The content and opinions expressed in this blog are mine. They do not represent the US Government or US Peace Corps - Jud Dolphin

Tuesday, December 1

Jance Macedonia: A Place For Inspiration

I watch the rear lights disappear into the distance. I am on a mountain road engulfed in silence and a blanket of darkness. About 50 meters away, I think I see an outline of a sign. Cautiously trying not to fall into muddy ruts, I edge towards it. With the help of my cell phone’s flashlight, I read – “Hotel Tutto - Jance, Macedonia”.  I’m here.

I learned about Jance and the Hotel about a week ago. Some Peace Corps’ friend had visited for a weekend trek. They told me I must go and added, “It’s certain to be an inspiration for a water colorist.” 

 They didn’t need to say more. I bought my mini-bus ticket and 3 ½ hours later I’m here. Ironically for an artist, I'm in the darkness, but not for too long.  Morning will come.  

Jance is a traditional Macedonian village. It’s located a mountain ridge, more or less, away from Albania in the heart of Mavrovo National Park.  Living in Skopje, the Capital, I've missed the sights, sounds and people of village life.  In these days, urban people are more cautious and suspicious while village people are curious and welcoming.    

Here homes have hung on the mountainside for hundreds of years.  I'm told that little has changed.  Over time, some houses needed repaired, but for the most part they have kept to the traditional design.  

As I look out my window by dawns light, a rooster scratches in a garden below me. A man begins to chop wood even though today will be warm by November standards. A few others are walking around a home that’s in disrepair or is it partially restored. They look like their making an inspection before the day begins.

I learn from Tutto, my hotel host, that he’s reviving traditional building practices. He’s already has restored several homes with more to follow.  Local workmen, like those I see across the way, are re-learning what used to be passed along from generation to generation. 

 This is an ecological practice combining modern design with traditional construction methods.

As Tutto says, “We believe that buildings should come back to their origins of a deeper relation with the environment around them, in order to achieve a better sustainability, decrease the use of pollutant materials and gain a winning combination of new solutions and ancient traditions.

He tells me that he would like to restore the whole village.  If you're interested, he conducts seminars to learn the techniques.  

After an ample breakfast with village fresh eggs and homemade jams and bread, I venture out on my own trek. I shorten the walk by taking a taxi to a neighboring village where I pick up a trail to a waterfalls.

This day is spot-on gorgeous. With camera in hand, I’m capturing all the color and images that I can. I’m alone in the woods. 

 But unlike my trek in Maine many years ago, this adventure has a well-marked trail.  Don't worry, brother Warren, I won't get lost this time!  

Ahhhh...There’s something quite special about golden yellow trees, a cool breeze, leaves fluttering to ground and a sky so very blue. 

It makes you grateful to be alive.


I walk between two mountains… testing flat rocks as I ford trickles of water, feeling out  footholds as I zigzag up and down ridges,.  A few bridges have been constructed where the trickle turns into a stream.   The sound of water grows louder and louder.  Am I getting closer to the waterfalls?


I make my way up and down yet another incline.  As I cross the bridge I see it.  Before me is a most beautiful water falls. 

It thunders down from a slit in the mountain.  I'm thinking it's about 35 feet high, maybe more.  I stand at it’s base mesmerized.   I feel the mist as it splashes into the pools.  It's a hidden treasure deep in the mountains of Mavrovo National Park.  I'm not in Washington, DC....that's for sure!

Later Tutto and I relax in the lobby of his 7 room hotel. He speaks little English and the same for me with Macedonian, but I've learned that when there's a desire to communicate, two people can find a way. 

We pull out our electronics and show each other pictures. I start with my grandchildren and he with his family. We move on to pictures of traditional restoration practices and I show pictures from my trek. We are having a great time together.  Can't you tell?

The lobby of the hotel runs the length of the building.  One end is set up as a restaurant and the other displays collections.  

He has many interesting collections.  Here's a sampling.

Organic foods are served daily.  Homemade jams are part of every meal.  Bunches of lavender and other  herbs scent the air.    

The next morning I stand up early.  I want to watch the sun slowly spread across these mountain ridges.  I think it's a gentle way to start a day.  I'm not disappointed.  

I hear a crowing.  Our rooster is awake and letting the village know it's time to get up.  Soon life will stir as it has been doing for centuries in this place.  I sit on the balcony attached to my room and soak in the experience.

After a time, I get the watercolor I started yesterday. It's a landscape where I'm trying to capture the colors and expanse of this place. My Peace Corps friends were right. Jance is a place for inspiration.

As I get ready to depart, Tutto comes with a bag of homemade jams and ajvar. His generosity is like the waterfalls I trekked to – large and ever flowing.  

Here's a recipe for ajvar.  It's a traditional Macedonian roasted pepper relish. It's made every September and is delicious. Give it a try and then come to Macedonia for the real thing, made in a village.

My trip to Jance started in darkness, but with dawn’s light I got to see the entire landscape. I trekked to a water falls and got to paint. I met kind and generous people. I learned about sustainable traditional building methods and the dream of a man to restore a village.  

Jance Macedonia...deep in the mountains and one of the beauties of creation. 

1 comment:

  1. These pictures navigated straight into my heart. These are some incredibly beautiful post dear. Thanks for posting them and making my day. I am sure others are enjoying this as well.