North Macedonia - The author’s take
There is so much in this small land. It is not a place of extremes, but it is an area filled with intoxicating untold stories. Its outdoors is its jewel — bijou, pristine and almost untouched. Long lost in the battles of neighbouring states, the tangible evidence of previous rulers is only now being unearthed. Most people don’t even know where Macedonia is and it was once described to me as the greatest ‘non-destination’ country. But if you care to scratch the surface, you will find a Macedonia brimming with history, artefacts, rich local culture and beautiful scenery.
Sv Kliment at Plaošnik © zefart, Shutterstock
From a visitor’s perspective, Macedonia has come a long way in recent years. It has now started to offer western European standards. Aurora Resort and Spa, and the Ramada Plaza are the first true luxury hotels; at the other end of the scale there are a lot more hostels now and places giving Youth Hostel Association discounts. There are biking-tour operators, horseriding tours and western European hiking companies entering the market. Skopje is undergoing a complete facelift with new museums, buildings, statues and an arc de triomphe being built. Budget flights have now made it to Skopje (surely a sign that Macedonia is now mainstream!), and so much more information is available on the web (as well as Facebook).
After about five minutes of research in the Europe section, I quickly came to the conclusion that there was a grand total of zero guidebooks on Macedonia, and that ipso facto I myself would be writing the very first one! Another five minutes of research led me to the further deduction that the only publishing house crazy enough to tackle such a proposition would be Bradt Travel Guides.
Geographically and historically there is much more to Macedonia if you veer off the tarred and hardened road, and you will only ever be rewarded for taking the bumpy side track. A Macedonian friend is invaluable to help you find your way around and introduce you to your own adventure, especially once you wander off the edges of this book. You will pick up many of these friends along the way who will go out of their way to help as if it is really nothing at all, and many of whom will speak excellent English or German. Talk to the people and you will find them a fount of knowledge on the region, happy to give you their version of events – for what is written here is certainly not the last word on the subject.
I ended up back in the Balkans (which is another story), with my husband in Macedonia. Not good at twiddling my thumbs, I had already sought advice from a travel writer friend (Cam Burns) about doing some freelance travel writing. ‘Why don’t you update a travel guidebook on Macedonia?’ he suggested. ‘What a brilliant idea!’ I replied; and off I went to Stanford’s, the biggest map and travel bookshop in the UK, to survey the many guidebooks on Macedonia and to choose the one closest to my style of writing to update. After about five minutes of research in the Europe section, I quickly came to the conclusion that there was a grand total of zero guidebooks on Macedonia, and that ipso facto I myself would be writing the very first one! Another five minutes of research led me to the further deduction that the only publishing house crazy enough to tackle such a proposition would be Bradt Travel Guides.
I contacted Bradt, and to cut a very long story short, the then chief editor, Tricia Hayne, wrote back and said ‘Yes!’ Bradt was looking to expand its Balkan titles and I was very lucky to be in the right place at the right time.
Gathering accurate information on Macedonia, however, was not easy. In 2003 there was little published in English, and what was on the internet was sparse, outdated and contradictory. More was available in Macedonian, but was hyperbolic and did not meet the needs of an independent traveller. So, armed with tip-offs, mostly from the international community there at the time, I set off every weekend to conduct primary research. The result, several editions later and with much fact-checking by some very knowledgeable Macedonians, is the guide you have in your hands today. Enjoy!