Day 1 - Skopje
Zdravo! Welcome to Macedonia. Craggy mountain backdrops, time-weathered monasteries, stunning lake panoramas, hearty national cuisine – Macedonia has only one missing ingredient from the standard Europe recipe. And happily, that happens to be crowds. Landlocked into relative obscurity in a region worshipped for its coast, Macedonia’s tract of the Balkans is often overlooked. Yet for those venturing beyond the Adriatic and Aegean, Macedonia’s rugged interior has rewards aplenty. There’s excellent hiking in the mountain forests, Lake Ohrid’s waters rival Croatia’s clarity, and 500 years of Ottoman rule can be felt in the capital’s bazaars. To round it off, the locals will be delighted to have you. This adventure begins with a 6pm Welcome Meeting – check with reception to confirm the place and time. If you can't arrive on time, you may wish to arrive a day early. We'll happily book you additional accommodation (subject to availability). If you're going to be late, please inform reception. Insurance details and next of kin information will be collected today, so have these on hand. There are no planned activities this afternoon, so explore Macedonia's capital at your leisure. The 30 mosques, innumerable caravanserais and hamams that fill its winding streets are a testament to Skopje’s Ottoman past. Visit the Daut Pasha bathhouse, Church of St Spas, or the elegant 15th century Mustafa Pasha Mosque. See Fortress Kale and walk across the medieval Stone Bridge – Skopje’s most prominent landmark. Welcome in this delicious Real Food Adventure with a traditional Macedonian dinner in the cosmopolitan area of Debar Maalo.
Day 2 - Leunovo
Wake early and enjoy 'breakfast on the move' through the streets of Skopje. Macedonian cuisine is a beguiling combination of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern influences. Its warmer weather conditions make it a bountiful region for locally grown produce and with a wonderfully sophisticated coffee culture, flavourful, rustic dishes and passionate producers, cooks and winemakers, Macedonia is a culinary destination ripe for discovery. Pay a visit to the green market to learn about the ingredients that make up Macedonian cuisine, and pick up some items for a picnic lunch. Travel to Matka Canyon (approximately 30 minutes), where a fascinating gorge contains a rich complex of medieval buildings, including churches, monasteries and remnants of a fortress. After a short walk to the Monastery of St. Nikola Shishevski, a boat will collect you for a relaxing sail through Matka Canyon and down the Treska River, stopping for lunch along the way. Depart for the village of Leunovo (approximately 2 hours), with a stop at the 15th-century Painted Mosque of Tetovo en-route. The mosque is famous for its beautifully decorated facade. It's estimated that more than 30,000 eggs were used to prepare the paint and glaze that went into the elaborate decorations. Arrive in Leunovo by early evening. Meet your host family who will share both their home and their stories of Macedonian life over a traditional home-cooked dinner.
Day 3 - Ohrid
Farewell your host family and set off to explore the southern part of Mavrovo National Park (approximately 1 hour). Home to the indigenous community of Macedonian Muslims, this region is ethnically and culturally different from the rest of Macedonia. Stop in the village of Rostushe and take a walk to the Duf waterfall. In this picturesque setting, enjoy a traditional breakfast of local pie and a fermented drink called boza, made of sour milk. Stop at the nearby St Jovan Bigorski Monastery (St John the Baptist), which is the most spiritual monastery in Macedonia. Built in the 19th century on the remains of an 11th century church, the monastery stands on the slopes of Mt Bistra and is home to a small silver coffin allegedly containing remains of St John himself. Then continue on to the village of Janche, which sits in a winding canyon of the Radika River and is one of the region’s oldest villages, where the houses line the hillside in harmony with the natural surroundings. In Janche, be treated to a hands-on cooking class with local village women who will teach us how to prepare their local pastries, a specialty of the region. Perhaps they’ll let you in on a few of the secrets they employ in the annual pie contest here. After a informative and delicious class, continue on to Ohrid, which sits on the shore of the lake of the same name (approximately 1.5 hours), arriving by early evening.
Day 4 - Ohrid
Ohrid is Europe’s oldest lake, and one of the oldest human settlements in the world, with a wealth of historic sites and religious monuments to discover. It’s an eternal town, a magical hill whose primordial pulsation links ancient and modern times forever. The town is said to have once been home to 365 churches, one for each day of the year, earning it the nickname “the Macedonian Jerusalem”. Despite being a World Heritage site for over 30 years, the town remains under the radar of visitors. Today is free to explore the town’s streets and churches, maybe picking up a bargain or two in the vibrant Old Bazaar. Alternatively, you may wish to join your leader for an optional day trip to the southern point of Ohrid Lake and the mystical Sveti Naum Monastery, one of the most important places of pilgrimage in Macedonia. You’ll take in the ancient Tast Samoil’s Fortress, which stands on the top of Ohrid Hill and looks across the town, and a 2,000-year-old Roman theatre that was uncovered near the Upper Gate. The Sveti Jovana Kaneo church, which picturesquely sits on a town-top rocky outcrop overlooking the lake, is one of the most popular in Macedonia. This evening, head to Kuratica, a village on the outskirts of Ohrid. Here you’ll experience true local hospitality and enjoy a home-cooked meal of regional delicacies. Your host also brews his own rakija, infused with herbs only found in this region, which you’ll be lucky enough to taste.
Notes: If it has rained on the day you visit, or the day before, you may go foraging for edible snails in Kuratica and use the collection for dinner.
Day 5 - Bitola
Drive to Dihovo, another little village in the foothills of Mt Pelister. Meet a local beekeeper to learn about this age-old craft. Wearing protective clothing, view an open beehive demonstration, extract honey from the comb and, of course, enjoy a tasting. Afterwards, tuck into a traditional home-cooked meal in a stone and wood villa built in traditional Macedonian style. All of the ingredients are organic and come from the family’s own private gardens.
Arrive in Bitola by mid afternoon. Relax in one of the city’s many cafes, explore the stalls of the Old Bazaar or choose to take a guided tour of the ancient town and archaeological site of Heraklea Lyncestis, located on the outskirts of Bitola. Heraklea was founded by Philip II of Macedonia in the 4th century BC after he had conquered the surrounding region of Lyncestis and incorporated it into his kingdom of Macedon. The city was named in honor of the mythological hero Heracles, whom Philip considered his ancestor. With its strategic location, it became a prosperous city. Each object, each stone, each pedestal is shrouded in mystery.
Meet a local beekeeper in Dihovo who will share the hidden secrets of honey followed by a sweet tatsing session. Follow this up with lunch – using home-grown produce – in the private garden of a local family. Arrive in Bitola by late afternoon.
Day 6 - Skopje
Start the day with a Turkish coffee at the Old Bazaar and learn about the importance of coffee culture in Bitola. For the more adventurous, perhaps try a bowl of the local specialty Ckembe Corba (tripe soup). It is claimed that the soup was once part of an initiation rite for boys, but today it is commonly enjoyed as an early morning breakfast dish.
Later in the morning, head to the wine region of Tikves to meet an international wine writer – critic and author of the first Macedonian Wine Guide. Thanks to an abundance of sunshine and rich rocky soil, wine grapes thrive in Macedonia and wine culture has taken a central role in Macedonian life since Roman times. It dates back to the 4th century BC in the Tikves region, and the industry thrived during medieval times with its production, as was common at the time throughout Europe, conducted largely in monasteries. Enjoy private tastings at two of Macedonia's most acclaimed wineries. Tastings will be paired with cheeses and other food specialties of the region. Arrive back in Skopje by late afternoon. Your final night in Macedonia is free, although your leader will be happy to suggest a fitting restaurant to farewell this amazing country.
Day 7 - Prizren
Cross the border into Kosovo, arriving in the capital of Prishtina by mid morning. Enjoy a short visit of the 14th century Gracanica monastery, a UNESCO World Heritage site then visit the nearby settlement of Gracanica, one of the few remaining dominantly Serbian populated areas in Kosovo. Lunch on a selection of Kosovo Serbian barbecue meat dishes prepared by our friendly hosts who make their own sausages and other pork delicacies. After lunch, continue on to the historical city of Prizren. You’ll take a short walking tour then have a free evening to explore.
Day 8 - Kotor
Enjoy a morning walk through Prizren, where both Ottomans and Byzantines have left their mark, then stop briefly in Albania to visit the Rozafa fortress. Located above the city of Shkoder, this is one of the last legendary strongholds of the allied Christian forces (Albanians, Montenegrins and Venetians) against the invading Ottomans in the 15th century. Travel on to Montenegro and the coastal town of Kotor, arriving by late afternoon. Boasting a stunning stretch of Mediterranean coastline, gorgeous tucked-away mountain hamlets and charming small-town affability, Montenegro is rapidly emerging as one of the world’s fastest-growing traveller destinations. In summer, buzzing Budva is full of Eastern Europe’s well-heeled pleasure seekers, yet venture beyond the glitz and you'll be rewarded with pristine natural landscapes and rustic towns oozing old-Europe charm. Subtle but seductive and stylish, this new kid on the Balkans block is fast moving to the top of its class. The 5th-century World Heritage-listed city of Kotor is set on a secluded bay, with towering peaks surrounding a rocky coastline dotted with pretty waterside towns. Settle into your old town accommodation, and enjoy the rest of the day at leisure. In the evening the city walls are prettily lit up to provide a unique night-time perspective.
Day 9 - Kotor
After breakfast, visit Njegusi, a town on the outskirts of Kotor, which is famous around the country for its smoke dried hams and cheeses. Stop into a centuries-old smokehouse, where the owners will take you on a tour and explain their artisanal production process. Enjoy tastings of their smoked hams, cheeses and grape brandy before returning to Kotor. Later, take a short trip to an olive farm in the village of Tici, located in the Lustica bay area on the outskirts of Kotor, and discover traditional and contemporary techniques of producing this staple Mediterranean ingredient. Take a walk through olive groves to a well-preserved and ancient stone olive mill, where olives were once milled by hand. Here you will also be guided in how to properly taste olive oil and discern the best quality. In any free time on your last day you might like to get delightfully lost in the town's crooked alleyways, checking out the boutiques and cafes, or climb the hills behind the city to visit Kotor's ruined fortification walls. A one-and-a-half hour hike up the stone steps, past churches, gates, and bastions to the Fortress of Sveti Ivan at the top rewards you with magnificent views across town and the brooding Bay of Kotor. Celebrate the end of this Real Food Adventure with an optional dinner of Montenegrin wine and traditional dishes at one of Kotor's fantastic wine bars.
Day 10 - Kotor
Your Real Food Adventure concludes this morning. There are no activities planned today and you are free to leave at any time. The closest airport to Kotor is Tivat (TIV). While this is the most convenient, there are limited flights services available. The closest major airport is Dubrovnik (DBV), located in Croatia (1.5 hours). There are a number of taxi companies that service the route between Kotor and Dubrovnik airport. If you are flying out from Dubrovnik, your leader will be able to assist you to arrange a transfer. Should you wish to stay and explore Montenegro, additional accommodation can be purchased through your booking agent.
Accommodation, Food (as stated), Transport, Selected Activities
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