin River (Black Drim). The area resembles South American swamps, only much more picturesque, with crystal clear water.
A luxurious package can be arranged to take a party of people for a lunch on a raft, and the privilege will cost around $150 (food not included). Note, however, that the price for the raft is NOT per person, and covers the whole party. If you want a luxurious, eco-friendly way of experiencing the springs, it doesn’t get any better than this.
The forest nearby
The forest near the monastery complex is lush enough to be easily mistaken with a Mediterranean jungle. You can hear the sound of birds echoing throughout the region, and there is always a hum of water running in the background.
The forest is cut with spacious enough trails that you can bring your bike and explore this entire area on wheels. Covering the terrain much faster, you will visit one landmark after another as they open up in front in a staccato sequence.
The surroundings offer many breathtaking views, three other churches along the road, and a nearby orchard. The tour will take half an hour on foot, and much less on a bike, but if you decide to stop at every point down the trail you will definitely enjoy the entire experience even more.
Discovering one church after another, while being completely immersed into the forest surroundings is quite the adventure. Signs will point you down the road, as each structure slowly emerges behind a turn. You will definitely appreciate the experience in late spring where some of the buildings are filled with swallows. The sound is both eerie and magnificent at the same time.
The park of the Saint Naum monastery complex
Built several years back, the entrance to the monastery complex is a nice hint to the significance of the place. There is a large parking lot in front and a stone gate welcoming visitors into the serenity of the area.
The small park is filled with souvenir shops, dozens of benches, cafeterias and beach bars. The beach itself is quite long, stretching along the entire park, all the way to the harbor in front of the monastery. With willow trees and bamboo umbrellas, it is the perfect place to spend the afternoon, gazing at the horizon of Lake Ohrid.
The monastery tower is perfectly visible from the entrance of the park, and the complex itself reveals slowly as you approach the plateau.
How to get to the Monastery of St. Naum
There are several ways to visit the monastery, each providing a different experience. Depending on what your budget is, or what you want to see, you can:
- Arrive to the monastery with a boat.
- Take a taxi and stop to visit the Bay of Bones as well
- Catch a bus
The boat is perhaps the most attractive option, and it is fairly affordable as well. A trip in both directions will cost less than $15 per person, and you get to enjoy the experience of sailing across the lake.
Do note that many of the signs are written in Macedonian, but with a Latin script. Therefore, the monastery of Saint Naum is also marked as the “Sveti Naum Manastir”.
Boats depart from the Ohrid harbor near the center of the town, and you can catch one in 9 AM or 10 AM. The return back is scheduled for 4 PM.
The other option, which is to take a taxi, will cost you less than $40 for a return trip, and you can tell the driver to stop at the Bay of Bones. It is a recently renovated prehistoric settlement built right on top of the water.
The taxi will not force you to pay close attention to timing, and it turns out to be cheaper if you are a group of 3 or 4 people.
The third option, which is the most affordable one, is to take the bus. These go around the clock, and the price of a ticket is only $3.
Yours is the decision to enjoy the lake or the scenic road passing through the small coastal villages of Peshtani, Lagadin, and Trpejca.
Visiting the National park of Galicica
Right after the village of Trpejca (or in front, if you are returning towards Ohrid), there is an intersection taking you into the national park of Galicica. The entrance is very affordable, at will cost you $3 for 3 people with a car.
The windy road uphill is cutting through the massive mountain overlooking the area, and the views are mesmerizing to say the least.
The first lookout is accessible with a car and a two minute walk, and it will give you some of the most beautiful picture taking opportunities.
To orient yourself properly, note that the lookout is at 1400 meters high, and the lake at around 500.
From there, the road continues upwards still, to enter deep into the mountain, where naked hills are covered with rocks and formidable terrain. Several peaks are nearby, and you will get the feeling of being on top of the world. Note, however, that the climate can be less forgiving even in early June and sometimes July. The wind, if you happen to arrive on a relatively windy day, is not a joke and you will have to dress for protection.
It is right after one hour of isolated wilderness, when you forget altogether about the sunny beaches and the Saint Naum Monastery complex. Immersive as it is, the Galicica Mountain is an experience of another kind.
You can aim for the peak of Magaro (the highest one at 2255 meters) where a magnificent view awaits. The starting point is at 1600 meters, and you have an elevation gain of around 700 plus. The hiking trail is nicely marked and easy to follow. Right there, at the top of the region, the two huge pockets of blue water are visible in their entire glory – the Prespa Lake on one side of the mountain, and the Ohrid Lake on the other, for a view you will never forget.
The road back is equally challenging, so make sure to start your descent way earlier than sunset. Give yourself three or four hours before the sun is about to set and head back to the road near the coast.
Combining the St. Naum monastery trip with a longer vacation in Ohrid
We have written about the town of Ohrid in much detail, so I will intentionally keep this chapter short. Make sure, however, to book at least one week in Ohrid, where you can continue discovering Maceodnia through its vast cultural heritage.
The church of St. Sophia is a must visit, as well as the Samuil Fortress overlooking the harbor and the beautiful coastal town of Ohrid. Pay a visit to the Kaneo and Plaoshnik churches nearby as well. The beaches, the restaurants and the old Bazar will delight you, and you will fall in love with Ohrid right away.
The most popular Macedonian day trip
Visiting the Monastery of Saint Naum is perhaps one of the most exciting adventures you will have in the Ohrid region and Macedonia. It is the perfect opportunity to learn about the vast religious heritage, and appreciate the architectural marvel of Eastern Orthodox Christianity, while at the same time enjoying the nature of the region, and the traditional Macedonian cuisine.
The springs will definitely take your breath away, and you will love the forest, nearby churches, and the lovely park at the entrance of the monastery. The boat trip and the Galicica hike are perhaps the shiny ribbon on top, tying an experience that you will never forget. Combining this trip with a longer stay in the town of Ohrid is a vacation well spent, but whatever you do, make sure that the Monastery of St. Naum is on your priority list when discovering Macedonia.