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Alongside the Struma river – the beautiful Zemen canyon

Струма – Struma is a river in the Western part of Bulgaria. It has its source in the Vitosha mountain and flows into the Aegean sea after more than 600 kilometers of picturesque meanders within Bulgarian and Greek territory. The river is a beloved destination for kayakers in Bulgaria, as far as I know it is the best location for kayaking in our country. This stubborn body of water had to fight for its way with rocks and mountains along its path and the result are several breathtakingly beautiful gorges one can nowadays enjoy. The one we visited recently is the not very famous, but just as marvelous – the Zemen gorge or the Zemen canyon – Земенски пролом.

To get to the Zemen gorge eco trail, we decided to use the Zemen monastery as a starting point. This is an ancient monastery located near the tiny town of Zemen in the Northwestern part of Bulgaria.

The monastery is well-preserved and impresses with unique frescoes that rank among the oldest and most valued pieces of Renaissance religious art on the Balkan peninsula alongside with the ones in the Boyana church.

We did not spend too much time in the monastery yard as we were eager to get to the eco trail and with the friendly help of the lady who sells the candles in the monastery, we made our way to the beginning of the path.

To get there, just walk back a hundred meters from the monastery entrance towards the big metal cross and before the cross, turn left and follow the unpaved road, it will lead you to a fence and a small brick building from which stairs ascend – this is where the path starts. The sad thing is, the eco trail was actually renovated and equipped with signs in 2015, but was quickly let go, so now it’s very easy to lose your way, which we actually did… twice! In order to avoid our mistake, follow the stairs downward and once you get to this rundown little house, take a turn to the left:

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The beginning of the eco trail is actually not that interesting, there is a spot where one can take a small rest, but since we had only been walking for about 15 minutes, I thought it was quite impractical to have it there.

After this first (of several) rest spots, from where you get a nice view of the town Zemen and a little bit of a taste of what expects you further on, the path enters a forest. This was a nice change for us, since noon was approaching and the sun was scorching hot. A steep 10-15 minute descent took us to the railway track along which the eco path continues. There was another rest stop and an outside fitness area there.

This is where we got lost again! 🙂 There must have been a sign at one point directing tourists to the left, but not anymore.. So we turned right. Anyway, for a while it was also nice to go that way, but we kept approaching Zemen and civilization generally, something we were actually trying to get away from.

Along the way we passed a small neighbourhood which looked abandoned as well as several pretty rock formations and something that looked like an ancient fortress. But all in all we realized that we must have gotten the wrong way. After about an hour of walking, with my already rather big pregnant belly I was getting quite whiny and did not feel too well in the scorching sun, so we turned back.

When we got back to the rest stop I mentioned in the above paragraph, we saw a large family with kids who were nice enough to show us the correct way – well, the opposite way to the one we had taken and so we decided to do at least a little bit of the real eco trail.

That turned out to be a great decision, since the path runs along the cool river and is hidden from the sun. We saw some amazing views of stunning rock formations and had I not been so tired already, we would have walked much more.

The thought of having to climb the steep forest trail on the way back also plagued my mind, so we turned back with the promise to go back to the trail and see more of it next time. My advice on this route – just turn to the left when in doubt! 🙂