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UNIMAGINABLE NATURE IN MAVROVO NATIONAL PARK

By Julia Van Peer
"As well as untrodden hiking trails and remote shepherd villages, the park boasts a stunning diversity of flora and fauna, sometimes offering a glimpse of the brown bear, wolves, deer, goats or the much distinct lynx."

North Macedonia counts three national parks (unofficially four), including Pelister, Galicica and Mavrovo. Located in the western part of the country, Mavrovo stands out as the largest of the three. The park offers an adventure filled with steep-walled mountains, off the beaten trails, pristine rivers and dazzling canyons. Given the country has only recently been gaining in popularity, it is a premier destination for various outdoor activities. 

Although Skopje, Tetovo and Bitola are the country’s main draws, the dramatic landscapes of Mavrovo National Park are equally as impressive. Almost the entire western half of North Macedonia is covered with magnificent mountains. On top of that, the park is home to Mount Korab, both North Macedonia’s and Albania’s highest peak. The alp sits on an elevation of 2 764 m above sea level, surrounded by nothing but grandiose mountain ranges. And while the snow on the lofty peaks starts melting, green pastures and colourful meadows, filled with an incredible herbal scent, break through. 


 

The nearby alpine town of Mavrovo is an ideal base for visiting Durmitor and is also interesting in itself to visit. Set in an impeccable scenery, amid snow-capped peaks and breathtaking gorges, Mavrovo offers both cultural, culinary and outdoor activities.

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View on the way to Velivar-summit.

AN EPIC HIKE TO MAVROVO’S HIDDEN GEM, VELIVAR

Trails in Mavrovo National Park are plentiful and although they vary in length and degree of difficulty, all offer beautiful panoramic vistas. As well as untrodden hiking trails and remote shepherd villages, the park boasts a stunning diversity of flora and fauna, sometimes offering a glimpse of the brown bear, wolves, deer, goats or the much distinct lynx. Velivar is one of three peaks rising from Dešat, the second highest mountain in MavrovoNational Park. 


 

This hike begins on the outskirts of the picturesque village of Bitushe, Mavrovo’s highest village. The well-marked dirt path leads the hiker through a thick forested area before reaching Lake Lokuv. After traversing the open meadow, the first mildly ascending trail turns into a short steep stretch through beech woodland, before fully opening up along a stunning mountainside path. The landscape turns from a cooling forest to an exposed area with an imposing mountain range.

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Me trying to take in the beauty of Mavrovo National Park from the top of Velivar.

Take a short break and drink the cold running water from the clear stream, as this is where the though section begins. Making your way up the sharp ridge, indicating the border between North Macedonia and Albania, you will pass a signboard pointing you to the northbound route to the summit. After a demanding twisting trail your goal comes into view. As you walk towards the 2 375 m high peak, your autopilot takes over and before you know it you’re standing on one of Mavrovo’s highest peaks. 


 

The scenery around Velivar is characterised by breathtaking mountains and stunning wildflower pastures, grazed by horses and roaming flocks of sheep. With Mount Bistra and the Radika canyon in the east, and several Albanian villages in the west, these vistas rob you of any sense of time. A 360 degree view like this puts everything else in perspective. 

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Right on the border between North Macedonia and Albania. 

As you retrace your steps back down, notice the slight variations in the hues underfoot. Experienced hikers can venture off the routes and look for a place to pitch their tent. Even though there are no official camping areas, there are many suitable open plains to spend the night. And what better place to lie underneath the light of a thousand stars. 


 

With much ground still to be discovered, the area has an amazing potential as a hiking and nature destination.

FACTS OF THE HIKE:

  • Length of the trail: 16 km (round way)

  • Duration: 7 hours (average); 5 hours (experienced)

  • Elevation gain: 1 430 metres

  • Highest point: 2 375 metres

  • Starting point: Bitushe (free parking)

  • Difficulty: Hard

  • Optimal period: June – September (October)

OTHER SPOTS WORTH VISITING

Mavrovo Lake – Located amidst the monumental peaks of the Šar Mountain to the north, Bistra to the south, and Vlajnica to the east, Mavrovo Lake is set in an astonishing decor. Its crystal clear, calm water mirrors the surrounding woodland, giving it a magical appearance, perfect for enjoying a relaxing afternoon. Even though it is an artificial lake, by means of the 1953-built dam, it dazzles with an undeniable beauty. Explore all sides of the lake by driving or hiking along the incredible viewpoints on the surrounding asphalt road.

‘St. Nikola’ Church – Usually ‘floating’ atop the waves of Mavrovo lake, at rare times the church can be visited from the inside. The erection of the Radika Dam caused the valley to be flooded, including several parts of ancient villages and the 103 year-old church in its entirety. Mysteriously however, only Mavrovo church emerges at low tide, while the other lost houses remain invisible. Rightfully put at the top of the ‘Huffington Post’ list as one of the most beautiful abandoned churches in the world, it is a spectacular sight that will leave you breathless. 

Jovan Bigorski Monastery – On a similar religious note, one of the country’s most striking monasteries can be found on the route connecting Debar and Gostivar. Built in 1050, the orthodox house of worship offers stunning views over Mavrovo’s beautiful nature.


 

‘Deer Leap’ Bridge – A stranger in the midst of religious and natural landmarks is the ‘Deer Leap’ bridge. Located a 50min drive from Mavrovo Lake, this 600 year old bridge dates back to Ottoman times. Legend says that an Ottoman ruler, on his monthly hunting trip, wounded a deer. But before he could reach his prey, the deer jumped to the other side of the canyon with its last strength, where it passed away. In memory of this deer, the Ottoman ruler had the bridge built.


 

Outdoor activities – Repleted with trout, the lake is a popular destination for fishermen. However for the more adventure-seekers plenty of mountain bike trails have been created in the diverse, challenging landscape. Paragliding, skiing, swimming and kayaking are some other examples in a wide range of activities. 

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In November it was possible to visit 'St. Nikola' Church inside.

HOW TO GET TO MAVROVO?

Mavrovo National Park is becoming a more popular escape-to-nature-destination, making it not too difficult to reach the lake. 

  • From Skopje – If you’re coming from Skopje, which is only 96 kilometres away, you can either choose to drive there yourself, in approximately 1.5 hours, or take a 2 hour bus drive to one of the Mavrovi Anovi Bus stops. You can get off anywhere you please along the lake, depending on where your accommodation is located.

  • From Elsewhere in North Macedonia – Bus travel within North Macedonia is fairly easy and cheap. The town of Ohrid is located only 113 kilometres from the lake, making it a perfect next destination.


 

Note that the country’s roads may not be in as good a condition as you’re used to at home. So when Google Maps says 1 hour, make sure to add another half an hour.

WHERE TO EAT IN MAVROVO? 

  • Mal Odmor – If you’re looking for a place that serves the best grilled meat dishes, this is it. Cozy with a fireplace and a rustic interior, Mal Odmor provides a perfect ending to the day.

  • Glamour – A charming restaurant, serving a divine mushroom soup, a delicious red pepper filled with cheese cream, and a delightful trout.

  • Mavrovski Merak – Not only do they serve traditional meals, but the view overlooking the lake gives the evening a magical touch.

  • Campari – In this small, charming restaurant, you can try a variety of balkan specialties. Whether you’re craving a tasteful luncheon, a refreshing beer in the afternoon, or an amusing evening with friends, Campari has it all.

WHERE TO SPEND THE NIGHT IN MAVROVO?

It shouldn’t surprise you that an enchanting lake town like Mavrovo counts endless accommodations ranging from the budget hostel to a mid-range airbnb and luxury hotels. Sites like booking.com, airbnb.com, and trivago.com make your search much easier. These are few of many options: 

  • Maxim Apartment – Budget

  • Mia’s Favourite Hotel – Mid-range

  • Hotel Radika – Luxury

  • Hotel Bistra – Luxury

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Hi there!

I'm Julia, a Belgian native who loves to travel and explore off the beaten places all over the world. Discover more on how to fill your travels with adventure, warmth, and colour. Learn more about me here.

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