Macedonia is bursting with hills and mountains and is a land where dreary flat countryside and plateaus absorb a mere 20 percent of the total area within its borders. With an average elevation of around 850m and snowfall at higher altitudes smothering the terrain from between approximately November and April, the list of things to see and do in the clean mountain air is almost endless and is guaranteed to keep everyone from hardcore snowboarders to serious birdwatchers fascinated and entertained for weeks on end. The country’s highest mountain, Korab, straddles the Albanian border in the northwest and stands a magnificent 2,764m on the very western edge of the Šar Mountains, which along with the Pelagonia mountain range in the south and southwest of the country form Macedonia’s two main mountainous regions. With no pun intended, the following four mini guides represent the very tip of the iceberg of what the Macedonian mountains have to offer visitors. For those not arriving in the country with their own gear, ski equipment rental is available pretty much everywhere with most of the hotels listed here able to help out with this and much more besides. Both of the companies listed in this guide that offer guided tours can provide expert advice and any kind of package for thrill-seekers wanting to explore the beauty of Macedonia’s most beautiful natural assets.
Close to the border with Bulgaria approximately 180km east of Skopje and officially the sunniest town in Macedonia, the charming and fascinating historical town of Berovo is perched around 1,000m up a mountain and some 900m above sea level. Famed for its lake, craft traditions and the local eponymous cheese, Berovo offers visitors a mild climate for the altitude and an extraordinary wealth of ancient sites to visit whilst in the region in general. Ideal for a short weekend break away from the chaos and dirt of the city, arguably the best gem here is the Monastery of the Holy Archangel Michael, a gorgeous ensemble of buildings constructed over the last couple of hundred centuries that’s open to visits all year round. Although there’s no winter sports here, the surrounding mountains provide plenty of opportunities for visitors to hike, ride mountain bikes and explore the unspoilt nature.
At 1,350m, the beautiful town of Kruševo is the highest settlement in Macedonia. Steeped in revolutionary history and featuring several museums dedicated to the 1903 Ilinden Uprising and the short-lived anti-Ottoman Kruševo Republic it created, with the help of lots of cultural sights and sensations as well as a hugely popular ski centre, Kruševo provides plenty of nourishment for visitors looking to combine the very best of winter sports with the added bonus of museums, galleries and some quite exquisite architecture. The birthplace of the painter Nikola Martinoski (1903-1973), who’s widely believed to be the founding father of contemporary Macedonian art, Kruševo lies some 150km south of the capital, and at less than three hours away by car can be either visited as a busy daytrip or as a longer holiday thanks to the various accommodation and dining options available in town. The nearby ski resort provides a limited amount of skiing opportunities and a couple of ski lifts at around 1,400m.
Mavrovo is both a beautiful valley and a protected national park. Approximately 100km southwest of Skopje mid-way between the capital and the lakeside summer playground of Ohrid, Mavrovo is named after the largest settlement in the region and features little in the way of things to see and do, preferring to put all of its energy into mountain activities and pursuits. Home to the most popular ski resort in the country, whose slopes begin at an altitude of 1,960m, skiing in the region is catered for with a total of about 10km of ski lifts and chairs with slopes available for all abilities from novice to professional, of which the latter should find more than enough adventure to keep them busy for at least a weekend. With most of the non-skiing part of people visits being taken up by eating and drinking courtesy of a handful of fine establishments in the region, sightseeing is little more than an afterthought. The other large feature that attracts the crowds is Mavrovo Lake which covers about 780 square kilometres and that attracts visitors for fishing and, during the warmer part of the year, the opportunity to swim and generally mess about on the water. By far the most iconic sight to ‘visit’ is St. Nicholas’ Church, constructed in 1850 and submerged in the lake back in 1953. Recent droughts in the region however have brought the beautifully decayed building back up on dry land.
Translating as Priest’s Hat in remembrance of a local legend involving an Orthodox priest who vanished off the face of the earth with the exception of his headgear many centuries ago, Popova Šapka is a hugely popular winter sports destination immediately west of Tetovo. Aome 70km west of the capital and situated at approximately 1,780m above sea level, the town exists with more or less the single purpose of providing a range of excellent facilities for anyone wanting to indulge in various snow-related activities. Boasting an average of 135 days of snow a year and the location for the annual Šarplaninski Cup international skiing competition, Popova Šapka features a total of six ski lifts and three chair lifts and is easily reached from Skopje in less than two hours making it an idea place for both short ski visits or something altogether longer and more ambitious. Interestingly, as well as being able to reach the town via a road that manages to stay open around the year, visitors can also visit Popova Šapka with the aid of a 7km cable car ride, which takes about 40 minutes and that’s located close to the Arabati Baba Tekḱe in Tetova.