There’s little reason to hang around the mountain-encircled capital of Skopje for too long. But make time to explore the old Ottoman bazaar north of the city’s River Vardar, which is a labyrinth of small shops, sky-piercing minarets, and caravanserai.
Rather base yourself in Ohrid – two hours south of Skopje and explore the 11th-century St Sofia Orthodox Church (with its vibrant frescoes), 2000-year-old Roman amphitheatre, and forbidding 10th-century fortress of Tsar Tsamoil. Be sure also to hop on board a lake boat for spectacular views looking back to the old city.
There are plenty of nearby excursions from Ohrid. During the summer, a boat service takes passengers to stop-off points such as the stunning Church of St Naum with its multiple red-tiled rotundas and resident peacocks.
Make sure you see the atmospheric St Jovan Bigorski Monastery in the mountains an hour north of Ohrid. The black-bearded monks look a little fearsome but are welcoming, and proud to show you around their church built in 1020. Inside it dazzles, decorated from floor to ceiling with frescoes and a vast wooden 19th-century iconostasis (screen) exquisitely carved with depictions from the Testaments. The monks sing harmoniously during the evening liturgy and it is possible to stay overnight at their simple lodge.
Drop by an atmospheric ruined Roman city, Heraclea Lycentis, revealing some of its sparkling antiquities at an excellent on-site museum.
And have a boozy afternoon discovering very quaffable Macedonian wines at Popova Kula Vineyard in the fertile Tivkes region.
With skiing so cheap (ski hire £3 per day and lift passes £6 per day) spend a cracking morning hurtling downhill towards a steely glacial lake at Mavrovo National Park.