North Macedonia – Balkan butterflies and mountain wildlife
Our second visit of the year to the unspoilt countryside of North Macedonia in the company of butterfly expert Martin Hrouzek, this time heading higher into the mountains in search of the diversity of butterflies and interesting plant life
The newly-renamed Republic of North Macedonia is a small country, the same size as Belgium, in the heart of the Balkans. Its varied landscapes and position at the crossroads of the Balkans combine with traditional rural life to create the right ingredients for abundant and diverse wildlife. Almost one third of the country is still covered with traditionally sheep-grazed steppe.
The landscapes themselves are reason enough to visit, but this is one of Europe’s best destinations for those interested in butterflies: the country boasts over 200 species of butterflies, a staggering diversity for a country of this size.
The fine mixture of habitats ensures that you will have a rewarding and easy going holiday: whichever direction we go, there should be a new species for us to see.
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Please note that holidays change, although sometimes only slightly, from year to year and previous trip reports may not reflect the planned itinerary, or other holiday details, for the current trip. Please ask us if you would like to know of any significant differences.
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Return flight from UK to Skopje. Local transport as specified in itinerary. Seven nights’ accommodation, full board.
Refreshments. Entrance fees for optional sightseeing. Gratuities. Travel insurance.
Day 1 Our flights take us to Skopje, from where we drive to our hotel, set on the Vardar river and surrounded by grazed limestone hills.
Day 2 The slopes of the Vitachevo Plateau are our destination this morning. Around the scattered trees we will look for fritillaries, blues and skippers. Russian Heath will be at the end of its flight period while Woodland Grayling will be at the beginning. An afternoon walk in the Demir Kapija gorge should reveal plenty of interesting butterflies and dragonflies. Amongst the scattered scrub we will look for Olive-tree Warbler and Masked Shrike.
Day 3 Today we head south to Pelister. Our first stop will be on the slopes above the Raec river, where Iolas and Osiris Blues fly, while the local gorge is a nesting site for Egyptian Vulture and Black Stork. Our main goal today will be the limestone Pletvar massif, where the real treat will be the country´s only endemic butterfly – Macedonian Grayling. We have a chance to see birds such as Rock Thrush and Ortolan Bunting. Interesting plants could include Campanula formanekiana, Viola allchariensis and Anchusa serpenticola. We also pay a visit to the 12th-century Treskavec Monastery.
Day 4 Pelister National Park is an impressive mountain range that stretches between Macedonia and Greece. Today should be one of the highlights of the trip, hunting butterflies and alpine flowers up at 2,300 meters with views over three countries and Prespa Lake! Pelister has several butterfly species that are difficult to find elsewhere in Macedonia, such as Balkan Clouded Yellow, Balkan Fritillary and Ottoman Brassy Ringlet. Other highlights will be high altitude birds like Alpine Accentor and Golden Eagle, while mountain flowers include louseworts and violets.
Day 5 We will drive up to the Galicica Plateau, where we should find the high altitude meadows still blossoming with rare plants such as Astragalus mayeri and baldacii, Dianthus myrtinervius and Sideritis raeseri, and a variety of orchids. The scenery is breath-taking, with stunning views of both Lake Ohrid and the Prespa lakes. The butterfly list here should be impressive, with a great variety of blues and browns, fritillaries and skippers alongside Apollo and Clouded Apollo, Eastern Festoon, Powdered Brimstone and Balkan Copper.
Day 6 We leave Pelister and head for Ohrid town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site set on the shores of Lake Ohrid. Not far away are the northern slopes of the Galicica Mountains: Lesser Fiery Copper, Turquoise Blue, Oberthür’s Grizzled Skipper or Lattice Brown should be found here alongside wildflowers like Acanthus mollis or Centaurea solsticialis. From here we drive through the wooded hills and past high mountains of Jablanica and Debar along the Albanian border.
Day 7 This morning we will visit Mavrovo National Park. Along with mountain butterflies and alpine birds, we are visiting at just the right season to see some of the best wild flowers: local specialities include Albanian Lily Lilium albanicum, the asphodel Narthecium scardicum, Elegant Catchfly Silene ciliata, Dianthus scardicus, and Sideritis scardica, famous as ‘Balkan mountain tea’. Closer to the hotel, we will explore the grassy slopes around the village as we enjoy our last day in this remote corner of the Balkans.
Day 8 An early start will see us heading back to Skopje and our morning flight home.
Please note that the itinerary may be changed to suit the weather or other practicalities at the discretion of the leaders.
We will be staying at good, local hotels, all with en-suite accommodation. The holiday is full board, meals being a mixture of Balkan and International dishes, with an emphasis on local cuisine.
Evening meals will be at the hotels. We will have picnic lunches on most days. Requests for special diets can be accommodated.
We will travel by minibus. Our excursion to Pelister National Park will be in several four-wheel drive vehicles.
The group flights are with Wizz Air from London Luton to Skopje.
Macedonia is one hour ahead of UK time.
Macedonia is not in the European Union. You must have a passport for this trip, valid for at least 90 days from your arrival date. Visas are not required by holders of British Passports. Holders of other passports should check with the relevant embassies or consulates and obtain the necessary documents prior to travel.
The weather is likely to be sunny and warm.
On most days, we are out and about for much of the day, albeit walking a relatively slow pace. It is necessary to walk on rougher ground and up some slopes, although none of the walking is strenuous. The pace will generally be relaxed with time to enjoy the surroundings and take photos as well as watching the wildlife we find.