Macedonia is a mountainous country with an average altitude of 850 m (2.624 ft) above sea level. There are numerous mountain peaks higher than 2.500 m (8.200 ft.) Shar Mountain is home to 30 of those and also to additional 70 peaks elevated above 2,000 m (6,600 ft.) The massif occupies an area of 1600 km, 56,25% of which is in Macedonia, 43.12% in Kosovo, and 0,63% in Albania. With its 39 lakes (27 of which are in Macedonia), Shar mountains are a magnet for those interested in hiking, skiing, snowboarding, mountain biking, trekking, etc.
The tour we’re going to present in this article is a one-day, easy-paced trip along the road that leads towards Titov Vrv (altitude: 2,747 m / 9,012 feet,) the highest point on the mountain. Of course, the route we’re suggesting is not going to take you to the peak – that’s a long and exhausting tour that I wouldn’t recommend if you’re going to take your kids with you. Still, the path will take you to a beautiful plateau with rocky scenery where you can relax and enjoy true wilderness. It’s an approximately one and a half hour walk in one direction with an elevation difference of about 300 m ( 984 ft.) OK, let’s start from the beginning!
The starting point is Popova Shapka, a ski resort and a holiday home village. To get there you have to get to the city of Tetovo first. I would recommend renting a car from Skopje (or from wherever you are) and drive to Popova Shapka yourself. The road is good all the way through and the scenery is awesome. In winter there are regular bus lines from both Skopje and Tetovo but in summer you’ll have to ask at the central bus stations if such lines are available. If you don’t have the opportunity to drive yourself, the best way is to get to Tetovo by bus and then take a cab to Popova Shapka (don’t forget to settle the price before you hop in a taxi.)
Once you get there ask the locals for the road to Titov Vrv, which begins on the opposite side of the village (see photo above ^.) The trail starts as a sharp climb up the ski trek. Be prepared – the first half an hour is the hardest of the whole tour, so take it easy and slowly!
After the first slope-climbing part is over, the trip evolves into a relaxed, long walk across the plains of Shar mountain, one of the most beautiful nature sites in Europe. You continue up the wide dirt road until you see the sign that says “Titov Vrv 2747.”
From there you turn right, as the sign shows and continue for another 20 minutes in the direction of Titov Vrv. You’ll get to a point where you see a huge megalith rock in front of you. Just below the rock, there is a small plain filled with stones and smaller rocks, scattered on the green grass fields. The place looks like a meeting point for hobbits, perhaps trolls or giants. On the right side, there is a river active only in spring and summer, when the snow melts from the peaks.
We settled here and stayed for couple of hours. We had lunch, took some great photos, and enjoyed the overall tranquility of the place. The beauty of the whole trip is that it starts at an elevation of 1.780 m (5,840 ft) and climbs above 2.000 m (6.561 ft) very soon. In Macedonia and the region in general, this is the altitude where the forest ends and the wide, bare mountain plains begin.
This quick entrance into the wild also has a downside – once you cross into the heights of the mountain there is no safe place anymore. If it starts raining or, God forbid, thunderstorms come your way, I’m afraid that there’s little you can do to protect yourself. In that sense, choose your date wisely and be sure to check the weather forecast before you go. Don’t take this tour before May, even June, and not later than October. August and September are the best months and there are a lot of mountain hikers and enthusiasts in this time of year.
Also, calculate the time that you need to get back to Popova Shapka. When the sun sets, it gets rather cold in a flash of time. We went there in October, on a beautiful sunny day and it remains the highest point we’ve taken the kids so far.
If you start early, you’ll have some time to enjoy Popova Shapka a bit on the way down. There are some nice restaurants, cafes, and hotels where you can relax and breathe some fresh air while you can. Unfortunately, both Skopje and Tetovo are high on the list of Europe’s most polluted cities, so places like Popova Shapka and Vodno are safe havens for the citizens.