Monastery in Macedonia provides heavenly peace

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29 јуни 2005
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MACEDONIA | Travel | Monastery in Macedonia provides heavenly peace
Monastery in Macedonia provides heavenly peace

St. Joakim Osogovski Monastery is an inexpensive and satisfying refuge from the hustle of city life.

Just the facts

Kriva Palanka is 100 kilometres from Macedonia's capital, Skopje, and is serviced by a regular bus route. A taxi from Kriva Palanka to the monastery costs about $1.50.
Monastery room rates are five euros (about $8 Cdn.) for a twin bed in a shared dormitory, 10 euros ($16 Cdn.) for a private room with ensuite washroom.
On-site services include a café, restaurant and art gallery. For information, phone +389 31 375 063 or email

Escape from the noise, the stress and the smoke, if only for a night, at a monastic retreat in the mountains of Macedonia

Jun 12, 2009 04:30 AM
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Reb Stevenson
Special to the Star

KRIVA PALANKA, MACEDONIA–With all due respect to singer/songwriter Eric Carmen, sometimes you do want to be all by yourself.
Maybe you've been jostled by too many crowds. Perhaps you've just learned – the hard way – that a cruise is not your bag. Or you're just a crusty old grump.
For me, it's the cigarettes. In Eastern Europe, where there are people there is a corresponding haze of smoke. At first, it's a novelty in a "remember the '90s?" kind of way. But after a week of swatting the air at coffee shops, restaurants and hotels, I long to retreat into a lung-friendly isolation cell.
St. Joakim Osogovski Monastery, therefore, is a godsend. Tucked away in the Osogovo Mountains near the city of Kriva Palanka, it is one of the most picturesque monasteries in Macedonia.
It all started with Joakim, an antisocial saint who scrambled up the hills in the 11th century and made a cave his permanent address.
I hear that overnight stays are on offer.
Click here for more photos of the monastery

The light is dwindling when I reach the surprisingly large campus, which consists of two Christian Orthodox churches (one 12th century, the other built in 1847), a barracks of sorts and several administrative buildings.
The only other piece of scenery is glorious, unadulterated nature.
A most welcome commandment is posted on the gate: No Smoking. I'm not religious, but I long to cry: Hallelujah!
The last of the tourists have tapered off for the day and the monastery is eerily silent. I start to doubt whether anyone is home.
"You looking for a room?" a voice floats down from on high.
For a split second, I wonder whether the Lord himself has taken on the role of receptionist (these are tough economic times, after all).
Instead, I look up to see Alexander Smiljkov, the goateed priest-in-residence, peering over a balcony. The fact that he's holding a baby in a position that's a little too reminiscent of Michael Jackson and his son "Blanket" is mildly alarming.
Smiljkov leads me into the barracks and shows me a clean and compact room containing three twin beds, a table and a space heater. The bathroom is down the hall.
The nightly rate: a scant five euros.
(For 10 Euros, you can upgrade to a very nice private room with ensuite bathroom).
"So, where are all the monks?" I inquire.
"The last monk died in 1967," he explains. Since then, the monastery's 80 beds have been dedicated to tourists and an annual art colony held each September.
Without further ado, he hands me a key and I'm left alone. And I mean alone. As in, I'm the only guest at the monastery.
I have the run of an open gallery that gazes upon the churches and their charming little cupolas, the tree-carpeted mountains and a stream. A fresco depicting Osogovski lines one wall above an expansive table (think Last Supper).
As I sit and snack on a couple of apples purchased earlier that day from an old Macedonian woman on the side of a highway, the silence coddles me.
You never see it coming, but now and again a trip yields an unexpected vignette that erases all the hardship of travel. This is one of them.
In the morning, Smiljkov leads me to the onsite restaurant, a traditional place where both the tourists and the smoke have resurfaced. Breakfast is a bun, succulent ripe tomatoes and sheep's cheese, washed down with the murky Turkish coffee that is standard in Macedonia.
There are hiking trails aplenty surrounding the monastery, but, suspecting that there might be bears aplenty surrounding the hiking trails, I opt to discover the churches instead.
Macedonians love their frescoes, and this is no exception: the exterior of the large church is draped in religious scenes (al frescoes, one might say if one were to indulge in bad puns).
But that's just a teaser for what lies inside: Both churches are covered from floor to ceiling in vivid art.
Swarms of tourists cross themselves, kiss Osogovski's grave and buy souvenirs.
I watch peoples' faces light up with emotion as they light candles for good luck or in remembrance of the dead. One old woman is doubled over and sobbing in a pew.
But there are as many smiles as tears that day: In the parking lot, a group of middle-aged Serbian and Macedonian women erupts into an impromptu dance, swirling around an accordion player and singing their hearts out.
Then I meet Temelko and Stoina, a 70-something Macedonian couple who are sitting quietly on a bench.
Despite the lack of a common language, they insist upon buying me a coffee.
I accept. But inside I wince, waiting for the inevitable moment when Temelko whips out a cigarette.
That moment never comes.
And I start thinking: maybe, just maybe, company isn't so bad after all.
Reb Stevenson is a Toronto-based writer. She can be reached through her website at Her trip was subsidized by the Macedonian Ministry of Economy.


Faster Than Light
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