Macedonia is one of the most overlooked European country by travelers due to instability in the Balkans and lack of information about the main attractions like Ohrid lake, Kokino archaeo-astronomical site or Skopje bazaar.
Civilization in Macedonia flourished between 7000 and 3500 BC. Over centuries, Macedonian kings, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines and Ottoman Turks ruled the nation due to is strategic position on Via Egnatia between Roman and Byzantine empires.
Being under the Ottomans for 500 years caused legendary Macedonian revolutionaries such as Goce Delcev, Nikola Karev and Pitu Guli to lead uprisings to free Macedonia. Macedonia has been part of many countries, but until its incorporation into Yugoslavia by Tito in 1945 it was never acknowledged as an administrative “state.” Macedonia prospered under Tito’s rule, especially when the capital Skopje was rebuilt after a severe earthquake in 1963 which killed over 1,070 people and destroyed 80% of the city.
Macedonia gained its independence peacefully from Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in 1991. Immediately after independence, Greece tried to block Macedonia from becoming UN member because Northern area of Greece has the same name.
Macedonia was eventually admitted to the UN as “The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM)” in 1993. A number of countries recognize the country by its constitutional name – the Republic of Macedonia – rather than the UN reference, notably four of the five permanent UN Security Council members (the UK, the United States, Russia, and the People’s Republic of China) and over 130 other UN members.
The initial flag was also subject to dispute and resolved after Macedonia changed it and not using the Vergina Sun.
Due to large numbers of Albanian refugees who fled over the border during the Kosovo War (1998-1999), conflicts between Albanians (UCK – USHTRISË ÇLIRIMTARE KOMBËTARE) and Macedonian armed forces erupted into insurgency in 2001 and ended after the Ohrid Agreement next year.
Macedonia became an EU candidate in 2005 and was invited to join NATO during the 2008 NATO Summit in Bucharest as soon as a mutually acceptable resolution to the name dispute was reached with Greece.
Macedonia is a landlocked country situated in Southeastern Europe, North of Greece, has 25713 sq km and a border of 838 km with Greece (234km – South), Bulgaria (162km – East), Kosovo (160km – North) and Serbia (101km-North) and Albania (181km – West).
The geography is defined by a central valley formed by the Vardar river and framed along its borders by mountain ranges. The terrain is mostly rugged, located between the Šar Mountains and Osogovo, which frame the valley of the Vardar river. Three large lakes — Lake Ohrid, Lake Prespa and Dojran Lake — lie on the Southern borders with Albania and Greece. The highest peak is Golem Korab (Maja e Korabit) 2.764 m right on the border with Albania.
Climate is temperate with dry summers and cold winters with heavy snow fall.
The population is 2.100.025 (est. 2016) consists of Macedonians 64.2%, Albanians 25.2%, Turkish 3.9%, Roma (Gypsy) 2.7%, Serbs 1.8%, others 2.2% (2002). Main languages are Macedonian (official) 66.5%, Albanian (official) 25.1%, Turkish 3.5%, Roma 1.9%, Serbian 1.2%, other 1.8%. Main religions are Orthodox 64.8%, Muslim 33.3%, other Christian 0.4%, other and unspecified 1.5%.
The Macedonian flag is a yellow sun on red background. The National Anthem is “Denes nad Makedonija” (“Today Over Macedonia”) was composed Todor Skalovski and the lyrics were written by Vlado Maleski in 1941. The motto “Sloboda ili smrt” (“Freedom or Death”) is linked to Kruševo Republic (1903) established in the capital of Aromanians (Vlachs) and defended by Nikola Karev and Pitu Guli against Ottoman Empire.
Patron saint is Saint Clement of Ohrid, one of the most prominent disciples of Saints Cyril and Methodius and is often associated with the creation of the Glagolitic and Cyrillic scripts, especially their popularization among Christianized Slavs
The Macedonian denar (MKD) is the local currency. Some shops accept euro, US or Australian dollars because many Macedonians leaving abroad are coming during summer or winter. Credit cards are accepted at most places. The country has the cheapest prices according to European Cost of Living Index 2015, organized by the Numbeo portal.
National holiday is on 8 September – Independence Day from Yugoslavia. On this day many Macedonians climb on Golem Korab.
Skopje is the capital of the country and is located in the Northwest.
There are 70 counties (pl. opštini; sing. opština) and 10 sectors forming the City of Skopje, a distinct unit of local self-government.
Official Time is UTC+1. Phone dialing code is +389.
Macedonia has only 699km of railways due to rugged terrain and 9633 km of paved roads (incl. 242km of expressways) in good condition between main cities and neighboring countries. A highway from Kicevo to Ohrid is being built by Chinese company Sinohydro Corporation Limited. It should be finished in 2019 and shorten the route between Serbia and Greece by 30 minutes.
Coaches and buses are the main transport system and work really good. Skopje coach station opened in 2005 and is built right under the main railway station. It’s linked to many cities and foreign destinations like Sofia, Istanbul, Hamburg or Stockholm.
There are not many street signs in the countryside and nice places can be hard to find. Even though the people are very friendly, language can be a barrier, especially in villages. Try to learn Cyrillic alphabet before visiting or you might miss a parking warning.
Snow chains are mandatory during winter and entering the country without them during winter is prohibited.
Most planes land on “Alexander the Great Airport” in Skopje or on “St. Paul the Apostle” Airport” in Ohrid. Macedonia is reachable from: London, Malmo, Eindhoven, Brussels, Dusseldorf, Dortmund, Munich, Zurich, Basel, Milan, Venice, Ljubljana, Vienna Zagreb, Rome, Belgrade, Istanbul, Izmir and Dubai. I think the cheapest flights are from London and Milan.
Members of the European Union don’t need a visa and they can enter the country only using a valid ID card. Only a few nationalities are required to obtain a Macedonian visa. All foreign citizens are obliged to register themselves in the nearest police station within 24 hours of their entry on Macedonian territory. Be careful about this rule or you risk a hefty fine, trouble when leaving the country or complete drug checks.
You should check the updated situation on Ministry of Foreign Affairs website.
Main tourism areas are:
Skopje known for Mother Teresa’s museum and home, Stone Bridge with Alexander’s statue, Fortress Kale, St Spas Church (Holy Salvation) and Old Skopje Bazaar, the second largest Bazaar outside of Istanbul.
Mavrovo and Debar Lakes – visited for Golem Korab peak in Mavrovo National Park, Galičnik Wedding Festival and Saint Jovan Bigorski Monastery.
Ohrid, the city of 365 churches and the main tourist attraction of Macedonia, an UNESCO’s World Heritage Cultural and Natural site, with Church of St. John at Kaneo, Church of St Sophia and St Clement, Tsar Samoil’s fortress, Monastery of St Naum and an old fishing village built on poles in the Ohrid lake. Its beaches are the Macedonian “seaside” resorts, both the President of the Republic and Archbishop of Ohrid and Macedonia having a summer residence near the lake.
Krushevo, the highest city in Macedonia, located at 1.350 m above sea level, and the capital of Aromanians (Vlachs) worth visiting for its traditional architecture, sky resort and Memorial Museum of “Toše” Proeski, dubbed “Elvis Presley of the Balkans” by BBC News. On 2nd of August the President of Macedonia visits the spot of 1903 Ilinden Uprising, while people dress as Ottoman Turks and Macedonian revolutionary freedom fighters.
Demir Kapija – Kavadartsi-Prilep area recognized for the wine production like Popova Kula Winery, the majesty of Treskavec and St. Archangel Michael Monasteries and Markovi Kuli (Marko’s Towers). Making photographs in St. Archangel Michael Monastery is prohibited because of the nuns and priests and is strictly enforced with CCTV cameras! And to boost your mood…you can smoke as much as you can because Prilep is the “North Carolina” of Macedonia, having a University and bank for this purpose.
Food & Drinks
Food is cheap, so cheap that McDonalds had a turf war competing pljeskavica, the “official” fast-food. Traditional lunch consists of a glass of rakija for digestion, salad of sliced tomatoes with fresh cheese, homemade bread, meat (mainly grilled pork aka pljeskavica) and potatoes. Traditional Macedonian dishes include Tavče gravče (beans in skillet), Ajvar (roasted red bell pepper dip), Burek (baked or fried phyllo filled with cheese, meat or vegetables) and Pljeskavica (mixed meat burger patty). You can drink local beers like Skopsko or Zlaten Dab. Macedonia has three main wine production areas: Povardarie (Central), Pelagonia-Polog (Western), and Pchinya-Osogovo (Eastern). Tikveš wine is the standard export wine to bring back to your friends.