|Population:||1.369 million (2015)|
Discovering the beauties of nature and exploring impeccable scenery, Macedonian customs, and traditional cuisine, you find yourself in Mavrovo .Set in the breathtaking scenery, amid grassy plateaus and snowy peaks of the mountainous region of western Macedonia, it is the frosting of the cake called the Macedonian outdoor experience.
As a village region, only 96 kilometers away from Skopje and 113 from Ohrid, it is a renowned location where many Macedonians build their weekend houses. Scenic and diverse in terrain, with an incredibly wide spectrum of activities to satisfy every taste, this region will give you quite the sensory overload. As such, no doubt, it is the frosting of the cake called the Macedonian outdoor experience.
What first comes to mind when picturing Mavrovo, is the beautiful lake seemingly carved in between the mountains. Set in breathtaking scenery, amid grassy plateaus and snowy peaks, it is as much of a postcard image as any. The water is crisp and calm, where you can enjoy swimming and kayaking, as well as boat fishing and sunbathing to your heart’s content.
A centerpiece of the lake though, something that catches the attention right away, is the half submerged Saint Nicholas church which is somewhat preserved and entirely accessible when the water falls back throughout the year. The lake, an attraction by itself, also freezes entirely during cold winters, and it is a rare sight indeed.
The Mavrovo region reminds of Switzerland Alps, for much of the time grassy pastures are filled with incredible herbal smell, and you can see shepherd dogs watching over herds of sheep. The National Park of Mavrovo, where nature can be enjoyed at its best though, is fairly close to the village region. Scenic sights that will rob you off any sense of time, and incredibly rich flora and fauna which repeatedly adds to your sensory apparatus. This is a stoic statue to nature, if ever there was any. The lynx, a Macedonian wild cat which is near extinction can be also seen here if you have the luck.
Places to visit
The National park of Mavrovo is home to the highest waterfall in the Balkans, as well as what some consider one of the most beautiful canyon in the world – the canyon of river Radika.
The upward road from Mavrovo will take you to Galichnik, a village which is by far the most renowned in terms of Macedonian culture and tradition. The road itself is quite scenic and cuts through forest and hills alike. Excellent for mountain biking and downhill rides. Galichnik though, is a bird of another feather- traditional Macedonian food, music, clothing, and being located high as it is, a feeling that you are near the sky rooftop.
Another place you ought to visit if you are interested in culture and tradition is Jovan Bigorski, probably the most remarkable monastery in Macedonia. Located near the village of Galichnik and build in the year 1050, this monastery which has a perfect view over the National park of Mavrovo is home to one of three famous iconostasis found in Macedonian churches. The iconostasis here has over 500 humans and 200 animals carved, depicting scenes from the Old and New Testaments.
Moving back to nature, the bridge “Deer Leap”, which outdoor enthusiasts will find quite captivating, can be found while driving southwards from Mavrovo Lake to Debar, turning left to the villages Gari, Lazaropole and Tresonce, before reaching Lake Debar. This 600 years old bridge was reportedly build by an ottoman lord who ruled these lands. The story goes that he went hunting and wounded a deer. The deer, showing surprising lack of vulnerability, kept escaping for a while till it jumped over the river and died on the other side of the canyon. The ottoman lord, obviously moved, build the bridge to commemorate the animal.
Near the church of Saint Nicholas, somewhat upwards and close to the ski lifts, you will find the cave Sharkova Dupka, a massive cave going deep in the mountain where temperature steeply drops.
Things to do
Discussing temperature though, it is important to note that Mavrovo offers cold and moderate climate even throughout the summer, making this place a heaven for outdoor sports aficionados. The grassy slopes of mountain Bistra, combined with incredible forest off-roads, and hill-top pastures accommodate the adventurous spirit regardless the sport, and regardless the age. In winters though, snow falls many feet deep, and the same slopes transform in the most modern ski center in Macedonia.
The lake alone buys you a lot of adventure either way. Swimming, boating, kayaking, sunbathing… But if you are more of a hiking enthusiast, you can climb the slopes, hills, collect some tea, and explore the forests.
Mountain biking is also popular here, since Mavrovo offers quite diverse terrain and technically challenging and less so trails. Cycling for intermediates and beginners is popular too, since the lake shore, a 33 kilometers long asphalt road surrounding the lake, offers some of the most scenic sights and an incredible view of the lake. The huge dam is an included attraction, and circling the lake you will see it as well. This is the cycling tour I personally recommend and usually take during relaxed weekends.
Paragliding is gaining popularity at a rapid clip, and while we are discussing rare interests, if you are really willing to experience the region along with its tradition, there are horseback riding tours from Galichnik where you can cover the terrain fast, while tasting cheese and traditional Macedonian cousine.