On the way to Skopje’s bus station, our taxi driver started up a conversation. “You’re off to Ohrid, I bet. Beautiful weather for the lake!” We agreed about the weather, but said that we would be spending this fine summer day in Gostivar. “Gostivar? Why would you want to go there?” We just plan on doing some sightseeing. “Oh right, sightseeing in Gostivar. Good one!” He didn’t stop chuckling all the way to the station.
With a population of 80,000, Gostivar is one of the biggest cities in Macedonia, but in no way is it a tourist destination. It’s close to Lake Mavrovo, which boasts skiing resorts and a national park, but few people stop in Gostivar for any length of time. There’s just not much to see. The city’s sole historic monument is an Ottoman clock tower, whose lonely presence in the town center serves mainly as a reminder that there’s nothing else.
Still, we enjoyed our time in Gostivar. With no ancient monasteries, mosques, or museums on the itinerary, we were free to wander about town at our leisure and, unlike Tetovo, Gostivar is an agreeable place to while away the hours. After walking about the streets, we took a long coffee break on the lush town square, and watched a diverse assortment of people come and go. Gostivar is perhaps Macedonia’s most ethnically mixed town; Albanians are the largest group, but there are nearly as many Macedonians, a significant Turkish population, and a smattering of Roma.
The central square is nice, but Gostivar’s most attractive quality is the Vardar River, whose source is a few kilometers outside town. We stood on a bridge, wondering how the clean, pure water flowing underneath us could be the same ugly brown muck which reaches Skopje. And then, as though Gostivar had overheard us, the answer came floating downstream: two giant sacks of trash, already spilling out their contents into the river.
It’s difficult to recommend a specific trip to Gostivar, but if you have extra time or are passing through anyway, it’s certainly worth a short stopover.