Modern-day Macedonia — the most southern of the Slavic countries — is a study in contrasts. You still see Orthodox monks dressed in black robes and tall hats strolling the streets like a scene from ancient times, but you also see crowds of teenagers talking on their cell phones, wearing the latest fashions, and drinking fancy coffees in stylish cafes and bars.
For nature lovers, mountainous Macedonia is as close to heaven as you can get. Much of the country is remote wilderness, and hiking, mountain climbing, downhill and cross country skiing are all slowly gaining popularity here as the country shakes off its communist past and opens its borders up to tourists. Mavrovo National Park in the west has the best skiing and gorgeous high alpine scenery. Also, this gorgeous and well-kept park doesn't just have the best skiing in the country, but its 73,000 hectares is also full of pine forest, lakes, rivers, waterfalls and mountain villages. Accommodation is limited, however, to the village of Mavrovo unless you'd like to camp.
For history enthusiasts, myriad ancient ruins dot the countryside of Macedonia. Sveti Naum is the name of a much visited monastery that has some wonderful hiking nearby. One of Macedonia's surprising highlights is the town of Ohrid. Nestled beside a sapphire lake, it's a sleepy town rich in culture which comes to life every summer with its numerous spiritual festivals. Ohrid is known as the heartland of Macedonian Orthodoxy and there's a legend that Ohrid had 365 churches at one point, one for each day of the year.
Not far north of the Greek border, the town of Bitola sits on top of a plateau at the base of Mount Pelister. The weather can get chilly at night but the people are warm and friendly here, as they are in most of the country. Just half an hour outside of Bitola are ski lodges and plenty of hiking trails in the mountains.
Macedonia's capital city, Skopje, is a mix of modern and ancient. Above cobbled streets you can find modern hotels. Next to neoclassical homes you can find grand Yugoslavia-era architecture, modern restaurants and cafes, shopping malls, tall office buildings, alongside rubbles of Byzantine churches. Truly a mix of old and new.
A little known fact is that the famous Rosetta Stone, discovered in Egypt in 1799, is written in three languages and it has recently been discovered that one of those languages is Macedonian — not ancient Egyptian after all, as was previously believed.
Macedonia is known for its wines and its delicious cheeses. Every village has its own local varieties of cheese.