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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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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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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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A weekend in Southern Bulgaria – Chirpan and the oldest monastery in Europe

 

Duration: one weekend

Distance: 410km

Accessibility: car recommended

This is a trip that will take you to the Southern part of Bulgaria, it can be done within a short weekend, but if you like to spend some more time on the road, you can easily combine it with a short detour to Plovdiv and/or the ancient Thracian city of Perperikon.

Day one: Chirpan. Distance from Sofia ca. 190km

Chirpan is a small town in the southern part of Bulgaria famous for the knives produced there (according to a saying, there is no Chirpan man walking around without a knife) and as the birth place of Bulgaria’s most brilliant poet Peyo Yavorov. A must see in Chirpan is his family’s house where he was born, a very neat small museum with a guide who will blow your mind with his interesting lecture on Yavorov’s life.

We were mesmerized by his stories and did not get bored even for a second by the talk, even though it lasted almost an hour. You could tell that the guide is a passionate Yavorov fan.

Right behind the museum there is another sight to visit – the town art gallery Nikola Manev. The gallery has an interesting story – it was bought in 2010 by another famous Chirpan citizen – the artist Nikola Manev who is a successful painter in Paris, France. He purchased the house which was built more than 150 years ago, restored it, displayed some  of his own artworks in it and donated it to the town of Chirpan – a patriotic act of a kind that happens all too rarely nowadays in Bulgaria.

There is also an impressive crystal collection in the gallery, donated by a friend of Manev’s – Iliya Delev, who made his fortune from crystal mines in Brazil.

After we walked around the yard of both Yavorov’s house and the art gallery full of wonderful flowers and friendly cats, we went on to explore a bit more of the town. We ended up in the yard of a pretty old church. Opening the door rang a bell prompting the pastor to come out, sell us some candles and let us in the church.

The downtown is not very impressive, but still neat. There is a couple of nice restaurants which offer a good and cheap meal. Later we heard from some locals, though, that we missed the opportunity to take a stroll around the town park which is supposed to be really nice.

Day two: St. Atanasiy monastery. Distance from Chirpan ca. 12km

Many legends surround the St. Atanasiy monastery which is situated in the village of Zlatna livada in Chirpan’s proximity. It truly is a magical place being the oldest monastery in Europe – founded in 344 AD. Apparently St. Atanasiy felt the special energy of the place when passing through it, and spent some time living in the rocks surrounding the place in a state of Christian meditation.

The water springing from a well in the monastery yard is said to have healing powers, many believers from all over Bulgaria come here to cure all kinds of ailments. Another legend about monastery has to do with the communist regime. They turned the holy house into a cowshed, but then St. Atanasiy appeared in a dream of the local party head and told him to restore the monastery. He must have been pretty convincing because the cows were removed the very next day 🙂

Right behind the monastery runs an ancient Roman road.. well, you’d have to believe it’s that, because it looks like a pretty regular path to me 🙂 see pic above. Also, you could go and visit the little cave where the saint used to live. There is a saying that if you can get through the whole in the cave, you have no sins.

After the visit there I suggest driving back to Sofia, because the villages around the monastery don’t offer any restaurants unfortunately. You could stop by Chirpan or detour to Plovdiv on the way to Sofia for lunch.

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A short hike in Rila: Govedartsi and Mechit

Duration: three days

Car accessibility: recommended

Leaving from Sofia: as you please 🙂

This trip is a bit unconventional, as Govedartsi is situated at a strategic point in Rila and could be the start of a hike to more popular spots such as Musala or Malyovitsa peak or Borovets for some skiing. However, I think you’ll find that Mechit is every bit as challenging and rewarding a trekking destination as any other Rila summit.

Day 1: arriving in Govedartsi

This is a trip which you can do in any three days, so leaving from Sofia after work on Friday is also an option.

Govedartsi is a small village located in Southwestern Bulgaria, it is a ski resort and is a mere 80 km away from Sofia. It is accessible by car both i summer and in winter, which makes it the perfect spot to start your hiking trip. I have hiked from it to both the famous 7 Rila lakes and to the peak Mechit and as far as I know there’s many other trekking paths which start from here.

In the summer of 2007 we stayed in a guest house called Green mountain chalet, which was then owned by a Dutch couple who had decided to move to Bulgaria. The house was really cool, as its interior was different from the typical Bulgarian Renaissance furniture that guest house owners usually choose.

I can definitely recommend staying there, but if not, Govedartsi has plenty of other guest houses and hotels you’ll find accommodating. There’s a couple of nice restaurants that will offer good food.

Day 2: hiking to Mechit chalet

On the next day I suggest to sleep in, as you only have the hike to the Mechit hut, which will probably not take longer than 2 hours. So, get a good night sleep, get some hearty breakfast and  head for the hut. You can either walk on the paved road to the beginning of the forest, where the path actually starts, or you can drive your car there. Be careful in winter conditions, might be a bit difficult.

The hike is not long or exhausting, you are walking mostly in a forest, which is very good, as we did the hike in February, and the trees offered some protection from the cold.

If all goes well, you will be in the hut in about two hours, just follow the path and should a black dog catch up with you somewhere on the road, do not be afraid, he just loves to hike with tourists. He followed us almost all the way to the summit on the next day 🙂

The Mechit hut is, hats off, one of the cleanest and most well-kept huts I have seen in the Bulgarian mountains. The food was expensive, but good and you’ll able to get a decent night’s sleep before the summit on the next day.

Day 3: to Small and Big Mechit. Drive back to Sofia

The hike to the peak itself is not too difficult. It does offer some breath-taking views. You will exit the forest pretty quickly and will be able to enjoy said views as quickly as half an hour after leaving the hut.

Тhere are actually two peaks you will climb onto – Small and Big Mechit. They are pretty close to each other, as the hike to Small Mechit takes about 2 and a half hours and 3 hours to Big Mechit.

The hike wasn’t long or exhausting, but it was a bit scary at one point as we were walking right underneath a small summit, which seemed like the perfect place to form an avalanche. The sun was strong and was kind of melting the snow aaand we saw a small monument commemorating the death of hikers under an avalance, so we hurried to get away from that part of the trek as quickly as possible 🙂

After reaching the peak at about noon, we had a quick sip of tea and some nuts and headed down to the hut. From there we walked straight to Govedartsi, got on the cars and drove off to Sofia, so this is also doable in one day, should you be so inclined.

 

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A Balkan weekend – Troyan and surroundings

Duration: 2 days

Car accessibility: recommended, but also doable by public transport

Leaving from Sofia: as early as possible

Day 1: Sofia – Troyan (overnight stay)

Troyan is a small town in Central Bulgaria surrounded by the beautiful Troyan Balkan. It is famous for its delicious plum rakija – Troyanska slivova – троянска сливова and the monastery situated nearby – Троянски манастир. The trip from Sofia shouldn’t take long as most of the way is on the highway. The remains of an ancient Roman fortress called Sostra lie on the way, about 10-20km before entering the town. If you like, take a quick stop, it’s free from entrance and interesting to behold.

There’s many guest houses to stay the night in, both in Troyan, and the nearby villages. As the area also has some hot mineral water sources, the pool and spa tourism is developed to a good extent 🙂 Which is why I would suggest booking a night in one of the swimming pool resorts around. One of them is in the village Chiflika – Чифлика, lying about 16km away from Troyan.

The swimming pool is very big and full of mineral water, the food is not bad and if it’s a hot summer day, I suggest spending it there.

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The pool and the hotel are tucked in among the mountains and since the water in the pool is naturally hot, you can also visit the place in winter, basking in the steaming water enjoying the snowy views around you.

If you prefer to go for a walk around Troyan, that’s also a good way to spend the day. The river Beli Osam – Бели Осъм,  runs through the town making it a very picturesque place. There’s many old houses, a couple of nice museums and good food to enjoy. The nature around is also stunning, giving great opportunities for hiking or driving to Belkemeto – Беклемето, for example. Beklemeto is one of the road passes cutting through the Balkan mountain and connecting Southern and Northern Bulgaria. At the top of the road there is a monument dedicated to the liberation struggle of the Bulgarians on the peak of Goraltepe, its tremendous size and interesting location make it a place worth the visit.

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We used to go there with my grandparents in the summer to pick blueberries. If you’re in the area in August, do look for the berries, super delicious and healthy, yum!

Day 2: Oreshaka, Cherni Osam

After a good breakfast, I suggest going to visit the third largest monastery in Bulgaria (after the Rila monastery and the Bachkovo monastery). It’s in the village of Oreshaka – Орешака, 8km away from Troyan. The monastery houses a famous icon – the three-handed Mother of Christ, which is said to have magical powers. People from all over the country visit the Troyan monastery to see and kiss it. If you’re not that much of a believer, I think you’re still going to like the monastery with its well-kept inner yard and nice garden.

After a visit to the monastery, you could drive to the next village – Cherni Osam – Черни Осъм, called after the river running next to it. The national school for mountain guides is there, it’s interesting to see the school yard, with a climbing wall incorporated into one of the school buildings. Makes you wonder about the cool curriculum of the students there 🙂

A small museum of the area wild-life is also situated in Cherni Osam, and while it might not be the best or most modern facility you’ll ever witness, it’s still worth the visit, displaying some of the largest exemplars hunted down in the area. Beware, this is bear country, although not as densely populated as the Rhodopes f.ex.

A couple of nice restaurants will offer you a good meal, both in Oreshaka and Cherni Osam. After that you can head back to Sofia. There’s a couple of more sights to visit in the proximity, such as the Devetaki cave – Деветашка пещера, the Krushuna waterfalls – Крушунски водопади and the town of Lovech – Ловеч, on which I have written a separate post. Combining the both itineraries will result in a very nice 4 or 5 day trip.

You can also combine with this nice hike right here 🙂

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History, architecture, climbing and sweet memories – Pleven

 

 

So, as mentioned here, you can combine a climbing trip to the cave God’s eyes with a day in the town of Pleven. It’s close to Prohodna – ca 60 km, and there’s much to see.

Pleven is where my mom is from, so I spent many of my summers as a kid over there at my grandparents’, so the emotional connection with it is strong for me 🙂 Pleven is quite beautiful with its downtown fountains and a well-kept main pedestrian street.

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There’s many places to get something to eat, or just a coffee or a drink. The town has a great atmosphere and kind of a cosy feeling to it.

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That’s the Mausoleum in the background, it is a shrine keeping bones of the soldiers who passed away during the siege of Pleven during the Russo-Turkish war

It’s full of memorabilia from the Russo-Turkish war, as one of the main battles for victory was fought for the liberation of Pleven. An epic story, totally worth a Hollywood blockbuster, unfortunately no one cares about Bulgarian history in the blockbustering circles..

The town’s largest museum is the Panorama, containing both memorabilia and a 360º reenactment of what the siege looked like.

 

To get to the Panorama, you will have to climb the stairs of the monument Mother Bulgaria – Майка България, who is breaking her chains (being liberated from Ottoman yoke). It’s a very epic place.

panorama3Pleven is also quite famous for the enormous park lying right outside its skirts – Kaylaka – Кайлъка. The park is twice as big as the town, rumour says, but even if not, it’s quite astonishing. Very beautiful, with both a ‘civilized’ part to it, as well as a wild one. Aaand, surprise, surprise, there’s also a great opportunity for climbing at the park rocks.

Admittedly, I have been to Kaylaka for climbing only once, but I can absolutely assure you that this is the best rock quality I have experienced so far. Very abrasive and easy to hold on to 🙂 Be careful, though, as Pleven is one of the hottest places in BG during summer, you should watch out for snakes.

Oh, and the climbing community of Pleven consists of the warmest (and some of the most hard-core) climbers I have ever met. A huge thanks to all of them for being so accommodating to us intruders 🙂

Pleven is a very historical and ancient place. Another thing you can visit is the Storgoziya fortress – крепост Сторгозия, which is inside the Kaylaka park and is cool to see as well.

A great idea for a two-day itinerary is to go to Pleven on Friday evening, spend the night, get to know the town on Saturday (alternatively climb, if that’s what you’re after) and drive to the cave Prohodna the next day for some more climbing or for a walk in it and have lunch at the National Caving Home admiring the view. From there, Sofia is not far, if that’s where you’ll be headed.

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Two-day itinerary: Garmen – Kovachevitsa – Leshten – Ognyanovo

Duration: Two days

Distance: ca. 670 km round trip

Leaving from Sofia: Try to leave as early as possible, the way is long

Day 1: First Stop: Garmen

Garmen – Гърмен, is a village in southwestern Bulgaria with a population of about 2000 people, many of whom – Roma. Not that there’s anything unusual about that, that’s the case for many smaller Bulgarian municipalities nowadays. Not much to see in it, but it is a pretty good starting point for the journey I am proposing here. It takes about 2hrs and 40 minutes to get there. One thing worth mentioning is the place we stayed, Garmen hills. It’s a nice yard with two little houses built and furnitured in a French Provence style (at least I imagine that’s what it is) and it’s quite exotic for Bulgaria. The owner is a French guy, who left a high-end business carriere in France to come live in Garmen because he was infatuated by the amazing nature and the friendly Bulgarian people.

You can get breakfast, which gets delivered by locals, everything is home -made and extremely delicious. There is also a small pool in the yard, so it’s worth going in the summer.

Second stop: Leshten. Distance from Garmen – ca 7 km

Depending on when you arrive, you’re probably going to want to get some lunch and then head out to the local sights. First thing on your list could be the village of Leshten which is very close to Garmen.

Leshten – Лещен, is a very small village with a population of only 11 people. It has kind of become a tourist place and is usually inhabited by travellers 🙂 It is very beautiful, completely built in the style of the Bulgarian architecture, I am sure you will love it. There’s a small church  which you could visit and just taking a walk around the paved streets would be interesting. There is also a small gallery of a local artist right after the pub, I’m certain he would welcome you to his house to see it, maybe even get a souvenir from the place.

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It probably looks much nicer in the summer, when the trees are green. Still – was very cool to see

There is also supposed to be an eco-path starting from the village, promising to lead you to waterfalls and other natural wonders, but we couldn’t find where it starts, so we just took a path starting somewhere from the road and went on a short walk by the river, it was quite picturesque.

In Leshten you can get some food at the local (probably the only one) pub, called “Pub”, situated right on the road and above the river. In the summer there are tables on the terrace. It’s not as cheap as you would expect, but trust me – everything is worth it! We had some home-made sausages and lyutenitsa.

Third stop: Kovachevitsa. Distance from Leshten – ca 8 km

Kovachevitsa is probably going to be the highlight of your trip. However, on the way from Leshten, you’re going to drive through an incredibly ugly village called Gorno Dryanovo, mostly inhabited by Muslims. Don’t let that scare you off! Keep going, eventually you’ll reach Kovachevitsa 🙂 The village is somewhat bigger than Leshten and inexplicably holds more of the cherished Bulgarian renaissance atmosphere. It simply is very very beautiful:

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Photo credit: bulgariatravel.org
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Typical Bulgarian carpets, usually hand-made, carriers of that Renaissance atmosphere I was talking about

Walking around Kovachevitsa is a very nice experience, you might meet some old people, be sure to nod hello and smile at them, they will appreciate it a lot. There’s also a couple of places to get something to eat, the food is delicious and home-made everywhere.

Day two: Ognyanovo – Огняново. Distance from Garmen 3km

Ognyanovo is where you can spend the second day of your trip. It’s famous for it’s mineral spring waters. On the recommendation of the French owner of Garmen hills, we visited a place called Therma Vitae. On the outside it looks kind of communist, and I suspect it was built during those years, but don’t be fooled – the place is top-notch. We only visited the swimming pool – 50 meters long, a humongous thing full of mineral water, and the huge hot-tub outside, the water was probably 40 degrees in there, I just loved it. They also have a spa and healthcare zone and provide all kinds of services connected to well-being and beauty, you should call and inquire.

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Ognyanovo

So, once you’re done soaking yourself in the fantastic water (said to have all kinds of healing abilities), head back to Sofia on the same way. This trip is not too full of places to see, it’s more of a suggestion for a weekend of relaxing mixed with some wonderful home-made meals and a stay at a good accommodation, all seasoned by some of that unique Bulgarian renaissance atmosphere.

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Vratsa – THE climbing spot in Bulgaria

Climbing in Bulgaria is rather popular, and the country has some amazing places to offer, I think you’d be surprised.

However, here, I will only talk about the most popular climbing destination – the rocks in the Vratsata – Вратцата – mountain pass. I will not go into technical details as to how difficult the routes are, how equipped they are and so on. All the necessary information for climbers can be found for example here as well as in the Climbing Guide to Vratsa, which can be purchased online.

The place is not far from Sofia, you can easily just go and climb for one day or weekend – there are a couple of good places to camp next to a small creek.

There is as many as 500 routes on the limestone of Vratsa, about half of them are equipped and ready for a sports climb. There’s  many trad and ice climb opportunities as well and when the weather is good, you will almost always see climbers messing around.

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The mood is always good 🙂

The most interesting and challenging area is the Central wall, with its almost 450 meters and vertical climbs, it will make any climbing enthusiast sweat.

You can make a nice weekend out of climbing, while your beer cools down in the creek running between the rocks, spend the night camping and after a short climb the next day, head for a deserved good meal at Vratsa, the nearby town, called after the mountain pass (meaning Gate, Door).

Vratsa’s downtown is dominated by the monument of Hristo Botev, a Bulgarian revolutionary, but please don’t mistake him for the communist kind of revolutionary. He actually fought for liberating Bulgaria from Turkish yoke and found his death doing it. He was a remarkable man and a brilliant poet. His death place is very close to Vratsa, called Okolchitsa, where a huge cross marks the place and a musical festival is held.

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Even if you are not very interested in climbing, I definitely recommend the area of Vratsa and Vratsata gorge. Very close to it is the famous Ledenika cave, on which I already wrote a post.

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The views are amazing

On the way to Sofia, close to Mezdra and not far from the main road, is the archeological complex Kaleto – Калето. If you are a history enthusiast, you could stop and check it out and then head back to Sofia.

All in all, you can make a weekend, even a week of staying in Vratsa and the surroundings. It’s a really nice place which also offers hiking opportunities in the moutain surrounding the town – the Vratsa Balkan. A really nice article on Vratsa’s sights and places to visit, should the above not be enough, here.

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Two-day itinerary: trekking in the tallest mountain on the Balkans, Rila

 

Duration: two days optional. You can also choose to hike only to one of the peaks and make it a one-day trip

Car accessibility: good, but public transport is also an option, especially to Musala

This is an amazing weekend I spent hiking with my boyfriend in one of Bulgaria’s most beautiful mountains, Rila. We used the first day to make one of the more difficult climbs of Bulgarian peaks, Malyovitsa – Мальовица -2729m, and the second day to climb the tallest peak on the Balkan peninsula – Musala – Мусала – 2925m. We spent the night at our place in Sofia, since the paths we took to both peaks were not far at all.

Day One – the ascent took us about 3 hours at a good pace. We left for Malyovitsa relatively late – ca. 10am, but we were in no rush at all. We made it back by 9pm. We drove to a hut in the mountain called CMS – Central Mountain School – ЦПШ, from there the ascent started.

The walk to hut Malyovitsa is not long and goes through a nice forest. At the hut we took a break and had some tea. As it stands at 1960m above sea level, we still had a serious ascent in front of us. It was difficult, but worth it.

We saw an amazing lake on the way over, as well as fantastic views and the Alpinist’ monument.

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Elena’s lake

I was super tired at the lake from the constant climb up, there was nowhere to catch your breath, literally! Thank God, the peak is not long after the lake and the views are worth the effort.

Coming down was an easier task. We stopped for some beans and fries at the hut on the way back, very delicious!

Day 2 – climbing peak Musala, the climb took us 2 hours and 20 minutes from the top of the lift at a very good pace. As we were in a hurry to be in Sofia before 6pm, we left early at 8.30am. The drive to Borovets, from where we started, took about 1 hour.

There is a lift you can take, called Yastrebets, and I am glad there is one, because it saves you a staggering 1054m ascent which is an about 4-hour hike at a steady pace. With it, it takes about 30 minutes to get to a starting point, which leads you to an about 3-hour hike to the peak.

 

However, be warned – Musala, especially since the lift has been built, is a very popular tourist destination among Bulgarians and foreigners. If you are looking for seclusion and trying to escape from the city fuss, this is not the place to go.

There’s several lakes on the way to the peak, and the climb is nowhere near as difficult as the one to Malyovitsa.

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No wonder so many people attempt it, I read somewhere that 45-50000 visit the peak yearly.

The weather changed a lot. There’s often mist at the top of the mountain, but it quickly comes and goes to unveil breath-taking views.

The descent was then super quick, we made it down to the lift in 1 hour and 40 minutes. We were hurrying to escape the crowds.

All in all, an awesome weekend! I really recommend visiting both these amazing peaks, but if you find it too much for a weekend, then do it on two separate occasions. If you decide to do both, though, you can decide whether to spend the night in Borovets – probably the more expensive option, or in the town of Samokov, which is close to both starting points. You can certainly also do what we did – sleep in Sofia and just drive early morning to the starting points.