North Macedonia’s Highlights

In September 2020, we felt like our family of four was ready to fly again. I know this is a personal decision for everyone amid this on-going pandemic, but the time was right for us. Ten-month-old Davis boarded his first flight (a big difference from his sister’s first flight at 4-weeks-old) and off we went to one of the only European countries that would have us at that time: North Macedonia. 

Covid has brought lots of bad things, but one of the silver linings of the pandemic is that we discovered two countries that were never on our radar before: North Macedonia is a tiny, landlocked country, but our ~10 days in the country was very diverse, with beautiful, green national parks (Mavrovo National Park), a boat ride through a gorgeous blue-green canyon (Matka Canyon) and an extended stay on the country’s only “waterfront”: bustling Lake Ohrid. 

Skopje:

We landed in North Macedonia’s capital city: Skopje. It’s a much smaller European capital than the better known ones, but a very walkable and enjoyable city with plenty of green spaces and parks and more statues than I’ve ever seen in one city. The cool thing about Skopje is that this city of less than 500,000 inhabitants feels very, very European (in fact, much of the city was completely rebuilt after the 1960s) and then you walk over a very small pedestrian bridge and it suddenly feels very, very old and much more traditional. Many of the city’s Muslims live in the older area, so it almost feels like you’re in another city or country entirely. 

Matka Canyon:

A quick day-trip from Skopje gets you to an entirely different type of scenery at Matka Canyon. We did a boat tour of the serene canyon and were mesmerized by the calm and alluring blue-green water. We stopped to explore an underground cave and then hopped back on the boat in time to grab some food at a quaint waterfront cafe before heading back into the city center.

Mavrovo National Park:

As we drove through the country, we made a point to spend a few days exploring Mavrovo National Park. In peak season, it is a well-known skiing area but, when we visited in the fall, the ski resorts were all but deserted. Ski season or not, the natural beauty is a great contrast to the frenetics of city life in Skopje.

Lake Ohrid:

I would say that, without question, the highlight of our time in North Macedonia was the town of Ohrid on the shores of the country’s only waterfront: Lake Ohrid. The lake (one of the oldest in the world) is shared by North Macedonia and its neighbor, Albania, but Albania has mostly left the lake behind (makes good sense: it’s not their only waterfront) while the town of Ohrid, North Macedonia is a tourist hotspot (named as both a cultural and natural UNESCO World Heritage site) with beautiful streets, fantastic restaurants and plenty of boats for a quick spin around the lake. We spent several days enjoying the easy hikes around the village followed quickly by relaxing at the shoreline with an Aperol Spritz or two.

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