The democratic Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia is an old country seeking a fresh start, as it continues to break away from its communist roots. Strategically located in the Balkans in southeastern Europe and the smallest of the six Slavik republics, the historical region of Macedonia has alternately been controlled by the Greeks, Romans, Bulgarians, Byzantines, Serbs and Ottoman Turks. You’ll be amazed by the array of ancient ruins and archeological sites from the Stone Age, Byzantine churches, Ottoman mosques and villages that have remained frozen in time.
There are two especially fascinating sites in Macedonia. Travel to Kokino to visit its version of Stonehenge, an astronomical observatory created by civilized sun worshippers in 1800 B.C., or just outside Kratovo is the Stone Town of Kuklica, featuring 120 naturally formed stone pillars that are 10 million years old. Rock art tours highlight cryptic stone engravings, the oldest traces of human habitation in Macedonia.
Skopje, the capital and largest city, was mainly rebuilt after a 1963 earthquake, but its Old Town remains in tact. The twisted, narrow streets of this Ottomon-era quarter are packed with shops, chic restaurants and bazaars. Attractions include the Church of the Holy Saviour with its intricately carved iconostasis, caravanserais of Kursumli An and Suli An, 15th century Mustafa Pasha Mosque, 10th century Kale Fortress and a magnificent stone footbridge spanning the River Vardar.
On the streets you may see black clad Orthodox monks walking alongside stylish, coffee drinking teenagers. Bitola, with its colorful pedestrian shopping street, is near the ancient ruins of Heraclea Lyncestis. Attractive Ohrid, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is the site of the first Slavic university in the 10th century. It has lovely beaches on Lake Ohrid. The country also offers three national parks, hot thermal springs, excellent locally produced wines and fiery brandy, Mediterranean and Turkish influenced cuisine and mountains perfect for climbing, skiing, paragliding, canyoning and hiking.