Ohrid and Skopje are just two of the most beautiful places to visit in North Macedonia, one of the least visited countries in Europe despite its geographical location and climate.
Some of the most popular places in Europe are starting to seem too crowded.
Over the past year, residents have battled excessive tourism, including Venice is preparing to introduce a tourist tax to reduce the number of visitors and Manchester by imposing a tax on people staying in hotels and Airbnbs in the city.
Sometimes heading off to one of the most beautiful places on the continent can leave you feeling like you’re stuck like a sweaty sardine in a tin can. If you want a little more respite and like the idea of seeing a major destination in its more authentic state, then North Macedonia may be the place for you.
This small Balkan country may have made headlines four years ago when a quarter-century-old dispute with Greece over its name was finally resolved, the nation formerly known as Macedonia adding “North” to the beginning of its name.
Today, it is the third least visited country in Europe after the microstate of Liechtenstein and Moldova, welcoming around 1.1 million tourists a year, far fewer than most of the continent’s major destinations. However, it is an incredibly beautiful country and is also extremely good value for money. So why does it receive so few visitors?
Given that it’s on the same peninsula where other, much more famous tourist hotspots like Croatia, Montenegro and Greece are located, its relative lack of oomph compared to other vacation spots is perhaps surprising. Especially when all its intriguing monuments are taken into account.
It has a wealth of UNESCO World Heritage sites, including the charming lakeside town of Ohrid, which is notable for its whitewashed Ottoman-era houses and Romanesque churches dating from the 9th century or earlier.
The region can also trace its origins to the reign of Alexander the Great, who ruled a part of the Balkans that spans four modern-day countries. A huge memorial statue of the legendary warrior riding a majestic horse stands in central Skopje, highlighting the North Macedonian people’s enthusiasm for the historic warlord.
Less well known is the country’s association with Mother Teresa, who was born there. The beatified nun rose to prominence as a caregiver to the poor and sick in the slums of Calcutta, India, but she was of Albanian origin and was born and raised in North Macedonia.
Given all these famous associations, it is perhaps surprising that North Macedonia is not better visited. The fact that it borders some of the most desirable locations in the Mediterranean without benefiting from direct access to the sea itself, as well as limited flight possibilities, could be a possible explanation.
The Express’ Esther Marshall recently visited the country, including charming Ohrid, located on the shores of the country’s largest lake of the same name. “Its old town is a lovely place filled with picturesque churches. I enjoyed a huge lakeside meal with wine for just £14,” Esther wrote.
“A scoop of ice cream in the pretty old town only cost me 90p while a cappuccino in a chic lakeside cafe cost £1.55. Luckily for Brits, TUI has just launched packages to Ohrid . A seven-day trip in July to a luxury hotel. A hotel with a pool costs just £676 per person. If you prefer to stay self-catering, I spent just £20 a night on an Airbnb with incredible views of the balcony.
Esther also visited Skopje, the capital of North Macedonia, which she found “a bit of a strange place”. In the 1960s, the city was hit by a disastrous earthquake that destroyed around 80% of the city. The city’s reconstruction project that followed was somewhat controversial.
“The first thing you’ll notice in Skopje is the number of giant statues. In 2014, the city embarked on a redevelopment project and built more than 100 statues. From warriors to pirate ships to lions, there “There is hardly a street without a monument. While the huge statues may not be to everyone’s taste, they are certainly something to see,” Esther continued.
“I wouldn’t recommend spending more than a few days in Skopje, but it’s definitely worth visiting the capital, if only to explore the nearby Matka Canyon.”
As for places to visit in the capital, the birthplace of Mother Teresa is worth the detour. The eclectic church was built in 2009, but on the site of an older church, where Mother Teresa was baptized the day after her birth.
If you like history that’s a little heavy, then the Museum of the Macedonian Struggle is for you. This dark museum focuses on the history of the country’s occupation and struggle for independence, beginning with the rebellion of Macedonian Christians against Ottoman rulers in the 16th century and ending with the country’s declaration of independence vis -vis Yugoslavia in 1991.