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.
If you're looking for an authentic, middle-of-nowhere, back-to-nature, where-the-hell-am-I, give-me-a-break-you-people-don't-actually-live-like-this, it-must-be-a-movie-set kind of experience, then seek out the Klepalo Sheep Farm near Berovo. I'm still not sure the folks who welcomed us here weren't actors.
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.
After hiking to the Duf Waterfall, we drove along the southern border of the Mavrovo National Park to the tiny village of Gari, pausing along the way at the ancient Deer Leap Bridge. This is deep into Macedonia's wildest and least-populated region, where nature still rules supreme.
After parking our car in the center of Rostuše, a small village within the bounds of the Mavrovo National Park, we set off to find the Duf Waterfall. This was an easy hike of about forty minutes, following a well-marked trail from the main road.
The Mavrovo National Park extends out into the hills south of Gostivar. Although relatively unknown outside the country, Mavrovo has long been a popular vacation spot for Macedonians, and it's not hard to see why. This is a region of stunning natural beauty, especially when seen from the shores of Mavrovo Lake.
Just outside the town of Gradsko is one of Macedonia's newest and most successful wineries: Stobi, named in honor of the nearby Roman ruins which we had already visited.
A sprawling set of ruins just off the highway near the town of Gradsko, Stobi is the largest archaeological site in Macedonia. Thanks to its strategic location at the confluence of the rivers Crna and Vardar, Stobi was an important city for both the Paeonian Kingdom and the Romans, until being abandoned after a major earthquake in 518 AD.
We had already spent two great nights in Demir Kapija at the Popova Kula Winery, but our thirst was only growing. So on the way out of town, we stopped by Macedonia's most historic winery, the Vinarija Elenov.
While visiting Demir Kapija, we spent two nights in Popova Kula, a small winery that also operates as a hotel. We had a chance to tour the grounds, spread across a vine-blanketed hill outside of town, and try out a few of their best wines.