Another 91 days have come to an end, and this time we’re saying farewell to one of the most underrated destinations we’ve ever visited: Macedonia. Our decision to spend three months in this unknown corner of the Balkans was one that elicited confusion from friends and family, but as we packed our bags and prepared for our departure, we knew that the choice had been inspired.
After leaving Gari, we didn’t have far to go before the next picturesque Macedonian mountain village: Lazaropole. Although, at 1350 meters above sea level, it’s one of the highest towns in the Balkans, Lazaropole lays in a shallow valley and has a milder climate than one might expect.
Demir Kapija is a small town in the wine region of central Macedonia. The name is Turkish for “Iron Gate,” referring to a natural gorge in the hills south of town. Besides a couple of great wineries, Demir Kapija is known for its hiking and rock climbing opportunities.
The tiny town of Krklino is on the tourist map of Macedonia for exactly one reason: the private automotive and ethnographic museum run by Boris Tanevski and his family. Their eccentric collection of traditional costumes, antique radios and vintage cars has been luring people away from nearby Bitola since opening about a decade ago.
Found in Gradski Park, close to the city center, the Skopje City Zoo has long had a reputation as one of the most inhumane in Europe. But the last few years have seen a sizable investment from the city, with the goal of bringing the zoo up to modern standards. Have things improved?
Just outside the city center, north of the Vardar River in a field which borders the barracks of the Macedonian army, is an ancient aqueduct. Its state of preservation is impressive, considering that it’s been neglected for centuries.
Among the Ottoman-era buildings still standing in Skopje’s Old Bazaar are three Turkish trading inns and an old covered market called the Bezisten. We visited them all, to see how these ancient buildings have been incorporated into the modern city.
High on a ridge overlooking the town of Prilep are a set of medieval fortifications known as Marko’s Towers (Markovi Kuli). After exploring these expansive ruins, we would set off on a hike through the hills to the monastery of Treskavec.
For four days in July, the central Macedonian town of Prilep is taken over by Pivofest: an annual celebration of beer which has become the nation’s biggest festival. It’s not exactly the most traditional event on the calendar, but that wasn’t going to deter us from attending. We’re talking about a giant beer party, after all. Tradition can wait.
Found minutes outside the city, Matka Canyon is a favorite summer getaway for the heat-exhausted residents of Skopje. Though you can take a bus, there’s also a moderately easy hike of ten kilometers leading to the canyon from the top of Mount Vodno. One warm Friday morning, we laced up our boots and set off.