A piece of Italy in west Macedonia.

I was sitting in Rimini, the best kebab shop in Debar, situated in the city’s main square. The shop was named by the Italian city where the owner of the kebab shop has gone to work for the last 50 years.

This was the view from the shop.

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For a moment I forgot where I was, and thought, this could be somewhere on the Mediterranean seashore. Sunny weather, palms, delicious food, narrow city streets, Versace and Armani shops, two of the most mineral rich mineral baths in the Balkans, all situated 30 meters above the Debar Lake and about 1500 meters below the Korab Peak.

In short, that is the city of Debar.

I have never been to Italy, but from the photos I see from over there, picturing those idilic small cities, surrounded by water and high peaks, I can say it feels the same.

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On this picture,  you can see Debar when viewed from the taverna Cami on the opposite side of the lake shore. Above, the 4th highest peak in the Balkans, Korab 2,764m.

There are many reasons why I go there and why anyone should visit this city, but I will share only four of them right now.

1st reason | The city itself.

I spent half of my childhood summers in that city. The city has changed drastically from what it was 10 years ago, in terms of how it looks like, how big it has become and how the people have changed. The only thing that has not changed is my grandmother who lives there and the house in which she lives, the old bazaar that still sells the same locally made sheep cheese and vegetables and some Yugoslavian remnants such as monuments to fallen soldiers, the home of the YU Pioneers, a barber shop and the kebab shop Rimini.

How did it change?

60% of the houses that were…houses ten years ago, now have become 5 story buildings. City streets back then were crammed with people. Right now, they are crammed with Audi’s, BMW’S, Porches, with German/Italian plates. Artisan shops have become pizza restaurants, coffee shops and Armani and Versace stores, cladded with Italian fashion. The used-to-be calm nights are now not so calm thanks to the local bars and clubs that have opened. One club is situated on the very edge of the lake where you have a birds eye perspective on the whole lake. Beautiful view, particularly when the moon is up.

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There are some strange places like this one here. It says Video on the banner, the windows exhibit cell phone cover, but the store actually sells cigarettes.
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Mobimak – This is a sign on the city square which represents the telecom providers sign that, 20 years ago you could buy a sim card here. Now it’s rebranded in T-home.

Best time to visit Debar is during the summer. Days are hot, nights are chilli and the streets are always brimming with people. The best place to stay is one of the mineral spa resorts, which I talk about later on.

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“We have to go, it’s getting late” – my cousin rushed me. “I am contemplating our fishing spot, bear with me ok?”

 

 

 

2nd reason | Fishing.

Some of the best spots for carp and several other fish species that you can catch throughout the season can be found in the lake of Debar. You need a cheap license to fish (or if you know the right people, you don’t need a license) basic rod and some bait.

The lake is PACKED with fish. There are several places to fish.

  1. Below Taverna Cami – fish come here due to the restaurant. They serve good fish hehe.  But really, the whole place around the restaurant is filled with fish due to the occasional dumping of food leftovers from the restaurant.
  2. The stairs. 3×3 meter concrete blocks that create stairs which go straight to the middle of the lake (I don’t know why maybe they were used for the giants who lived here way back to get out of the lake after they took a bath) and up to the very shore.
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  3. Below the Melnicki bridge which you cross to get into Debar. I guess fish just like the good vibes the bridge makes when cars pass the bridge and so fish hang out there.
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  4. Below spa Kosovrasti. The mineral water spring creates a mini Pamuk Kale type of a hill on the lake’s shore and probably fish hang out here due to the fact that mineral water is good for them and relaxes them after a whole day of swimmng and avoid getting eaten by bigger fish.
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      The mini Pamuk Kale (bottom right). The whole place smells like boiled eggs due to the mineral water, but the fish are delicious regardless.

These are the best fishing spots according to my 20 years of experience. Unfortunately you need to have your own gear (there is not a single shop in Debar for fishing gears; local entrepreneurs, this is a good chance to make millions and open the first store there). Not into fishing? There is a fish processing warehouse next to Taverna Cami that has fresh fish all day long. Grab a kilo of Carp and bake the crap out of it.

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My cousin, holding his prize catch of the day, underneath Taverna Cami.
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The catch of the day. Not the best one we have had, but enough to satisfy the senses.

3rd reason | Food

Where do I begin on this subject?

Kebabs

One of the best kebab places in the UNIVERSE is found in Debar, called Rimini.

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This picture clearly shows the validity of the statement above.

Rimini is the same place I was sitting in and viewing the city square from, at the beginning of this story. I know a lot of people will disagree with this fact, and that is why they need to try these kebabs before rushing to a conclusion. That would also mean, for them to invite me and try out theirs.

 

 

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Basic stuff – kebabs, chopped onions, white bread, pepper. You know what else is made out of basic stuff? Water – Hydrogen and Oxygen. Coincidence?

The meat is pure lamb and veal, cut straight from the cattle bred on the pastures of Shar Planina (below Korab peak). Order 20 and wait outside in the heat while drinking a local beer. The kebabs come with onions and pepper as a side dish. You get the bread elsewhere in one of the many bakeries littered on the main street – if you are into eating it at home; if not you can just eat there as well.

Local pasta

Debar has so much of Italy in it, that over the years it has created it’s own brand of pasta.

The jufka pasta. The content is the same – eggs, flour, butter. The shape is different – slim, long, lenticular pieces, boiled for 20 minutes and eaten with local sheep cheese.  Locals tend to make their own jufka at home, but you can get it in most of the stores in Debar. Just get the one with butter and that is locally made in Debar.

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Photo filters can be helpful sometimes to enhance saliva generation and food cravings.

4th reason

Mineral springs. An the immediate vicinity of Debar, there are two springs which have bath facilities built around them for your convenience. Both springs spew out mineral water that heals everything except death.

  1. Kosovrasti mineral spring. You can see this one on the way to Debar, just before you pass the Melnicki bridge. There is a public bath which is accessible to everyone at any time, although it’s in very poor conditions at first sight. I went there at night, when there was no guest present. You enter the pool which is 6 by 4 meters, dim lit, green non transparent water, surrounded with brick walls, and a huge 2 by 4 meter opening on the ceiling to keep you from suffocating. Complete silence. The first feeling you get when you enter the room is fear. The second feeling you get when you get in the water, lean on the edge of the pool and look at the clear night sky above – it’s an uneasy feeling of eerie calmness – you feel that all junk food, alcohol, bacteria, poisons, fake personalities and inflated egos getting sucked out of you moment by moment and you just don’t care.
    1. The water on the other hand is one of the richest in minerals in the whole balkan region and contains sulphur and sulphide, and a high level of radioactivity, as well as presence of sulphur bacteria and algae which are suitable for healing and scientific purpose.
    2. There is a spa and resort just next to the open bath. More info on that, here.  I prefer the eerie one (plus it’s just 1 euro and offers the same water – if you are into consumerism, go ahead and book a room in the resort).
  2. Banjishte mineral spring. Personally I haven’t been there myself. It’s a bit further away, between Debar and the Albanian border but it’s the same mineral water (a bit more powerful due to the content). More info on that, here.

To wrap things up,

If you really want to see something different in Macedonia, try Debar. Next time when you are traveling to Ohrid from Skopje, instead of taking the normal boring route through Strazha mountain pass and your favourite Mekici, turn right towards Mavrovo when you get to the the mountain intersection before Strazha, and take the scenic route (bit longer) that will take you straight to Debar. You will still get to Ohrid eventually, only this time fed up and bathed up in radioactive (healthy) mineral water.

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P.S. I am serious about the kebab thing. If you find a better place, let me know and I will go there eventually and try it.

P.P.S. Thinking of stopping in Debar? There are are few more things you need to know to have a blast there. PM me.

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