Macedonia tourism masterplan set to unhide hidden gems


The transformation in Macedonia tourism is meant to sweep away the post-Soviet pall and attract tourists. Everywhere you look, you fell small, dwarfed by shiny, new gargantuan bronze statues of Alexander the Great and his parents, Philip II of Macedon and Olympias, that lord over the main plaza. Galloping horses here and imposing Doric columns there round out various corners; faux-Baroque facades and balconies reminded me of Josef Stalin’s wedding cake-style apartments along East Berlin’s broad boulevards, which have a certain retro appeal these days but still feel overwrought.

It does not take long for foreign visitors to Macedonia to discover the hospitality, kindness, openness and warmth of the country’s residents.

Shaking hands, done using the right hand, is customary when being introduced or meeting somebody of either gender. Kissing is not a necessity when meeting somebody for the first time, but every time you meet from then on, if you have developed affection for the person in question, kissing on the cheeks is usual in Macedonia. Of course, nobody will object if you only kiss once or twice while giving a long and sincere hug.

Macedonia tourism is also made of toasts. They are usually made with traditional rakija (brandy), often home-distilled. Toasts are made by clinking glasses, making direct eye contact and loudly proclaiming “Na Zdravje!” A speech is usually only made on formal occasions, normally by the host, but a guest may give one, too.

Macedonians enjoy rich and flavorsome food and normally have three meals a day, with lunch being the largest.

Paying the bill in restaurants is a big part of our mentality. The host will almost never allow a guest to pay for lunch, dinner or drinks because it is customary for the host to take care of all expenses while a guest is staying with him or her.

Macedonia Tourism in Lake Ohrid
Macedonia Tourism in Lake Ohrid

Macedonia tourism is also about traditional food

The traditional Macedonian cuisine combines Balkan and Mediterranean characteristics, inherited largely from Turkish tastes that prevailed during long centuries of Ottoman rule.

The travelers are delighted with the taste of Macedonian tomato, carrots, lettuces, parsley, onions, and garlic, and not to mention the rich flavor and aroma of fresh fruit, such as watermelons, melons, cherries, apricots, grapes, peaches, and others.

Most herbs are collected in the local mountains and in the countryside, and these herbs are renowned for their taste, have scent and healing properties.

How to enjoy Macedonia tourism

Tavche Gravche (beans in a skillet/тавче гравче) is a traditional dish. The boiled beans first and then mixed with onion, peppers, tomato, oil, flour and various spices baked in a pottery saucepan.

Ajvar (ayvar/ајвар) is a relish made principally from red bell peppers, with eggplant, garlic and chilli pepper. It’s traditionally homemade all over the country at the beginning of the fall. Ajvar can be consumed as a bread spread, in sandwiches, a condiment, or a salad.

Kashkaval (Кашкавал) is a specific type of yellow sheep’s milk cheese; in Macedonia the term is often used to refer to all yellow cheeses (or even any cheese besides Sirenye-white cheese).

Tarator (Таратор) is a liquid salad, made of sour milk/ sour cream/yogurt/, cucumbers, garlic, walnuts, and vegetable oil.

Kachamak (Качамак) is a traditional dish made of corn flour, potato and, sometimes, feta cheese. Similar to the Italian polenta, it is prepared by boiling the mixture thick or rare depending on taste, and then mashing while the pot is still on the fire. It is usually served with milk, plain Yogurt, sour cream or sometimes with bacon.

Moussaka (Musaka/Мусака) is a traditional eggplant-based dish in the Balkans and the Middle East. The Macedonian version of it traditionally consists couple of layers of ground (minced) lamb or red meat, sliced eggplant and potato (optional ingredients include: tomato, green peppers).

Burek is a type of pie popular throughout the former Ottoman Empire. In Macedonia, burek is made from layers of thick dough, alternating with layers of other fillings in a circular baking pan and topped with a layer of dough. Fillings are stewed ground meat, white cheese, spinach. Burek without filling is also made, and it’s known as Simit Pogacha when served into a roll.

Pastrmajlija (пастрмајлија) is a Macedonian specialty bread pie made from dough, meat and eggs. Pastrmajlija is oval-shaped with chopped meat on top of it. The name comes from the word pastrma, meaning salted and dried meat of sheep/lamb (cf. pastrami and “pastırma”). Traditional pastrmajlija is a long shape, with a topping of small cubes of dried pork or lamb and served with two fried eggs on the top.

Sarma (сарма) is the name of a minced meat (usually beef, pork, veal, rice, onions, and various spices, including salt, pepper and various local herbs are mixed together and then rolled into large plant leaves of grape or cabbage.

Grilled meat (local: skara/скара) – Macedonians and the other Balkan nations are known as great lovers of grilled meat; especially the tasty “kjebapchinya” (in the picture above) and grilled meat patty (pleskavica/плескавица) which go excellently with onion. Those are two most popular meals with younger and older population and they are found in the offer of many taverns (kafeana/кафеана).

Wine (вино) – Macedonian wines rank among the best value and most drinkable wines available anywhere. The Macedonian wineyards, especially the ones in Tikves valley area are characteristic by the exquisite grapes and even better masters for preparation of this strong alcoholic drink. The lengthy ripening process concentrates the sugar and acids in the grapes, ensuring rich colours and complex aromas in our wines.

Rakija (ракија) – Scotland has whiskey, Greece has metaxxa, while Macedonia has rakija. Throughout Macedonia, people make their own rakija, which is similar to brandy, made by distillation of fermented fruits – a very strong alcoholic beverage that is typically 50 to 60%. One version of rakija contains walnuts, altering its aroma and taste, and others plums – Slivova rakija.

Mastika (мастика) is originally a liquor made from the resin of the mastic tree. It is considered the national drink of the Republic of Macedonia containing 45% alcohol, has a hot taste not unlike that of brandy and is usually made from grapes, raisins, plums or figs. It is usually poured over ice and enjoyed with Meze (selection of appetisers or small dishes).

Beer – Skopsko (Скопско пиво) today is a real trademark of Macedonia (4.9% pale lager introduced in 1924). With a taste on which much bigger producers in the world would envy it, today it is a regional leader when we are talking about the taste and the quality. It is made of barley malt; unmalted cereals; hops; and brewers yeast.

Krushevo lokum. Krusevo is famous for making the tastiest lokum (Turkish delight) and meringue in Macedonia. This 200-year-old tradition today is carried on by the younger generations. The lokum was introduced to Europe in the 18th century by a British traveler to the Ottoman lands and became known in the West as the Turkish delight. It is made by cooking curdled melted sugar with cornstarch. Walnuts, nuts, or pistachios are used as filling. It is currently produced in different colors and aromas. It is a Turkish specialty that is soft, not too sweet, and is prepared and sold in the shape of small cubes.
Krushevo pie. The famous Krusevo pie you will find with cheese, leeks, cabbage or spinach.