When it comes to eye-catching holiday locations, Europe has no shortage of options. As a continent famed for its delectable cuisine, rich religious history, breathtaking landscapes, and iconic architecture, it’s second to none. Because of the breadth of impressive attractions across the many countries on offer, it’s inevitable that some gems end up falling through the cracks and don’t rank as highly on lists of recommendations when it comes to booking a holiday. In our humble opinion, these slightly less spot-lit spots deserve all the love and praise as their more popular counterparts, especially when talking about the topic of this article, the Republic of North Macedonia.
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Having only recently gained independence in 1991 with a peaceful breakup from Yugoslavia, our featured country more often than not flies under people’s radar when talking about the various nations of Europe. This is in small part due to the tumultuous changes the name of the place itself has undergone. Starting off as the ‘Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia’ following its independence due to Greece taking umbrage with Macedonia’s use of ‘Macedonia’. The United States didn’t begin referring to Macedonia by its constitutional name, ‘Republic of Macedonia’ until 2004. Macedonia and Greece only settled their disputes over the name as recently as June 2018 with the signing of the Prespa Accord, before they officially changed their name to the Republic of North Macedonia 8 months later in 2019.
With less than a year going by between its most recent name change and the onset of the Covid 19 pandemic, the country has been allowed barely any time to breathe as a travel destination under its new designation. Now that travel restrictions have come a long way to being reduced and with everyone cramming on to planes to get back to their favourite holiday spots, there is no time like the present to look to hidden gems like North Macedonia for a unique getaway where overcrowding is scarce and attractions are plentiful. Like its other Balkan relatives, North Macedonia would fit well in a list of cheaper European destinations and city breaks.
Some of the biggest draws to North Macedonia are its stunning structures and religious roots, both of which tend to be intrinsically linked across the nation. It may be a small part of the Balkan Peninsula, but the country still manages to be teeming with Ottoman and Roman history wherever you go. Being home to around 1000 churches and monasteries, the connection to Christianity can be felt nationwide, especially with three of the monasteries believing to include parts of the cross Jesus Christ was crucified on. One of the most picturesque of these resides in Ohrid, one of Europe’s oldest settlements, this being the Church of Saint John at Kaneo, beautifully built on the edge of Lake Ohrid overlooking the glistening waters. Dating back to before the 13th century, the church features elaborately carved woodwork throughout and makes for a beautiful piece of religious architecture with some seriously impressive scenery to boot.
Christianity isn’t the only religion that’s been given the red carpet treatment when it comes to architecture. Lying nestled in the humble town of Tetovo, just under an hour away from the capital, Skopje, hides the Painted Mosque of Tetovo. This place of worship boasts an entirely unique presentation for its ilk, benign entirely original compared to almost any other mosque in the world. As the name suggests, the building is covered head to toe in vivid colours and eye-catching patterns. The exterior tantalises visitors with lattice windows framed in brightly coloured rectangles, before they are treated to sensory overload in the form of cavalcades of beautiful arabesque patterns that twist and wrap together to create a canvas that covers the entire interior of this stunning structure. The mosque came about in the 15th century before being razed to the ground in the 17th and rebuilt in the 19th, since then it has stood out as a unique attraction that is a must-see for anyone at all interested in unique interior designs.
North Macedonia doesn’t slack when it comes to paying homage to revered figures from the country’s history either. The most obvious example of this would be the mighty monument that stands tall in the capital city, the 22 metre tall bronze statue depicting the former warrior king of the nation, Alexander the Great. He sits atop his steed brandishing his sword as he points it to the sky in a powerful pose displaying his bold stature and willingness to ride into battle. As impressive as the statue may be, it has become a hotbed of controversy in and of itself. The erection of this effigy drew ire from the Greek government, a nation that also lays claim to being the birthplace of Alexander the Great. It has become a part of the protracted shaky relationship that started with the dispute over the nation’s name, not helped along by Macedonia’s former foreign minister describing the statue as an ‘up yours’ to Greece. The statue has stood strong since its construction in 2011, but much like the frequent name changes the republic undergoes, it’s uncertain how much longer this will last. All the more reason to visit asap we say!
The subject of this next item, however, is considerably less controversial, though not completely devoid of ire. Also situated in the capital city, Skopje, is a memorial house dedicated to Mother Teresa, the Albanian-Indian catholic nun that was famous for her missionary and charity work. She received many peace-oriented accolades throughout her career before finally being canonised and recognized as a saint in 2016 posthumously. The memorial house itself was built where the church she was baptised in, just one day after she was born, has become a particularly interesting catholic memorial unique to the others mentioned on this list. The 1st floor hosts an array of memorabilia relating to the famous nun paying homage to her memory, after which you can make your way to the 2nd floor to find a chapel with glass walls constructed in a traditional North Macedonian fashion with silhouettes of doves worked in to symbolise the peace that the iconic missionary strove for. Whether you harbour a passion for the Christian faith or not, the unique design of this memorial certainly makes for a worthwhile visit.