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Travel advice Eastern Europe

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MACEDONIA

One of the last undiscovered countries of Europe is Macedonia. Tourism is increasing, especially at Ohrid lake. Skopje receives considerably more visitors because of the low-cost flights touching down. And in addition, obviously the country has a central location and is on the itinerary of many travelers touring around the Balkans. Yet, most of the country sees few visitors. And the tourist infrastructure is there, so the country really is open to the curious explorer. Although I live very close to the country, in Bulgarian Sofia, I had never given Macedonia the time it deserved. Yes, I had been to Skopje several times, but I knew there's far more to see. So I decided to dedicate a special trip to the country. I rented a car while it was still summer and left on Friday evening. Around 22:00 I passed by Blagoevgrad and a bit later, I was at the border near Delchevo. That's where I spent the night, in Hotel Panorama City. Then, next morning, I continued to Pehchevo. It's just 28 kilometres. There, I directly checked in to Hotel Gogov. Fantastic, with a good restaurant, a spa and bike rental. I drove my bike to the waterfalls, some 6 kilometres out of town. Just ask at the hotel where to go, or some passer-by can show you the way. Or, just google the 'Spikovski vodopad'. The chapel 'Sveta Petka' is nearby as well. It's at 3,1 kilometres from Hotel Gogov in Pehchevo.

The next morning, I drove to Bitola through Strumica and Kavadartsi. In Kavadartsi, you could visit the Tikvesh winery. It's said there's a good restaurant on-site as well. I only drove through Kavadartsi due to a lack of time but would certainly visit the winery on a next trip. I passed by Tikvesh lake as well and drove on to Bitola. A city that really surprised me. It's Macedonia's second city, after Skopje of course. It's said to be the country's most 'European-looking' city. Mostly because the others, including Skopje and its large bazar area, seem a bit more Balkanic. Bitola, however, has a bit of a Central-European look and architecture. It could very well be a city in the Czech Republic, if you see what I mean. A beautiful city and fantastic to have a walk through the center on a warm summer evening.

From Bitola, I first drove to Bukovo village. It has interesting village mansions, of which some are abandoned but can still be admired. Then I continued to Prespa Lake, and onwards to the villages Ljubojno and Brajchino. Some beautiful village scenes and surrounding mountains. Then through Galichica National Park and Sveti Naum monastery. I was impressed, the whole surrounding area is stunning. From there on, Ohrid Lake. I had long wanted to visit but unfortunately had little time to explore, except the Early Christian Basilica. I wish I had the time to see more but must say I put too much into one day. That's because I had to drive all the way to Lazaropole, where I'd booked a hotel. It's all the way northwest, another 90 kilometres. I strongly suggest having at least one night in Ohrid. Also partly because the drive in the dark to Lazaropole is not recommended for those not used to driving on the Balkanic mountain roads, where you need to be highly alert at all times. Driving at nighttime is not recommended from Ohrid to Lazaropole, in my personal opinion. The road is good but there's unexpected donkeys on the road, people walking, and cars driving way too fast. Nothing out of the ordinary for the Balkans, but best avoid at night. Plus, you need the time in Ohrid.

In Lazaropole, I stayed in the Kalin Hotel. I didn't like it, it was too expensive, dirty with a bad quality of food in the restaurant. Best choose another hotel. The next morning, I walked a bit through the village. The mountains are stunning. So is the whole Mavrovo National Park. My first stop there was the Duf waterfall, near Rostushe village. Then on to the St. John the Forerunner Bigorski Monastery, which is just a few kilometres ahead. After that, it was time for me to make my way back to Bulgaria. I made a stop at the Matka Canyon. It was crowded but obviously there's reason for that, it's near Skopje and must be one of the Europe's most beautiful canyons. Before crossing the border back into Bulgaria, I bought some excellent Macedonian wine and drove back to Sofia.

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