When people ask me if it’s safe to travel in the Balkans, I always reply it’s one of the safest regions in Europe. With the caveat that Balkans drivers are absolutely insane. Being overtaken on blind corners is the bare minimum you can expect but my advice when driving is to stay calm, stay out of their way and do your own thing at your own pace.
Just keep in mind, driving in the Balkans is always an adventure.
Today on the blog I’ve prepared an 800 km round trip North Macedonia road trip itinerary. I visited North Macedonia on two separate occasions, once driving with friends on a massive road trip in 2013 which included Romania, Moldova, Transnistria, Bulgaria, North Macedonia and Albania. The second time was on foot, when my husband and I hiked 200+ km from the port city of Durres through the Albania mountains, finishing on the Macedonian side of Lake Ohrid. That was in 2017 so not that long ago but no doubt much has changed since then, especially in the capital Skopje, a city which never stays still.
In this road trip, I’ve included places I personally visited but also cities, villages and national parks where my trusted, well-travelled friends have been and recommend. I think it would make an exciting one or two-week road trip (in the future) with many of the destinations being well off the beaten path.
‘Studying’ in Tetovo, North Macedonia
I had an Albanian friend who went to the University of Tetovo in North Macedonia, except I found out later she only visited the city once during her entire degree. I was curious how this came to be and discovered it was one of these not uncommon situations which occur in certain regions of the Balkans (👋 Albania) where you can study 'via correspondence', also known as purchasing your degree. A quick bribe and voila, you're a university graduate. I actually tried to do this one time when I was in Albania. I had a friend of a friend enquire but it seems they only 'issue' diplomas at certain times of the year. It's a shame as I would love to have a degree from the University of Tirana.
The Story Behind the Photo: The Bunker, Lake Ohrid
I adore this photo of my husband jumping above one of the largest bunkers I’ve ever seen. Albania is infamous for its 700,000 concrete bunkers, built to protect the country from foreign invasion, but this exceptionally large bunker lies on Lake Ohrid on the North Macedonia side of the border. Apparently the Italians built it, but I never figured out why in this location. It’s not particularly close to the Albanian border but maybe the border moved at some point?
I wanted to have a photo of myself doing this same jump. We were travelling with friends and the two guys quickly climbed up. Being unfairly short and completely useless at jumping and/or climbing, I couldn’t manage to get up on my own. Grabbing one arm each, they attempted to drag me up. Even with their considerable joint strength, I couldn’t hoist myself up. I fear photos exist of the shameful attempt which I quickly abandoned. Not managing to climb a stupid concrete bunker is one of many travel regrets. I bet the views were incredible from up there.