Macedonia is one of the most under-appreciated European countries I’ve visited and one that it would be a shame to leave out whenever you’re making a list of destinations to visit. About the country as a whole I won’t tell you very much, as you’ll find a comprehensive description on Wikipedia. Quite small, both as surface and population, not very developed, nor very rich, Macedonia offers, though, some extremely beautiful landscapes, as it benefits from several mountain chains, lakes and natural parks that its people knew how to protect, exploit and turn to profit. I will only linger upon Ohrid (the city and the lake), one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen, where I have already been four times and where I’d gladly go again and, most important, that I will always recommend and promote whole-heartedly!
As a whole month won’t be enough for me to write my travel thoughts on Ohrid, I’ll try to divide my guide in several chapters, each of which will, of course, be a postzilla! The first one is about preparing the trip to Macedonia and the road to Ohrid. I’ll review some places that worth being visited on the way, and include useful info on the state of the roads, useful documents, customs, and all sorts of recommendations. Before leaving home, make sure you have in your pocket your ID card (if you are a citizen of a EU member state or of the signatories to the Schengen Agreement; otherwise a password and a visa may be needed). If you come by car and cross Serbia on your way to Ohrid, make sure the green card of your car is also valid for this two countries.
Going from Craiova (Romania) to Ohrid through Serbia, I’ve also had the chance to go to Zajecar (Serbia), to visit the remains of the fortifications, palace, basilicas, temples and baths in the Roman site Felix Romuliana, which is included in the UNESCO World Heritage List. From Zajecar to Nis, the route took us by pretty bad and suspiciously narrow national and European roads, but then we got lucky and found what all tourists expect when they travel for long distances – the highway. Attention, in Serbia you have to pay highway tolls, so you have to carry with you either a credit card or some euro (preferably coins). If you’ve taken this road, look for Predejane (65 km from Nis) and stop there for a cheap and delicious traditional Serbian pleskavita or some beans with sausages in an earth pot.
With your belly full of culinary wonders, head for the Serbian-Macedonian border, at the border crossing point Llojan Miratovac. Be patient, as the Serbian and Macedonian policemen seem to be very slow (and thundery, so don’t expect them to smile or show any kind of human emotion) and the queues very long. But once the wait is over…you’re in Macedonia!
The roads take us through a landscape apparently flat, dry and not very pleasant to the eye. It’s not until after you pass by Skopje that you’ll find the highways, but pay attention to the fact that you have to pay small amounts of money for the tolls quite often (50 cents – 1 euro for 7-8 times on the route every 10-15 km). And then there’re the mountains! Before flying their way, I recommend you to stop in Skopje for a short tour of the capital, and visit the central square (with the imposing statue of Alexander the Great), the stone bridge and the old part of the city, the Old Bazaar and Kale Fortress.
Continuing the road to Ohrid, you’ll probably notice many mosques and red flags with a black double-headed eagle on them. These are the marks of a region with an Albanian population of Islamic religion. The majority of the Macedonian population is Orthodox, and the national flag includes a golden sun on a red background.
170 km after leaving Skopje, you are approaching your destination. You know you’re there when you see the calm waters of Lake Ohrid, over which high mountains and Tsar Samuil’s Fortress keep watch. Ohrid lies in front of you and invites you to discover it… 🙂
Other useful articles from my Ohrid Travel Guide series: