Hidden Gem: Macedonia

Home to Kokino, a megalithic observatory dating back as far as the 19th century, making it one of the world's oldest, is just one of thousands of reasons why you should definitely visit Macedonia. I admit this at the risk of embarrassing myself, but when I met my partner and he told me he was from Macedonia, I had no idea it even existed. However, it very quickly became my favourite place to be outside of London. In this article, I will share with you two cities that opened my eyes to the breathtaking natural beauty this hidden gem has to offer.

Mavrovo (Маврово)

Ggia via Wikimedia

Before even reaching the village of Mavrovo, you will already have the luxury of viewing the beautiful natural surroundings that Macedonia has to offer. The country itself is spotted with so many mountains (34 to be exact), hilltops and greenery that it is difficult not to be in awe (of course bagging the passenger seat means you get more of the view than just the cars ahead). This majestic, picturesque mountainous region offers the highest peaks in all of Macedonia. The National Park offers much for tourists; from deep canyons and skiing to forests and a lake. If a scenic, nature filled environment is what you’re looking for Mavrovo should be the top of your list.

The Forests

The forest boasts over 140 species of birds and over 100 species of trees. Fascinating research conducted by Jane Acevskia and Bojan Simovskia, adopted the ‘Braun-Blanquet’ research method, and revealed that there are in fact 28 different forest communities within Mavrovo. Amazing right! So these 28 communities include: 6 degraded-coppice, 4 coastal-floodplains and 18 typical forests. If you are lucky enough, you will have the opportunity of spotting the Macedonian wild cat, the lynx. A 2008 research project, conducted the first camera-trap survey that confirmed the presence of wolves, lynx and brown bears within the Mavrovo forests. So if you’re like me and love going on long walks for fresh air, I would recommend walking through the forest and see how many different animal species you come across. You could even make this into somewhat of a game.

The Lake

Now the Mavrovo lake is famed not only for its surroundings but for its peculiar centrepiece...the submerged church. I went right at the end of winter and was not lucky enough to see it submerged, so if you want to catch the surreal view be sure to visit during the rainiest seasons of late spring and autumn.

Image 1: Asanté Arien. Image 2: hyperlinked

The Slopes

As a result of tectonic plate movements, the area of Marvovo has a rich geological landscape that includes valleys, mountains and mountain saddles.

Via Asanté Arien

If you’re looking for a new and alternative location to Bulgaria or Austria, to either learn or show off your skiing moves, Mavrovo has got the slopes you need. I think it goes without saying that the best time for you to head there is during the winter months. However, you can also catch some last minute ski time throughout March. Now you know when.

But what!

So let’s get to the nitty gritty touristy information that you really need if you are to visit these stunning, uncrowded slopes. The Ski Mavrovo website (linked) is probably the best place to get all the necessary information about the variety of activities or events you can join in whilst visiting. The ski school offers lessons in activities like snowboarding and carving. However, I have put together the activities and prices I think people are most likely to prefer.

Night Skiing (Friday and Saturday)

  • 14 to 23 years = 550 denars (£8/€9)

  • 24 to 70 years = 650 denars (£9/€10)

2 day Ski Pass

  • 14 to 23 years = 1700 denars (£24/€27)

  • 24 to 70 years = 2000 denars (£28/€32)

If, like me, you are for whatever reason petrified of skiing, you can still always enjoy the beautiful birds eye view scenery that Mavrovo has to offer with a cable car ticket, for any age it is 350 denars (£5/€6).

During the warmer months, Mavrovo is still just as much a must see. In fact, having visited during the winter when the lake was frozen and snow came to my ankles, I’ve added to my list to return during the summertime. I can only imagine how captivating it will look wrapped in greenery. If you are a hiker or you are wanting to try, this would make a perfect summertime visit.

The Restaurants

I’m assuming that at some point during your day or trip filled with nature seeing and doing, your tummy might rumble once or twice. On the off chance this happens, do not fret there are local restaurants around where you can indulge the macedonian cuisine.

Campari Restaurant - At the foot of the ski mountain, where you will also find the entrance for the chair lift, lies Campari. Serving a delicious range of grilled meats and side dishes such as fries and salad. It is also the perfect place to grab a Macedonian hot chocolate after a long cold day of hitting the slopes. I say Macedonian because in the UK our hot chocolate is quite liquidy but you will find that hot chocolate in Macedonia is thicker, similar to a chocolate custard. But it is amazing and a must try with whipped cream on top!

Mavrovski Merak - You can find this 4.5 star restaurant down by the lake. During the warmer months this would give you the loveliest environment to enjoy some traditional Macedonian meals, such as Pindzur and my all time absolute FAVOURITE (yes it deserves capitals) Sarma! This is rice and minced meat, wrapped in pickled cabbage leaves.

Other restaurants you can find in the area include: Old Sheep House, Glamour Mavrovo and Restaurant Kristijan.

The Accommodation

In terms of accommodation, your best bet is to look on Airbnb and Booking.com. I found my accommodation using Airbnb and the room was absolutely brilliant, very modern and fully equipped. We stayed for a long weekend from Thursday to Sunday and it was 1500 denars per night, equivalent to around £21 or 24. I will be honest, my partner is Macedonian and so finding cheaper accommodation was easier for us but don’t let this discourage you. You will still be able to find affordable accommodation without risking your budget or comfort.

Ohrid (Охрид)

Via Fabio Nodari

The Sunsets

Sunsets. As simple as they may seem because they are inevitable, their charm isn’t to be taken for granted. The colours. With the reflection off the lake, Ohrid is a wonderful place to visit during the summer for those spectacular summer nights.

But what even is a sunset? I mean we know what it is, but what IS it?

The colours that we see when the sun sets all vary and are down to wavelengths. Different colours such as blue, violent and red have different wavelengths. The process of Rayleigh scattering, named after the physicist Lord Rayleigh (John William Strutt), provides great understanding of why sunset’s occur. Scattering describes the movement of white light throughout the atmosphere by molecules and air particles. As the sun is low on the horizon, the light therefore must move across more of the atmosphere, and as such colours such as red and orange with longer wavelengths will appear increasingly visible. Of course factors such as pollution also affect this visibility. What is also fascinating about sunsets is that while they may vary daily, depending on the factors we just explored, things get even more remarkable when we start to consider wildlife. Animals such as butterflies and reindeers have the ability to observe ultraviolet light, so you could only imagine how much more intense sunsets may look to them.

The Lake

Via Reisgraag

Added to the UNESCO list in 1980, the city and lake attract tourists from all over Europe, with direct flights available from London, Eindhoven, and Vienna. Once you have arrived, you will find plenty of activities to keep you occupied and plenty of beaches to keep you relaxed.

Fun fact: The lake of Ohrid shares part of it with the eastern part of Albania, on this side you will find the city of Pogradec.

Lake Ohrid's surface water moves mostly in a counter-clockwise direction due to wind forcing and the Earth's rotation. During winter cooling, convection is the main mixing process, which occurs in the top 150-200 meters. All water below is stably stratified by salinity (salt concentration). The lake is not only the oldest in the world, existing for 1.36 million years, but is also known as one of the largest biological reserves in Europe. Here resides preserved primeval life and most of the lake's species, both plants and animals, are endemic. A profound 288m (945 feet) deep, the lake is also one of the deepest in Europe. Excitingly, in 2010, NASA adopted the name of lake Ohrid for a lake on the moon, Titan. The Titan moon is the second largest in the entire solar system and is the only celestial object, apart from Earth, that has bodies of liquid such as lakes, seas and rivers. If you would like to learn more about this fascinating moon, click here for the NASA website.

Like Mavrovo, Ohrid lake also has rich geology, as this region is composed of Paleozoic metamorphic and magmatic rocks that are responsible for the makeup of the bedrock.

The Beaches

Now, I know you’ll be wanting to you know what beaches are available, so here’s a few:

  • Beach Potpesh - Not so much a sandy beach but you will be able to find some lounge chairs available to rent.

  • Golden Beach - One of the most dazzling and popular beaches because of the see through green water, that is perfect for a swim to cool off. Here you will also find the restaurant ‘K'j Divono’, where you will be able to try the Belvica fish, which is native to Lake Ohrid (one of those endemic species we discussed before).

  • Beach Labino - This beach is also a pebbly one and is also quite small, making for a great choice if you want to avoid the more crowded beaches. The view of the lake from this beach is also spectacular.

  • Cuba Libre Beach - So you’ve tried some traditional cuisine and you’re already eager to try something different, Cuba Libre Beach & Bar is the place to be. Without a doubt serving you the best view, drinks and food all at once. This is not your average beach side bar. Owing to the exceptional layout and extensive seating you are guaranteed comfort.

Another fun fact (well more like fun rumour): The city of Ohrid is also said to have been home to 365 churches and because of this was nicknamed the ‘Jerusalem of the Balkans’.

A lot more people are travelling increasingly more often but we may forget to really take in the natural beauty of the earth along the way. Regardless of where you travel to, there are sure to be some wonderful sights that can teach you a thing or two about natural sciences. The 'science around the world section' of this website aims to highlight this. While travel right now is limited, given the pandemic, we will all return soon to booking those flights and hopefully we can help in showing you more of the natural world than you knew before.

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