If you go down to the woods today, you’re in for a big surprise.
The ancient trees embraced us, folding us into their wild, enchanted midst. Deep green needles and soft brown bark against a pure blue sky. The air smelled of summer haze and pine trees – one of those whimsical scents that you always associate with somewhere else, for me it was Capri, but from now it will always remind me of the woods above St Jovan.
If you walk down the secret path from St Panteleimon, treading softly on the carpet of golden pine needles, you may encounter a tortoise or two on your way. They’re funny creatures, with their little heads that bob out, and comical yet wise expressions. Though to them we’re the funny creatures, rushing around like there’s no tomorrow. And today (on your visit to St Jovan) I recommend that you be a tortoise and go slowly, savour every step you tread, every note of bird song you hear as you wander through the woods. For when you come to the end of the path, it’ll feel like the ground has been swept from under your feet.
The cliff ends high above the bright blue lake and through the trees you can catch glimpses of the wide expanse below. But only when you reach the edge of the wood can you experience the view in all it’s splendour. The tiny church of St Jovan juts out beneath you in perhaps the most perfect setting on this earth. It’s no wonder that people felt closer to God when worshipping here, the faded bricks of the octagonal stupa, set with a white cross on top appear to almost float above the water as if carried by some divine hand.
The Church dates back to 1447 and though inside sadly most of the old icons have been pilfered and thieved you can still see a fresco of Christ Pantocrator on the dome and a fresco of Saint Clement of Ohrid (whose monastery, Saint Panteleimon, is at the top of the woods near the church) accompanied by Saint Erasmus of Ohrid can also be seen on one of the walls. However in my opinion, just looking down at the church, or sitting by it in contemplation gives you a sense of deep calm and purity: the view itself can wash and feed your soul.
Once you’ve whiled away your afternoon by the church, head down the steep steps to the lake’s edge – Kaneo Beach – to feed your stomach! Kaneo Restaurant has a lovely little terrace which reaches out over the lake and even has a little jetty so you can jump into the water to work up an appetite. We sat there and watched children splashing in the water, the chill out music from a nearby bar playing in the background – it felt like the happiest summers day I could ever imagine!
In my opinion, the best dish on the menu here is the Belvica Trout cooked in wine with thyme and orange, served with lightly spiced and deliciously fragrant fried potatoes. I don’t think I’ve ever had such delicious fish and with a view of Sveti Jovan, and young kids jumping from the precipice down to the water below, it’s a perfect day out!