Mavrovo National Park – Macedonia’s Wild West
Mavrovo National Park could be described as the wild west of Macedonia. Located in the west of the country’s landlocked borders the region is home to mountainous landscapes, thick forests, and wild creatures. Clumps of villages scatter hillsides accessed only by winding trails with some very sharp switchbacks.
Only 1.5 hours drive from Skopje, Macedonia’s capital city, it is within easy reach for those pining to retreat back to nature. You will need some wheels to get around the park as public transport will only take you to the outskirts. But once you find an area to explore, you can get out on foot and enjoy the wondrous landscape.
Welcome to the Wild West of Mavrovo National Park
Mountains and Hiking Trails
Rolling hills and steep mountain peaks scatter the horizon of Mavrovo’s landscape, making this place a hikers paradise. Korab mountain, the highest peak in Macedonia, impressively sits on the north-western side of the national park. However, Korab’s sibling mountains equally impress and are present at every turn.
The best way (in my opinion) to explore the park hiking one of the many trails. We did this by ourselves by collecting a trail map from the information centre in Mavrovi Anovi. But I have also heard great things about some of the organised hiking tours you can do if you want to hike with a local guide.
Most of the trails will include uphill sections but the views certainly reward your hard work and effort. We were also lucky enough to be there in Autumn when the trees had started to turn and the area became a mass of red, orange, and gold.
Bears and Wild Horses
When I researched about Mavrovo National Park before our trip, the park’s tourism website listed a number of wild animals who habitat in the forests and surrounds. Brown bears, the Balkan lynx, wolves, and over 125 species of birds.
We saw a number of small birds, plus larger birds which circled above our heads. Wild horses also roam free in these parts and have a very inquisitive nature to inspect intruding tourists.
Sadly, we didn’t see any of the rarer animals. We did, however, find a bears pawprint on one of the trails, along with mounds of berry coloured bear poop. This especially excited my husband, having spent over 10 years living in bear country in the US. I was more content knowing that the bear obviously had ample berry supplies, so she (or he) wouldn’t be bothering us if we did ever cross paths.
One of the most famous sites is Mavrovo lake with the half-submerged St Nikolas church as its focal point. Although artificial the lake is an appealing addition to the landscape.
We visited in October and the lake had partially dried up so we missed out on the novelty of seeing a flooded 19th-century monastery. But the bright side of this was that we could walk up to the ruin to admire its delicate structure and rockpile of crumbling tombs.
A 30-minute hike along a well-marked trail from the village of Rostushe will guide you to Duf Waterfall. The river Duf spills through an elevated hole and down into the waterfall’s rock pools.
It’s a really lovely spot to relax and cool off from the heat of the day. We spent some time here because we had the whole place to ourselves. Take a picnic, explore the rock formations, or just watch and listen to the mesmerising cascades plunge into the shallow pool below.
Mavrovi Anovi, Janche & Lazarapole
The first village you will probably reach is Mavrovi Anovi, which sits beside Mavrovo lake. A place more geared towards tourists and resort visitors but it’s a nice place to stop for lunch. I highly recommend a locally run cafe, Gostilnica Dva Sokola, which serves delicious homemade food in a relaxed setting with views out across the lake.
Deeper into the national park the village of Janche provides a good starting point for the 4-hour return hike to Galichnik. Janche is a traditional village worth having a wander around. As well as stopping for lunch at the restaurant of Hotel Tutto. A member of Slow Food Macedonia which serves mouthwatering organic local dishes.
Towards the south of the park is Lazarapole. This place was recommended to us by a local man who worked in the same coworking space in Skopje as my husband. Apparently one of the highest villages in Macedonia and certainly one of the most rural. As we stepped back in time and strolled through the pretty hamlet we barely saw a soul. Apart from a few rifle laden villagers returning from their afternoon hunt, and a group of wild horses fighting for a gulp at the village fountain.
Untouched Natural Heritage
Although a popular playground for Skopje residents and Macedonian holidaymakers, Mavrovo National Park has kept its unique rural beauty. Hopefully, it will stay this way as the country becomes more popular with foreign travellers.