Stara planina – Стара планина, or the Balkan, is the mountain range after which the Balkan peninsula is named. It is humongous, running from one end of Bulgaria to the other and it is said to be the harshest Bulgarian mountain claiming lives every year. Despite this rather grim characterization, the Balkan is also one of the most beloved and most visited mountains here, it is home to one of three national parks in the country – Central Balkan – Централен Балкан. Exactly in this national park is where the one-day trek described in this article took place.
This trek can easily be done within one day, as the drive from Sofia won’t take you more than 2 hours, so if you leave early enough, no problem. However, I strongly recommend the area close to Beklemeto, your starting point. There are many guest houses and small hotels there because of the mineral water springs. Chiflika, Beli Osam, Shipkovo are all lovely little villages full of welcoming natives prepared to accommodate you. I am lucky enough for my grandma to have a house in Beli Osam and so our trip extended over a whole weekend.
Our group included among others a one-year-old baby and two brave little girls, aged 5 and 7, who had no problem with the path and its difficulty. This is why I can firmly say that the trek is not a serious challenge and is suitable for all types of tourists.
The beginning of the path is straight from the road. Once you have reached the highest part of the Troyan-Karnare pass (beautiful views by the way), just park your car somewhere in front of the “Welcome to the Central Balkan national park” sign and head straight ahead following the winter markings.
If you are not in too much of a hurry, go check out the Freedom Arc at the top of the ridge. It is placed thusly that it marks a division point between Southern and Northern Bulgaria and the views are breath-taking. It is also a very fertile blueberry territory, so if you are there in late July, pick some berries for a delicious snack.
The beginning of the path is very even. We saw some horses on the way, several mares even had foals. Our puppy enjoyed the way a lot as it was not very sunny and he was not too hot.
After about one hour of walking you will reach the area Kozya stena – Козя стена – Goat wall, which is a really steep ridge with a 50 to 100 meters fall on one side. Looks really dangerous, so be careful if you decide to go take a picture at the edge of the cliffs.
The path gets steeper and steeper until it reaches a rocky ridge equipped with metal ropes, as the fall on both sides is very dangerous. Well, not to fear, both the baby on his dad’s chest and the little girls of our group made the climb without the blink of an eye, so it is totally doable. Just looks a little scary, especially with the fog that was rapidly approaching us from behind.
After a four-hour walk we finally reached the hut. Normally the hike over is not supposed to take more than 2 and a half hours, but our many stops to take pictures and the kids getting tired somewhere along the way delayed us a lot. I almost stepped on a lazy snake lying on the path, I guess it was too cold for it, because it barely moved, even though the dog passed it several times. I was too chicken to take a photo of it, though, sorry!
We had some lentil soup in the hut and ate our sandwiches. Kozya stena is a great place and the hut keepers are young, innovative people. They have even setup a small library. From there you can continue your hike to hut Eho, or to the Chiflika village, all great routes offering some more amazing views.
We, however, had to hike back to the cars on the parking lot at the Beklemeto pass. The lentil soup had helped us recharge greatly, so the trek back was less of a problem than the one over.
We followed the summer markings this time, so we didn’t have to pass the section with the metal ropes again, which saved us a lot of time. We needed about 2 hours and 40 minutes to reach the cars.
The way back wasn’t without adventures either – we stumbled upon a herd of cows, all of them horned, grazing peacefully with the path amidst them. Peacefully, that is, until they saw our dire wolf of a dog, who seemed to scare them with his mere presence. One cow even started approaching us and scared the kids, but shouting at it helped divert it from its threatening intentions.
All in all, this is a wonderful, rather casual hike, which can be done within one day including the travel to and from Sofia. If you wish to dedicate an entire weekend to this beautiful area of Bulgaria, I strongly suggest sleeping in one of the nice villages in proximity – Chiflika – Чифлика, Beli Osam – Бели Осъм, Shipkovo – Шипково and enjoy the local cuisine and hot mineral water.
You can combine this great hike with this itinerary which is in proximity.