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Macedonia-learn how to ski and build an igloo in a real Winter Wonderland
This trip is for Europeans that are curious and active, love snow and would appreciate a week of skiing and learning about mountains in winter in a winter wonderland setting. The end of February is a perfect time to join us to Mavrovo National Park and challenge yourself to learn new skills that will make every next stay in a snow surrounding an unforgettable adventure. Whether you are an intermediate skier, or you have never been on skis in your life, this is a trip for you. Mavrovo national park is a huge highland area in western Macedonia, which has 52 peaks higher then 2000 meters above sea level, including the highest one in two countries: Macedonia and Albania – Peak Korab which is 2764 meters high. This NP is the home of two endangered mammals - the Balkan lynx and the brown bear. Here is the story of the Balkan lynx, where you can also see the region where we will be going. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NN9A0Wd3aUA We’ll stay in the village Leunovo, where we will be hosted by villagers well known for their hospitality. We will be spending 5 nights in Leunovo village in a house with a view on a frozen lake. At night there is no light pollution, so we would be able to see stars and constellations when the sky is clear. We are staying at altitude of 1,100 meters, in a village with less than hundred houses and only one hotel. We will have our own transport to the chair lifts which are 20 minutes’ drive away and yet we will manage to escape the usual touristy fuzz of a skiing center. On the other hand, just a walking distance from our accommodation we have a five star hotel with a spa which we can use after a long day of skiing. Hotel Radika, named by the nearby river is possibly the only bar at our disposal for an evening out. However we have a full program for the evenings, viewing local films and having discussions about history, politics and different cultures of the Balkans. The first 5 five days, being around the skiing resort, the beginners will have the opportunity to take their first skiing lessons, while the other enthusiasts can hit the slopes of Mavrovo. The average snowfall in this time of year is 70 cm, and there is a network of 15 pists, a few for each level: beginners, intermediate and competitive. The resort has 12 lifts (3 chair lifts, 9 ski lifts) that offer skiers 700 metres (2300 feet) of vertical descent. The highest point of the lift is 1589 m, the vertical drop is 700 and the bottom point of the lift 1159. Skiing equipment can be rented for as little as 15 Eur per day, this includes skis, ski boots and poles. The skiing center also offers the possibility of cross country skiing. The most famous trail called Quiet Valley is 7.5 km long but the total length of the cross country trails is 30km. Our winter trips are especially welcoming for beginners and skiers who want to improve their skills with private or group instructor. The prices of these services are also very affordable so it is a great opportunity for those of you who want to try skiing but don't want to spend a fortune.* Here is our programme in more detail: We will arrive in Skopje just on time to go to bed and make sure we start the next day fresh and ready for activities: On day one, we’ll go to the skiing resort, an hour and a half away from the busy town of Skopje. After leaving our stuff, we’ll rent our skiing equipment for the week, book skiing lessons and buy passes, and we’ll have at least half day for the slopes. The second day, we’ll have the whole day for skiing and we can have our lunch, tasting traditional food in the restaurants on the slopes. In the evening we will watch a short movie about avalanches and have a short informative session for avalanche safety. This is an introduction to our next day’s afternoon session: Basic avalanche training – in the snow! The outdoor sessions will be led by Meto - our mountain guide in Macedonia: He is an archaeologist and has a great passion for adventures in the mountains. He spends most of the time skiing in the winter, mostly on the Shar Mountain, and climbing and hiking the rest of the year. His in-depth knowledge of the region’s cultures and history combined with his sense of adventure make trips guided by him fun, informative and unique. Meto is an active alpinist in the Macedonian Alpine climbing federation, and also dedicates his time in teaching young kids to climb. He is the co organizer of the first avalanche safety camp in Macedonia, and also teaches avalanche safety in the UIMLA course for mountain guides. The next day, after a morning skiing session and a warm lunch in the local taverns, we are going to have a basic avalanche course, both theoretical and practical. We are not going to try to set of an avalanche, but we will make sure that we learn what to do, if an avalanche occurs. Being out in the winter is a wonderful experience, but it is good to know how to stay safe. We are going to learn how the snow forms, how the snow crystals change, how they bind, and what is it that makes snow so fun and mysterious at the same time. We are also going to check out the basic avalanche equipment, learn how to use the avalanche tracing device, probe, and shovel. And we are going to have a fun practice out in the open. Day 4, is the last day we’re spending on this location in forests of beech and pine trees surrounding our village, intersected with wide hiking routes leading up to amazing view points. The morning is still reserved for the slopes, but in the afternoon you will have the opportunity to learn how to build your own snow house. We are going to learn several different techniques on how to make our refuge for the night, as safe and as pleasant as possible. We are going to make a snow pit, an igloo, and also we are going to use all the materials that nature provides for us. We are going to learn some necessary skills on how to survive in winter conditions, if necessary. Bivac is a term used by mountaineers or alpinists, for a place they use to spend the night in the open. So, this afternoon we are going to hike in the nearby forest, and learn how to make a planned or unplanned snow bivy. We will start the next day with a short transfer to the village of Janche, even deeper in the national park Mavrovo. We will spend our last two nights in a cozy eco-hotel, built of local natural materials by a Macedonian originating from a family with a long tradition in construction. Photo:Céline Develay-Mazurelle/RFI Being born in Egypt, spent most of his life in Italy where he became a well-known expert in reconstruction in traditional architecture. A decade ago, he quit his career in Italy to come back to his village of origin and to start building his hotel and business of restoration of the village from scratch. To read about his story published in the Vogue please click here (http://www.vogue.com/13495447/macedonia-foodie-crawl-slow-food/?mbid=social_onsite_twitter). In his restaurant we will have an amazing opportunity to cook our lunch in an open outdoor kitchen which has traditional elements such as clay oven and a fireplace. We will learn how to cook traditional local recipes with local products, which our host is truly passionate about. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ROZT1i_4Z4E Our optional outdoor activity today is learning how to walk in steep terrain in snow/ice, and learning how to walk on glaciers. We are going to learn the basic technique on walking in a group, using harnesses, ropes, ice axe and crampons. This technique will give us the basics of how to choose your gear, what do we need when we are walking in snow or ice and glaciers. We will divide in groups, choose group leaders, arrange our gear, and do several scenarios on what could happen in icy and slippery terrain. We are also going to learn the basic techniques on how to stop a fall in snowy and icy terrain, when we are roped up. Also we will try techniques on how to stop a fall with our snow axe. The last day spent in winter wonderland, we’ll attempt to visit the picturesque village if Galichnik at the altitude from 1270 to 1450 (yes, it’s vertical!) where population of 2 lives completely cut out from the world during winter season. We can reach it by snow hiking, but getting there is only possible if the winter conditions allow us. The village is historically famous for the rebellion opposing the Ottoman Empire by all means, including politics, self-governance, and education of intellectuals. It was due to lasting economic independency based on nomadic sheepherding and trading: there is a note from the beginning of 20th century that the village was inhabited by 3,300 inhabitants and owned almost half a million sheep! We will have our last dinner together in the eco-hotel in Janche, while in the morning on the 26th we will depart to Skopje, have a stroll at the old bazaar, one of four uniquely Ottoman markets in the World before you return to the busy streets of London with your 17:50 flight. Disclaimer: sticking with the suggested itinerary may not be possible due to eventual weather conditions that can cause us to switch the daily activities with the ones planned for another day. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H1qU4r8KFr8&index=148&list=PL3YwAZo25wIK4Q83QJ99g8x-rC2Nt5GAc Price: A full payment of £450 will secure your spot. Due to the fluctuation of the British Pound we reserve the right to amend the price to an equivalent of 540€ at the time of payment. We will send you the conversion rate in British Pounds and the bank details of Hiking the Balkans when you RSVP. The deadline for payment for this trip is 5th of February 2017. Included in the price: • 7 overnights based on B&B - Accommodation: 3 star hotel in Skopje (1 night), a local guesthouse in the National park Mavrovo (4 nights) 3 star family-run hotel in the National park (2 nights), based on two sharing in twin rooms. Single room supplement is available on request and the supplement is £70. • all transfers - Minivan and driver from and to airports for recommended flights, as well as for local transfers according the program. • English speaking certified mountain guide and instructor for snow activities described is included (aside of skiing) You must arrange your own: • insurance (you can only join this trip if you produce insurance details prior to the trip)Make sure your insurance covers the type of activities you'd like to do during this holiday. • travel to and from Macedonia (airfare) • Lunches and dinners in restaurants • personal expenses for drinks or souvenirs • Ski passes and ski instructions • Spa or other optional activities and visits. *Estimated costs of skiing expenses: A daily ski-pass is 20Eur Daily rent for equipment from 15 to 25 eur The price of a ski instructor is given depend on a size of the group. Recommended flights: Wizz Air (https://wizzair.com/#/) London Luton (‏LTN) →Skopje (‏SKP) Flight W6 7702 on[masked] at 20:45 arriving at 00:55 Price £17.49 Skopje (‏SKP) →London Luton (‏LTN) Flight W[masked]:50 - 20:15 Price £52.99 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vna2YfXxvZI&list=PL3YwAZo25wIK4Q83QJ99g8x-rC2Nt5GAc&index=133 This trip is open to all our members as well as to members of London European Club (http://www.meetup.com/London-European-Club/). The total number of participants will not exceed 18 people. Contact Maja or Lea via Meetup to confirm your place before purchasing your flights. We don't like mass gatherings so the trip has a limited number of spaces, once full it is full. These trips are organised with the intention of discovering new countries and destinations in Europe. We are not a travel agency nor are we holiday reps. You will be expected to be a good team player and look after yourself and the members of your group. Join us if you are up for an adventure of a lifetime!

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What we're about

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Are you interested in hiking, mountaineering, open water swimming, white water rafting, kayaking, cycling and enjoying the outdoors? Do you want to discover new cultures and enjoy tasty organic food and home made dishes? If you have said yes to all, Hiking the Balkans is the right group for you.

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The idea behind Hiking the Balkans is to promote the Balkan countries to nature lovers who enjoy the outdoors and want to have first-hand experience of this fascinating region of Europe. All trips organised by Hiking the Balkans are developed by locals. All the food we eat is locally sourced and traditionally made.

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We offer tailored, guided, small group culture and adventure trips to those interested in discovering the Balkans. We have chosen unique locations stretching from Croatia down to Bulgaria and Albania, including Bosnia, Serbia, Montenegro, Kosovo and Macedonia. We will not put you on a bus and show you the whole of the Balkans in ten days, because that is not how we do things. But we can take you there again and again. As long as you want to come.

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We are opening the gate to hiking amazing mountain ranges and stopping in villages for freshly baked bread. We are taking you across the Peaks of the Balkans, cross border hiking, to hidden waterfalls and mountain lakes where you can swim exclusively, without being surrounded by other tourists.

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Our extensive knowledge of the Balkans enables us to offer authentic itineraries, very few of our trips are repeated, and we continuously tweak and modify them in the process of discovering new areas of interest.

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Hiking the Balkans provides a real insight into the eight countries we are working in including their culture, history and nature and we give you an opportunity for genuine interaction with the locals.

Our local guides are internationally trained and licensed. We are also committed to assist young people from disadvantaged backgrounds originating from the Balkans to develop careers in mountain guiding in future.

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We participate in annual activities for clearing up mountaineering paths, building natural shelters for mountaineers as well as marking new trails.
All our trips are guided and the maximum size of our groups is 18 participants.
You need to be relatively healthy and fit and be a regular walker in order to enjoy our trips. But most of all you need to have an open and curious mind and zest for life.

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We have been organising adventure trips in the region for four years via the London European Club (http://www.meetup.com/London-European-Club/) and after doing more research in 2015, the time has come to start Hiking the Balkans.

Here is what people who travelled before with us say about our trips:
" I have always been fascinated by the idea of travelling the Balkans, which history I had so little knowledge of. However, my work and life commitments hardly gave me any time to plan for a holiday. Back in May I joined the London European trip that Maja organised in Montenegro and a month later I had already booked my second and third trip. It's been a truly amazing experience to travel with someone who has such an incredible passion and knowledge about the history and politics of the region. I have been mesmerised by the gems this big region has to offer. There are mountains, sun, rivers, lakes and also a very sad past which scars are still fresh in the hearth of the people. I could breathe the authenticity in every place we've been. I highly recommend it! "
Stefano Palmerini

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"I've been on three trips to the Balkans with this group and will go on a fourth in a few months. Each time was a fantastic experience with great people in amazing locations, guided by locals passionate about their country and its nature. One highlight of our last trip was being served coffee and AMAZING home-made bread and cheese by Albanian seasonal farmers on a forlorn foggy mountainside."
Carlo Teubner

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"It has it all - stunning scenery, so many sites of historic interest, crystal clear water, tasty organic food and friendly locals. I would never have known how much there is to treasure in this area, without your carefully researched and selected trips, and I'd like to thank you for some of the best holidays I've been on."
Kuldip Singh

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So come along and have an adventure of a lifetime with us.

Hiking the Balkans team

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