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The Great Lake-off: Lake Como, Italy vs. Lake Ohrid, Macedonia

As Australian travellers return from their European summer sojourns, it’s a sure bet that Italy’s Lake Como is trending on Instagram feeds. A snap from Laglio, where George Clooney keeps a 30-room villa, another of the gold-garnished saffron risotto in the Grand Hotel Tremezzo (above), a third photo of licking gelato while wandering the botanic gardens of Bellagio’s neo-classical Villa Melzi (below).

Villa Melzi, Lake Como, Italy

Villa Melzi, Lake Como, Italy

‘When you look at the sky over Lake Como, it’s clear that God exists,’ said actor Robin Williams. Garbo, Versace, Churchill, Kennedy: lucky Como has all the glamorous friends. Across the Adriatic Sea is another great lake, which also draws opera singers and musicians, actors and poets, who come every year for its annual summer festival, ohridskoleto.com.mk/en. One of Europe’s deepest, and oldest lakes, locals say that Lake Ohrid is ‘too beautiful not to share,’ so the border of Macedonia and Albania runs through its fresh waters.

While famous amongst eastern Europeans, the Balkan lake cannot match the international publicity machine that bolsters Lake Como’s visitor numbers, and that’s its charm.

The residents of Ohrid, the largest town on the lake, live within its history – the hillside town is overlooked by a 10th-century fortress, while monasteries, mosques and churches appear at every bend. It’s said in the past, Ohrid had a church for every day of the year, earning it the sobriquet the Balkan Jerusalem.

Lake Como, Italy

Lake Como, Italy

The 30km-long lake is a World Heritage Site, and like its Italian counterpart, is surrounded by snow-capped peaks. But at more than double the size of Lake Como, the hotels are cheap, the local wine cheaper and lake fish feature on the menu of every lakeside restaurant. Belinda Jackson was a guest of Grand Hotel Tremezzo (Italy, grandhoteltremezzo.com) and Intrepid Travel,(Macedonia/Albania, intrepidtravel.com).

Cuba Libre Beach Club, Lake Ohrid, Macedonia

Cuba Libre Beach Club, Lake Ohrid, Macedonia

One of the world’s ancient lakes, Lake Ohrid is a trendsetter from prehistoric times, boasting overwater villages 3000 years ago. The travel writer of the ancient world, Herodotus, wrote of his visit around 450BC that residents merely had to scoop fish from the bountiful waters.

All around the lake are perfect swimming beaches or platforms hanging over the crystal waters. They range from simple family play areas to chic beach clubs, which see the macchiato-drinkers swim and sip from sun loungers during the day, then turn down the lights to party through the night. Everyone in town agrees, the leader of the pack is Cuba Libre Beach Club, where the dress code is glam. cubalibreohrid.com

In Ohrid town, walk the overwater boardwalk to Potpes, which serves as a café, restaurant or bar, depending on what time of day or night you visit. The fresh lake waters lap at its sun lounges, and the vibe is chilled and lazy.

Otherwise, dress conservatively (no knees on display) for a visit to the 16th-century St Naum’s Monastery on the Macedonian-Albanian border, 30 minutes by car, or a short, beautiful boat trip from Ohrid. After visiting the monastery, stop to explore the beautiful, kid-friendly beach, great cafés and ice cream sellers, making it the perfect lunch stop. ohrid.com.mk