FYR of Macedonia Things to Do Tips by johngayton
FYR of Macedonia Things to Do: 161 reviews and 491 photos
Appetizers and Condiments
To finish our exhausting, but superbly stimulating and varied, day out our wonderful host and organiser Valentina had arranged a traditional Macedonian dinner for us at Restaurant Ostrovo, just down from the St Naum monastery.
This is a spectacularly sited eatery occupying its own island on a mini lake at the source of the Black Drim River. We had the whole of the patio on the decking which jutted out into the water, reminescent of the recently-visited pile dwelling at the Bay of the Bones. The meal commenced with Macedonian salad, freshly baked bread, a platter of relishes, dips and condiments and a more than welcoming glass of Rakija.
This was followed by the National dish of Tavèe Gravèe - which is basically "baked beans" but certainly not that of the same ilk as those of Heinz. This was a substantial pot of subtly-spiced oven-baked white beans in a red pepper sauce topped with an equally substantial hunk of meaty sausage. Fortunately we still had some bread and our waiter was on hand for the beer order as sausage without bread and beer is kinda anathemic to me.
I think there was also a layered chocolate and nut torte to finish but our end of the table settled for another round of beers.
Obviously as a group we created our own buzz but nevertheless I was impressed with this restaurant - proper simple cooking, good service, an atmospheric location and little hints of elegance all added up to make for an excellent finale to our day.
So Cheers! Valentina for the day out and Cheers! too to all and sundry who assisted.
Directions: Over the bridge at the Black Drim River, just down from the St Naum monastery.
Our final dose of Macedonian history and culture of the day was a visit to the church and monastery of St Naum on the shore of Lake Ohrid.
St Naum was a close associate of St Clement of Ohrid with whom he worked as a missionary in Moravia and later assisted Clement with his teachings back in Ohrid. In 905 he had this monastery, dedicated to the Archangels Michael and Gabriel, constructed at the source of the Black Drim River where he retired to the monastic life.
Naum died 5 years later and was buried in the monastery's church. Naum was particularly revered for his roles as a scholar in developing the slavic language and his contribution to the furthering of the Orthodox monastic life. The present day church and monastery date from much later and the famous frescoes and the iconostasis were created in the 18th and 19th centuries - see website below for some examples.
The grounds themselves, with their strutting peacocks, make for a pleasant wander with great views over the lake and on the occasion of our visit a rather impressive sunset.
Directions: About 30 km south of Ohrid, towards the Albanian border.
The Reconstructed Village
Our next port of call, almost literally, was the archaeological "Museum on the Water" The Bay of the Bones on the shores of Lake Ohrid close to the village of Peshtani.
On the water is a reconstruction of a prehistoric pile dwelling complete with examples of the houses and other buildings which would have existed during the period 1200 to 700 BC. This is definitely one for those keen on archaeology as the discovery and subsequent reconstruction of the site makes for a fascinating piece of post-visit research.
In 1997 an underwater archaeological team discovered various artefacts and timbers on the lake bottom which were subsequently dated to the late Bronze/early Iron Ages. Over the next eight or so years the site was systematically and painstakingly investigated with sometimes daily dives.
Gradually the team put together a mental picture of what the original structure would have looked like and how its inhabitants would have lived based upon the locations and types of materials discovered and the artefacts and other archaeological evidence unearthed. The findings were used as the basis for the careful scientific reconstruction of the present day village on the water and the accompanying modern museum chronicles the discovery and recreation of the site with dsplays of many of the finds and a short video presentation.
This made for a fascinating little diversion and the site is indeed unique in the Balkans - just a shame the bar was shut - HA!
Directions: On the shores of Lake Ohrid about 13 km south of Ohrid itself.
After a relaxing lunch it was back on the road towards Ohrid. Connecting Lake Prespa and Lake Ohrid is the Livada Pass which winds up, and then down, through the mountains of the Galicica National Park.
The 25,000 hectares of the National Park take in the Galicica mountain range between the two lakes with its highest point being Mt Magaro whose summit is 2255 metres above sea level. The Livada Pass doesn't quite reach that height but is spectacular nevertheless and offers stunning views of both lakes on its relative ascents and descents.
To be able to view both lakes you have to leave the roadway and hike a bit which unfortunately we didn't have time for but we did manage a couple of strategic stops for pics.
Cormorant Disturbing The Waters
The village of Stenje, on the shores of Lake Prespa, was our scheduled lunch stop and a more tranquil one we couldn't have wished for. The sun was high but not ferocious and the gently cooling breeze barely rippled the lake surface - in fact the cormorant on the main picture caused more disruption.
Lake Prespa is particularly interesting in that it shares its shores with Macedonia, Albania and Greece and all three countries have agreed that it should be a designated Transnational Park for the protection of its diverse wildlife and flora. The lake is relatively shallow and sheltered which makes it an ideal habitat for many hundreds of bird species including herons, cormorants, pelicans, bitterns and egrets.
As well as the birds the lake is home to a couple of dozen fish species, which of course attract the aquatic fowl and also provide employment for the village's fishermen. The birds and fishermen seem to cohabit comfortably and judging by by the number of small schools of young fish I noticed milling around in the shallows there seems to be a plentiful supply to fulfil the needs of both.
Apart from the fishing the villages other main sourse of income seems to be that from tourism, although this is quite low-scale (especially compared to say Ohrid on its eponymous lake). For our lunch we were booked into the restaurant at the Hotel Riva, on the lakeshore. Naturally enough our menu was fish. fish and more fish (well actually just two courses of them). This is quite a smart little hotel with eight bedrooms, a couple of apartments, a good-sized restaurant and a pleasant terrace overlooking the lake.
Lunch was literally a mixed kettle of fish - an excellent fish soup was preceded by the layered dough with white cheese speciality (whose name I've forgotten) which got the ball rolling but unfortunately the fish main course - I think it was grilled carp (or maybe trout) was a bit naff - overcooked and the ratatouille sort of sauce just didn't work. But not to worry the rakija was good and the post-prandial beers and cigarettes on the beach equally enjoyed and the location really was stunning.
Definitely a place I'd consider spending a few days and maybe even stay at the Hotel Riva - I'll just avoid the grilled carp.
Our next stop off was the mountain village of Brajcino, about 1000 metres up in the foothills of the Pelister National Park. Unfortunately we only had a 30 minute stop off here, just time for me to have a quick wander.
This is a typical mountain village with many of its houses and outbuildings dating back several hundreds of years and in varying states of repair. The village aspires to be a centre for ecotourism and is the focus of several mountain trails, although by all accounts these are badly maintained and only suitable for serious hikers. Also within the vicinity are a clutch of churches and the 16th century monastery of St Petka.
More of a place to spend a few days rather than a quick in-and-out visit and several local homes offer accommodation to visitors as does the St Petka monastery. Website below has some further info and a contact button:
Enjoying The Shade
As part of the VT Euromeet 2011 in Macedonia we travelled en masse between the two cities of Bitola and Ohrid, spending a leisurely day by coach, and for those with their own vehicles in convoy.
Our first port of call was the village of Kurbinovo about 23 km east of Bitola, heading towards Lake Prespa.
This is a small rural village, population 182, and very much a farming community judging by the activity of the various tractors toing and froing. On a sunny late May morning the village was the epitome of the rural idyll as personified by the guys sitting contentedly in the shade under the trees bordering the village square.
OK it's probably not this idyllic all the time but there was a sense of peace and calm to the place (well at least until we arrived).
For the visitor the village houses a small, neatly kept, ethnographic museum which offers a colourful insight into the local agrarian history with exhibits of national costumes, agricultural tools and a collection of old photographs. Not really my cup of tea as there wasn't a bar but interesting nevertheless.
Kurbinovo's main claim to fame is its 12th century church, dedicated to St George. This really is worth a visit (even though once again there's no bar) and is especially significant as an example of the cultural and spiritual sophistication of the period's Orthodox Christian population. The building is a very simple stone-built single-naved structure but inside are a set of frescoes dating back to the church's inception which are especially impressive and one of which (that of the archangel Gabriel) features on the country's 50 Denar banknote.
The church is located about 2 km along a single tracked roadway leading into the hills above the village which is accessible by car and also makes for a very pleasant countryside stroll with great views unfolding over Lake Prespa as you ascend. I've no idea about opening times or whether you need to make prior arrangements for a visit as ours was a pre-arranged tour but I think the key for the church is held at the local shop at the bottom of the roadway.
Website below has some great pics of the frescoes.
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