Macedonia might not necessarily be on your list of European destinations to visit, but it should be. Whether you're looking to don your hiking boots, explore ancient monasteries or simply relax on a lakeside with a glass of wine in hand, then a trip to Macedonia is for you.
Striking hiking trails
Macedonia is brimming with beautiful countryside that makes splendid hiking for a range of fitness and experience levels. All three of Macedonia’s national parks – Pelister, Mavrovo and Galičica – offer many marked hiking trails, and beautiful scenic drives on improving roads. There are several multiday hikes, including two 200km hikes from Ljuboten to Struga along the border with Albania (permit still required) and from the capital Skopje to the beautiful Lake Ohrid. The one hike not to miss is the 10km hike from Mount Vodno just outside Skopje down to Lake Matka, which also offers rock climbing, caving, camping, kayaking and yet more scenic hikes to local monasteries and beyond. There are also many shorter, but equally beautiful, hikes to waterfalls, caves, glacial lakes, hidden monasteries and other scenic spots, and along the Via Egnatia. If you’d like to tandem paraglide or learn for yourself, this is one of the cheapest places in Europe. Mountain biking, horseriding or a hot-air balloon are also great ways to experience Macedonia.
Pelister National Park has some of the best hiking trails in the country © ollirg, Shutterstock
Europe’s oldest lake
UNESCO-protected Ohrid is often referred to as the ‘jewel in Macedonia’s crown’, and you can soon see why. Lake Ohrid is the oldest continuously existing lake in Europe, some three to five million years old, and along its glistening shores you'll find springs, beaches and restaurants -- it's the perfect place to spend a summer's day. Away from the lake, Ohrid town is home to some fascinating fortresses, churches and castles, not to mention its festivals, which attract visitors from all over Europe.
© NikoNomad, Shutterstock
A trip to Macedonia would be incomplete without visiting at least one monastery. They are renowned for their intricate woodwork and delicate architecture and for some of their remote but beautiful locations. The country boasted over a thousand churches and monasteries at the zenith of Orthodox ministry in the region during the 14th to 16th centuries. Some of the most remarkable to visit include the Monastery of Sv Joakim Osogovski (which probably takes number one position as the most visited monastery in Macedonia), Treskavec Monastery and Sv Jovan Bigorski.
Sv Kliment at Plaošnik near Ohrid © zefart, Shutterstock
Superb wine tasting
Macedonia has a very old history of winemaking going back to Philip II, and there are some indigenous grapes in the country that make a very quaffable vino. Although Macedonian wines are little known, they easily rival better-known wines from the Balkans. Head to Kavadarci, the wine capital, in the , where where Macedonia’s biggest vineyard, Tikveš Wines, is based. Neighbouring Negotino and Demir Kapija are also home to great vineyards.
The Tikveš Plains are the place to go to sample Macedonia's wines © Marjan Lazarevski, Flickr
An extinct volcanic crater
Deep in the belly of an ancient and burnt-out volcanic crater is the small village of Kratovo, a place not to be missed on a trip to Macedonia. There is so much to see here: nearby are Stone Age observatories at Cocev Kamen and Kokino, cave dwellings at Konjuh, the wonderful Monastery of Sv Gavril Lesnovski, volcanic droplets from the volcano that once was, the rock formations known as the Stone Dolls, and the place is littered with Stone Age rock art. Kratovo is also home to one of the nicest traditional homestays anywhere in Macedonia, making it a great base to explore this little-visited but fascinating region of Macedonia.
The Stone Dolls near Kratovo © Predrag Vasilevski, Shutterstock