Macedonia is underrated and underexplored. A mountainous nation at the heart of the Balkans, it’s sprinkled with picturesque valleys and shimmering lakes, offering outdoor appeal in spades. Yet that isn't its sole selling point – Macedonia also has a bustling capital, a rich Hellenic heritage and an up-and-coming wine industry that appears on the cusp of international recognition.
For most visitors, the adventure begins in the capital Skopje. The cityscape is an incongruous jumble of buildings and gigantic neoclassical statuary. Monolithic socialist apartment blocks sit beside grandiloquent monuments, controversially added during an ambitious government scheme dubbed Skopje 2014. Old Ottoman and Byzantine edifices hark back to the nation's pre-communist history, while buzzing bars and clubs project its forward-looking aspirations.
Rural Macedonia is far easier of the eye. Blessed with an extraordinary diversity of landscapes, the countryside is also home to serene lakeside towns such as Ohrid, which offers glorious relief from the sizzling Balkan summer. Visitors can while away lazy days on the dreamy lake’s edge, visit the region’s handsome, time-warp churches and enjoy languid evenings quaffing wine produced in the surrounding hills.
From Ohrid push on into the endless green pastures of the Šar Planina mountain range, where the tranquil glacier lakes mirror the surrounding peaks, or try trekking the mountainous Pelister National Park, a dead ringer for the Swiss Alps. Outdoor enthusiasts heading to the remote hinterlands are more likely to see wild goats than deluxe resorts, but the country’s rustic inns are welcoming and affordable. During winter, there are many opportunities for skiing and snowboarding, particularly in the Mavrovo region.
Like most countries in the region, Macedonia has had its fair share of political and economic problems over the years. But shrug aside the stigma of the past and you’ll find a different Europe – one that’s fresh, crowd-free and, for the time being, incredibly affordable.