Sprawling eastwards from the doorstep of Western Europe, the Balkan region has had a long, convoluted and fascinating history. Read on to learn about the region’s history, starting with the problem of the ‘Balkans’, and…
A historical and cultural melting pot, Macedonia has a rich mix of Greek, Roman and Ottoman heritage. The ancient Kingdom of Macedon dates back to 808 BC but modern Macedonia has a complex national identity, in part due to contestation around the name of the country and some its national heroes. In February 2019, Macedonia changed its official name to North Macedonia after a long-running name dispute with Greece.
Despite a complex and somewhat turbulent history, this tiny, landlocked European nation may be off the beaten track but it offers dramatic mountain landscapes, sleepy lakeside villages, a seemingly infinite number of churches and monasteries and striking architectural contrasts. There is much to be discovered here, including some truly breathtaking natural wonders.
Skopje, the captial, is an interesting and confronting mix of old and new. The city is home to largest bazaar in the Balkans outside of Istanbul, set in its Ottoman old town. Ohrid, the most popular destination in Macedonia, is known for its glittering lake and 365 churches (one for every day of the year). The Ohrid Lake is thought to be more than 4 million years old, making it the oldest lake in Europe and for the churches the city is nicknamed the ‘Jerusalem of the Balkan’.
An escorted tour A Journey that commences in Rome and takes in 12 destinations along its journey to Athens. This is an off season small group journey with like minded people. A small group tour across Southern Europe with local guides sharing authentic in-country authentic experiences for mature couples and solo travellers.
The Human History of the Balkans The aptly-named Balkan region comes from the Turkish word for “mountain“. It was so named because of the vast number and expanse of the mountain ranges that have been…
Odyssey travels by coach and occasionally uses local transport, including trains and ferries. Specifics are always outlined in your tour itinerary. Macedonia has a well-developed intercity bus service, with many buses running out from Skopje to regional areas. Train services are reliable but slow, with train lines linking Skopje to smaller towns. Bear in mind that Ohrid does not have a train station. Taxis are commonly available and relatively inexpensive, though avoid entering a cab with no taxi meter to avoid getting ripped off.
In major cities, Odyssey stays in centrally located 3-4 star hotels, with easy access to public transport. In smaller towns or rural areas, we usually stay in family-run hotels or guesthouses. On our longstay tours, during which you spend the length of the tour in a single location, we use serviced apartments.
Odyssey always engages local guides with regional knowledge to ensure an authentic experience during which you can learn as much as possible about the history and culture of places you visit.
Geography, Environment, & Weather
Macedonia is a landlocked country, covering 25,713 square miles. Much of the terrain in the north and western areas of the country is rugged, with mountains ringing the country’s borders. The Vardar river flows through the middle of the country, while many lakes punctuate the landscape of Macedonia, including Lake Ohrid, one of the oldest lakes in the world.
Macedonia experiences hot summers and cold winters, especially in the mountainous regions. Depending on when you intend to travel, check the weather reports and dress accordingly.
World heritage sites
Macedonia has 1 UNESCO World Heritage Site, with another 3 on the Tentative List. You can view the official list of the sites here (https://whc.unesco.org/en/statesparties/mk). The listed sites currently include:
Natural and Cultural Heritage of the Ohrid region, an area of rich history and charming local architecture built around the stunning Lake Ohrid
Festivals & Events
Numerous festivals and events dot the calendar in Macedonia. Independence Day is a landmark annual event in Macedonia; held on the 8th of September, Independence Day commemorates the anniversary of the country’s exit from Yugoslavia, and is celebrated with parades, fireworks, free music concerts, and themed dance performances. The Balkan Folkore Festival is a major event in the country, with over 40,000 people gathering to share traditional stories and tales through dance, song, rites and poetry. The local practices and traditions of Macedonia’s regional areas are preserved in events such as the Galičnik Wedding Festival, whereupon thousands descend upon the village of Galičnik to witness and celebrate the marriage of one particular lucky couple over two days with music, dancing and feasting.
Macedonia and the Macedonians: A History by Andrew Rossos
White Dawns by Kočo Racin
People of the Storm God: Travels in Macedonia by Will Myer
Macedonia: The Political, Social, Economic and Cultural Foundations of a Balkan State by Victor C. de Munck and Ljupcho Risteski.
Eating & Drinking
Macedonian cooking is characterised by the use of vegetables, meats and spices. Capsicums (bell peppers) are widely used in Macedonian cuisine, utilised as a key ingredient in many dishes, or in the form of a relish or spread. One such dish is Tavče gravče, the national dish of Macedonia. Made from capsicums, onions, beans, and spices, tavče gravče makes for a hearty dinner. Polneti Piperki (stuffed capsicums) are another popular dish, with capsicums stuffed with rice, ground meat, chopped vegetables and spices, then roasted in an oven. Southern Balkan culinary influences feature in Macedonian cuisine, with musaka (a savoury dish made from layers of potatoes, vegetables and/or meat) and turli tava (a stew made from okra, potatoes, eggplant, capsicum, meat, rice, and onion) reflecting some of the common ingredients and tastes of the southern Balkans.
Macedonians love their coffee, with over 5,000 cafes, coffeehouses, and kafeanas (bistros which serve coffee and alcoholic beverages) in operation in the country. The national alcoholic beverage of Macedonia is rakija, a fruit brandy that comes in many varieties.
Health & Safety
As of writing, smartraveller.gov.au advises travellers to exercise a high degree of caution while travelling through Macedonia. Some protests have violent in the capital Skopje and other major cities, so avoid large crowds and demonstrations. Exercise particular caution in the region bordering Kosovo because othe possibility of civil unrest.
Whenever you travel overseas, it’s always wise to take an appropriate travel adaptor. Macedonia’s electricity supply runs at 220V and 50Hz. Macedonia uses both Type C and Type F plugs, so make sure you have the right travel adaptor with you.
Macedonia has a single time zone, Central European Standard Time (UTC+1). Daylight savings start on the last Sunday of March and finish on the last Sunday of October.
If you’re on an Odyssey tour, we take care of tipping so you don’t need to give it a second thought. However, in your free time, or if travelling independently, it’s essential that you tip an appropriate amount for services. Tipping is not common in Macedonia, though tips are appreciated. A general rule for restaurants is to leave a tip of 10% if a service charge has not already been added to the bill.
Wifi is widely available in Macedonia, with most hotels, cafes and restaurants providing free Wifi.
Check with your cell phone provider to see whether you’re able to make calls and use data while in Macedonia. Many providers will allow you to pay a daily fee that allows you to make calls and check the internet while only being charged your regular rates. However, be certain to inform your provider that you’re heading overseas, because just like a bank they can turn off your service as a result of unusual activity.
Responsible travel tips for Macedonia
- Learn at least the local greetings to break the ice. Although some locals speak English, the more you know of the native language, the greater your experience of the country will be.
- Carry a business card in your wallet or purse from your local hotel, to assist you with the return journey if you do become lost.
- Always ensure that you are covered by travel insurance. If you need advice on this feel free to contact Odyssey and we’ll be able to help.
- Before departing, make sure you have a number of denars in a range of denominations. You don’t want to be carrying around enormous amounts of cash, but take enough to make it easy to pay in locations that might not accept credit card. It will also help you avoid card transaction fees, and it makes tipping a breeze.
- When travelling independently, make sure you check the opening hours of shops and museums so that you don’t miss out! Also be certain to check whether your trip coincides with any public holidays, so you can plan accordingly.
- Before departing on your trip, contact your bank to inform them that you may be making purchases overseas. Otherwise, they may flag any activity on your account as suspicious. Also, check which ATMs and banks are compatible with your cards, to ensure you can withdraw cash with minimal fees.