Flipping through the pages of luxury travel magazines, you will never come across Macedonia. Recently divorced from its socialist past, this small country is not a typical poster child for the luxurious lifestyle. But things are catching up at a staccato sequence, with a dedicated tourism branch developing seemingly overnight. The standard of living has been going up for the past
decade, and with it plenty of opportunities to enjoy your holiday of a lifetime.
Secluded from the rest of Europe, Macedonia is the hidden gem that hardly anyone talks about. It is the perfect synthesis between impeccable nature scenery, cultural heritage aplenty, and one of the most rewarding Eastern
The affordable cost of living, on the other hand, is on par with the opportunity to enjoy a royal holiday, booking only in the best hotels, dining among the county elite, and discovering places of unprecedented beauty.
The journey, however, starts and ends with one of the most underrated European capitals and the largest city in Macedonia, Skopje. The article below is a detailed guide on how to explore this proper metropolis, which is also the
gateway of everything Macedonia has to offer.
The city of Skopje
Acting as the administrative, educational and business hub of Macedonia, Skopje is the largest and most developed city. Nearly one third of the population lives here, and the infrastructure is enough to handle this without a problem.
As a place of historical significance, Skopje was under the influence of several different cultures. The architecture, cuisine, religion and tradition, perfectly narrate this story. Nowadays, it is the blend of modern and old, urban and traditional.
You’ll find plenty of hospitality, art and entertainment, measuring up to central, and perhaps even western European standards.
Places to see in Skopje
While the city is stretching far and wide, most of the noteworthy attractions are clustered around the center. Make sure to visit the Old Bazar, the Kale Fortress, and the Roman Aqueduct. These are testaments to the past taking you back to Ottoman times, and even to the Roman era.
The center of the city itself is a very controversial spot, as it was the object of a massive architectural undertake, reminiscent of the large central-government planning. Whatever else might be said, this project has effectively changed the face of Skopje filling it with monumental baroque buildings, gigantic monuments, and bold works of architecture and art. Some call it utter kitsch, while others are applauding at the result. Nevertheless, you’ll have your camera snapping pictures left and right.
Where to stay, dine and enjoy?
Before I start with this chapter, let me just highlight the cost of living once again. Skopje is so affordable that you’ll never have to take public transport, compare prices, or look at the right side of the menu. A luxury holiday, filled with expensive hotels, premium restaurants, and breathtaking adventures, will burn a small hole in your budget, equal perhaps to an economic holiday elsewhere.
That being said, you can chose to stay in Marriott, which is right next to the city square, or book at Bushi Resort and Spa, on the other side of the river, right next to the Old Bazar.
Other places include the Aleksandar Palace Hotel, Double Tree by Hilton, Park Hotel & Spa, and Senigalia (which is an actual galley boat in the Vardar River). Down the ladder, you can also check out Hotel Panoramika Design & Spa, City Park Hotel, Solun Hotel & Spa, and Hotel Russia.
Macedonian traditional food is a reason alone to visit Skopje. Naturally, you’ll want to dine in a handful of selected locations, so let me guide you to the best places right away.
Restaurant Mulino is your first pick, but you can also consider Kamnik Hunter’s Lodge and Sushi Co. More casual places would include Pelister, and the Italian restaurants Veneto and Gino. You can also check Distrikt Bar and Kitchen which is an extension to the Marriott Hotel.
The periphery, however, offers some of the best traditional Macedonian meals, but more on that below.
Other places worth visiting
As far as entertainment goes, you can grab tickets for the Macedonian Opera and Ballet, the Macedonian Philharmonic Orchestra, and the Ohrid Summer Festival if you happen to schedule your visit for the month of August.
Skopje is catching up to the urban and modern, so you’ll find plenty of rooftop bars, exclusive nightclubs, and elite fitness centers. The Loft rooftop bar is all the rage and you can also visit the Old Bazar for some of the most authentic parties held next to buildings of the Ottoman past.
As far as shopping goes, Skopje City Mall is on par with some of the best malls in central and Eastern Europe.
The Macedonian Adventure
Macedonia, perhaps, is not the right type of place if you are looking to stay within the urban jungle. The real kick here is the periphery, where most of the religious and cultural heritage is located, and where the real gastronomic and outdoor adventures begin. Needless to say, there is plenty of fun to be had!
With steep cliffs, crystal green water, hiking trails and kayaking down the river, Matka is perhaps the most underrated adventure site on the entire European continent.
There is a magnificent cave complex nearby, a very old monastery up the mountains, and a captivating terrace where you can sip Macedonian red wine while watching the sunset.
If you want to enjoy a panoramic view of the city, just take the cable car and go to the top of mount Vodno. There, a monumental cross structure is towering above the city, as the entire landscape surrounding Skopje unfolds in front of your eyes.
The observatory of Kokino
This is the oldest natural observatory dating back from the bronze era. The entire site is isolated on top of a hill, surrounded by green pastures, smaller hilltops and scattered forests.
Only a few kilometers away, you’ll find the Ethno Village – a small traditional complex with tasty dishes and charming ethno ambient.
The vineries along River Vardar
Stobi, Sopot and Tikvesh all resemble the Old Italian Vineyard. Here you can dine, and taste some of the most pristine Macedonian wines known for their quality even far across the Atlantic.
The scenic fields are complimented by a long menu, authentic accommodation, and well-informed tours around the production facilities.
The Marble Lake near Prilep
While the small town of Prilep is home to some of the most breathtaking monasteries, the outskirts hide one of the most unique places in Europe – a crystal blue pocket of water, nestled within a grand marble amphitheater. Getting here is a true safari-like experience, and the lake is a sight to behold.
Some would argue that Ohrid rests at the very edge of Macedonia, and thus a trip there would be far less convenient when you take the highway from Skopje. But given how small the territory of Macedonia is, you’ll get from Skopje to Ohrid in less than 3 hours.
Once there, a garden variety of adventures begin!
Make sure to visit the Churches of Kaneo, Plaoshnik, and the Monastery of Saint Naum. Religious tourism, as far as testimonials go, has never been more attractive.
There is also the Bay of Bones, which is a recently reconstructed settlement from another era, and of course the small town of Ohrid which is a treat within itself.
The village itself is nothing spectacular, but the adventure tours are definitely worth considering. If you want to spend an entire day horseback riding through the Mavrovo wilderness, deep within the national park, there is no better place to be. You will taste Macedonian cheese, farm to table, as well as some of the most delicious Macedonian pies.
Of course, there is also the sunken church which is a postcard worthy attraction. If you are fortunate enough, and the tides are back, you can even walk inside.
Staying at the Aurora Complex or the Manastir Hotel is enough of a vacation, and the food you’ll taste is perhaps the best in the county. Ajvar, Stuffed peppers, Selsko Meso, Turlitava, Tavce Gravce… all the traditional dishes are right here.
Besides, the heavenly lake above the city and deep into the forest is where you’ll find true Zen.
As you can see, there is plenty of ground to cover, and more than two dozen of places to visit as you are discovering Macedonia for the very first time. This is a country of tradition, culture, religion and unprecedented cuisine, with adventure opportunities that easily warrant a second visit. Luckily for you, there is luxurious tourism offer on display as well – a true opportunity to enjoy your royal, one of a kind holiday.
Slavko Desik is a contributor to WorldWideWendy currently residing in Macedonia. His mind is set on discovering every corner of the country, together with his wife as they enjoy the outdoors, the cultural and the urban.
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