A mix of Continental and Mediterranean climate, with 300 sunny days throughout the year and abundantly colorful landscape – that is the general description of Macedonia, a country located in the center of the Balkan Peninsula with 2 million citizens, rich cultural heritage and breathtaking nature scenery.
Affordable beyond your wildest expectations, Macedonia offers plenty of adventure opportunities. Outdoor aficionado, foodie or perhaps a culture explorer, there is a long list of places waiting to be discovered.
The article below tries to capture the full scope of the Macedonian experience. Demanding linguistic effort, only one part of it is in writing – the other half of this guide is pulling front pictures that nobody dares describing. Supplementing the sightseeing tour, I’ll share plenty of tips as well – transportation, local know-how, and budget aware directions to organize an unforgettable vacation. One you’ll be paying lip service for years on end.
But let me show you why I’m so confident setting the expectations high, and why this country justifies every line of flowery prose.
Some people cannot imagine a proper vacation without idle sunbathing, while others find such relaxation excruciatingly boring. Luckily for Ohrid, it offers the best from both worlds.
On one end of the spectrum, foreigners enjoy the crystal blue water and numerous beaches stretching along the coast. Picturesque and grandiose, the Ohrid Lake is one of the oldest and certainly most captivating lakes in Europe.
The other face of Ohrid shows exciting opportunities for adventure. Many monastery complexes are located on the periphery, each offering a better panoramic view of the lake than the other.
Old accounts of the city speak of 365 churches and monasteries dotting the map, but only dozens of these are active today. Nevertheless, the city is a museum of religion and Macedonian tradition. Different events are held annually, promoting Macedonian ethno culture – be that music, folklore, art or food, the city knows how to celebrate a rich and colorful cultural heritage.
Make sure to visit the monasteries of Saint Naum, Plaoshik and Kaneo, and take the boat ride to “Ohrid Springs” – a site so surreal that you’ll have your camera snapping pictures left and right, forgetting completely the urban rhythm of the city.
Before you go, try also to visit the newly restored prehistoric settlement, called the Bay of Bones. You will fall in love with the place right away.
If you are a mountain enthusiast, the nearby trail to Galicica offers plenty of hiking opportunities, with a special reward on top – the Lake of Ohrid, in all of its glory, visible on your right, and the Lake of Prespa on your left. A sight so magnificent it is definitely worth the climb.
But the outdoor adventure only starts in Ohrid, so let me walk you through the rest of Macedonia.
Nestled deep inside the mountainous belt on the west, the village of Mavrovo is your starting point for discovering Macedonia in a completely different light.
If you are a cycling enthusiast, the paved road circling the lake is 33 kilometers long, which is just enough to entertain you till the late afternoon. Cutting through scenic forest and offering panoramic lookouts aplenty, it is an experience unlike any other.
If you enjoy hiking, the roads to every nearby village are exciting enough to justify a daily tour. You can, if you like, to arrange a horseback riding expedition, which will cost you $25 for a full day adventure, taking you from one village to the next. Passing through rural farms, you will have a taste of the finest Macedonian white cheese.
The road to Galicnik is a safari experience on its own. Vast pastures ahead, resting at almost 1500 meters, with spectacular views of the region.
When it comes to food though, you will want to visit the nearby village of Jance. There, you will taste the finest of Macedonian cuisine, at surprisingly affordable prices. Expect a generous lunch for two to cost somewhere between 25 and 35 dollars.
Try Stuffed Peppers, Tavce Gravce, Macedonian Ajvar, Sarmi, Makalo, and Homemade Pie. Each of these is a traditional specialty, combining together fresh Macedonian produce, often with fine meat, and centuries of cultural influence reflected through each dish.
When it comes to traveling within the country, the buss network should suffice. Each town has a bus station and the average price of a ticket is somewhere between $6 and $10. Do not expect lengthy rides, since the furthest points are 3 hours away from one another.
While the region of Mavrovo offers formidable mountain terrain combined with high and grassy plateaus, the valley along the river Vardar is flat and undisturbed. There, you will find the postcard-worthy vineyards producing domestic Macedonian wine.
Grape plantations as far as your eyes can see, and sophisticated cellars matching the standards of quality Italian vineyards.
Rumor has it that many countries from the west buy and rebrand Macedonian wines, selling them on the US market.
Visit the vineyards of Sopot, Popova Kula, Stobi and Tikvesh. A daily tour will cost you around $25, and you will taste a variety of Macedonian wines, all included in the basic price package.
If you always wanted to take a tandem paragliding flight, the town of Krushevo is a destination worth the road. It is located higher than most Balkan populated areas, with magnificent views of the entire region. Host to a number of world cups in paragliding, the location itself is one of a kind.
As for mountain biking, several trails stretch throughout the country, each with a different level of difficulty. If you are here during the month of June, make sure to book the Sharski Vodi tour. For experienced cross-country enthusiasts, the Mavrovo-Galicnik tour takes place in August, and it is an unforgettable experience.
Hiking to Solunska Glava, or up Baba Mountain is recommended for those who want to spend hours surrounded by nature, and the views are second to none.
If you are near Skopje, the capital of Macedonia, a short trip can take you to Canyon Matka, where you can dine in a restaurant on the river shore, or take a kayak and paddle down the canyon. The steep cliffs command attention, and each turn will keep you excited for what is about to reveal itself next.
The Kayaks can be rented at the canyon entrance, costing $5 for a single person seat, for up to an hour. The boat ride is equally exciting, and will cost you even less.
The city of Skopje, a perfect prelude to the Macedonian experience as some would call it, can be seen from the top of mountain Vodno, a massive hill towering above the metropolis granting you a panoramic view unlike any other. The cable car to the top is only $2 – the best money you’ll ever spend!
If you are bored by the road less traveled, there is no room for despair. A religious tour will take you through a number of monastery complexes throughout the country, each more magnificent than the next.
The cultural scene is vibrant and colorful as well, and the summer season is a kaleidoscope run wild. Visit Ohrid Summer festival – one of the most renowned classical music festivals in Europe, held at various locations around the city of Ohrid (such as the ancient theater); Galicnik wedding festival – an ethno spectacle that puts on display traditional Macedonian clothing and customs; and the sporting event Ohrid Marathon – where elite swimming athletes compete along the Ohrid coast.
Visit, also, the Kale Fortress in the capital city of Skopje, as well as the Old Bazar located nearby. Dating from Ottoman times, these places define the city.
Equally attractive is the Roman aqueduct near the village of Vizbegovo (at the very periphery of Skopje), that is nearly 300 meters long and perfectly preserved.
And if you want to combine nature and history together, the observatory of Kokino is a sight to behold. Shuttle busses can take you there from the city of Skopje, in what is a one hour drive away.
Wrapping up this guide, I believe you will consider Macedonia as your next traveling destination. Discovering this amazing country is an experience of a lifetime, and you will definitely want to prolong your stay.
Following the short guide above, you can enjoy the full scope of the Macedonian experience, immersing completely in what is a very friendly, colorful and vibrant country.