The Balkans are having a moment. In recent years, countries including Croatia, Montenegro, and Slovenia have been attracting keen travellers from all over the world, people in search of unique cuisine, stunning mountainous scenery, and historical sites not overrun with crowds. In 2021, there’s a new must-visit Balkan destination on our list: North Macedonia.
On one of our newest – and most exciting! – tours, Jewels of Albania & North Macedonia, we will take you to the historic hotspots, striking natural landscapes and crystal clear waters in this once-hidden corner. If you’re looking to explore this incredible part of the world, here are some our recommendations.
When it comes to European lake holidays, North Macedonia is often overlooked in favour of countries such as Italy, with adventurous Lake Garda and idyllic Lake Como, and Austria, with the picturesque Hallstatt. However, North Macedonia’s Lake Ohrid is a jewel all on its own.
During the summer, locals head to the shores for swimming, boating, walking, and simply soaking up the rays. Spanning the border of North Macedonia and Eastern Albania, the lake is surrounded by a dramatic mountainous landscape. It also happens to be one of Europe‘s deepest and oldest lakes.
At Lake Ohrid, be sure to wander the cobbled streets of the local villages, nab a spot by the waterfront to enjoy your morning coffee, or explore the historic churches dotted around the lake. If you’re feeling adventurous, why not take to the mountain trails which offer stunning, alternative vistas of the lake.
St Naum Monastery
If you’re joining us on our Jewels of Albania & North Macedonia trip, you’ll have the option to take a half-day excursion to see St Naum Monastery in all its glory. The 10th-century monastery is one of Macedonia’s most stunning and historic religious buildings. Situated on the south-east side of Lake Ohrid, the ancient structure is perched upon a jagged cliff that looms over the iridescent water below.
The monastery dates all the way back to 900 AD, when the founder of the monastery Naum, a medieval academic credited with establishing education in Macedonia, established it as a place for students to study scripture. Today, the monastery is a must-visit for its brilliant frescos and icon paintings. Whether you reach it by road or lake, be sure to soak up the surrounding nature.
Mavrovo National Park
North Macedonia’s largest national park boasts vast pine forests, crystal-clear waterfalls, and grassy mountains, making it an absolute dream for intrepid hikers and even casual walkers. The dramatic Šar Mountain is a highlight, formed of jagged peaks that climb 2,000 metres up into the clouds.
In the winter, the mountainous landscape and grassy plateaus of Mavrovo transform into a winter wonderland, drawing skiing enthusiasts from Europe and beyond. The region could almost be mistaken for the Swiss Alps.
Mavrovo is also known for its array of flora, featuring 33 of the rarest plants in Macedonia. Landscapes aside, the park is also home to the lynx, brown bear, golden eagle, and 123 species of birds, some of which are endemic to the Mavrovo region.
If you haven’t tired of North Macedonia’s stunning range of natural scenery, you might like to make Matka your next stop. Not too far from the capital city of Skopje, the canyon Matka spans a breathtaking 5,000 hectares. The canyon is unqiue with its green ravine, a network of 10 caves – Vrelo is currently the only accessible subterranean site – and rich biodiversity: the region abounding in butterflies, eagles, and oak forests.
Keen explorers can admire the canyon itself by taking to the walkway that winds beneath the cliffs, or by taking a boat ride through the river.