For those of you traveling on a budget, I’d say this – don’t despair – there are hundreds of vacation spots across the globe, some of which offer unforgettable and hard to describe traveling experiences. Last year I was fortunate enough, to find out about Macedonia – a country so small on the map, you are likely to miss. The following three weeks were one of the most adventurous and fulfilled vacation I’ve ever had in my entire life.
Macedonia is located on the Balkan Peninsula, north of Greece, which is a famous traveling destination. And I don’t know whether or not it is the fact of being in proximity to another traveling destination, or being poorly marketed, that Macedonia is less popular and hidden from anybody’s view.
The country is a typical Balkan destination, and the only ex-Yugoslav republic not affected by the civil war in the 90’s. What also sets it apart is the scenic mountainous terrain, painted with canyons, lakes, lush forests and traditional heritage. The capital of Macedonia is Skopje, where one third of the country’s population resides. Relatively small, Macedonia is home to around 2 million people. But enough about geography, let’s talk hedonism!
Skopje – splendid mix of the old and new
In a country so rich with tradition, Skopje, the capital, is a kaleidoscope run wild. It is a mix of contemporary, ottoman, and ancient. The centuries old bazar is unlike anything you’ve ever experienced in Europe. It is filled with traditional handicrafts, jewelry shops, and small family restaurants that span through generations, passing on traditional dishes and nearly forgotten recipes.
The city of Skopje is surprisingly close, like anything else in Macedonia, to the paradise of nature. We went to the mount Vodno, several times, and I still cannot wrap my head around the fact that it took us about 10 minutes from city center to the bottom of the mountain trail. The view from above is mesmerizing, and the beauty of mount Vodno hard to jam into a single article.
At a 15 minute driving distance away, you have Canyon Matka – one of Europe’s most scenic canyons. It is several kilometers long, filled with crystal green water, where you can kayak, swim, and jump in the water.
At the end of the canyon, there are a number of caves, each going deep underwater, in uncharted territory, where adventurous travelers can scuba dive.
At night, especially at summer, Skopje is vibrant, loud, and riveting. You’ll enjoy the nightlife, the restaurants as well, and the traditional bars in the old bazar, where modern is perfectly mixed with the old.
The best food you’ll ever taste
Even when we were in Skopje, the food was amazing. The specialties at the old Bazar, the traditional restaurants like Makedonska Kuka, Vodenica, and Cardak… Vegetables in all the combinations that you can imagine paired with cheese, meat, and the best wine you’ll ever taste.
The most interesting thing about enjoying the Macedonian gastronomic experience, is that you will pay less for a full 4 person meal, than you would for one person launch in a restaurant in, say, the US or western Europe. Prices in Macedonia are unmatched, and super affordable.
Leaving Skopje, you must taste the Ohrid trout, and all the traditional meals in the small town of Berovo. Macedonians are also famous for making the best cheese you’ll ever taste, and the centuries old Macedonian specialty, the Ajvar.
Macedonia – the real outdoor adventure
When you travel to the town of Ohrid, you should visit the Saint Naum springs, as well as the mountain Galicica which is at about several minutes driving distance.
The mountain itself offers incredible hiking trails, and the summit offers an unforgettable view – a place from which you can see both lakes (Ohrid Lake and Prespa Lake) on your left and right.
Many people enjoy mountain biking, paragliding and climbing so if you have a passion for these do make sure to find a local guide and enjoy the experience.
Lake Mavrovo on the other hand, offers the most scenic road cycling adventure you’ll ever have. The road circles the entire Mavrovo Lake (which is 33 kilometers), and you’ll enjoy the scenery along the way. The submerged church is one of the most popular landmarks in Macedonia, and there are several points along the road where you get a spectacular view.
Visiting Kokino is also exciting. It’s a really old stone observatory, surpasses only by the Stonehenge. People go there to observe the stars even nowadays, bringing along a camping tent for an unforgettable camping trip.
Macedonia – country of wine
If you are a wine aficionado, this is definitely the place for you. Prices are so low it is hard to even explain, and winery tours are the most exciting vacation experiences you’ll ever have.
Popova Kula is among the most notable wineries, and the one-day tour is worth paying thousands for. But don’t worry, in Macedonia, it will cost you about $30 tops.
Wine here is a form of art, and there are entire regions dedicated to wine production, with cultural embroideries spanning generations back. It is no secret that Macedonian wine is sold to many Italian companies, that later package and redistribute it in the west.
So when you are shopping for a nice Italian wine on the shelves of a New York supermarket, do remember this story and read the label out of curiosity.
The best holiday at a price you cannot beat
Macedonia is a small country. Its economy is underdeveloped, and it’s geopolitical position even less so. That’s probably the reason why you’ve never heard of it, and most likely the reason why prices are still incredibly low.
The people there are very friendly, and the culture quite colorful. You’ll love the outdoor adventures, the food, wine and traditional heritage, and the scenic nature that is unforgettable. From monastery tours, outdoor activities, and gastronomic adventures, to nightlife, affordable prices and cultural events, you’ll never forget about Macedonia.
Slavko Desik is a writer, editor, and co-founder of numerous online startups. Avid fitness junkie, who enjoys the outdoors and loves to spend the most of his free-time in nature, always visiting new places and attractive but mostly unexplored destinations.