by Mariska Regtvoort
Photos: Mariska Regtvoort and Katarina Karcolova
In February 2010 I arrived from the Netherlands to Macedonia as an EVS volunteer. Before my arrival I didn’t know much about the country; in the meanwhile I realized I was not the only one, considering the fact that I met people who didn’t know that Macedonia is a country at all. Since I discovered how beautiful and pleasant this country is I decided that it deserves some more attention. I would like to recommend it to everyone: visit Macedonia! To ensure that you will have the best of experiences, here are some of my personal advises:
Don’t: Visit only Ohrid and Skopje
Macedonia is a beautiful country with a lot of culture and nature. Of course, you have to visit the capital Skopje and the famous city of Ohrid, located by the stunning Ohrid Lake. Yet, don’t stop there – there’s much more to see in this country.
A few recommendations:
- National park Mavrovo: Breath-taking landscapes, lake and forests. One of the best places for nature, hiking and winter sports.
- Bitola: This is the second largest city in Macedonia and it is a cultural and historical centre as well. It’s known for its unique and colorful historical architecture.
- Shutka: The Roma municipality within Skopje. It’s the biggest Roma community in Europe.
- Matka Canyon: Find striking nature on the outskirts of Skopje. You can go here to walk, to climb, to visit monasteries or to take a boat and explore the lake. It’s also an ideal place for a picnic.
Do: Visit a monastery
There are countless monasteries that are worth a visit. My favorite one is Treskavec. This monastery is located on a mountain 8 km from Prilep. The monastery is built during the 12th century on the foundations of an ancient temple. You can reach it by a beautiful two hours walk. There is one monk living in the monastery who can give you a tour. An overnight stay is possible for those who truly want to experience Treskavec – I truly recommend doing that.
Don’t: Go to the city square
In most cities, the city square is a place to visit. It’s a focal point of the city, surrounded by some fine buildings, fancy bars and terraces. There can be a fountain in the middle, a historical church or monument. Not in Skopje. What you’ll find there (at the moment) is nothing more than an empty space with a huge construction site in the middle.
Do: Go to Stara Carsija
One great thing about the square is that you’ll find the Stone Bridge, which is considered the symbol of the city, right there. The better news is that this bridge connects you with the other part of the city: Stara Carsija. This part is known as the old Turkish part of the city, and one of the few locations that survived the earthquake in 1963. It is definitely worth a visit. During the day you can wander through the authentic streets with charming little shops for jewelry and Turkish food. During the night you can enjoy the nightlife in cozy bars and clubs with live music.
Don’t: Visit Kale
I used to take visitors to this fortress in the city centre. After a while I started to ask myself: “Why?”, considering there’s nothing so special to see. It looks like a construction site and there is no explanation or whatsoever that could give you any idea of the importance of this place. In my opinion, you can skip this walk.
Do: Go to Sopotsko
Sopotsko is one of my favourite places in Skopje; the bar is located at the beginning of the city park. It might be difficult to find it because you will not find a single sign for it on the building. It is a very cozy bar with comfortable couches and easy-going music. They also have really delicious food, and it’s one of the rare places without a big TV screen staring at your face.
Food and drinks
Do: Drink homemade rakija
A lot of Macedonians make it themselves: rakija. Rakija is a brandy like drink that you can find all over the Balkan and it can be made from all kinds of fruit. In Macedonia you’ll mostly find rakija made from plums and grapes. You can get it everywhere. Don’t drink it as a shot, not only because it’s too strong, but also because you’ll already have another one coming as soon as you finish your first glass.
Don’t: Forget about the alcohol rule
In Macedonia there is one very strange law. It is not allowed to buy alcohol in shops after seven o’clock during the winter and nine during the summer. That sounds like no spontaneous parties in Macedonia! Yet, Macedonia wouldn’t be Macedonia if there was no way to bend this rule. So don’t worry, it can take you a bit more effort, and sometimes a bit more money, but you’ll get your drinks.
Do: Try Macedonian food
Popular and typical Macedonian dishes are: Ajvar (a spread made of roasted peppers), Tavche Gravche (bean dish), sirenje (white cheese) Sarma (cabbage with rice and minced meat) and Pastrmajlia (kind of oval pizza with pork or a dried sheep meat called pastrma). You can eat all these specialties in restaurants that serve traditional food, for example in Kapan An in Stara Ciarsija or Makedonska Kukja. Don’t forget to eat a Shopska salad, its available in almost every place that serves food.
Don’t: Eat fries
Don’t eat fries in Macedonia! Truly. They are almost always underdone. It’s very much like they put them in the frying pan and took them out after 1 minute! The funniest thing is that they put them in everything, like your hamburger or your toast and then they add loads and loads of ketchup and mayonnaise on top of it.
Do: Get fresh food from the pazar
I absolutely love the markets in Macedonia. There are so many fresh fruits and vegetables you can buy there. I love the atmosphere and the amazingly friendly people. The food is very cheap, but above all it is very tasty. They say that everything is organic. Don’t forget to go there!
For more information, here are some useful links: