MACEDONIA – why visit ?
Are you fed up with overcrowded beaches, overrated world-renowned sights, and hordes of tourists getting in your way? Do you feel you ought to skip the crass tourist traps, grand boulevards, and magnificent buildings and monuments? Then, perhaps it is time you took a journey to Macedonia.
Tucked away in a corner of Southeast Europe, Macedonia is a country with idyllic natural surroundings and a somewhat less idyllic history. It has seen much turmoil, conquest, famine, and subsequent immigration in the distant and more recent past. Alexander the Great, the Romans, Byzantines, the Ottomans, Nazis, and the Communists have all been here and left a mark on the land and its people, leaving behind rich historical attractions. The capital, Skopje, a city that has been scourged and flattened by invaders over the centuries, burned to ground and built up, and, finally suffered a terrible
earthquake in 1960s., today is a bubbling city, rapidly catching up with other European capitals. Due to the latest government project “Skopje 2014” now the capital’s look is completely facelifted, with the memorial house of Mother Teresa, a Triumphal Gate leading to the main city square with numerous monuments, museums, and grand buildings. And, if you have the slightest interest in history, Skopje is a good place to start your journey as there are rich layers of it on offer.
Cross the River Vardar via the 15th century Stone Bridge to an area dominated by a massive fortress. Stretching underneath is the old Turkish bazaar. In its bustling cobblestone alleys, you will find ancient mosques, former baths that have been converted into art galleries and tiny shops selling intricate silver filigree jewelry made by local craftsmen. A short drive from Skopje is the Matka lake and canyon, home to the Vrelo cave, which is considered to be the deepest underwater cave in Europe.
As soon as you leave the hustle and bustle of Skopje, you are in the middle of largely unspoiled nature. The countryside is a sheer heaven for those who enjoy the great outdoors. There are opportunities for hiking, climbing, and biking in the mountains scattered across the country. There, you will see colorful forests, spectacular cliffs and thundering waterfalls, and if you are lucky, spot a hare, fox, lynx or other common or endemic form of wildlife. For those interested in skiing, there are slopes of varying difficulty on Shara, Bistra, Kozuf, and Pelister Mountains. To get a taste of country life, try staying with the locals in one of the slow-paced villages, where you can eat traditional homemade dishes and pick your own organic fruit and vegetables.
In some of the most stunning and often remote locations, you will find Orthodox monasteries and churches, many dating back for over a thousand years. With their well-preserved mosaics, frescoes and woodcarvings they are well worth a visit. Another site of interest is the Kokino megalithic observatory, dating from 1815 BC, which NASA has ranked among the world’s oldest observatories. Ohrid is one of Macedonia's highlights and both the lake and the town have been put under UNESCO protection. The lake is among the oldest in the world, with unique flora and fauna, and is a popular tourist destination in summer. However, Ohrid is much more than just a resort to the Macedonians. It carries special spiritual significance as the center of Slavic literacy and home of as many as 365 churches, a Roman amphitheater and Tsar Samoil’s fortress. A recent addition to the town’s tourist attractions is the Bay of Bones museum on water, which is an authentic reconstruction of a pile-dwelling settlement from pre-historic times.
One of Macedonia’s top draws is its cuisine, which is a combination of Turkish-influenced and Mediterranean mouthwatering dishes. And, when it comes to drinks, it is a rising star in the wine world and many of its wines have won international medals and critical acclaim in recent years. Macedonia has much to offer and is a safe and welcoming place to visit. At the same time, it is unknown enough to make you feel like you are trying something new and one thing you are guaranteed to get from people on your return from Macedonia is looks of incredulity and curious questions.