Guide to SKOPJE

A boat ride through three countries

In Europe there are only three lakes whose waters connect the territories of three different countries and one of those lakes is right here in the Balkans, Lake Prespa where the borders of Macedonia, Greece and Albania intersect.

The second one is in the far north of Europe, the tripoint of Norway, Sweden and Finland. Although it is a local attraction for adventurers, it is not a place with great potential. On the other hand, the third lake, Lake Constance, which connects Germany, Austria and Switzerland, is a very interesting place. It literally connects these three countries. Lake Constance is the only European condominium, a territory that belongs to three countries and it is not physically divided. Yes, there are no border lines through the waters of the lake because  they end at the shore. The lake itself belongs to all three countries. Tourism is booming there and it is really easy to get from one state to another and another.

Unfortunately, we do not have the same privilege in lake Prespa. Tourism here has died a slow death and is now trying to recover again, or at least Macedonian tourism. Greece and Albania have access to the sea, so there have always been a lot less investments in tourism, whereas Prespa used to be a magnet for tourists in the 1990s . That’s why it is best to visit it from its Macedonian coast. Especially because its largest island, Golem Grad belongs to Macedonia. It is Macedonia’s only island (if we don’t take into account a few islands on the Vardar and other rivers). Golem Grad is also known as Snake Island because of the large population of water snakes that have invaded its shores. On the island you can see amazing archeological sites and old churches.

Once you arrive in the village of Stenje you can easily find transport by boat to Golem Grad. It costs about € 50 and the journey lasts longer, at least an hour and a half. If you manage to get through to Konjsko along the narrow, dirt road, just ask for uncle Tanas Petreski, a local captain, who often carries tourists to Golem Grad for the price of €20.

We sailed to the island once with Uncle Tanas. Heavy clouds had surrounded Prespa and everything was preparing for a big storm. He was reluctant to sail out, but we insisted to go because we had already travelled the longest road from Skopje to the remotest place in Macedonia. The island is a rock, resembling a natural fortification, and is only accessible from the southern side. Right here is the tripoint, the point where borders are intersected and countries divided. One can’t help but wonder how can water be divided by a line? By an imaginary, yet a very serious line. There was very strong wind when we were coming back from Golem Grad and Captain Tanas was very afraid that the waves could push the boat towards Greece or Albania, and then he could be severely punished for crossing interstate borders illegally, or worse for smuggling people! Fortunately, none of that happened, so we started slowly returning to shore. We saw other remnants of the socialist era when the area was heavily guarded, so the chances for Konjsko to grow as a tourist center of Prespa region, it remained the same fishing village as for decades before.

Uncle Tanas hopes that it will change, and we hope that day comes sooner, so that we can sail across the lake without borders, and many people will be attracted by the prospect of a boat trip taking them through three countries in a very short time.

Goce Trpkovski