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200 meters in 5 hours. Bezengi

Even though this summer was quite a bummer when it comes to climbing – meaning I barely had the opportunity to, we were able to finish the season off with a couple of fulfilled dreams. One I already wrote about – the little Lakatnik house and the other one was a famous multi-pitch climb at the Vratsa cliffs – Bezengi. Bezengi is the first equipped route on this part of the Vratsa rocks, firstly equipped back in 1962. Currently it consists of 6 ropes and measures to a 160 meters according to most websites, but summing the separate ropes it adds up to 200 meters. Most climbers skip the last two ropes and rappel down from the top of the fourth as the climb ahead can be quite dangerous due to unstable rock. Sasho and I had our minds firmly set on completing the whole thing so one windy October Saturday morning we set off for Vratsa.

The weather was very inconsistent and I did not feel particularly energized; Sasho was constantly worrying about the 4th rope of which he had read was the most difficult one on the route and as such was naturally his responsibility to lead. Both of us had our doubts and when we finally arrived, I was almost ready to turn around and go home. The wind was strong and ice cold and there was only one group of climbers who had spent the night, they were just opening up their tent, whereas usually there are crowds of people ready to climb. Thank God Sasho was braver and more psyched about climbing than I and ignoring my whining he quickly started to gear up. I sighed and did the same – we were gonna climb.

The overall UIAA route difficulty is 6-. Bearing that in mind and also what a great climber Sasho is, I wasn’t worried whether we were going to make it. My fears were rather connected with my use of the gear and also – how was I going to survive for at least 4 hours on the rock without being able to pee (I have a tiny bladder)?! After having completed a course on cliff climbing where we sporadically did a 2 rope multi-pitch climb, I hadn’t really been on a multi-pitch route before. But climbing with Sasho is easy – he has the situation under control, always has a plan B and is impeccable about the use of gear, he is very good both in theory and practice, so after a quick check which way exactly to go, I set out on rope one.

The wind kind of subsided, the sun came out in between the clouds and it was very nice on the rock, which was sort of warm and the climb was easy.

There is a reason why Bezengi is often called one of the most beautiful climbs in this part of the Vratsa pass. The views were stunning, I was able to snap a few photos on the way before the mist came out again, which it unfortunately did the higher we climbed.

Sasho was uneasy about the 4th rope which we rapidly approached. I did not have any doubt whether he could make it – he certainly could, but he is a little bit susceptible to fear and I have seen him set psychological boundaries for himself which prevented him from doing a climb he would normally ace. I had my concerns and tried encouraging him several times. Before the fourth rope we allowed ourselves an extended break, we had some chocolate and water and got mentally prepared for what was next.

As expected, Sasho killed the route, no problem whatsoever so we proceeded with the ascent. When we got to the fifth and sixth rope, the rock did start to get very unstable. It didn’t help at all that the bolts were scarce and oftentimes we were unsure which way to continue. We received some directions from a climbing couple beneath us – two girls who climbed one rope behind us, with a pretty good timing – we never clashed on the wall and none of us had to wait for the other pair, so it worked out great. They had climbed the route before and let us know which way to continue.

I ascended the last rope and while I was waiting for Sasho, I casually looked behind my shoulder. When I arrived at the spot, there was nothing there, mist surrounding me and hiding everything further than 3 meters away, see pic above. But when I turned around, the mist had thinned significantly and an enormous tsunami of a cliff was hanging behind me surrounded by a misty curtain. I gaped in awe, this was one of the most breath-taking sceneries I have ever seen. I tried capturing the magic in a picture, but as expected, the photos are nowhere nearly as beautiful as the real thing.

We were naturally super happy to have made it, after all, it had been nearly 4.5 hours on the rock, wind blowing almost all the time and weather getting increasingly colder.

The two opportunities for us were either to rappel 6 ropes down or to take the path downward, which was supposed to take you down to the road within about half an hour. We were already tired and I was cold, so we rejected the rappel opportunity and went for the path. It was a bit scary, as it was a straight down climb and vertical at many places, but there was a metal rope to hold on to and we made it safe and sound off the path 🙂

All in all, this was a dream come true, both for me and Sasho. In spite of my worries and lack of enthusiasm in the morning, it turned out to be a great adventure and I can’t wait to do it again 🙂

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The little Lakatnik house and raspberry wine

As I wrote in this article on the Lakatnik cliffs, I had my mind firmly set on climbing to the Eagle’s nest – Орлово гнездо – a tiny house built on a cliff 300 metres above the Iskar river close by to the village of Lakatnik. I wanted to do it this summer, however, the season was coming to an end and I was slowly beginning to doubt the success of the mission, when finally a weekend with good weather was announced, all other plans were set aside and Sasho and I decided to finally do it.

The weather was sunny and warm and the meanders on the road offered wonderful views of the small mountain villages the road passes through.

To get to the tiny house in the cliffs, which was our ultimate goal, it’s best to drive past the village of Bov and to stop at the small restaurant right at the road – it is currently being renovated and I don’t know whether it will keep its name, but it used to be called “The cave” – Пещерата. We left the car right next to the restaurant and walking 30 meters towards where we came from, we saw the beginning of the path on our right side. Next to it is a pretty mountain creek that quenched my dog’s thirst on the way down.

We were carrying a lot as we didn’t know what the routes were like exactly, so we had two full sets of equipment and were not looking forward to the 20-minute walk upwards to the beginning of the routes.

On the way upward we saw a sign directing to the Темната дупка – Dark hole – cave and we decided to go and take a sneak peek. It was worth it! It is supposed to be 8km long, but we only looked at the entrance with its interesting looking human-made columns.

The way over there is short and very picturesque, as the path increases its altitude quickly and offers a dazzling view over the river canyon.

After the mandatory several pictures we took off for the climbing routes. The walk upwards wasn’t as difficult as I expected in spite of the heavy rucksacks; after about 15 minutes we were at the foot of the cliff with the small hut.

I was surprised at how many people were already there. On the other hand, Lakatnik is an A list location for climbing, so the several climbing teams and a couple of guided courses were actually to be expected.

We climbed slowly and a little bit extremely, as one of the routes I ascended merged with another, already climbed route, so I had no bolts available to clip the rope onto. As the route was quite easy, I improvised and used one of the metal ropes to which the little house is attached to clip a quickdraw and kind of free soloed the last several meters.

Two friends came by and joined us but they were too lazy to climb. They only wanted to brag a little – one with his killer dog and the other one with his drone.

Long story short, we were finally able to take a close look at the remarkable little hut built over the river canyon and all in all it was a fine, albeit a bit short autumn day.

Now let me tell you about the Sunday that followed 🙂 Bearing in mind that the weather was so good and that it was going to change soon, we made plans for a hike to the Trastenaya hut on the next day. Again we drove in the same direction, but turned to the village of Bov  before we reached Lakatnik. From there it’s about two hours of hiking to get to the Trastenaya hut which produces wonderful bio certified raspberry wine on which we had set our hearts.

When we stopped at the center of Bov, Sasho mentioned there was supposed to be a waterfall nearby, so we took a small detour to see it.

The woman we asked about it pointed us quickly, but towards where we saw the waterfall from above, so we had to walk a little bit further to see it in all its glory from the front.

While walking toward the full view of the waterfall, we saw also some beautiful rock formations which were titled The Fireplace – Камината – in Google maps.

Then we were on our way to the hut. On the way Sasho told us an interesting story about the villages in this area – as they are quite high up in the mountain, they often lack churches and the locals took up a tradition to set stone crosses in meadows, where they would gather on religious holidays. Every cross is connected to a certain saint day in the orthodox calendar. Then families are “assigned” a cross and a saint and so they gather their fellow villagers on the saint’s day for a celebration at the cross.

The path upward was easy and the views were so beautiful due to the autumn colours of the mountain. We met several huntsmen on our way and heard several shots – apparently the season was already open for wild boar.

We walked for about 2 hours and in spite of being somewhat uncertain of the exact direction, Sasho’s gut turned out to be a good enough GPS and we finally made it to Trastenaya.

We were so excited to get the bio raspberry wine, but we were unfortunately too late, a large group before us bought out the raspberry wine, so we had to make good with the merlot/raspberry mix, which was also okay. By that time it had already become rather chilly, so we didn’t stay too long. It was also full of people due to the hut’s accessibility by car. And many people are always a turn off to me 🙂

I can only recommend a trip in the proximity of Lakatnik, due to the beautiful nature and the many outdoor activities one can engage with. A group of climbers had done the smarter thing and had booked nights at the hut from Friday on, they spent the Saturday climbing and hiked on Sunday, also a great option if you want to spare yourself the trip back and forth to Sofia.

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Koshov and the canyon of the river Lom

This is a four-day trip in Northeast Bulgaria we did last weekend, but since we saw so much, I will divide it into two separate posts and link them within each other. This part of the trip could be done within a weekend, if you leave Sofia early enough. I do recommend driving to the place, but taking the train is also a viable option.

Here’s the tale of the beautiful village of Koshov in Northern Bulgaria, very close to Ruse, the largest Bulgarian town along the Danube, and fifth largest in the country.

The drive is, according to google, around 4 hours, but it took us longer, as our newly acquired 3 month old border collie puppy felt very sick along the way and we had to stop often for his sake.

It took us about 5 hours to get there, so imagine our joy, when we finally got to the place we had booked and found the most warm and friendly hosts one can imagine – Valya and Nikolay Milkovi. They welcomed us into their house, Milkovata kushta – Милковата къща, meaning Milkov’s house, we were the first guests for the long weekend and so we got the extended tour. They built the house from scratch, but had their mind firmly set on getting the traditional Bulgarian atmosphere, so in spite of it being only 3 years old, the house looks exactly like one from the Bulgarian National Revival period. Check it out:

It is very convenient to stay in the house, as it is a walking distance from the cool stuff – the ecopath and the climbing routes. You wouldn’t have to worry about food either, as Valya, an amazing cook, prepares delicious dishes for breakfast, lunch and dinner at a couple of hours’ notice as she cooks everything fresh. Nikolay is very friendly and will engage in a conversation and provide the musical background.

They are super willing to help and try to fulfill their guests’ every wish, the recent proof of that is them promising to set up a bed in the cave behind the house for a guest who plans on spending a night inside this very cave 😀 The yard has a small garden, some decorative hens, a little pond, a football and a volleyball field, a playground for kids. They can also pick you up from the train station in Ruse, if you choose to come by train or bus. One can definitely tell that these people don’t just do it for the money, they really want you to enjoy yourself while there 🙂

Anyhow, let me tell you about the ecopath we walked. It starts at the end of Koshov and meanders along the Lom river essentially passing through the entire river canyon.

There are huge cliffs on both sides of the path for most of it, we even spotted one cave that was accessible, so we jumped on the chance to see the canyon from above. Not sure if one would be able to pass through the dense vegetation once it sprouts leaves in the spring, though:

The inside of the cave was incredible, as it was actually connected to two other caves; there were also leavings of some sort of animal inside, and a few swallow nests.

I am no ornithologist, but I think the canyon is home to a myriad of interesting bird species. Buck raised a pheasant at one point, a magnificent looking bird, but it flew away too quickly for us to take a photo. We also saw several eagles circling the skies and many other smaller birds. Such a rich fauna!

After about an hour of walking, you will reach a small shelter with a fireplace. This is the site of the rock monastery Gramovets – Грамовец, which is not very well-preserved, but well accessible thanks to the wooden rails built-in the cliff.

The view from the top is great. There are also several artifacts ‘on display’ in the monastery, but honestly, I think the place is better off without them!

After Gramovets, the next interesting sight, quite close to the shelter, is the area Smesite – Смесите, the place where the two rivers Beli Lom and Cherni Lom merge to make Rusenski Lom – Русенски Лом. We didn’t get there unfortunately, as we were told that the path was unkempt after Gramovets and it would be very difficult to continue on it. Should you be so brave, however, you’d reach the Ivanovo rock-hewn churches after about an hour and a half.

After having enjoyed this wonderful walk along the river canyon, next on the list was some rock climbing. Since the routes were equipped only last year, I was unable to find any info on difficulty and so it was a bit of a jump in the deep water 🙂

The rock is sandstone, I think, so it was unstable at some places. It was a cold shower, as on my very first route, the second rock I grabbed, fell from the rock face, and I along with it 🙂 From then on, I carefully inspected every hold.

Nikolay told me that there were some longer routes equipped on the cliff right behind his house, but Tsetsi and I didn’t find them. I guess we’ll have to try them next time. In spite of the routes we climbed being very short, they were really difficult, so a sufficient challenge for most climbers. A huge coincidence was that a former climbing trainer of mine arrived at the site with his girlfriend, that was an unexpected meeting 🙂 They had been climbing at some other sites in the area.

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There is my trainer, at the bottom right corner

All in all, a wonderful destination, a great place where beautiful nature, rich fauna, delicious food, and climbing opportunities are combined. Highly recommended 🙂

 

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A short summer walk – Tran gorge ecopath

The gorge of the river Erma – река Ерма, also know as the Tran gorge – Трънско ждрело – Transko zhdrelo, is situated in the eastern part of the Rui mountain, not far from Sofia. Despite it being only 2.8km long, it is well-known in Bulgaria, as it is extremely picturesque and ever since an ecopath was built throughout it, it is also easily accessible and well-visited in the warmer months of the year.

I am suggesting a short trip, which I did within one day, but which could be easily extended to a weekend if you combine it with a visit to the town of Pernik.

Duration: one day, two days optional

Car accessibility: recommended

Distance: ca 160km round-trip from Sofia

Day one: Tran gorge

I suggest leaving from Sofia in the morning, because even though Tran is not far from Sofia, the road can be a bit tricky with its curves right before the gorge. The other reason is, that the ecopath is really beautiful and I believe you’re going to want to spend as much time there as possible.

We arrived at the town of Tran around noon and we naturally decided to grab a quick lunch at the Erma hotel right downtown. Tran is a tiny municipality, so I’m sure you won’t miss it. Should you decide to extend the trip, this could be a good place to stay.

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Tran center

The restaurant had very good food and was not too expensive. Tsetsi decided to grab a pleskavica – a very typical Serbian meat dish. As Tran is quite close to the Serbian border, the meat, they assured us, is imported from Serbia. It was very good and despite the fact that they took forever to prepare it, it was delicious and worth the wait.

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The interior didn’t look like much, but the food was good

Finally we finished our lunch and made for the Tran gorge. There is some more driving to do, but there were signs, so we didn’t get lost. The road passes next to the Erma hut, from which the stamp for the 100 National Touristic Places can be obtained. Shortly after the hut, you will arrive to a huge open field, where you can leave your car and head for the ecopath.

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The parking field

The path is beautiful, but a bit difficult at some places, where you need to hold on to the wooden rails. The views, however, are astounding.

There are a few wooden bridges over the river, which don’t look too stable, but fear not, they hold well 🙂

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One of the little bridges over the river

We also passed a small passage dug through the solid rock. That was an exciting venture, as I don’t think I’ve ever had the opportunity to walk through such a tunnel, I have only ever driven 🙂

The ecopath meanders along the river, sometimes crossing it. It can be rather steep at times and it finished at a small terrace overseeing the mountains and forests beneath us. That last bit was quite challenging, the climb was steep and there were a couple of places where I was on all fours 😀

A very good thing was, that we didn’t have to take the same way back. There is an opportunity to walk a small road which used to be asphalt once upon a time, all left of it now is dusty gravel. Anyway, it is not a long walk to the parking and you go through a small village on the way.

This is was a very nice way to spend a summer day. Keep in mind that this is not a suitable hike for wet or snowy days due to the ‘slopy’ nature of the path.

Day two: Pernik and the Krakra fortress

If you like, spend the night and use the next day to walk around the miners’ town of Pernik. Another thing to visit in the area is the Krakra fortress. I myself still haven’t been there, so I am refraining from a longer description here. From what I have heard, it is a great place to visit 🙂

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Hiking up the Balkan’s highest – Botev peak

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

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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.

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Welcome to bear country!

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.

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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”.

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A beautiful sculpture of Hristo Botev in Kalofer – his birth place

We had a lot of fun and I highly recommend this trip to anyone who likes the mountain.

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One-day itinerary: the famous Rila monastery and the Stob pyramids

This trip is even shorter than the other ones I have suggested so far, however, it will take you to one of Bulgaria’s emblematic locations – the Rila monastery, and to another one, which, albeit somewhat lesser known, every bit as interesting – the Stob pyramids.

Both locations are close to Sofia, so visiting them is possible within one day, but I would recommend spending te night in the village of Stob, so that you have enough time to enjoy these magical places.

Duration: ca 300km round trip

Accessibility: car recommended, but not absolutely necessary

Leaving from Sofia: if you’re going to go for the one day option, leave no later than 9am

The first sight you are going to enjoy is the Stob pyramids, Стобски пирамиди,- a natural sandstone formation of impressive size. With their specific orange-ish colour and intriguing forms, they are a must-see attraction in the Western part of Bulgaria.

To get there you will mostly drive on one of the country’s newer highways, so the ride shouldn’t be too bumpy. Once you get to the plain village of Stob, look for the brown signs pointing to the way to the pyramids. There is a large parking space right before the beginning of the path leading to the pyramids. The walk will take you about half an hour, at the end of the path stand the pyramids, an orange-brown sea of strange shapes around you.

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Do you see the ‘hats’ on three of the pyramids – at the lower right side of the picture

Some of the have a ‘hat’ of some sort, left me wondering how it got there and what forces keep it from falling off during the first heavy rain 🙂

The path at the top of the pyramid ‘plateau’ is well equipped with railings and provides a wonderful opportunity to take pictures of the rock formations from different angles. At the broader sections there is even a place to sit down and enjoy the shapes and sizes and maybe even exercise your imagination and try to guess what silhouettes the stones remind you of.

The next stop on your agenda is the noteworthy Rila monastery in the… you guessed it, Rila mountain 🙂 It is the largest Orthodox monastery in Bulgaria, and I believe, the most popular and beloved one, as both Bulgarians and tourists fill its yard all year long. It is one of the country’s most important religious and cultural monuments and is a key asset in the tourist branch.

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The monastery is very well-preserved, bearing in mind that it was built more than 11 centuries ago. It houses some famous religious artifacts striking both with their shiny gold exterior covered with precious stones, as well as with the craftsmanship required to create such exquisite objects.

The monastery is not only for believers, it is a cultural monument and in my opinion has a very strong Bulgarian atmosphere – a carrier of national pride and sentiment.

When we went last time to see it, we had both visited it before, so what left the strongest impression was not the building itself or the well-kept yard, but the super fat and lazy monastery tomcat that was lying on the ground despite the biting Novermber cold. The tale of the fat tomcat is something of a byword for monastery yards, so we loved seeing that fellow there. I’m just going to leave a few pics below 🙂

So this is one short trip I can suggest in Sofia’s proximity. I’m sure that it will leave you satisfied, albeit a bit brief. If you like to prolong it over a weekend, I suggest spending the night in the village of Stob – Стоб, there’s several guest-houses that will be glad to host you and a very nice church worth the visit.

Should anyone have an idea of how to fill the trip with another sight or location, you are welcome to share in the comments.

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A weekend visit to some of the world chakras

 

According to some sources the 7 Rila lakes are among the most powerful places on Earth, containing vortexes of energy and cosmic influences, in short – they are among the world chakras. While I’m not that much of a believer in this kind of teachings, I am a fan of beautiful nature and decided to pay tribute to these amazing highland water bodies.

Duration: two days
Accessibility: car and public transport

Distance from starting point Sofia: round trip ca 170km

Day one: arriving at Sapareva banya

Sapareva banya  – Сапарева баня, is a small town in Southwestern Bulgaria, famous for the hottest geyser in Europe springing at an unbelievable 103 degrees Celsius! The geyser springs periodically and during windy days it is highly advisable to steer clear of the water sprinkles, as they might burn your skin.

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Doesn’t look like much, but it is very very hot

I suggest Sapareva banya as a starting point of your hike to the lakes, as it offers many opportunities for an overnight stay and an added bonus is the spa landscape you can enjoy after having experienced some of that cosmic energy around the lakes. So what we did was arrive on Friday evening, spend the night and head to the 7 Rila lakes first thing in the morning.

Day two: Hiking the trail of the 7 Rila lakes

The 7 Rila lakes are of glacial origin and are situated in the Northwestern part of the Bulgarian Rila mountain. They attract thousands of visitors every year and their fame is largely due to the teachings of Petar Deunov, who said they were energy centers and performed rituals with his sect there every year. The tradition continues and in the summer the Deunov disciples can be seen performing their mystical Panevritmia dance drawing energy from the sun.

The lakes have become a very popular destination also due to a lift recently built, which saves you quite a hike up to the hut, which is the actual starting point of the trail. Prior to that it was a serious challenge to do the hike.

So, prepare to battle swarms of people walking the trail. The worst problem is that all these humans pollute the subtle eco balance and some of the lakes have started slowly turning into swamps. This affects especially the ones that are a common camping zone (mostly for the Deunov disciples).

Anyhow, the trail is long and not easy, but totally worth it. The lakes are astonishing and the views – breathtaking.

I would say the hike will take all day, especially if you like to stop and enjoy each and every lake individually. Don’t rush through the trail, let yourself some time to sit and savor the moment, maybe bask in the mysterious energy of the place ruined only by the hordes of tourists around you. Try to ignore them! 🙂

After you are done with the trail, head back down to Sapareva banya for some well-deserved rest and a good meal at one of the local restaurants. Tomorrow is a day for relaxation!

Day three: Spa at Sapareva banya

As Sapareva banya is full of mineral water springs, it has naturally grown to be one of Bulgaria’s most popular spa destinations. In the summer, I suggest visiting one of the swimming pools downtown. Prepare for many people if it’s the weekend, though.

If you like, you can, of course, also add the spa experience to the swimming pool soaking. The spa I visited there is actually part of the swimming pool complex you see on the pictures below, so you can combine the two. The spa was quite nice and since I visited it during the winter, I had the added pleasure of enjoying the hot outside swimming pool with snow lying around.

So there you have it – two full days of mountain energy and mineral water relaxation, this is a trip I highly recommend. If you decide, you can also incorporate a visit to the largest Bulgarian monastery – St. Ivan Rilski which has become one of the country’s trademarks.

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The monastery is not too far from Sapareva banya and is absolutely worth a visit.

Enjoy!

 

 

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A two-day itinerary: Krushuna waterfalls, Devetaki cave, Lovech

Duration: 2 days

Approximate distance (Sofia is starting point): 460km round-trip

Accessibility: car recommended

Day one: Krushuna waterfalls and the cave of Devetaki

The Krushuna waterfalls – Крушунски водопади, have become quite the celebrity among Bulgarian sights in recent years. They truly are a fantastic place to visit, have a sort of a jungle-y feeling surrounding them and are very easily accessible. The hike around them is not long or difficult, albeit not wheel-chair accessible as far as I know.

To reach the waterfalls, you’ll have to enter Krushuna into your GPS systems. Once you get to the unspectacular village, just follow the line of tourists.

The walk around the waterfalls lasts about an hour at a slow pace. Imagine a small hill, along the sides of which the carst waterfalls have formed. The place has a magical atmosphere surrounding it, its emerald waters creating a white noise putting you at peace.. That is, of course, provided there’s not the usual hordes of tourists walking around or the occasional crowd of local gypsy children bathing (!!!) in the waterfalls. All part of the charm of the place, I guess 🙂

After having seen the waterfalls and their amazing micro ecosystem, I suggest heading to the Devetaki cave – Деветашка пещера, which is not far. Now, I was last there in 2013 and the place was difficult to find due to poor road signing. I hope this has now changed. If it hasn’t , trust your GPS with the task 🙂

The Devetaki cave is one of the largest in Bulgaria and is shrouded in mystery due to its secretive past. During communist times it used to be a classified military object, according to my Dad they stocked all kinds of warheads in there. In the 90-es oil and/or gas used to be stored there, the faint scent of petrol can still be sensed.

But the cave was put to use a long long time prior to the Communist regime in Bulgaria, this source claims it was firstly inhabited 70 000 years BC!

The cave was some years ago one of the sets for filming Hollywood ‘blockbuster’ starring Stallone, Schwarzenegger and so on “The Expandables 2”. The loud and bright movie set woke up the hibernating protected bat population and many of the bats perished due to lack of food in the cold winter months. Not sure the movie was worth that..

After having seen the cave, I suggest heading back to the town of Lovech, where you can get some well deserved rest and a nice meal.

Day two: Lovech

Lovech is a town in North-central Bulgaria, famous for a bridge built by one of Bulgaria’s top-notch architectural talent – Kolyu Ficheto during the National Revival times in the beginning of the 19th century. The town is not quite what it used to be during its glorious days in the communist era, but it still is nice to take a walk around its streets and enjoy the atmosphere.

The Osam river dividing the town creates an unforgettable flair. Also, make sure to walk around the Varosha architectural and historical reserve – an ethnographical reserve with old houses, an amazing place.

You can easily spend a whole day in Lovech, but if you like to incorporate another town and maybe even a night in your short trip, I suggest adding this trip to you itinerary, which includes seeing the superb town of Pleven and another stunning cave – Prohodna, which is a matching competition for the Devetaki cave.

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God’s eyes in the Prohodna cave
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The cave Prohodna: a natural wonder and a climber’s heaven

The cave Prohodna – Проходна, is situated in the northern part of central Bulgaria, in the gorge of the river Iskar – Искър. It’s my favourite climbing spot in Bulgaria and it’s an amazing landmark absolutely worth the visit. Due to the specific holes in the ceiling resembling huge eyes, it’s also known as God’s eyes – Божиите очи (Bozhiite ochi).

If you like, you can pack your gear and spend only one day climbing in the cave, it’s not too far from Sofia, but you can also make a weekend out of it, either camping in the cave itself, or spending a night at the National Caving Home – Национален пещерен дом nearby. It’s quite cool, as it is built right inside the rock and above the gorgeous Iskar canyon, with a railway going next to the river:

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The view from the terrace at the National Caving Home

Another option is to spend the night at one of two nearby towns – Lukovit or Pleven

The routes in the cave vary greatly, read all about it here. What’s very convenient about climbing in the cave, is that you’re independant of the weather – during the heat of summer it’s really nice and cool inside and hiding from the rain also works. 🙂

There’s usually a lot of climbers there and also many tourists, who just pass by and marvel at the formation, it truly is formidable. It’s full of bats and birds during the summer, making it very lively. The amount of people could be overwhelming had the cave not been of such gargantuan size.

This is the place that I did my very first outside climbing, so I am also emotionally connected to it, but I think the overall objective opinion is that it rocks! (Hehe, get it, it rocks..) 🙂

All in all, I can absolutely recommend Prohodna – even if you’re not a climber, go check it out, you will not be disappointed. A weekend well-spent would be going to Pleven on Friday after work, spend Saturday sightseeing and travelling to Prohodna on early Sunday morning for a day of climbing 🙂

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Devin – Devil’s throat cave – Yagodina cave – Eagle’s eye – Shiroka Laka (Wonderful bridges – Bachkovo monastery – Asen’s fortress – Plovdiv)- Sofia

Duration: three days

Distance: 610 km

Car accessibility: recommended

Leaving from Sofia: no later than 8am 🙂

Day 1: Sofia – Devin – Ecopath Struilitsa (overnight stay)

1.Stop: Devin. Distance from Sofia ca 220 km.

Leaving relatively early from Sofia, you should be able to reach Devin at about lunch time. The road is full of places you will want to stop and photograph, as after it leaves the highway, it passes several very beautiful dams, the views are fantastic. In Devin you will probably be in time for lunch, the local food is delicious. I very much recommend salads in the summer, as everything is home-grown, as well as freshly caught trout from the local Devinska river and Rhodope patatnik.

Spend the night in Devin and take a walk around the eco-path Struilitsa – Струилица and you’ll get to see an awesome waterfall and enjoy the idyllic sceneries of the path. We only got to the waterfall, but according to the article in the link above there is much more to see.

Day 2: Devil’s throat cave – Yagodina cave – Orlovo oko – Shiroka Laka.Leave very early! You have a lot of narrow roads ahead of you and many exciting things to see.

1.Stop: Devil’s throat – Дяволското гърло (Dyavolskoto garlo). Distance from Devin 25 km

The way to the cave through the Trigrad canyon and the cave itself are absolutely astonishing. The walk inside the cave is not long, but you will be thrilled to climb out of the grotto up the steep stairs, holding to the rails for dear life! No, kidding, it’s safe enough, but breath-taking nevertheless. The tour begins every hour. An absolute must see. The nature surrounding the Devil’s throat is also out of a fairy tale, with gargantuan cliffs hanging above your head.

Behind one of these cliffs is the Haramiyska cave – Харамийска пещера – Haramiyska peshtera, which you can book a trip into, it’s right across the street from the Devil’s throat. Just ask at the ticket selling kiosk at the Devil’s throat entrance. We did it, it was very cool, but requires at least half a day to do it – there’s some traversing on the rock face, a scary rappel in complete darkness and crawling. Fun!

2.Stop – Yagodina cave. Distance from Devil’s throat ca 17 km

After having seen the awesome Trigrad gorge, head to the Buinovsko gorge, which is equally beautiful and you can see the famous Yagodina cave. It really is much different from the Devil’s throat, as it is full of natural formations, is much bigger, and, should you feel so inclined, you can even get married in there! You’ll hear all during the tour, which begins every hour except between 12 and 1pm when they are having lunch break. The walk in Yagodina cave is long, as the path is 1.2 km, but it’s worth it.

After it, head for the Eagle’s eye – Орлово око – Orlovo oko, a panoramic platform, which will stun you with its views. There are two options to get to it – either drive your car to the nearby village (just enter Orlovo oko in your GPS) and from there it’s about 50 minutes walk to the platform. Be warned – there is almost no shade and probably snakes. We walked the way, was fine, but we were parched by the time we got back to our car. The other option is to get together with other people and rent one of the jeeps waiting outside the Yagodina cave, which will take you up and down for about 30 euros. From up there you see the entire Rhodopes, an ocean of mountain and forest.

3.Stop – Shiroka laka – Широка лъка. Distance from Yagodina cave ca 32 km. Overnight stay

I imagine you will want some well-deserved rest after all these amazing places. Head to Shiroka laka, where you can get some of those mouth-watering Rhodope dishes – patatnik, klin and all sorts of delicious meats. The village is one of the ethnographic reservations of Bulgaria, meaning that all houses there are built and kept in the manner of the Bulgarian Renaissance building, which is quite picturesque and has a pastoral atmosphere to it.

Day 3 (option one): Another tip I could recommend is, after spending the night in Shiroka laka, head to Gela village, which is only 8 km up the road leading into the mountain and it’s said to be the birth place of the legendary musician and singer Orpheus, which kind of makes sense, as he is said to have gone in the underworld to look for his dead wife right in the… you guessed it, Devil’s throat cave! The population of the village is 98 people, so it’s reeeeally secluded and will give you a genuine feeling of what the Rhodope life is like. You can get something to eat, as there are several guest houses there. There’s also an ancient Thracian fortress – Gradishte, which is kind of accessible by car (we broke ours trying to get there) and an ancient Roman temple. Here a picture of the guest house we slept in:

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After a walk around in Shiroka laka and a visit to Gela, you can head back to Sofia via the Smolyan road, so as to avoid going back the same way. You should be in Sofia in about three hours.

Day 3 (option 2): However, if you like, you can leave very early from Shiroka laka and do this trip visiting the Bachkovo monastery, Asen’s fortress and Plovdiv, which I posted earlier, adding the The Wonderful Bridges in the Rhodopes as they are on your way anyway, even before the Bachkovo monastery.

This is a long trip with many sights incorporated in it. I recommend leaving early in all days so that you are able to see everything you would like to. I love this trip, I’ve done it three times already and I suspect I will do it again. The Rhodopes are magical. And as I am afraid I can’t really tell you all about the place, here a useful link.