As I am sure most of you know, the Balkan peninsula is actually named after the longest mountain range on it, which happens to be in Bulgaria – the Balkan. Bulgarians also call it The Old Mountain – Стара планина – Stara planina. It is a grand mountain running for 560km from one side of Bulgaria all the way to the other, where it ends with a majestic cape overseeing the Black Sea. The Bulgarian has somehow always been magically connected to this particular mountain – we even use its name as a general noun when referring to a mountain – “what a tall balkan”, you might hear the Bulgarian say, speaking of, let’s say, the French Alps 🙂
Anyhow, let me not roam off topic too much – I wanted to describe a short weekend hike to the Balkan’s highest peak, called Botev – връх Ботев, after a famous and very popular Bulgarian revolutionary and a genius poet – Hristo Botev – Христо Ботев. Our itinerary was the following – we drove from Sofia to Kalofer on Friday morning, hiked to hut Ray, spent the night there. The next morning we started the ascent to Botev peak and came back down to the hut in the late afternoon. On the next morning we went back to our car and drove back to Sofia.
Distance from Sofia: ca 400km round-trip
Car accessibility: yes. Public transport also possible
Leaving from Sofia: I recommend no later than 10am
Day one: getting to Kalofer and hiking up to Ray hut
What we did after we got to the nice little town of Kalofer was to drive up to a hotel called Райски кът – Rayski kat where we had a quick salad and soup and left our car. The owners are nice enough to let your car in their parking for a small fee (we paid 10lv for one night, I think). From the hotel there is an approximately 800m walk to the path which will take you onto the real trail to the Hut Ray – хижа Рай. The walk is long and it starts with a very, very steep half kilometer of which I unfortunately have no picture. Probably because I was sweating profusely and was too busy wondering whether I would make it to the hut at this rate! Thank god, the path quickly leveled and became a more manageable obstacle 🙂
After that very steep first part, you will see a sign welcoming you to the National park Central Balkan.
As soon as my ever so curious boyfriend saw the sign, he (an otherwise not too keen reader) threw himself at it and started reading it from top til bottom, fine print included. I myself was reluctant to linger on, as I heard a rather unusual noise which kind of reminded me of a bear roar, ALL THE MORE, that that was what the sign said – beware, this is bear country. So, I tried explaining this to my national-geographic-wannabe-journalist boyfriend and asked him to move along. He, on the other hand, started vigorously making fun of me being a scaredy-cat and telling me that the next step would be for me to see great white sharks in the creek running nearby. Right in the middle of his wise-ass speech, the bear starts roaring again, so his jaw drops, he turns a bit pale, catches my hand and starts loudly whispering “Baby… A BEAR!” 😀 Well, duh, I said, while both of us darted off running far away from the damned sign. Half a kilometer further we stopped to catch our breath.
Anyway, the next part of our trip was a large plateau, which was rather unpleasant to walk onto, as it was scorching hot at the time and there was no shade in sight. We walked for a long time on that path, maybe an hour and a half.
On the way we passed one more warning sign that bears lived in this area, I said “Ahem” loudly in the direction of my boyfriend and we continued 🙂 Finally, the everlasting plateau ended and we entered a beautiful lush forest full of little creeks and fountains of the kind on the pic below. That was really fortunate, because we didn’t have enough water.
Walking in the forest was a nice change from the heat on the plateau before. After a loooong hike (around 2 and 1/2 hrs) we finally made it to the hut, which is right underneath the highest waterfall (125m) in Bulgaria – Raysko praskalo – Райско пръскало.
I have to say – one of the nicest and cleanest huts I have seen in Bulgaria with very expensive and not good food. Despite the food, we spent a restful night and on the next morning we hit the path to the peak.
Day two: Ascent to Botev peak
If you are there in the summer, I suggest leaving as early as possible. We started at 8am, but this was too late. I got a heat stroke from the heat during the day, so the earlier you leave, the less unforgiving sun is going to hit your head.
Amazing views all the way to the top. We hiked on what is called Tarzan’s path, because it is rather steep at some places and is equipped with metal ropes.
Honestly, this was the hardest ascent I have ever done, despite people saying that there are more difficult ones in BG, which I have had less problems with. Maybe it was the heat, or the tiredness from the previous day, I don’t know.
It was well worth it, though. The views on the way to the top and from the peak are amazing.
We spent another night at the hut and on the next morning we headed back to Kalofer. It is a very neat little town and we decided to grab a quick lunch there. The food was cheap and delicious, a nice change of pace after the hut’s “restaurant”.
We had a lot of fun and I highly recommend this trip to anyone who likes the mountain.