I have always been interested in looking for more adventurous snowsports destinations blending culture and adventure. I think I may have found my new destination!
Before organising a trip for my clients I thought I better go and check out this new destination. With that I booked two tickets for myself and my wife Lea.
So where is Macedonia? Well first we have to establish that I am writing about the Republic of Macedonia, one of the former republics of Yugoslavia. There is also a region bordering the Republic called Macedonia in Greece. This is the subject of much tension and not one I wish to explore in this blog.
Macedonia is in the southern Balkans and shares boarders with Kosovo, Serbia, Bulgaria, Greece and Albania. Its Capital city is Skopje and this is where our adventure began once leaving Luton on a Wizz air flight. Three and a half hours later you are in a vibrant and ethnically diverse country.
Alexander The Great is believed to have come from what is now the Republic of Macedonia
Macedonia has both Muslim and Orthodox Christian communities. In the region around Skopje and Popov Shapka the majority population are of Albanian decent with official signs written in both Macedonian Cyrillic and Albanian. This mix of culture left over from the Ottoman period results in a perfect blend of southern European and Turkish influence most obvious in the food.
Our local taxi driver (Baze) picked us up from Skopje airport and drove us the one hour journey up to Shapka. On route we took a short detour to the family of a Macedonian friend of mine (Dragi) who had organised home made red wine (Crno Vino) and Mastika (like ozzo) as a little welcome gift.
As we leave Skojpe the journey takes us past some beautiful villages that would not be out of place in an Alpine valley. The only one obvious difference is the villages were centred around a Mosque.
From Tevoto the road begins to wind up around hairpin bends as we climb higher. The snow on the side of the road is over a metre deep and getting deeper the higher we climb. After about 20 mins of what I will describe as a white knuckle ride we arrive in our destination Popov Shapka! The mountain a head looks wild and already I can see the adventurous opportunities. To our left is the main ski area which is a collection of old Poma lifts, chair lifts and a T bar. The place is rammer with weekend skiers in equipment that back in 1988 would have been top of the range.
After a bit of a struggle Baze get his taxi up to our accommodation. The grand hotel Slavjia!
We had an idea of what to expect having spent time in Hungary, Slovenia and Croatia in the past. However the hotel Slavija took the top prize for being the most run down hotel I have ever stayed in! It is clear to see that 30 years ago this would have been the pride of skiing in Yugoslavia, but it was also the last time it had a lick of paint. Despite the very run down accommodation the staff running the place were nothing but helpful. Having exhausted my limited Serbo / Croatian I switched to English but to no avail. So my last attempt was the wild card……German. Much to my delight two of the staff spoke very good conversational German having previously worked in Switzerland.
Food in the hotel was really very good and typically Balkan. Lots of fresh salads, white cheese and grilled meats. Bar was unbelievably cheap with a half litre of wine coming in at around £2.50.
The night skiing on a floodlit piste ( 7 – 10pm) came in at a whopping € 5.00.
Next morning waking up to fresh snow we make our way down to the lift pass office (porto cabin) and purchased a day ticket at €15.00. The pisted area is not huge and serviced by old but functional lifts. Terrain is quite interesting with lots of ” just of the piste” off piste. Ideal for developing all terrain skills. There are……well basically NO on slope facilities (restaurants and toilets) apart from a few shacks and a place to get coffee.
The closest thing to a restaurant up the mountain was an on the slope bazaar selling crisps, nuts and bottled drinks. Toilets……portaloo!
A long cold chairlift takes skiers and snowboarders high up on the the main peak. It is here that the opportunities for off piste and freeride became obvious. A loosely marked piste meanders down the mountain but either side awaits a mix of powder bowls, steep gullies and tree skiing. With a set of skins or snowshoes the more adventurous rider would be in heaven. I did spot a British group with their guides out enjoying the terrain. They where using the local cat skiing service (a mechanised alternative to heli skiing) to access some more remote areas.
In summary Popov Shapka has huge potential and is great mountain to ski. The facilities are old and the standard of accommodation is like nothing you would have seen before. Creature comforts are not high on the list! This would not be for everyone and only the open minded should consider it. The cultural experience is a refreshing change from the normal snowsports vacation. Would I bring my kids here….no. Will I be back…..yes!