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.

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