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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.