A Journey of Discovery in Macedonia – Itinerary

Day 1
ARRIVAL SKOPJE

The adventure begins at Skopje Airport, with a warm welcome by our Macedonian guide. You will be transferred from the airport to your hotel in the city centre. In the afternoon you will enjoy a walking tour of Skopje followed this evening by dinner at a local restaurant for a taste of traditional cuisine.

Accommodation: 3 star city hotel
Included meals: Welcome dinner

Day 2
SKOPJE – BITOLA
Time travel Photo & Architecture tour in Bitola, evoking romantic reflections of past times: the Consuls, the bohemians and serenades…. visit the archaeological site of Heraclea Lyncestis. Excellent vine tasting at a private home vinery.

After breakfast we will depart for Bitola (2 hour drive).

Arriving to Bitola we will visit the archaeological site Heraclea Lyncestis (4thBC – 6thAD). In the suburbs of today’s Bitola, lies one of the most significant Ancient Macedonian towns, founded in the 4th Century BC by Phillip of Macedon. It was named after the Macedonian tribe of Lynx from where Phillip’s mother originated. It was dedicated to the mythological hero Heracles. The site curator will take us on a sightseeing tour, which will end at the Roman Arena.

Next, we’ll check in the hotel in the centre of the town and have time for refreshments and a brief introduction and orientation followed by a walking tour along the main pedestrian street Sirok Sokak, evoking romantic reflections of past times…  our guide will then take the group on a Time Travel Photo & Architecture tour through the old town centre. This is an interactive sightseeing tour during which the group will use provided maps and old photos from different locations to find certain building, comparing the old with the today’s look. Simultaneously, our expert photographer will highlight the elements of quality adventure photography. The task is to take photos of those buildings, trying to capture the same photo frame as in the original photos or as close possible. This will be a challenge, since some of the old photos are taken 60, 70 or even 100 years before, and things have changed. The friendly locals could be very helpful and some could even tell part of the town’s historical and cultural tradition as well as tales connected to that place. We’ll also visit the grocery market place, meet the locals and learn of traditional agricultural production.

Lunch will be served at a local restaurant where we will enjoy a unique meal.

In the Ancient Roman culture, lunch was…an Adventure: Besides providing hedonistic pleasure, a good host was expected to entertain (or even surprise) the guests, by inventing interesting activities. Therefore, it was always carefully organised as an important social and cultural event. Guests were encouraged to take an active role in the discussions, the cultural and the entertainment activities.

We’ll follow the same principles and protocols to recreate this segment of the Ancient living style…and time travel.

In the afternoon we visit a local wine cellar where our host, an International qualified wine expert, will explain the millenniums long tradition of wine production and consumption. Light dinner with some delicious appetisers will be served together with the wine tasting.

In Bitola, having a coffee or drink on Sirok Sokak Street is a centuries old tradition, so there is a chance to experience the town’s vibrant night life after dinner. Overnight at a small family owned hotel in Bitola.

Bitola has always been one of the most significant towns in the Balkans, noted for its cultural and historical sites, unique traditions and lifestyle of the locals. Today, the remnants of the ancient Heraclea Lyncestis show the importance of this city founded by King Philip of Macedon in the 4th century BC. A well preserved Roman theatre and numerous areas paved with colourful mosaics are its main attributes. Many cultural events are still performed in its authentic ancient ambience, a proof of over 2 millenniums of living culture.

Once an ineluctable point on Via Ignacia road, Bitola later became the diplomatic and cultural centre of the Ottoman Empire in the Balkans. It was a seat of consuls in the 19th century and with them they brought the European culture and influenced the local aristocracy who started living in European fashion and building their houses in mixed neo-classical styles. Their inherited sense for aesthetics turned to an everlasting architectural beauty contest. Walking through the most atmospheric street in the country, Shirok Sokak, we will hear some romantic stories that reflect the “good old bohemia” times. One story is of the Manaki brothers, regarded as the pioneers of cinematography in the Balkans, who brought to Bitola the first film camera and created the first motion pictures on the Balkan Peninsula and in the Ottoman Empire.

Accommodation: Family-run Hotel
Included meals: breakfast, lunch, dinner

Day 3
BITOLA – PELISTER NATIONAL PARK
Hiking and Wildlife conservation tour at Pelister National Park. Folklore class and village food.

After breakfast we will visit Pelister National Park (about 30 min drive).

Pelister National Park is home to dense pine woods, rampant streams and stone rivers which are remains from the glacial period. The two glacier lakes Golemo Ezero and Malo Ezero are of the most beautiful spots of this area. It is also a home of the rare prehistoric type of pine called Molika. The hike across the mountain will show adopted Alpine vegetation, some mutated and endemic species of plants, birds, butterflies and mammals.

We will join the park rangers on an easy, 3-4 hours hiking and Wildlife conservation tour through the Molika forest and along the Historical trail from the 1st World War. At the end of the hike we’ll participate in seasonal wildlife conservation activities with the Park’s rare fauna.

After a short, 15 min drive we arrive at the mountain village of Dihovo, where a visit to the local beekeeper includes a taste of his pure honey and stories of the challenges they face to protect bee baskets from bear strikes.

Dinner is held at Villa Dihovo, including plenty of fresh salad and fruit, choice of homemade dishes and local specialties, like Vlach pie (Vlashka Pita) and Yogurt. Also tasting homemade beer, wine and rakija (brandy). Following dinner, we’ll learn a Macedonian folk song and dance, accompanied by the local folk ensemble.

Drive back to Bitola (15 min). Overnight at a small family owned hotel in Bitola.

Accommodation: Family-run Hotel
Included meals: breakfast, lunch, dinner

Day 4
BITOLA – KRUSEVO – BRAJCINO
Enjoy the picturesque architecture of Krusevo. Baking Vlach pie and learning Macedonian embroidery with the Women’s Handicraft Club. Optional bear and wildlife night viewing in Brajcino.

After breakfast, we check out and drive about 1 hour to visit Krusevo, the most picturesque highland town in Macedonia. The ladies from the local Folklore Handicraft club will welcome us and introduce the town’s rich tradition.

Built in traditional Balkan 18th-19th century style, Krusevo is also a significant monument of the Macedonian struggle for independence. The first Macedonian republic was established here during the Ilinden uprising in 1903. Today, besides the many museums, one can enjoy the picturesque architecture walking the stone paved narrow streets or have a sip of rakija chatting with the friendly locals.

We start our tour with a guided walk in the old town, visiting the History museum, Martinoski art gallery and the local carpenter, who will demonstrate his old craft of making wooden barrels.

For lunch, we’ll join our hosts in a cooking session to prepare our own meal, bake a Vlach pie and a local biscuit called Celufki. While the meal is baking, we’ll learn traditional Macedonian embroidery – the most recognisable decoration of Macedonian folk clothing. Chance to practice, exchange experiences and hear some interesting tales over lunch.

In the afternoon we depart towards Prespa lake and drive about 1.5 hours to Brajcino village. Check in to the private guesthouses. The accommodation is not luxury, but clean and well maintained, with share toilets/showers. Time to refresh and relax before we gather at one of the village inns for a traditional Macedonian slow food dinner. Chance to learn from our host about the traditional use of forestry herbs to prepare homemade tea, sweets and traditional medicine. Overnight at family owned guesthouses in Brajcino.

Accommodation: Authentic family-run Guesthouse
Included meals: breakfast, lunch, dinner

Day 5
BRAJCINO – KURBINOVO – EZERANI BIRD SANCTUARY
Wildlife observation hike at Pelister National Park. Rural experience tour and bird watching around Prespa lake. Join village family for local meal.

At 05:00 am we leave the village and start our Wildlife observation hike. (04:00 is about the right time in wildlife circles to get up and prepare for wildlife observation, since most of the wild animals feed during the night and go back to their habitats as dawn breaks). Before leaving the guesthouses we’ll have a hot tea, coffee, snacks and fruit for breakfast. After about a 20 minute off road drive we’ll reach the mountain hide to begin a four-hour guided hike led by Pelister National park rangers. We’ll check the camera-traps, stalking and tracking – keeping noise to a minimum, hopefully to spot some wild animals. We will look for evidence of the bears, tracks and scat and also to see the entrance to the winter hibernation caves. With luck we may be able to see some of the bears, wild goats and roe deer, as the sun rises. Around 10.30 – 11:00 am we aim to be back to the village and rest an hour or two until lunch.

Lunch will be served in one of the village inns with local organic food and drinks.

The afternoon will start with a guided walking tour around the village. Exchanging experiences with the friendly locals about their life, we’ll learn about the village’s origins and history.

Macedonian villages offer an authentic view of the traditional Balkan rural life. Many old houses are masterpieces of stone work, carefully carved and designed to last for centuries. In the back yards and fields, vegetables and fruit are grown the traditional way. Unpolluted air, water and soil make this food real healthy. Friendly locals like to exchange information about their occupation, crafts and life. Chance to taste real home made meals, original old “grand mother” receipts, have a taste of rakija or wine.

We stroll down to the nearby village of Ljubojno to see it’s well preserved stone houses then continue driving along the shore of lake Prespa. In the village of Podmocani we’ll visit the privately owned authentic collection of Macedonian folk clothing and learn about some original customs and traditions. We will visit the small, but significant 12th century church of St. George. Its frescoes are a valuable part of the Worlds art history collection due to their unique painting style. We will also visit Ezerani bird sanctuary to observe the Dalmatian pelicans from the one of the towers. These gracious birds can also be easily seen from the lake shore when they come close to feed. So, if the weather is good, we could spend the rest of the day on the beach, observing or relaxing and swimming in the lake, until sunset.

Tonight’s dinner will be held with a local family in their home.

Accommodation: guesthouse in Brajcino
Included meals: breakfast, lunch, dinner

Day 6
BRAJCONI – GOLEM GRAD ISLAND – ORHID (UNESCO SITE)
Exciting boat expedition to the “forbidden” island. Scenic drive across mount Galicica. 

After breakfast, we check out and drive about 1 hour to the village of Konjsko, on the western side of Prespa lake. From here we’ll take small fisherman’s boats across the lake to Golem Grad Island. Due to it’s rare biodiversity, the island is a highly protected zone. Its isolated and untouched nature has turned it into a unique pocket jungle that is home to some endemic species, as well as mutated Mediterranean vegetation. In the 10th century it became an important spot of the legendary Macedonian Tsar Samuil, but some archaeological finds tell us that it has been  inhabited since the Ancient Roman times. Exploring the island, we’ll see medieval archaeological remains hidden in the vegetation as well as rare tortoises, lizards and birds.

Ohrid Lake, one of the oldest and deepest in the world, hides many mysteries. Also a Unesco Natural treasure, its crystal waters are home of the endemic Ohrid trout.

Lunch will be served on the mainland, with local domestic food and traditionally prepared lake fish.

After lunch we depart for Ohrid, with a 2 hour scenic drive across Mount Galicica to enjoy panoramic lake views.

We will check into our hotel in Orhid with time to relax before the evening meal.

Accommodation: family owned hotel in Orhid
Included meals: breakfast, lunch, dinner

Day 7
ORHID
Explore Ohrid, the UNESCO world heritage site and dine on local trout in an authentic 250 years old house.

Situated on the shores of Lake Ohrid, the town of Ohrid is one of the oldest human settlements in Europe, with continuous urban life beyond 3 millenniums. 

After breakfast, we will start with a guided walking tour of the old town. We will visit the Roman theatre arena, Byzantine churches with stunning frescoes, early Christian Basilicas and  18/19th century Macedonian (Turkish-influenced) houses. Built mainly between the 7th and 19th centuries, Medieval Ohrid has the oldest Slav University at Plaoshnik hill and more than 800 Byzantine-style icons and valuable frescoes, dating from the 11th to the end of the 14th century.

Lunch will be served at a traditional restaurant in the old town.

The town’s rich traditions are witnessed in the authentic local crafts including Ohrid Pearls, silver, woodcarving and medieval printing techniques on handmade paper. Some of the best masters will demonstrate these old techniques that have been well kept within their families for centuries.

Dinner will be served at the oldest fish restaurant in the old town, situated in a 250 year old traditional house. This is a chance to taste the endemic and very tasty Ohrid trout and to learn grandma’s recipe for the fish dressing.

Accommodation: family owned hotel in Orhid
Included meals: breakfast, lunch, dinner

Day 8
OHRID – MT GALICICA HIKE – ST NAUM
Hike at Galicica National park, with stunning views of Lake Ohrid. Stroll through picturesque villages, meeting the locals and tasting natural food and drinks. Visit of St. Naum monastery and the Paleolithic exhibition at the Museum on Water.

After breakfast, we drive about 15 min to Velestovo village, nested on the hill overlooking Ohrid. We stroll through the village and before starting  our hike in Galicica National Park to Elen Kamen Peak, continuing on to the villages of Konjsko and Elsani. Explore the villages, meeting the locals. At Elsani, it’s possible to try (optional) a rural massage performed by the village girls – using local herbs and oils (depends on availability – limited capacity). After a refreshment break, we descend to Pestani village, from where we’ll take a small boat to Orevche beach.

Lunch with traditional meals will be served at the tavern by the lakes shore. Following lunch, there will be time to relax or swim in the crystal clear waters of Ohrid lake. Next, we’ll go to the Bay of Bones, to visit the Museum on Water, which is a replica of the Paleolithic settlement that once existed at this site.

Optional underwater adventure: There is a possibility to take an optional diving tour and explore the underwater archaeological remains under the settlement. The tour starts with a brief (30 min) diving course held by a certified diving instructor and continues with around an hour of guided diving session. Tour cost: 50 euros per person. Includes: boat transfer, basic diving course, diving suit and equipment, guided diving tour.

In the afternoon we will drive for approximately 20 minutes to reach the monastery of St. Naum, a refuge of tranquility at the very southwestern corner of the Macedonian Republic. Situated 29 km from the town of Ohrid and only 1 km from the Albanian border, the monastery brings the Macedonian experience to a dramatic culmination.

In the late afternoon we will reach our hotel. A time for refreshment and relaxation will be available before we dine at the hotel restaurant. The rest of the evening is free for individual activities.

Accommodation: family owned hotel in Orhid
Included meals: breakfast, lunch, dinner

Day 9
OHRID – MAVROVO – MATKA GORGE – SKOPJE
Enjoy the scenic drive through canyons and lakes of Mavrovo National Park. Cross Matka lake by boat and visit Vrelo cave. Time travel in Skopje – dine in an authentic medieval Han!

After breakfast, we check out and drive to Mavrovo National Park. We’ll follow the most scenic road in Macedonia, along river Black Drim, Lake Globocica and Spilje. Outside the town of Debar we’ll visit the nunnery of St. George. We’ll meet the nuns who will tell us about their life, education and handicraft production. We continue our journey through the longest auto-passable canyon in Europe, following the wild river Radika.

Mavrovo National Park is the largest protected area in Macedonia, containing parts of four mountains. 

Our next stop will be at Lake Mavrovo, the jewel of the National Park. After a short coffee break, we continue towards Skopje, driving by the towns of Gostivar and Tetovo. On our way we’ll take a detour to Gorge Matka. Lunch will be served at the restaurant overlooking the lake at the end of the canyon with the deepest underwater cave in Europe, Cave Vrelo. We’ll take a scenic boat tour across the lake to reach this natural rarity. Returning to the main land we continue towards Skopje, which is only a 15 minute drive away.

Check into our hotel with time to freshen up for the afternoon and evening.

Skopje, the Macedonian capital, has always been an important centre, lying on the crossroads of the West and the Orient. Here we can sense the spirit of mixed cultures and religions, co-existing in harmony for centuries. The modern part is built mainly after the devastating earthquake in 1963, while the old town core with the Turkish Bazaar remained almost intact. Here can be seen well preserved medieval buildings, highlights of the monumental Ottoman 15th century architecture. 

Afternoon we will enjoy a guided walking tour of the Macedonian capital, visiting both the new and the old town centre. We walk to the central square and cross river Vardar over the 16th century monumental Stone Bridge. As we step into the old part of the town, we start exploring the Old Turkish bazaar containing some very well preserved Ottoman 15th century buildings such as Mosques, Hans, Turkish baths (Hammams) as well as picturesque oriental shops and restaurants. Dinner tonight will be in an authentic 15th century Oriental Han, with traditional dishes.

Accommodation: 3* Hotel in Skopje
Included meals: breakfast, lunch, dinner

Day 10
SKOPJE – AIRPORT
Mother Theresa’s life story visiting her memorial house, before departure

Breakfast and check out from the hotel. Before leaving Skopje there is one thing left to do…when we think of modesty and philanthropy, Mother Theresa is surely one of the best known personalities worldwide. She was born and raised in Skopje as Gondja Bojadjiou and her memorial house is here to tell us the story of her life.

Transfer to the airport. Our guide will help with the flight check in.
Included meals: breakfast

Inclusions

INCLUDED WITH THIS TRIP

  • 9 nights twin share accommodation in Family-run Guesthouses & Hotels
  • All meals as detailed on the itinerary
  • All transfers listed in the itinerary
  • Entrance Fess for archeaoligical sites, museums and national parks as per itinerary
  • Cultural exchange: gastronomy, folklore & handicraft, local farming experience
  • Wildlife conservation: Molika pine planting, wildlife viewing, lake bird watching
  • Guided walks and Entrance fees as detailed in the itinerary
  • Services of a fully experienced bi-lingual guide, National Park Rangers, Mountain guide, Museum Curator

NOT INCLUDED WITH THIS TRIP

  • International Airfare
  • Visa fees – each member of the group must carry a valid passport (valid for at least 6 months beyond the duration of your trip) and have obtained the appropriate visas
  • Tips, personal telephone charges.
  • Travel Insurance (compulsory) – You will need to give the policy number prior to departure
  • Items of a personal nature; postage, drinks and souvenirs
  • Additional optional activities
  • Medical Advice – Please refer to your GP or local travel clinic for up to date travel health advice for the area(s) you are visiting.

IMPORTANT NOTES
Food & drinks – All food quality is carefully selected following the true local tradition.
Local Guide – The group will be accompanied by a local English speaking guide. Our guides are highly professional, very friendly with an extensive knowledge of the area. They know every hidden corner and will give you the opportunity to experience all the unspoiled places and the local culture.
Transport – A private bus and driver will be available for the group for its everyday transfers and transportation of luggage.