Hiking the Balkans invites you to a wine-tasting long weekend, which combines great wines, amazing food, stunning scenery and thermal spas.
Price: by request
Level of Activity:
Duration: 5 days
Date: from October until May
Join us on trip to a breathtakingly beautiful wine region situated along the largest river in Macedonia, the Vardar. Excavations have revealed that this region, together with parts of China, Iran and Georgia, is one of the locations where the earliest production of wine in human history took place. Our base during this long weekend is the town of Demir Kapija (meaning Iron Gate), home to former royal wineries, ancient ruins and the “Iron Gate” Canyon, which is a paradise for rock climbers.
This is, however, a wine-tasting trip, where the most strenuous exercise we will do are strolls along the local undulating hills in the mornings before visiting the wineries.
We are staying three nights in Popova Kula, a winery located in Demir Kapija. The name means “Priest’s Tower” and derives from an Ottoman tower that no longer exists.
Wine has been produced in this region for more than 40 centuries, and has been enjoyed by Paeonian kings, Roman emperors, medieval rulers and Ottoman pashas, as well as by King Aleksandar Karadjordjevic, King of Yugoslavia from 1921 to 1934, who decided to plant his first grape seeds in Macedonia.
During communist times, two-thirds of all wine produced in socialist Yugoslavia came from Macedonia, but it was exported in barrels rather than being branded as Macedonian wine. This has changed since Macedonia became independent in 1991, and there are now many boutique wineries that produce small quantities of wine, mainly aimed for export. The hotel Popova Kula, where we will be staying, is one of them, as are the two other wineries that we will be visiting, Stobi and Kamnik.
This is not just a wine-tasting trip, however. During this long weekend we will immerse ourselves in the local culture, from visiting the old timers vintage car museum in Negotino to visiting a Macedonian family in the town of Veles and tasting their home-made wine accompanied by lunch made authentically from local ingredients that they grow themselves. We will also see a film about a local retired professor who turned his passion for old cars into a museum – and all on a very tight budget, financing his passion with money that his wife made by baking cakes.
This trip is a perfect opportunity to go off the beaten track and learn more about wines and a small country full of very hospitable people.
Day 1: After arrival in Skopje we head to our minibus, which will take us to our first wine-tasting destination, the Stobi winery. We will have a packed lunch during the half-hour drive to the winery, which is located next to the Roman city of Stobi, capital of the province of Macedonia Salutaris. It existed continuously between 197 BC and 518 AD, when it was struck by a devastating earthquake. We will visit the site and learn about the Paeonian and Roman contribution to the history of this wine-growing area. At the winery we will have a guided tour to see the wine-making process, which uses the latest Italian technology to get the best out of the local grapes, maintaining the characteristics of indigenous types like Vranec and Stanushina. Aside from tasting the wine, we will be able to sample cheeses and local prosciutto as part of the tour. Dinner at the winery is optional. Alternatively, we can have dinner at Popova Kula, which is less than an hour’s drive from Stobi.
Day 2: After breakfast we visit the museum of wine in Demir Kapija, and we will then go for a hike up to the remnants of the ancient fortress of Prosek, which can be challenging on the way up, with a moderate hike and easy walk on the way back. Fortress Prosek is located strategically on top of the rocky hill on the left side of the Demir Kapija Gorge. The view from the top is nothing less than spectacular. The hike takes about two hours, just enough time to work up our appetite for a quick lunch before we head to the spa town of Negorci, an hour’s drive from Demir Kapija, where we will enjoy the healing properties of the thermal spas. The trip to the spa is optional and the entrance fee is around 5 euro. We’ll then head back to our hotel to have a rest and get ready for wine tasting. The menu consists of three course meal complementing the wines.
Day 3: We’ll have a breakfast in the morning, and start the day by going for a hike to the gorge of Demir Kapija and a nearby abandoned village, Klisura. This walk is less than 10 km, via undulating hills. We’ll retreat to Popova Kula for the evening once again, and watch a movie about a local enthusiast who founded a museum for old cars. We will be visiting the museum the next day. In the evening there is an opportunity to go for an optional wine-tasting in the Villa Maria winery, which used to belong to the wife of the Yugoslav King Alexander Karadjordjevic. This winery is within walking distance of Popova Kula, and it also comprises a small boutique winery. Those of us who decide to go will have an opportunity to see the old wooden barrels traditionally used for wine production.
Day 4: We are leaving Demir Kapija after breakfast, but that doesn’t mean that we will end our wine-tasting activities. As we depart to Skopje, we will visit the car museum, and we will then head to the historical town of Veles. We’ll have a stroll around the town, which is situated on two hills, before having lunch with a family that makes its own wine and spirits, a custom quite common in this region, where a lot of people own small vineyards. We’ll then head on to the outskirts of Skopje, to the Kamnik hunter’s lodge, our last wine-tasting destination. There we will taste premium fine wines accompanied with canapés. There is a restaurant, where an optional farewell dinner can take place.
Day 5: We are staying in a hotel near the airport, and we have a transfer to the airport to catch the flight.
The price of the trip depends on the number of participants and the length of the tour.
The price includes:
• 4 nights B&B – Accommodation: three nights in a rural resort in Demir Kapija and one night in a hotel in Skopje conveniently located close to the airport, based on two sharing in twin rooms. A single room supplement is available on request
• all transfers – minivan and driver from and back to the airport for the recommended flights, as well as for local transfers according to the programme
• Two out of three wine tastings in the Stobi and Kamnik wineries
• New Year’s Eve dinner and programme in Popova Kula
• Two guided hikes
• Entrance fees to two museums, the fortress and the Stobi archaeological site
• English-speaking certified tour leader throughout the trip.
You must arrange your own:
• insurance (you can only join this trip if you produce insurance details prior to the trip). Make sure your insurance covers the type of activities you’d like to do during this holiday.
• travel to and from Macedonia (airfare)
• one optional wine tasting
• lunches and dinners in restaurants
• personal expenses for drinks or souvenirs
• other optional activities and visits
This trip starts in Skopje and ends in Skopje. We can adapt the trip according to your choice of flights.