Category Archives: Bulgaria – Where to go? What to see? What to do?

Where to go? What to see? What to do?

Museum of Socialist Art opened in Sofia

For all those who have not lived the socialism a new and interesting museum was opened in Sofia on 19 September 2011. The Museum of Socialist Art shows a collection of Bulgarian art of the communist era (1944-1989). Between the exhibits there is the emblematic red-star which was taken from the top of the Communist Party House as well as a 45-tone statue of Lenin, the first Russian communist leader. There is painting exhibition, sculpture park and video hall showing documentaries from the communist era.

The museum located at 7 Luchezar Stanchev Street charges BGN 6 or about EUR 3 admission (BGN 3 for students and pensioners). There is also a shop where one can buy a t-shirt or small souvenir.

Short Excursions off The Beaten Track around Bulgaria – Mountain Adventures 4

Rodopi (or Rhodopi) Mountains are located in the most southern part of the country. With the highest peak – Golyam Perelik (2191 m) they occupy the 7-th place among the Bulgarian mountains.

The best known in the Rodopi is the Pamporovo resort which is suitable for both skiing holidays in the winter and hiking holidays between late spring and autumn. It is an excellent example of a micro climate that permits a fat snow cover to be preserved for a long time and yet to experience many sunny days during the snowy months. As we have already written about Pamporovo in this newsletter we will focus on other sites which are a lot less known especially to foreign visitors.

The Rodopi are bordering the valley of the Maritsa River to the north, the White Sea plain to the south (with part of the mountains spreading on the territory of Greece), to the west – the valley of Mesta River and to the east the valley of Arda. The Rodopi Mountains are covered with some of the most beautiful forests which are centuries old especially in the high western part. There are 15 nature reserves some of which are listed by UNESCO.

The western Rodopi are the bigger part of the total area, the higher, and more developed and visited part of the mountain. The highest and best known peaks are also here (more of 10 are over 2000m) including the leader – Golyam Perelik (2191 m). Among the interesting peaks are Shirokolushki Snezhnik (2188 m), Golyam Persenk (2091 m), Btashki Snezhnik (2082 m), the wonderful Turla (1800 m).

Plovdiv can be used as a starting point for a visit to the Western Rodopi. From there one can take a bus to most points of interest or to take the road through Asenovgrad to the heart of the mountains towards Smolian town and Pamporovo ski resort. Alternatively one can take the route to Velingrad town or through Peshtera to Batak dam.

Velingrad is a small town at the mountain foothills famous for its mineral springs. It is green and one of the nicest places in the town is the Kleptuza lake – a small lake surrounded by a park with restaurants and cafes. From Velingrad you can head by car towards Tsigov Chark. It is a small resort on the Batak dam which is very picturesque being surrounded by the hills and with the distant views towards the highest peaks of Rodopi and Rila mountains.

One of the most picturesque routes is between the Batak dam and the town of Dospat. The road would take you up in the mountain and passes centuries old beautiful forests, curves around the picturesque dams of Goliam Beglik and Shiroka Poliana before reaching Dospat. The views on the way and over Dospat dam are magnificent. The mountain is crossed by ground roads and paths which can be taken for few hour walks in the forests and around the lakes.

Not to miss a very beautiful place, from Dospat we would return to the most south-western part of Rodopi near Gotse Delchev. From there one can take the picturesque road to Leshten and Kovachevitsa – unique villages with amazing 300-400 year old stone houses. It is worth spending a day or two in Kovachevitsa, to walk around the houses and experience the atmosphere of the small restaurants.

In the other direction from Dospat, to the east, is located the karst area with Yagodinska cave, Trigrad Gorge and Devil’s Throat cave – some of the most dramatic sights in Rodopi. If you happen to be in the area it is a must to visit those sites for a day. The gorge to Trigrad village is passing among the 250 m high cliffs reaching the Devil’s Throat cave. You could stay overnight in Trigrad in one of the small family hotels or return to Dospat, Smolyan or Pamporovo.

If you travel from Plovdiv to Smolyan or back you can visit the Bachkovo monastery – the second biggest one in Bulgaria and one of the oldest and most beautiful ones. Another beautiful natural phenomenon on your way – the Wonder Bridges rocks – is a good stop for a short sightseeing. Note that the road to this site is not very good though.

The Western Rodopi around Velingrad, Smolyan and Dospat are very suitable for combining a family holiday for hiking, walking, fishing with visiting beautiful natural sights and places with typical culture and customs. Rodopi’s rolling hills are not a big attraction to lovers of extreme mountain walks but the beauty of the forests and hills deserves a visit.

The Eastern Rodopi are lower and less popular although they have a lot to offer. Several great archeological findings in the recent decades make them one of the most interesting parts of Bulgaria for lovers of ancient history.

Kurdjali is the regional centre for the Eastern Rodopi. It is a calm town with lots of greenery and a starting point for your visit in this part of the mountains. There is an extremely interesting museum in Kurdjali located in a picturesque building of a former Muslim school which shows a lot of the archeology, customs, traditions and nature of the area.

Perperikon is the most interesting place to visit. This is the largest Thracian city discovered by the archeologists, located on a steep hill surrounded by a picturesque valley. Whatever you read about Perperikon will give you just a very modest idea of the beauty of the place. Another must to visit sight which would be on your way is the Rock Mushrooms not too far from Perperikon.

Here are the large dams Kurdzhali and Studen Kladenets that together with the rivers Borovitsa and Varbitsa offer great opportunities for water and birdwatching tourism. The region is rich in thermal mineral springs. Dzhebel has national reputation for healing many different diseases.

Short Excursions off The Beaten Track around Bulgaria – Mountain Adventures 3

Stara Planina (the Balkan) mountains spreads from western border of Bulgaria to the Black Sea. The central part of the mountains is the highest with Botev pick reaching 2,376 m altitude. The eastern part is the lowest and it is hills rather than peaks. The landscapes are diverse and beautiful. Due to the length of the range it is difficult to organise a route covering all major parts of Stara Planina. On the other hand it is quite suitable for short two-three day excursions which can combine climbing with sightseeing in the foothills where there are many heritage sights in small towns and villages.

The highest pick in the western part is Kom just over 2,000 m above sea level (it is not far from the town of Berkovitsa). Kom hut is a starting point for the Kom-Emine route which is a challenge for the most eager mountain lovers and crosses the mountains from West to the East. The most significant site in the Kom range of the mountains is Belogradchik rock formation – red lime-stone rocks beautifully rising above the town of Belogradchik. Not far away is the small town of Chiprovtsi which is known for its traditional multicolour carpets.

Going to the east one can visit Magurata cave. Apart from its natural beauty there are prehistoric drawings dating back to 3,000-1,200 years BC – the oldest in Bulgaria and some of the oldest on the European continent. The cave is not far from the town of Vratsa – the main town of the region where the steep slopes of Stara Planina start literally from the central part of the town.

The area around Lakatnik and Bov is known for the beautiful formations following the deep defile of the Iskar river. It is the favourite destination for cavers with its numerous karst caves some of which are the deepest in Bulgaria.

The Teteven range of Stara Planina is one of the most popular parts with the gorge of Vit River along which both Teteven town and Ribaritsa resort are spread. When travelling from the main road Sofia- Varna towards Ribaritsa you will be amazed with the beautiful sights when the mountain rises from the plain. The forests and rocks on both sides of the road are amazing and the picture is complemented by the crystal waters of the Vit river. Ribaritsa and Teteven are both small resorts and whilst there are quite a few hotels the tourist infrastructure is not very well developed and there aren’t many amenities such as restaurants and bars.

Vejen hut and Vejen pick (2,198 m) are the attractions for lovers of the higher mountains. The road and path leading to them are surrounded by beautiful broad-leaved forests. Another mountain destination in the area is the Vassilyov mountain with the hut and peak with the same name.

The monastery of Glojene is small but its picturesque location makes it desirable place to visit if you are in the area. You would have to take the road to the monastery from the village of Glojene and follow the signs. The road is good but its last part is quite narrow so the journey is not quick.

The Troyan range of Stara Planina is famous for its nature parks and the mineral springs in the villages of Chiflik and Shipkovo as well as the craft traditions in the villages around Troyan such as Oreshaka and Cherni Osam. The Troyan Monastery is the third largest monastery in Bulgaria and is very popular.

There are several mountain routes excellent for one or two day walks within the area. Some of them are:

  • Chiflik – Kozya Stena hut and peak – Beklemeto – Troyan
  • Beli Osam – Beklemeto – Troyan
  • Cherni Osam – Ambaritsa and back
  • Cherni Osam – Steneto and back

If you have more time you can take the routes from Kozya Stena hut to the east to Dermenkaia hut, Levski hut and further to Kupena and Botev peaks. Be prepared for changeable weather and low temperatures even in the hottest summer months.

South and south-east from Troyan there are several nature reserves which are part of Central Balkan nature park – the most important being Djendema and Steneto – where are some of the best preserved forests with rare plants and animals.

If you are travelling between Northern and Southern Bulgaria between April and October you can take the pass from Troyan through Beklemeto to Karnare instead of the more popular roads. It is very picturesque and the views from the highest part are amazing.

The town of Apriltsi is situated in a lovely valley with enchanting views. Although the town itself is not of particular interest it is a starting point for a visit of the highest peaks of Stara Planina as well as to some beautiful protected areas. The Apriltsi area offers excellent opportunities for fishing, walking, horse-riding, cycling and hunting. Apriltsi is spread along the river Vidimska. The town has several quarters which are far from each other and you have to learn the route well before going not to waste time in finding the right place to start your mountain adventure there. From the Vidima quarter one can visit the Vidima waterfall – an outstanding Alpine-looking formation which is most beautiful in the spring when the snow in the higher mountain melts.

The Vidimska valley is bounded by the Severen Dzhendem Reserve. At the foot of this mountain the landscape changes from dense forest slopes into picturesque hills and lush meadows cut by the twisting rivers. The route through the reserve leads to Pleven hut – the starting point from the north for the peak Botev (the highest peak of Stara Planina, 2376 m). Other notable peaks in the area are Triglav and Maragidik. You may decide to continue to the south to the Ray hut over which the highest waterfall in Bulgaria is located (124 m). It is called Raysko Praskalo.

About 20 km north-east of Apriltsi is the Batoshevo Monastery, built in the 13th century. It is less known but worth a visit for the beautiful nature, its amazing paintings and woodcarvings.

At the southern slopes of Stara Planina there is a string of few charming small towns which are connected with the Bulgarian history, culture and traditions of the 19th century. Koprivshtitsa (located in the Sredna Gora mountain) is the first one starting from the west. The old revival houses of Koprivshtitsa are unique and worth a day visit which can be combined with visit to a traditional local restaurant and cafe. Karlovo and Sopot towns are known for the rose oil production. Routes to the huts Dermenkaya, Nezabravka and Vassil Levski start from there. If you do not have the time to climb in the mountains you may decide to take the lift up over Sopot and enjoy the unbeatable views of the valley between Stara Planina and Sredna Gora and the colourful paragliders. This is one of the best sites for paragliding in Bulgaria.

Kalofer is a small town over which the mountain of Botev peak rises dramatically. Kalofer will be your starting point if you want to visit Rayskoto Praskalo waterfall or to climb Botev from the south.

The range of Stara Planina between Gabrovo and Kazanlak is a bit lower but excellent for mountain walking. Gabrovo in the northern foothills is surrounded by few interesting sights. Etara is a nice open-air museum of traditional crafts just outside Gabrovo. Not far from Etara is the Sokolovski monastery, a good starting point for a walk towards Shipka or Buzludja. About 10 km from Gabrovo is the preserved village of Bojentsi and 25 km away is Tryavna, a charming small town which is worth a visit for its atmosphere, excellent small craft shops, restaurants and caf?s as well as its pure mountain air.

Uzana is another beautiful place in the high mountain (about 1,300-1,500 m altitude). It is located 20 km from Gabrovo and there are several hotels and huts. There is skiing during the winter and good walks during all seasons.

The Shipka pass will take you from Gabrovo to Kazanlak. If you have time climb Shipka to see the views from the peak and the monument there. Towards the south is the valley of the Thracian Kings with the tomb in Kazanlak and the tomb Goliama Kosmatka near the village of Shipka.

East of Gabrovo the mountains become lower and more welcoming. The Dryanovo and Elena ranges of the mountains are preserved clean areas with small villages and beautiful views. They cannot offer real mountain adventure but are excellent for a rural holiday in one of the many guest houses with traditional outlook and welcoming hosts.

The Sinite Kamani rock formations above Sliven are spectacular and can be best seen if you take the lift from the town up to the mountain. North- west of Sliven are the towns of Kotel and the village of Jeravna. They are worth a visit for the traditional houses typical for the area and the art of the carpet making (in Kotel there is a museum of the traditional carpets).

Stara Planina slopes into the Black Sea and cape Emine is considered its final point. The most challenging route in the Stara Planina Mountains is the walk from Kom peak on the west to the Emine Cape on the Black Sea. The highest parts of Stara Planina are the mountains with the most severe climate in the winter and you have to be very careful with the forecast and follow the instructions of the Mountain Service.

Rousse – The Modern City And The Beautiful Nature Parks

Rousse is a city of many contrasts. It once was one of the most important cities along the River Danube but with the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire its importance waned. It has, however, been blessed with a legacy of some of the most wonderful examples of Central-European architecture dating back many years. Not for little reason has it been called the Little Vienna. Unfortunately this grandeur is only found around the centre of the city whilst the suburbs have been modernized under the communist administration. The city of Rousse has a population of about 150000. It is situated 320 km North-East of Sofia, 200 km North-West of Varna and 100 km North of Veliko Turnovo. The closest airport is the Bucharest one at a distance of about 70 km.

The surrounding area offers variety of recreation opportunities and one can enjoy the beauty of the region. The most outstanding natural feature is the Roussenski Lom Natural Park which is in essence a meandering river that has carved a deep gorge through the landscape. The result is a scattering of small villages that are either perched on the cliffs overlooking the gorge or are nestled at the foot of the gorge. In both instance the views are quite spectacular and unique.

There are lots of beautiful spots:

The ruins of the Mediaeval Town of Cherven – the key town of Northeast Bulgaria in the 14th century. Because of the great historical importance of this place the property prices start from 15,000 EUR for an old house that needs entire renovation. The nearest villages Koshov, Tabachka and Nisovo are also of great interest. Here you can check severalgood examples of properties for sale in this area: a typical house for renovation , a renovated property , another renovated property , a house in need of finishing works .

The archaeological reserve “The Rock Churches” where the visitors can see well preserved frescoes of the mediaeval art from the 15th Century. It is included in the list of world Cultural and Historical Heritage of UNESCO. Ivanovo village is preferred by people who consider the close proximity to the city as one of the most important features together with the excellent roads which lead to it. Property prices are similar to these in Cherven, Koshov and Tabachka.

Basarbovo Rock Monastery: It is 12 km from Rousse, in the rocks close to the village of Basarbovo. One property which deserves attention is this great newly built house just 13 km from Rousse.

Orlova Chuka Cave which is 50 km long and reaches Romania beneath the river Danube. Near the cave there are many villages: Chilnov, Ostrica, Shirokovo , Koprivets and Pepelina. The prices of the properties in this area are cheaper because it is farther from the city. You can find an old rustic house at a price starting from just 8,000 euro. An excellent property can be bought in these areas for under 30,000 eurosuch as this ready-to-move-in 2-bed house. Cheaper deals are also available.

Considering the broad and diverse attractions of The Roussenski Lom Nature Park every visitor can find something of interest. There are signed routes for hiking, cross-country riding and biking, eco- educational trails and places for observing birds and predatory mammals.

The Lipnik Forest Park is the city’s closest recreation area. It is a wonderful place for fishing, water sports and outing. The most expensive in this area are the properties in Nikolovo village which stands on a lake and provides excellent views. The prices there normally start from 50 – 60 000 EUR for a modern big house with stunning panorama. In this area most of the houses are recently built and more luxurious in comparison to the old styled houses along the Roussenski Lom River Valley. A sample of a lovely house in this area very close to Rousse is provided here.

Off The Beaten Track: Vitosha Mountain

Vitosha is the most visited Bulgarian mountain. It is situated just above Sofia – within an hour you can be far away from the noise of the capital. Many people accept it as a big park where one can walk following signed paths and enjoy nice landscapes. However it is a high mountain and should not be underestimated – the highest peak Cherni vrah is 2290 m (the meaning of its name is ‘black peak’). The access points are from the fringe quarters of Sofia where rich Bulgarians have built luxury houses at the mountain foothills – Dragalevtsi, Simeonovo, Boyana, Vladaya, Knyajevo and others.

One easy way to get there is using the lift starting from Simeonovo quarter and reaching Aleko hut. The area around the hut is quite developed and can be even crowded during the weekends. There are few ski slopes for beginners and advanced skiers. From Aleko hut to Cherni Vrah is less than 2 hours – for those who like challenges.

The other lift which can be used starts from Dragalevtsi and reaches Goli Vrah /meaning “the bare hill”/. This is a plateau area suitable for long walks. Those who are not afraid of climbing can get off at the middle station and walk through the pine forest until they reach the flatter top area. There is also a nice monastery within 40 min walk up the hill from Dragalevtsi.

One of the most beautiful destinations is Zlatni Mostove – about 2 hours walking distance starting from Vladaya. This is a natural phenomenon – a rock river. The big rocks are covered with golden lichens which give the name of the place meaning “golden bridges”. You can climb on the rocks for fun and try to “walk up the river”, have a sun bath on them or just enjoy a lazy picnic in the open. You can reach Zlatni Mostove also from Aleko hut passing through Vitosha Plateau and going down – it is 2-3 hours easy walk without steep descends.

Another interesting tourist track starts from Boyana. There you should definitely visit the Boyana Church with its preserved medieval frescos – it is listed as a world cultural heritage from UNESCO. The aim is Boyana waterfalls – there is a bit of climbing but the walk along the river and the final destination deserve the effort.

There are so many other places to visit. We are sure that once there you will find your way. It is also very easy to say “Dobar den” to the smiling elder tourist who walks slowly following his usual path and you will get loads of information where to go, what to see, how far it is and so on.

Off the beaten track: Rila and Pirin Mountains

The statistics says that 95% of the foreign tourists in Bulgaria visit the Black Sea resorts in the summer and the ski resorts during the winter. However Bulgaria has a lot more to offer in terms of history, culture and nature. Most of the tourist sites which are worth visiting are not known to the foreign tourists.
Bulgaria is rich in mountains, natural reserves, river gorges, monasteries, ancient ruins, crafts and customs sites. In this and in the next issues articles we will tell you about some of the most interesting routes and sites.
Bulgaria’s landscape varies from low lands in the valleys and plains to high mountains of Alpine type. Mountains have been thoroughly explored and the most scenic tourist routes are well marked for tourists. There are many huts where one can find inexpensive but very basic accommodation. If you go to the most visited huts in August bring your own sleeping bags. In the smaller huts you will also have to bring your own food.
The main mountain ranges are Rila and Pirin in the South-West Bulgaria, Stara Planina (the Balkan) mountains which spreads from western border to the Black Sea, Rodopi Mountains in the south and Vitosha just outside Sofia. Should you decide to go to the mountains you should know that you need warm clothes and shoes for the summer as well as for the winter.
Rila is the highest Bulgarian mountain with the highest peak Musala (2,925 m altitude). The most picturesque is the range of Malyovitsa and the routes which are worth visiting are:

  • Pionerska hut – Scakavitsa – the Seven Rila Lakes
  • Pionerska hut – the Seven Rila Lakes – Ivan Vazov hut – Malyovitsa peak – Malyovitsa hut
  • Malyovitsa hut – Malyovitsa peak – Ivan Vazov hut – Rila monastery

Around Scakavitsa you can visit the Scakavitsa waterfall and climb the Kabul peak with the magnificent views over lakes and ranges. The Seven Rila lakes are probably the most visited and picturesque mountain site in Bulgaria. The views are fantastic and you will enjoy them most if you climb them from the lowest to the highest lake.
The peak of Malyovitsa is known for the outstanding views but also for the changeable weather. You should not be surprised if you are reached by thick fog or snow in August so be prepared.
Rila Monastery is one of the oldest and the most famous Bulgarian monasteries. It is worth visiting for the beautiful scenery, the fine wood carvings and frescoes. The monastery can be included in a mountain excursion as well as in a car journey from Sofia towards the south-western part of the country.

In the Musala range the most popular are the routes to the peak of Musala which can be climbed from Borovets or from Granchar hut. The Ribni (Fish) lakes are also picturesque and can be visited on the way from Granchar hut to the Rila Monastery.
Many fans of the Bulgarian mountains will tell you that Pirin is the most beautiful Bulgarian mountain. Its peaks are nearly as high (highest Vihren 2914 m altitude) as the Rila ones and the lakes and ranges are dramatic and breathtaking. The routes there are also longer and more difficult than the Rila ones. Some of the routes you can take are:

  • Yavorov hut – through Koncheto range – Vihren peak – Banderitsa or Vihren hut – Bansko
  • Bansko – Banderitsa or Vihren hut – Bezbog hut – Dobrinishte
  • Bansko – Banderitsa or Vihren hut – Bezbog hut – Pirin hut – Pirin village

The Koncheto range is the most dramatic and probably most dangerous rock range in Bulgaria. It requires a dose of courage and a very good mountain guide in order to pass it. The ranges around the peaks of Vihren and Bezbog and the lakes are outstanding with their beauty. In the lower parts the century old forests are welcoming. Near the Banderitsa hut one can see the oldest tree found in Bulgaria – Baikushevata Mura (the Baikusheva White Fir).
In the foothills of Pirin there are a number of small towns and villages which might be of interest for those interested in traditional crafts and architecture. Bansko is one of these places and although it has lost some of its charm due to the mass construction in the last few years, there is still the old part of the town with its traditional houses, pubs, churches and cobbled-stone streets. Melnik to the south is less known but is also worth a visit for its white rock formations, old houses and the famous wine cellars. Sandanski is a resort town with mineral water springs. It may be also a good starting point if you decide to visit Greece and the White Sea.