The scars of the 20th century, too, are evident throughout Macedonia’s towns and cities. Soviet suburbs – constructed in stark social realist style – are a striking addition to the capital, ravaged by incidents of warfare and natural disasters. Today, more than two decades have elapsed since the fall of communism and Macedonia continues to make democratic headway. Nonetheless, it is one of the most economically impoverished countries in Europe.
Geographically, land-locked Macedonia is dominated by a large plateau filled with pine-swathed hills and deep green rolling valleys. It is completely surrounded by mountains, including the harsh, misty peaks of the Dinaric Alps, which proceed through the country on its western flank and provide isolated habitats for rare flora and fauna, including lynxes and wolves. Hiking through the Macedonian countryside you’ll encounter a shifting and weathered panorama of crashing waterfalls, vertiginous gorges, lively rivers, and darkened subterranean caves.
Macedonia’s convoluted topography has encouraged the preservation of unique cultures and customs too – throughout the highlands you’ll find ancient settlements steeped in rich folkloric traditions, including vibrant forms of song and dance. Elsewhere, Macedonia’s famous lakes – including Ohrid, Prespa and Doiran – are peaceful, mystical places that feature heavily in the national psyche as centres of early Christian activity and pilgrimage.