Debar: A piece of Italy in West Macedonia.

Sunny weather, beautiful lake, palms, delicious food, narrow city streets, Versace and Armani shops, two of the most mineral rich spa centers in the Balkans, all situated 30 meters above a huge water mass and about 1500 meters below one of the highest peaks in the Balkans.

In short, that is the city of Debar.

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Here you can see the city of Debar when viewed from the taverna Cami (situated across the lake). Above the city, the highest peak in the Balkans, Korab 2,764m.

There are many reasons why anyone should visit this small city located in western Macedonia and here are the top 5.

1st reason | The city itself.

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Since Macedonia separated from Yugoslavia 28 yrs ago, Debar has seen some drastic, good changes.

What were houses 10 years ago, now have become 5 story buildings (you can airbnb them easily for prices below 15$ per night – the accommodations are completely new). 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, jewelry stores, coffee shops, Armani and Versace shops 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 Debar where you have a birds eye perspective on the whole lake. Wifi wise, it’s free in the cafe’s as long as you order coffee (which is around 1 euro).

Best time to visit Debar is during the summer. Days are hot, nights are chilly and the streets are always brimming with people.

2nd reason | Fishing

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Me.

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. 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 do business).

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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The catch + Instagram Filter
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Soy sauce, basil, garlic mashed up with some fresh fish in a hot pan, is going to give you a nice meal.

The lake is PACKED with fish and here are the most easily reached places.

  1. Below Taverna Cami – It’s easily reachable, and has 200 to 500 grams carp sitting idly in the water around the Taverna, waiting to be caught. If you get bored, just head up in the Taverna, order some locally caught fresh fish and enjoy the view.
  2. The Stairs. 3×3 meter concrete blocks that create stairs which go straight to the middle of the lake and up to the very shore. This place is just before you cross the damn and right now can be reached in 12 minutes by foot (not recommended by car since the road is a bit too of-road)
  3. Below the Melnicki bridge. You cross this bridge when you are headed to Debar. The place to fish is underneath the bridge next to the metal/cement columns holding the bridge.
  4. Below spa Kosovrasti. The mineral water spring creates a mini Pamuk Kale type of a hill on the lake’s shore. It’s a popular spot for fishermen, mainly because fish like the rich mineral water here and the fact that the river Radika (which is the main source for filling the lake) first comes in contact with Debar lake – so the water is always fresh.

3rd reason | Food

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Kebabs

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

Pure lamb and veal meat, cut straight from the cattle bred on the pastures of Shar Planina (below Korab peak). Order 20 kebabs and wait outside in the heat while drinking a local beer (Skopsko). 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.

The view from the kebab shop. The shop was named by the Italian city where the owner of the kebab shop has been working for the last 50 years.

Local pasta

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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, oil. 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 (which is the most delicious jufka you can try, only if you know locals that can sell it to you), but you can get it in most of the stores in Debar. Just be sure to get the ones made in Debar.

4th reason | Mineral springs.

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The mini Pamuk Kale (bottom right)

Located not more than 2 kilometers from the city, 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. 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.
    • 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.
    • There is a spa and resort just next to the open bath. More info on that, here.
    • The eerie version costs 1 euro for the whole day. You can check the spa resort prices on the link before.
  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 mineral content). More info on that, here.

5th reason | The landscape.

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One of the most famous cities in Macedonia is Ohrid. It’s situated in the south west and is a very old city that has been part of Unesco for the last 30yrs. Fortresses, old architecture, huge natural lake, and many other things are what draw tourists here every year. To get there you almost pass through the same road that goes to Debar. Almost because at one point the road divides, and most if not all travelers take the Strazha mountain pass road. The other road which leads through the national park Mavrovo and straight to Debar is one that is rarely taken mainly because it adds maybe an hour more of traveling.

But during that hour, travelers that have taken this road less traveled, have witnessed some of best and most picturesque landscapes in Macedonia including Mavrovo Lake and the surrounding pine forests, the canyon of river Radika and it’s crystal clear waters, the amazon like waterbed of the Globocica lake, and of course Debar.

Here’s what you’ll miss if you don’t take that road:

You first visit Mavrovo, which is around an hour away from Debar where you can enjoy clean mountain air, ski slopes if you’re visiting in the winter, hiking and biking trails that slash through pine forests, delicious cheese and home made pies.

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Mavrovo in summer when viewed from the ski slopes
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Mavrovo in winter, viewed from the ski slopes.

Then you continue on through the river bed of Radika which cuts through a huge picturesque canyon (if you’re into fly fishing, get ready for some fresh 400 gr trout). The river flows out of Mavrovo Lake and flows in Debar lake. Along the road you’ll encounter many small villages that are scattered high up and around the canyon, one of which is Janche, a village still clothed in the old architecture and available for airbnbing.

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The river bed of Radika
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The village of Janche, situated below the dangling Canyon rocks.

Then, just before you get to Debar you encounter the old Saint John’s monastery where you can eat and even sleep over if you’re tired (no airbnb though)

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A huge monastery situated about 200 meters above the main road, with its own restaurant and genuine monastery sleeping quarters.

Now you get to enter Debar but I’ve already covered it so we can move on to something more “tropical”.

After you pass Debar, about 30 minutes down the road you’ll witness the rainforest look of the Globocica lake. Almost 30 kilometers long, it slashes through thick forest and is the link between Debar lake and Ohrid lake.

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The lake of Globocica
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The small weekend getaway village of Globocica. Reachable only by boat, it has around 20 villas, no cars and plenty of silence.

To give you a different perspective, here’s a photoshoped map showing all of these points of interest.

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If you’re drawn by small idilic Mediterranean cities, delicious food cooked with local ingredients, landscape, fishing and thermal spas then you should definitely try Debar. AirBnB a place, go fishing, enjoy the spa, visit Mavrovo, do some hiking, eat good food, pray with the monks, and enjoy the fresh air.

If you’re up for an adventure next time when you are traveling to Ohrid from the capital Skopje, instead of taking the normal route through the Strazha mountain pass, turn right towards Mavrovo, and take the that will take you straight to Debar.

Cheers,

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