Rich nature and cultural heritage are the common traits of the border region between North Macedonia and Serbia. The Osogovo Mountains and the Kukavica mountain massif within the boundaries of the municipalities of Kriva Palanka and Leskovac have an exceptional natural landscape. The abundance of wild blackberries, raspberries, mushrooms, medicinal herbs and tasty traditional food such as kačamak polenta is an additional delight for visitors to the region.
The abundance of opportunities to enjoy natural, cultural and historical sites offers the possibility of developing many forms of tourism and satisfying the curiosity of every visitor. However, this tourism potential was not well known in the region and even less internationally. The municipalities of Leskovac and Kriva Palanka therefore decided to join forces and, with European Union support, to make this destination recognisable with its attractive tourist offer, by launching a joint cross-border cooperation project.
Maja Kocić is a project manager from the city of Leskovac in Serbia. As one of the developers of this project, she explains that the need for this initiative was evident. “Mountain lovers from our area visited the region regularly. However, there was an obvious lack of infrastructure for reaching some of the most beautiful sites, and not many people outside of the region knew that such natural beauty exists in Leskovac and Kriva Palanka,” says Maja.
The environment connecting the cross-border region is as beautiful as a pearl and so the cities decided to name the project “Connecting Pearls”. The project includes a variety of activities and interventions. Initially, the partners organised workshops to facilitate cooperation between tourism organisations across the border. The workshops included ten organisations from both sides of the border who then formed a cross-border stakeholder working group for future action.
Following this, the project moved on to badly-needed small-scale interventions. On both sides of the border, the project contributed to laying paths and hiking trails, the construction of children’s playgrounds and summer houses, and the installation of benches, solar lighting, information boards, and waste bins.
In addition, the project organised promotional events titled “green weekends”, which gathered hundreds of people and included live music, traditional food tasting and hiking trips.
Maja explains that the project’s impact is visible and tangible and will be even more in the coming months and years. “As a result of the Connecting Pearls project, we have a considerable increase in the number of visitors from all over Serbia, and we expect the same increase in international visitors too,” says Maja.
She also explains that the cross-border cooperation nature of the project has contributed considerably to the quality of the impact. “We’ve benefited a lot from the exchange of ideas, perspectives and management skills with the municipality of Kriva Palanka in North Macedonia, and we are going for another joint project soon.”
About the project
Connecting Pearls is a cross-border cooperation project between Serbia and North Macedonia, which is implemented with funds for pre-accession assistance from the European Union (IPA II) and is carried out by the city of Leskovac in the Republic of Serbia in partnership with the municipality of Kriva Palanka in North Macedonia, as well as the Centre for Development of the Jablanica and Pčinja districts.
The goal of the Connecting Pearls project is to improve the visibility and quality of the regional cross-border tourist offer through the mapping of natural, cultural and historical heritage, and the improvement of locations through construction work in both Leskovac and Kriva Palanka.
Photo credits: Connecting Pearls project
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