Macedonia is a tiny country located in the heart of the Balkans, with only 2.1 million people and a land surface of 25,713 square kilometers. If you know that saying, that strong essences are kept in small bottles, you may get an idea about where this travel guide is going.
Truth be told, Macedonia is hugely under-explored and also under-rated from the Westerner traveler’s point of view. And that’s a real shame, because what you’ll be dealing with (if travelling to Macedonia that is) would be a beautiful mountainous nation, sprinkled with shimmering lakes and lush valleys, being the perfect place to spend your vacation if you’re passionate about solitude and the great outdoors.
In case you did not know it, Macedonia boasts it deep Hellenic heritage. Alexander the Great was from Macedonia, check that out folks, and he created the greatest empire in the history of mankind.
For most of Macedonia’s visitors, the adventure begins with the country’s capital, which is Skopje. The city’s skyline (if I may use the word here) is composed from a concrete jungle of incongruous buildings and huge statues built in the neo-classic style.
Truth be told, the city looks a little bit freakish, but you’ll get over it once you start to mingle sort to speak. There are also lots of monolithic apartment blocks built in the country’s socialist era, sitting right next to grandiose monuments, which were built in two years ago during an ambitious yet weird government scheme under the moniker Skopje 2014.
The pre-communist/socialist architecture which still stands is composed of Byzantine and old ottoman edifices. Also, visiting Skopje you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the plethora of clubs and buzzing bars, together with the city’s vivid night life.
If you’re not much of a city fella, just go explore the rural Macedonia, which is far easier for a Westerner’s eye. The countryside is absolutely untouched and unspoiled, as Macedonia was blessed with an awe-inspiring diversity of landscapes. One of the most inspirational and serene areas in the rural Macedonia is Ohrid, which sits serene on a lakeside, offering glorious relief if you’re to be confronted with the sizzling Macedonian summer.
The area is filled with dreamy lakes where visitors can kick back and relax, spending their lazy summer days visiting the region’s outstanding churches, impeccably preserved, while the evenings can be best spent quaffing the local wine which is produced in the area’s nearby hills. Basically, Macedonia’s hill country is nothing short of splendid, reminding me of Martha’s Vineyard.
You will also have the time of your life while travelling in Macedonia by visiting the endless green pastures of the mountains dubbed Sar Planina, a place where tranquil and old glacier lakes magically mirror the surrounding mountain peaks, offering a picturesque view which looks like it was shot in Lord of the Rings. You can also go trekking the mountainous regions in the Pelister National Park, Macedonia’s pride and joy, which can be easily compared to the Swiss Alps, but at a fraction of the price if you know what I mean.
If you’re an outdoors junkie, the remote hinterlands of Macedonia will make your skin crawl in the most pleasant of the ways, as you’ll be able to see more wildlife than on National Geographic whilst enjoying the hard life of the mountain people. Truth be told, you won’t find too many luxury resorts in Macedonia, as the country has modest means but it’s as authentic as it gets. However, the rustic inns are very affordable, welcoming and comfortable, just don’t expect miracles, alright folks?
During the winter, Macedonia offers its travelers phenomenal snowboarding and skiing opportunities, especially in the Mavrovo area.
While visiting the aforementioned Pelister National Park, make sure you don’t miss Bitola’s Byzantine ruins. The pretty city of Bitola is Macedonia’s second biggest town and it’s very close to the Greek border, harboring the ancient ruins of Heraclea and being a former and important headquarter of Ottoman rule.
If you’ll be getting hungry, rest assured as Macedonian cuisine is pretty good, being a melange between Mediterranean and Balkan flavors and cooking styles. Specialties include spicy roast pepper and aubergine relish, bread rolls with feta cheese flavored with paprika and other spices, bean stew cooked using a skillet and flavored with paprika, minced meat sausages called kebapci, an ubiquitous relish made from paprika, red bell peppers and garlic, flaky pies filled with a combo of cheese, ham, ground beef and spinach, thick stews cooked in clay pots and fried dough rolls filled with nuts and honey. As per drinks, don’t forget to sip Mastika and Rakija.
To visit Macedonia, you’ll only require a valid passport but no Visa.