Macedonia: The Baltic’s Hidden Gem

While doing my daily SkyScanner sweep, I noticed a cheap flight to Ohrid, Macedonia for £36 return with WizzAir in early July. Without even Googling what is in Ohrid, or really where in the world Macedonia was located, I booked the flight. Ohrid airport had just recently opened up direct flights to/from London Luton so as an intro offer the cost was minimal. I work in PR/marketing and I have to say, I am SO EASILY swayed by marketers antics, it’s embarrassing. I went in with zero expectations, which often is when you get blown away by the results. Macedonia has reserved a special place in my heart and will forever be known as ‘the perfect trip.’ Let me tell you why.

I boarded my flight leaving on Canada Day (how unpatriotic), and touched down in Ohrid. The airport consisted of a set of entry doors, the ‘customs’ area, which was about as big as my bathroom, and an exit door. People were lining up out onto the tarmac of the runway waiting to get processed – safe? When I went up to security, people were SO friendly! Once my passport was stamped (in Cyrillic!!), my attendant gave me the biggest toothiest smile and said, ‘Welcome to Ohrid!” in a thick Balkan accent. As I didn’t really plan much before the trip, I had no idea how to get from the airport to my hostel, but I found a big red hop-on-hop-off style bus heading towards the city center. I heard two Brits outside ask the attendant if the bus went to SunnyLake Hostel, the place I was staying, and we all bonded quickly.

Ohrid, Macedonia waterfront

I have to admit, when we first started driving from the St. John the Apostle Airport, things were looking quite bleak. It wasn’t until we started coming around the bend of the lake that I was struck with complete and utter awe. I have never seen water so clear and turquoise in my life!! I think what I was most shocked about was after eleven months of grey skies in London, it felt incredible to see baby blue skies and cotton candy clouds, and to feel the beating warmth of the sun. How sad is that!

When we got off in the main square, my new friends and I trekked over the cobblestone streets up to the hostel. I’ve stayed in numerous hostels around the world, each one having their own uniqueness but every once in a awhile, you come across rare gems; the perfect storm experience where you can feel bits of your heart falling off and nestling into the woodwork. I can honestly say without any ounce of hesitation that I’ve encountered that twice on my travels; Sir Toby’s Hostel in Prague, and now SunnyLake in Ohrid.

Lake Ohrid, Macedonia water paths

The hostel had such a diverse mixture of genuine travelers from all over the world (only two were Aussies – how rare!). The hostel was perched up on a hill in the Old Town overlooking breathtaking Lake Ohrid with Albania off in the distance and it even had a pet turtle!! The whole place had a vibe of being at home sitting on a well worn couch, which was filled with whispers of visitors past. The dorms rooms were spacious with big wooden bunks and balconies overlooking the terracotta rooftops, and built at the perfect angle to watch the sun rise and set across the rolling hills.

Part of what made the trip so unforgettable was the people; the owner, Gyoko is SO nice and chill which helps set the tone for the rest of the hostel. He can often be found taking guests out on his boat for a trip across the lake.

The next morning I had planned on going paragliding, something I’d never done before. If you don’t know exactly what that entails, you basically get strapped in to a massive kite, wait for a good gust of wind and then launch yourself off the side of a cliff and hope to God the wind propels you upwards. LOL who invented this?!

When I was up in the air, I had one of those giddy, twitchy moments where everything just felt right, and you were where you were supposed to be. This was the summer I was waiting for.

Paragliding in Ohrid, Macedonia

After the rush of paragliding, I went back to the hostel to change and went exploring the town with this really cool guy from Singapore. He showed me the St. John at Kaneo Monastery , the beautiful Macedonian Orthodox Church located a small hike up a winding, narrow cliff streets and tucked on top of this big hill. The church has been dedicated to John of Patmos, the writer of the biblical book of Revelations. Historians aren’t sure when exactly the church was built, but it was a sight to see. When I got to the top of the hill with the church below me as it overlooked the turquoise waters of Lake Ohrid, I was stopped in my tracks. I can’t ever understand why people never seem to want to visit Eastern Europe when beauty like this lies undiscovered!

Church of ST John at Kaneo, Ohrid, Macedonia

 

As I was in Eastern Europe, this was one of those trips where I took out £150 (including the 50euro cost for paragliding) and ended up coming BACK with money! Everything is SO cheap there! I DIE for Eastern European food and burek is a plenty there! I’m pretty sure I ate is at least once a day for the whole five days I was there! I’ve made it my mission to learn how to make it at home – wish me luck.

Here’s what my cost break down was:

  • Flight: £36
  • Hostel for 5 nights (across two places: Ohrid and Skopje): £50~
  • Day trip to Bitola: £8
  • Food and drink: £30
  • Transportation to/from airport and to/from Skopje: £15
  • TOTAL: £139 

Macedonia remains one of my favorite trips and a place that I will gladly return to again and again.

 

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