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:


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! 🙂


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.

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 🙂