The mountainous geography of Macedonia is a magnificent sight to behold. Extremely colorful, given the small territory it covers, it offers a very diverse, yet forgiving landscape that is home to rich flora and fauna. This article will take you to Pelister and through Baba Mountain – cutting between scenic topography, dense forests, and picturesque valleys, you will learn about the second largest national park in Macedonia.
It is extremely exciting to witness the stark contrast between tranquil valleys and rough mountain terrain; especially when you venture from one to the other within a single hour. Macedonia, therefore, is a dream-come-true for every outdoor aficionado.
Nowhere, however, is this more evident than when you stop to observe the south-western territory. In between the urban city of Bitola, the golden valley of Pelagonia, and the lake of Prespa, a magnificent nature resort is towering up. Measuring just over 2600 meters (8530 ft) at its highest, Baba Mountain sits in the heart of Pelister – a national park spanning over 17,100 hectares, named after its highest peak.
Overlooking the city of Bitola, the mountain is deeply embedded in local tradition and culture. Preserved and looked after, it is perhaps the single most accessible, yet seemingly untouched nature resort.
National park Pelister
Pelister is the first region of Macedonian wilderness to be decorated as a national park. Secluded from the rest of the country, it grants complete immersion for everyone willing to experience breathtaking nature scenery.
Not to be mistaken with the mountain peak after which it was named, the national park Pelister spans throughout hills and valleys, dense forest areas, and picturesque river sides. Baba Mountain (Baba Planina in Macedonian), though covering up most of its terrain, is not completely synonymous with the park. In addition, and to avoid confusion, understand that the highest peak is also named Pelister.
With over 17 thousand hectares, Pelister national park covers a magnificently large area, which is second only to Mavrovo. The landscape, however, is much more diverse. Several rivers cut through, and naked hills stand in contrast to lush and densely forested areas.
The temperature is surprisingly pleasant, measuring an average of -2.6 degrees Celsius (27 F) in January, and 18.4 degrees Celsius (65 F) in the middle of summer (calculating low night temperatures as well). For this reason precisely, national park Pelister is very attractive as a recreational center. With peaks much taller than several Bavarian mountains, it is nonetheless mild and forgiving.
With several endemic species, Pelister is quite interesting to explore. An abundance of flora and fauna makes this area ideal for a weekend gateway, and a true chance to have an experience in the wild. According to non-scientific sources, the park is home to bears, wolves, deer, wild boars and a garden variety of vulture birds. It is said to house over 30 bears, and some of the rare 54 documented wild cats (Macedonian lynx).
Baba Mountain and the peak of Pelister
Overlooking the city of Bitola – Macedonia’s second largest – Baba is part of local tradition and culture. It can easily be characterised as a densely forested mountain, with tall pine trees and lush vegetation below. Home to the five needled pine Molica, Baba Mountain has this Scandinavian vibe, reminding dearly of Norwegian forests. And this is especially true in autumn.
Single-track trails often cut through the forest, creating picturesque scenery that has your camera snapping pictures left and right. If you enjoy hiking, this park may very well enter your list of favourites. Some areas of the mountain are ideal for biking as well, and locals are more than happy to provide directions. Renting equipment in Macedonia is quite affordable, so if you have the stamina, definitely go for it.
Depending on which side you decide to conquer, Baba Mountain can offer spectacular views of the Pelagonia Valley, Prespa Lake, the city of Bitola, and several other magnificent mountain formations such as Nidze, Galicica and Jakupica. An experienced guide will show you many of these panoramic and breathtaking views.
If you enjoy following a colorful trail, up through the mountain, this can very well be the most fun you’d have in quite a while. The terrain is so diverse, and so forgiving that both experienced climbers and beginners can appreciate it together.
It took 5 hours for our group to reach the top, and the way up was a sight to behold. Pictures can tell the story far better than I can write in words, and when you consider our lack of professional photography know-how, you get the idea just how mesmerizing Baba Mountain really is.
Crossing several valleys on your way up, you get to enjoy the colorful masterpiece painted by sun and shadow as it quietly sets. The forest, dense as it is, will have you guessing for the time of day. With reddish soil and beautiful gradient of green vegetation, it is a treat for your sensory apparatus.
And then, just when you though you’ve seen it all, a spectacular sight unfolds. Needless to mention, it commands attention right away. At a height of around 2200 meters above the sea, an unsuspecting lake waits to be discovered. Isolated, altogether from the mountain, it is inviting and truly captivating. Two such exists, and they are both equally beautiful. Referred to as Pelister eyes (Pelisterski Oci in Macedonian), they are perhaps the highlight of the mountain.
Climbing the peak is quite exciting, for it is surrounded by a fragmented rock formation, with large stones that completely change the landscape. Jumping from one to another, as a final push before you reach the summit, feels exhilarating, making the entire trip much more exciting.
The summit itself grants spectacular views. It is, by far, the highest from a dozen of equally serious contenders. Ten additional peaks are worthy of a mention, and 8 of them are located in Macedonia, with the remaining 2 being in Greece. All of them – give or take – are around 2200 meters (7217 ft) tall. It is not, therefore, entirely unusual, to see snow even in July.
As for the night’s sky, it is truly spectacular! We had the pleasure of sleeping under the open, and were therefore treated with a view that is hard to forget.
Winter months transform this territory into a nature paradise of another kind. Needless to say, it is equally captivating. The ski center Kopanki is active throughout the season, and you get to enjoy fairly deep snow. If you are an avid snowboarded, or perhaps enjoy skiing, this uncharted wilderness is an empty canvas to paint on.
Staying in Bitola
If you’d like to enjoy Pelister, arranging a one night stay in Bitola is my sincere recommendation. The city is known for its hospitality, handball (do visit the local team of Pelister if they happen to play), and bohemian way of life. Things move rather slowly – to which locals would say “as they should be”.
Bitola is famous for traditional Macedonian music, quality food, and indie cinema. Getting even one out of the three is just about enough to enjoy your stay. Make sure to spend some time on Shirok Sokak a well.
The mountain reflects on culture and local branding, so you’ll notice that “Pelisterka”, which is the most renowned mineral drink in Macedonia, is a local pride.
There are many chick hostels and villas, but only a few hotels accommodating enough to welcome a group of people. Make sure, therefore, to check Hotel Molika and Hotel Epinal. Note, however, that regardless of where you decide to stay, the service is well above what you might expect for the price.
Wrapping this up, I do hope you’ll have the chance to enjoy Pelister as much as we did, and spend a memorable weekend gateway on Baba Mountain. For any questions that you might have, see you in the comment section below.
Photos credits: Aleksandar Elenin