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.
Just outside downtown Skopje is the municipality of Šuto Orizari, commonly known as Šutka and home to 18,000 of Macedonia's Roma population. We took a taxi to Šutka's market, to see what life is like in Europe's largest Roma settlement.
Macedonia's wine industry is on the rise. The warm Mediterranean climate of the valleys which run through the center of the country has provided perfect grape-growing conditions since the days of the Romans, but the region is only now being discovered by the world at large. In the final weeks of our stay, we set off to explore Macedonia's vineyards. First stop: Štip and the Imako Vino Winery.
Independence was all the rage during the swift, painful breakup of Yugoslavia. But it's hard to imagine that the citizens of the village of Vevčani weren't just having a laugh, when they held a referendum in 2002 to establish their own micro-country. The Vevčani Republic has never been recognized by anyone, but after buying passports in the gift shop, I suppose we're honorary citizens.
On the western coast of Lake Ohrid, not far from the border with Albania, is the town of Radožda. On a normal weekday, this must be a sleepy village on the shore. But when we visited on a weekend toward the end of summer, "sleep" was the last thing on Radožda's mind. Radožda was ready to party.
Today, Lake Prespa is a place of almost perplexing tranquility, with nothing of the tourism that reaches the shores of nearby Lake Ohrid. But this hasn't always been the case. The abandoned Hotel Evropa, on Prespa's western shore, is proof that this was once a major tourist destination.
We dedicated one of the days we spent on Lake Prespa to the nearby Pelister National Park. Extending roughly from Prespa to Bitola and down to the border with Greece, this park was established in 1948 to protect 170 square kilometers of southern Macedonia's pristine mountain land.
Poor Prespa, always playing second-fiddle to Lake Ohrid. This is Macedonia's second-biggest lake, behind Ohrid. It's not as old, nor as fascinating, nor as pretty, nor does it have water so blue. It's almost completely bypassed by tourists and locals alike and, relative to Ohrid, its shores are devoid of life. But we spent four nights here, and gave the lake our full attention. It's your time to shine, Prespa. Impress us!
The Pelister National Park isn't just home to mountains, forests, and wild animals, but also to people. The Vlach town of Malovište is a few miles within the park's boundaries. We spent half a day here, meeting the locals, and enjoying the ultra-throwback feel of a town that time forgot.
Once upon a time, long, long ago, a village girl was anxiously awaiting her wedding, scheduled for that same afternoon. Having prepared everything well in advance, she wasn't sure how to fill the morning hours. Having heard about another wedding in the neighboring village, she decided to walk over and see the happy couple who would be sharing her special day...