Monday, April 21, 2014

Travel Tips: Holidays in Macedonia, Plus This Week's Best Deals

Why Skopje is a small city with a big heart, and 16 reasons why the west is best and your chance to escape to Santorini

Why go?
Skopje's skyline tells the story of this Balkan city more vividly than any history book: socialist-era apartment blocks, the minarets of Ottoman mosques, Byzantine domes, Turkish bathhouses and, most controversially, neoclassical edifices, bridges and grandiose monuments – the result of a recent construction spree aimed at bolstering national pride. Now the building dust has settled, visitors will find much to delight and intrigue them.

What to do
Get lost in the narrow lanes of Caršija, Skopje's most atmospheric neighbourhood. Here, you'll find Daud Paša Baths, once the largest Turkish hammam in the Balkans, now home to the National Gallery of Macedonia ( Cross the Vardar River on the 15th-century Stone Bridge to Macedonia Square with its triumphal arch, statues of national heroes and illuminated fountains. On the slopes of Mount Vodno, a few miles out of town, the 12th-century St Pantelejmon Monastery is a treasure trove of Byzantine art. After you've admired the beautiful frescos, hike, or take the gondola, up the mountain.

Where to stay
Urban Hostel is Skopje's best budget option, with a choice of dorms, twin rooms or self-catering apartments in Debar Maalo, a lively neighbourhood full of bars and restaurants (dorms from €13, apartments from €46,

Where to eat
Stara Kuka is the place to try Macedonian specialities, such as stuffed peppers, shopska salad, bean stew and barbecued pork ribs, in a 19th-century house with carved wooden ceilings (

Insider tip
"Walking along the Kej and eating in the restaurants that line the river is a must," says Kathleen Beccue, who runs the K8 American bakery and café in the Old Town ( "Plaza de Toros and Anja are a couple of my favourites. After dinner, buy an ice cream and walk to Macedonia Square. At dusk you'll be treated to the call of the hooded crows which roost in the parks around the city."

Home: go west with i-escape After a stormy few months, boutique-accommodation website i-escape is showing its support for the West Country by launching a "West is Best" campaign, with discounts of up to 20% and added-value extras at 16 of its hotels and cottages, including the charming Sea Garden Cottages on Tresco in the Isles of Scilly, and the Bull in Bridport. Book before 8 May (

Home: escape to Santorini British Airways launches its first direct flights from the UK to the Greek islands of Santorini and Mykonos next month. A week at the simple but elegant Kamari Beach hotel with direct access to a sandy beach on Santorini costs £466pp including flights from Heathrow, based on two sharing a superior sea-view room, and departing on 18 May (

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