Craggy mountain backdrops, time-weathered monasteries, stunning lake panoramas, hearty national cuisine – Macedonia has only one missing ingredient from the standard Europe recipe. And happily, that happens to be crowds. Landlocked into relative obscurity in a region worshipped for its coast, Macedonia’s tract of the Balkans is often overlooked. Yet for those looking to venture beyond the Adriatic and Aegean, Macedonia’s rugged interior contains rewards aplenty. Excellent hiking can be had in the mountain forests, Lake Ohrid’s waters rival the clarity of Croatia’s and 500 years of Ottoman rule can be acutely felt in the capital’s bazaars. And to round it all out, the locals will be delighted to have you.
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At a glance
|Time zone:||(GMT+01:00) Sarajevo, Skopje, Warsaw, Zagreb|
|Electricity:||Type C (European 2-pin) Type F (German 2-pin, side clip earth)|
Best time to visit Macedonia
Macedonia has a climate somewhere between a transitional continental and Mediterranean climate, which can vary greatly between seasons and regions. The country’s mountainous areas can be subjected to brutally cold winters (December to February), while the lower lying areas can reach 40° C during summer (June to September). Between May and September is the best time to visit, unless you’re into skiing.
History and government
Even by Balkan standards, Macedonia’s history is characterised by complexity and controversy. Going back to the days of Alexander the Great (the country’s favourite son), Macedonia has been pin-balled between external powers, from the Romans to the Byzantines, the Serbs to the Ottoman Turks, the Bulgarians to the Greeks. In fact, it wasn’t until 1991 that the country officially attained its status as an independent nation – and even that remains a point of contention in certain circles.
From the sixth century AD until the fourteenth, the territory was wrestled to-and-fro between the Byzantines, Slavs, Bulgars and Serbs before eventually falling to the Ottoman Empire in 1371. The country remained under Turkish rule until the empire’s decline in the eighteenth century, then was once again split up but this time between Greece, Bulgaria and Serbia. Various pushes for independence and ‘reunion’ with Bulgaria were then stymied by the two World Wars and the advent of communism.
At the conclusion of World War II, the country was incorporated into the Socialist Republic of Yugoslavia under the leadership of Tito – an era during which, by and large, the territory prospered. With the collapse of European communism, however, came new calls for Macedonian independence, and the state peacefully ceded from the republic in 1992.
Wary of ‘Macedonia’ being used as the country’s proposed name due to implied claims to Aegean Macedonia, Greece made its objections known and the compromise ‘The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia’ was eventually arrived at. Greek ire was re-aroused in 1994, culminating in its enforcement of an economic embargo that was eventually lifted upon Macedonia’s changing of its flag and agreeing to discussions about its name. The country evaded being embroiled in the Yugoslav Wars of the 1990s, but experienced a potentially catastrophic civil conflict from 1997-2001 over tensions with its sizeable Albanian population. Hostilities were becalmed with a NATO ceasefire, but the Albanian-Macedonian relationship is still a touchy subject that’s best avoided. The same goes for Macedonian-Greek relations due to the still unresolved ‘naming issue’. And also Macedonian-Bulgarian relations for that matter.
Top 5 Macedonian Festivals
1. The Galičnik Wedding Festival
Back in the good old days, the villagers of Galičnik had only one day each year where Macedonian couples could get married: 12th July. These days, starry-eyed lovers can take their vows on whichever day they please, but for one lucky couple a traditional wedding ceremony is still a possibility. Held on the weekend closest to the 12th July, the Galičnik Wedding Festival commemorates the custom with dances, elaborate dress and a horse bridle being placed on the bride as a test of her obedience. Any Macedonian couple that has already been married in a civil service can apply for the role of official couple, with the winning entrant generally being the one with the prettiest bride.
2. Tikveski Grozdober (Grape Carnival)
Each September, Kavadarci, a small town in Macedonia’s seriously scenic wine-growing region, plays host to the Tikveški Grozdober festival. A celebration of both the town’s liberation and the beginning of the grape harvest, the festival swells with food stalls and music concerts and culminates in an extravagantly costumed carnival procession through the town’s main streets. Oh, and much wine drinking.
3. Ilinden National Festival of Song and Dance
The oldest folk festival in the country, the Ilinden Days, is a celebration of all the folk cultural edifices that have come to represent Macedonian identity over the years. Folk songs and dancing take centre stage here, all performed in traditional garb with traditional instruments. Held over four days, it provides a fascinating insight into traditional Macedonian culture, as well as serving to preserve its history.
4. Pivo Fest Prilep Beer Fest
Macedonia’s breweries aren’t as prolific as its wineries, but beer is still a pretty big player in national culture and deemed worthy a festival. The first Pivo Fest Prilep was held in 2003 and, in contrast to many of the country’s other tradition-orientated festivals, the focus here is on live music, grilled meats, skimpy attire and ales abundant. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it’s now one of the most popular summer events in the country.
5. Carnival Procka
Kicking off three days before the Easter fast begins, the Procka Carnival, which is also held in Prilep, is a celebration of the unconditional forgiveness demonstrated by Jesus for his fellow humans. During this brief holiday, the young ask for forgiveness from their elders, who reply by saying ‘you are forgiven from me and from God.’ If this all sounds a bit sombre (not to mention presumptuous), there’s also great feasting opportunities in preparation for the fasting ahead and things are livened up with parades of highly decorative ‘anything goes’ costumes.
FAQs on Macedonia
Cappuccino in a coffee = 75 MKD
Meal at an inexpensive restaurant = 200 MKD
Three-course meal for two at an expensive restaurant = 1,000 MKD
For more information on insurance, please go to: [site:intrepid_insurance_link]
Jan 7 Orthodox Christmas Day
Mar 8 International Women’s Day
Apr 21 Orthodox Easter Monday
May 1 Labour Day
Aug 2 Ilinden (Republic Day)
Sep 8 Independence Day
Please note these dates are for 2014. For a current list of public holidays go to: http://www.worldtravelguide.net/macedonia/public-holidays
Health and Safety
Intrepid takes the health and safety of its travellers seriously, and takes every measure to ensure that trips are safe, fun and enjoyable for everyone. We recommend that all travellers check with their government or national travel advisory organisation for the latest information before departure:
From New Zealand?
Go to: http://www.voyage.gc.ca/
Go to: http://travel.state.gov/
Go to: http://www.fco.gov.uk/en/
The World Health Organisation
also provides useful health information:
Go to: http://www.who.int/en/
Macedonia Travel Tips
Intrepid is committed to travelling in a way that is respectful of local people, their culture, local economies and the environment. It's important to remember that what may be acceptable behaviour, dress and language in your own country, may not be appropriate in another. Please keep this in mind while travelling.
Top responsible travel tips for Macedonia
1. Be considerate of Macedonia’s customs, traditions, religion and culture. Avoid expressing opinions about the country’s relations with Greece, Bulgaria or its significant Albanian population.
2. Dress modestly and respectfully when entering places of worship. Shoulders to knees should be covered and shoes removed.
3. For environmental reasons, try to avoid buying bottled water. Fill a reusable water bottle or canteen with filtered water.
4. Always dispose of litter thoughtfully, including cigarette butts.
5. Learn some local language and don't be afraid to use it - simple greetings will help break the ice.
6. Shop for locally made products. Supporting local artisans helps keep traditional crafts alive and supports the local community.
7. Refrain from supporting businesses that exploit or abuse endangered animals.
8. Please ask and receive permission before taking photos of people, including children.
|Black Lamb and Grey Falcon||Rebecca West|
|The Golden Mean||Annabel Lyon|
|Hidden Macedonia||Christopher Deliso|
|Macedonia||Harvey Parker and Heather Roberson|