Location: Leskovets Type: day trips around Sofia Suitable for children: yes
Where can you go on a sunny autumn weekend that almost feels like summer when in Sofia? If you`ve checked our 15 suggestions for trips around Sofia, you already have some pretty good ideas. Today we`ll share another one – for a trip to the private Alice zoo near Pernik. The place is located in the village of Leskovets, 14 km from Pernik. The entrance fee is 5 lv for adults and 3 lv for children, and the opening hours are from 10am to 6pm (7pm in the summer). You can check their Facebook page here.
Alice zoo near Pernik
We`d heard about this fantastic place where animals walk freely and you can even feed them from friends. We finally decided to visit it on a warm sunday in October. A week later, our little daughter is still talking about the zoo – about the hens, geese and rabbits that seemed to impress her most, and asks if we would go there again. It was a truly amazing experience for her.
The zoo is actually set up near the house and in the yard of the people who created and maintain it. At the entrance, a kind lady told us that they`ve been taking care of the animals for over 2 years, and since June (2019) they are open for visitors. Their yard is really spacious. It`s divided into two: one part houses recreation areas – wooden benches and tables, a children’s playground with a slide, swings and a sandpit. The other part, separated by a mesh fence, is dedicated to the unusual pets of the family from Leskovets.
What kind of animals are you going to meet there? Let’s start with the birds – many different species of birds stroll around the yard, including common hens, geese, ducks, pheasants and emus. A family of black swans swims in a small pool еspecially built for them.
Here you will also see black crowned cranes, which, however, are separated from the other animals (as well as from humans) in their own space.
This is how the homes of the two raccoons and the incredibly sweet coatis are also arranged. The Mouflons, fallow deers and a pair of kangaroos, including a kangaroo albino, are also behind a mesh fence.
The exotic alpacas, however – Moomi, Pumi, Balu and Doris, are walking freely around. They are used to people and are extremely friendly. You can even pet them – their fur is like a thick woolen cloth. You`ll also be able to pet different kinds of rabbits.
We hadn`t seen the mini goats until we accidentally came across them hidden from the people in the bushes near a tree. Apparently the large crowds don`t appeal to them, and that day there were many people around.
If you’re wondering where to go for a couple of hours next weekend, we highly recommend visiting Alice Zoo near Pernik. Believe us: children will truly be impressed and delighted with the experience. If you don`t have any yet, you`ll enjoy it just as much.
Location: Eastern Rhodope Mountains Type: nature landmarks; historical landmarks; road trip; Bulgaria Suitable for children: yes; with a baby carrier for babies and toddlers
Have you ever visited the Eastern Rhodopes? You are bound to fall in love if you do. Narrow roads, endless green hills and nestled picturesque villages, ancient shrines and strong energy – how not to love them?
We embarked on our long-awaited road trip to the Eastern Rhodopes in the beginning of June. The thunderous weather forecasts have failed to dissuade us and thank god. The weather turned out perfect. We rented a floor of a house near Kardzhali dam in the village of Glavatartsi via Airbnb – with a garden, a pool and a magnificent view of the dam. We only had 3 days available in the region, but they were enough for what we`d planned. We`ll surely come back again: we didn`t manage to capture on photo the famous meanders of Arda river (while on the road searching for them we`ve missed the turnoff to the village of Suhovo, where you can find a place boasting a nice view). The area around Kardzhali is also a good starting point for day trips to Greece. But even if you don`t reach our southern neighbor country, the peace and beauty around will be enough to keep you in the embrace of the Eastern Rhodopes.
Eastern Rhodopes: top 5 sites around Kardzhali
1. The Stone Mushrooms
The first site that we`ve visited in the region was the natural landmark known as the Stone Mushrooms, while traveling from Sofia to Kardzhali. To reach them, after passing the town of Haskovo and on your way to Kardzhali you have to turn to the village of Beli Plast and follow the directions of your GPS. You won`t go far away from the main road. When you arrive, don`t be surprised to leave your car right at the road because there is no parking lot. In fact, the only evidence marking this landmark is the ugly mesh fence. We`ve found the entrance at the side of the road, as well as an elderly gentleman who had set a table with different stones and crystals for sale (similar improvised shops we`ve met at all the landmarks in the area). There is no entrance fee.
The sight of the strange white rocks and the surrounding green hills were slightly surreal, especially against the backdrop of the dark blue sky with angry clouds. The so-called Stone mushrooms are up to 2-3 meters in height and are located on an area of 3 hectares. If you look closely at them, you will notice a few different colors – pink on the stumps, blue and green on the caps. This is due to the fact that they are made of different minerals. They were formed 20 million years ago under the influence of underwater volcanic activity when the area was a sea bottom, and then were shaped with the help of the erosion. They were declared a nature landmark in 1974 together with the Stone Wedding near the village of Zimzelen next to Kardzhali. The two rock phenomenon are also known as the Kardzhali pyramids – we found out this fact while exploring the routes in advance online.
The visit to the Stone Mushrooms in the Eastern Rhodopes won`t take you much time. If you have a baby or a toddler, it`s best to put him in a baby carrier. You won`t need a baby stroller. But go and feel the energy of the place and admire the interesting natural shapes. And, as we`ve already mentioned, you won`t stray away much from the road to Kardzhali.
2. Devil’s Bridge
We combined the trip to the famous Devil’s Bridge with a stroll around the Thracian rock complex Eagle Rocks (or Orlovi skali). Both are located near the town of Ardino in the Eastern Rhodopes, and we chose to go first to the Devil’s Bridge.
A typical narrow Rhodope road, adapted for a two-way traffic with many turns, took us from Ardino to the abandoned village of Dyadovtsi and the area along the Arda river where the bridge was built. Signs began to warn us that we were approaching it and that there was an entrance fee of 2 lv. The road became similar to a dirt road but passable and we finally decided to leave the car on the next plate that claimed we had 800 m to get to the bridge. The distance seemed more, but it didn`t matter – the walk through the shady forest road in the hot morning compensated that we didn`t leave the car in the parking lot in front of the bridge itself. We didn`t pay for an entrance, as we arrived before 9 am (our daughter is an early bird and so we became once, too), and there was no one in the booth to pay the fee to.
The view that opened before us as we arrived was magical: the beautiful stone bridge is nestled along green hills, and the rumble of the tranquil river and bird songs perfectly added to the pleasant picture. If one wishes to sit down and admire the nature, there are several gazebos built around.
You know, it`s interesting how sturdy the bridge had to be in order to endure and preserve over the centuries. It was built in the 16th century on the orders of Sultan Selim I, and once it was part of an important trade route linking the Upper Thracian Plain with the Aegean Sea. There are numerous legends around its creation. The most widespread is that the craftsman to whom it was commission to build it, has to sell his soul to the devil in order to cope with the task in time – for just 40 days. From there comes the name of the bridge. It`s also said that if you stand at the bridge between 11 and 12 o’clock at noon and look down at the waters of the Arda river, you`ll see the devil’s image. Well, we didn`t have this opportunity, so I can`t confirm or deny this claim.
3. The Eagle Rocks
It turns out that the rock niches are a sight typical for the Eastern Rhodopes. Our landlords from the house on Kardzhali dam told us that if we take a boat trip around the dam, we`ll see such rocks, but they are hard to reach from the land. We`d also heard about Chit Kaya near the village of Lisicite on the near dam Studen Kladenets (however, access to the village is only on foot through the longest rope bridge in Bulgaria – 261 meters). For our June road trip and since we were traveling with a toddler, we decided to visit the other popular rock-cult complex and much more easily accessible in our situation – the Eagle Rocks.
The Thracian rock sanctuary, known as the Eagle Rocks (although translated from Turkish the name must be Raven rocks) and dating back to the V-IV century BC, is located about 4 km from the town of Ardino on a narrow and steep road with many sharp turns. Trust your GPS, it will take you to the end of the road and in front of a information plate where you have to park the car. A courteous elderly gentleman, which we`ve paid an entrance fee of 2 lv, told us we have to continue on foot up the hill on a narrow and steep path in order to get to the Eagle Rocks. He pointed out that this is the direct path and it takes 5 minutes, and that there is a tourist trail that will take us 15 minutes. We chose the fastest route. Honestly, here I`ve regretted that we didn`t take the baby’s carrier for our daughter. But my husband did well with the task without it – he quickly reached the end goal with our daughter in his arms, while I was slowly and carefully choosing where to step over the rocks. At the end of the trail we`ve reached a gazebo in front of the Eagle Rocks.
Different theories are trying to unravel the origin and the reason behind the creation of the niches in the rocks in the region. The rock here (yes, the Eagle rocks is actually one rock) is 25 m high, and the nearly 100 niches are carved on the most inaccessible places. According to some scientists, once they had held funeral urns. Others believe that their carving was part of a ritual of initiation through which the young men had to pass. Others develop a theory that the ancient people were putting burning fires in the niches before battles. One is clear – they were obviously very important or the ancient people just had a lot of spare time available. Legends also tell that the Eagle Rocks can heal (what and how is not very clear). In any case it`s interesting to see and the walk around is pleasant enough.
4. The Stone Wedding
The trip to the Stone Wedding was scheduled for our third day in the Eastern Rhodopes when we had to go back home to Sofia. First we went to see the Stone Wedding, and then we took a stroll around the center of Kardzhali and had lunch at the Old House – a tavern I had visited on a previous trip to the city and I knew it was worth it – with delicious dishes and pleasant atmosphere.
But let’s go back to the Stone Wedding. The site can be reached very quickly from Kardzhali – the distance is 5 km on (big surprise!) a narrow road with many turns. There is no parking lot or entrance fee, you`ll know that you`ve reached your goal when you see a stall with stones and crystals. Then you`ll notice the information plate. A short and not very steep path will take you up the hill to the meadow with the Stone Wedding. The terrain here is again not suitable for a baby stroller, but a baby or a toddler can easily be carried in arms or in a baby carrier. The path is easy and not as steep as the one at the Eagle Rocks.
Once we walked out from the path and into the meadow, it seemed like we`ve stepped into the sandbox of giant children who suddenly tossed their toys and rushed to do something else. The rock formations here are more than those at the Stone Mushrooms, but according to the scientists they are formed in the same way: they began to form 40 million years ago duo to underwater volcanic activity, and then the erosion did the rest of the job. The most remarkable part here are the two 10-meter rocks placed away from the big rock cluster, which actually give the name of the area. They resemble the figures of a hugged man and a woman (if you trust your imagination).
The legend tells of a young man who fell in love with a girl from a near village. On their wedding day, his father saw the bride`s face for the first time and fall in love. His thoughts turned all wedding guests along with himself into stone. Only the bridegroom didn`t meet this fate, but he cried and begged to be turned into stone, too. And so it happened and he stood by his beloved for the rest of eternity, and a pool full with his tears could still be seen at the foot of one of the rocks. We didn`t check if that it`s true. Instead, we enjoyed the view of the green hills and the colorful meadows with flowers amidst the strange white rocks.
5. Perperikon and Tatul
We didn`t manage to visit them on our June trip, but they are among the mandatory sites if you are in the area. The ancient city of Perperikon is located 20 km from Kardzhali, and you can read about it in our previous publication here. And the rock sanctuary Tatul near Momchilgrad, which some archaeologists associate with Orpheus, we`ve marked for our next trip to the Eastern Rhodopes.
Bonus: the house near Kardzhali dam
For our trip to the Eastern Rhodopes, we were again very lucky with finding great accommodation. While browsing Airbnb, we`ve stumbled upon a lovely house with a big yard, barbecue and a swimming pool located right in front of Kardzhali dam in the village of Glavatartsi, 7 km from the town of Kardzhali. We liked it, booked it and fell in love with the view from the porch on the second floor.
Even if we hadn`t planned to visit all the sights described above, I would have been quite pleased to just sit on the porch and admire the water and the song of the birds. In the evening the courtyard became silent and filled with fireflies. Like in a beautiful fairytale. The landlords turned out to be super nice people, too, with a toddler, with whom our daughter quickly made friends and was running and playing. We strongly recommend their house if you are planning to explore the area or just want to relax in the nature. They rent the first floor (with a bedroom, a large living room and a bathroom) and the second floor (with two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a large living room with a fireplace and a kitchen) from their house, and live on the third floor. Their place is suitable for large companies, but keep in mind that you have to be quiet in the afternoon and night hours. There is nothing spectacular to be seen in the village of Glavatartsi – mostly hotels. But the sight of the dam, the nature and the calmness are all worth the visit. So go check it.
Location: Sofia Type: day trips around Sofia; monasteries; Bulgaria Suitable for children: yes
There are many opportunities for a weekend trip around Sofia, as we have already mentioned. A great option is Saint Mina monastery, which is actually situated within the city – in the former village of Obradovtsi, nowadays a neighborhood of the Bulgarian capital – Benkovski.
Saint Mina monastery
I`ve wanted to visit the monastery for some time – my parents have been visiting it many times in the weekends through the years. They`ve told me that once it had been run by two elderly nuns. Its buildings weren`t much remarkable, but the well-kept courtyard with a lovely garden full of flowers in the spring and summer was worth a visit. What attracts many pilgrims and subsequently contributes to the expansion of the monastery complex is the miraculous icon of St. Mina. It is said that if one prays with a hand on the icon, his or hers prayers will be heard. The water from the holy spring in the yard is also believed to have healing powers.
Whether that is true, I can not say. Today, however, the monastery has expanded beyond recognition with the help of donations from grateful people. It has not one, but three churches – the old church St. Mina with the icon of the saint and the churches St. Ivan Rilski and St. Nicholas, located on two floors in a common building. The gardens of the nuns are preserved, but not as lavish as once.
How to get to the monastery
In order to reach Saint Mina monastery, you have to head to Benkovski, exit the neighborhood and follow the signs leading to the monastery. They will take you to a parking lot where you can leave your car. The parking lot is not built in front of the monastery itself – you have to cross a bridge over the Vladayska river before entering its yard.
If you have a baby stroller, you will have to move it a few steps up and down the bridge, otherwise there is no other difficulties on the route. We have to mention that the view around the bridge resembles a jungle with its lush vegetation in the summer, and the smell of the river is no less stunning. You just have to turn off your smell sensors while you’re crossing it.
Around the monastery complex
When you reach the monastery’s outer gates, you will be freed from the presence of the specific fragrances and will be rewarded with tranquility, so typical for all holy places. A path will take you to the second gates that surround the monastery complex itself. Around the path are gazebos, children’s playgrounds and small villas, which can be rented for overnight stays. They seem to have recently been renovates, and at the same time are not in the best condition – I’m not sure how exactly this effect has been achieved.
Our visit to the Saint Mina monastery happened during an unusually sunny for this spring Saturday. Fortunately, there were not many other people and we were able to take our time around the monastery. We touched the miraculous icon, sipped water from the holy spring and enjoyed the beautiful flowerbeds.
Our little daughter had some great time herself, playing with other children in the yard. Overall – we had a very pleasant afternoon.
Location: Cherna Gora Mountain Type: day trips around Sofia; monasteries; Bulgaria Suitable for children: yes
We chose one of the sunny weekends in the beginning of March to visit the Giginski monastery. Our idea was to go for a walk somewhere near Sofia, to enjoy the fresh air and grab something to eat – somewhere we have not yet been. We found rich information about the monastery online as a place with beautiful nature, interesting architecture and a delicious grill nearby, and the decision was made. If you find yourself in Sofia and have some time, give it a try and visit it, too.
The history of the monastery
The Tsurnogorski monastery “Saints Cozmas and Damian”, also known as Giginski monastery or Chernogorski, is located above the village of Gigintsi near Pernik, 60 km from Sofia. It is situated at the foot of Kitka peak (1118 m) in mount Cherna gora. There are almost no written records about its history, but archaeological excavations reveal that the first monastery buildings date back to 11-12 centuries. It has been destroyed twice during the Ottoman rule. At the beginning of the 19th century it was restored by monks from the Hilandar monastery, who founded a school on its territory. But then came the years of communism in Bulgaria that didn`t treat the Giginski monastery better than those of the Turkish slavery – then the whole archive and many other valuables disappeared. The monastery land and buildings were first used as a concentration camp, then as pioneer camps, and even rented for livestock farming.
The monks returned to the monastery in 1998, and had to pass through various misadventures until they were settled permanently. The reconstruction of the monastery buildings began in 2007, it was electrified and the road to it was repaired thanks to the efforts of the monk Nikanor – a very interesting person who used to be a financial broker in Sofia before he dedicated his life in service of God. In February 2019, some of the buildings of the monastery were declared as an architectural and cultural heritage from the Bulgarian Renaissance by the Bulgarian Ministry of Culture .
How to get to the Giginski monastery
You have to rent a car and drive. To get to the monastery from Sofia, you have to head to the town of Pernik and then follow the signs to the town of Kyustendil but better trust a GPS. Once you enter the village of Gigintsi, signs will guide you on the way up the village and to the monastery. The distance from Gigintsi to the monastery is about 4-5 km and you could leave your car in the village and walk on foot. However, keep in mind that the slope is steep and it would take some time. It`s best to park the car in the parking in front of the monastery.
We arrived in the area just in time for lunch and the first landmark we visited was the small restaurant, right in front of the doors of the monastery. We managed to sit on a sunny table and tried out the grill specialties with meat from the monastery farm, for which we had already read praise online. And yes – they are definitely good, especially the buffalo pleskavitsa. The restaurant’s prices are also very attractive.
Around the monastery
Our next stop was the monastery itself. We went through its gates and found ourselves in a spacious and pleasant yard, amidst the beautifully restored 200-year-old buildings of the monastery. We lit a candle in the small, old church with exquisite frescoes from the 19th century and climbed the stairs of the bell tower (above, however, we noticed a curious decision – instead of frescoes on the walls they had put wallpapers in church style).
In the monastery yard is also the famous holy spring – the water, according to legends, helps with diseases of the eyes, the nervous system and even infertility. There are also many comfortable wooden benches, where one can enjoy the sunshineand the view of mountains around. Our little daughter also enjoyed her time here very much, running through the yard and playing with another child.
From the monastery shop one can buy honey, different kinds of jams, monastery rakia and wine. The monks also run a buffalo farm, as already mentioned. On the way back and forth from the monastery you can meet some of the farm animals, as had happened with us – they behaved quite nicely and quickly moved away from the road.
Overall, we are very pleased with our visit here and we will surely repeat it on a spring or a summer day when the mountains are green and the view would be even more enchanting.
Extra: the church in the village of Banishte
We wondered where else to go in the area and decided to head to the village of Banishte and visit another old church. The village is located 16 km away from Gigintsi. To get to its church, you have to reach the center of the village and then turn left and drive on a gravel street up in the mountain. Turn right when you reach the fork and shortly afterwards park your car on the meadow near the last houses of the village. Then you have a 2 minute walk to the St. John the Theologian church – the electric pillars on the path will guide you.
We didn`t manage to take a look at the church from the inside during our visit because it was closed. Perhaps you will be more successful. It seems to have been well maintained and it would be probably interesting to look inside. It was once a part of a monastery complex, but today only the church is left.
Other ideas for tourism in the area
You can combine your trip to the Giginski monastery with a visit of an another beautiful restored old monastery – the Zemen monastery, and also take a walk around the old church over Pchelina dam.
You have a couple of days in Sofia and have already toured around Alexander Nevsky and the other major sightseeing? So you may want to read our 15 ideas for trips around Sofia and check what`s happening outside the capital of Bulgaria. There are many places not far from the city where you can enjoy the nature and also visit some interesting landmarks.
If you book a trip through a travel agency, they`d probably offer you to go to Plovdiv, Rila monastery or Korpivshtiza. Don`t get me wrong – these places are definitely worth seeing. But here we`ll offer you 15 ideas for trips around Sofia, off the beaten track for most tourists.
You can rent a car or use public transport and experience the real life (it doesn`t get any more real than the one that you`ll experience in a bus or in a taxi in our country). So here are our
15 ideas for trips around Sofia
1. Vitosha mountain
Distance: Sofia is located at the foot of the mountain, so it won’t take you long to reach it.
The highest peak is Cherni vrah. Check our blog post for more information.
2. Lozen village, mountain and monastery
Distance from Sofia: 18 km
You can hike in the mountain above Lozen and also visit the monastery, located there. The terrain is not steep and perfect for a nice walk in the nature.
3. Maliovitsa peak
Distance from Sofia: 87 km
Maliovitsa is a peak in the northwestern part of Rila mountain, rising to 2729 m. The view from above is magnificent. You can also drink something hot or eat some soup in hut Maliovitsa. Pack some clothes even in summer – the weather in the mountain changes very fast.
4. Pancherevo dam
Distance from Sofia: 15 km
Lately it`s very popular, especially in the weekends, but you can still find a place to rest and enjoy the view.
5. Iskar gorge
Distance from Sofia: 20 km
There are many places around the gorge that will enchant you and provide the perfect getaway from the city for a day. Here you can read about the village of Batulia or you can check the rocks of Lakatnik.
Distance from Sofia: 26 km
The meadow above the village is a little bit crowded in the weekend but it`s nice if you visit during the week. You can even put a tent and stay for the night to count the stars.
Distance from Sofia: 28 km
There are several meadows around the village of Pasarel where you can have a barbeque and spend the day.
8. Iskar dam
Distance from Sofia: 58 km
The dam is known as the sea of Sofia. If you are into fishing, you can explore your hobby there or if not – you can just relax and sunbath.
9. Geopark Iskar panega
Distance from Sofia: 109 km
This is a favorite place. Check our post here.
10. The Tsari mali grad fortress
Distance from Sofia: 55 km
We have a blog post about the fortress. Read more here.
11. Giginski monastery Saints Cozma and Damian
Distance from Sofia: 60 km
It`s a nice place for a day walk. You can also check the old church in the village of Banitshte, which is not far. Learn more in our post here.
12. The old church above Pchelina dam
Distance from Sofia: 62 km
The view from the old church on the hill above the dam is most definitely worth visiting. Learn more in our post here.
13. Razboishte monastery
Distance from Sofia: 68 km
The monastery was built around the 18th century, into the rocks above the Nishava river in the most western part of the country. Read more in our post here.
14. Archeological park Topolnitsa in Chavdar village
Distance from Sofia: 72 km
An early Neolithic settlement was located here dating back to 7000 years ago. The buildings from the archeological park are reconstructed according to the found remnants.
15. Zemen monastery St. John the Theologian
Distance from Sofia: 80 km
Zemen monastery is very well maintained and with authentic architecture. Check our post for more information.
Location: Stara Planina Mountain Type: day trips around Sofia; hiking; monasteries; Bulgaria Suitable for children: yes; with a baby carrier for babies and toddlers
Do you have a favorite place in the world? I have an answer that pops in my head immediately – our family summer house in the mountains over Batulia. Where is this, you may ask. Batulia is not a fancy resort, but a tiny village located in Stara planina, near the Iskar gorge, no more than 40 km from Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria.
Most of my cherished childhood memories live there. The coziness of the cool adobe house in the summer, the aroma of the wild strawberry jam in the air, the songs of the crickets that animate the night, the lights of the fireflies that illuminate our family barbecues near the gazebo. Here is a peek at our yard in the summer…
Endless mountains are hugging the sky here. A stunning view is revealed from the windows of our house and from the meadow nearby, covered with a colorful carpet of wild flowers. One can see the hills of Stara planina huddled by the Iskar gorge and above them Sofia and Vitosha mountain. In clear weather you can even spot the snowy peaks of Rila mountain. Everywhere you look there is an Instagram worthy photo to be taken.
There are, of course, some setbacks like everything in life. The road up in the mountain that leads to our house is plain awful and if you don`t have a SUV you`ll have to walk. The difficult accessibility has its good side – the area is not so populated and you can enjoy a really peaceful vacation here. Abandoned old houses are a common sight.
I won`t invite you to our house, one of the hills nearby is famous enough with young campers as it is (they call it Schupen vruh and a couple of years ago we`ve stumbled upon a bachelor party there, the guys had even brought a stripper for the groom to be) . But I can tell you more about the beautiful places nearby.
The monastery was build in 1911-1913 by the priest Emanuil Zlatkov. He was a friend of Bulgarian prime minister Alexander Stamboliiski who even stayed here a couple of times. That is actually the reason why two of the monastery rooms are named after Stamboliiski.
The monastery courtyard is cozy and spacious, with trees that cast a thick shadow to chase the summer heat. You will definitely enjoy the peaceful scenery here.
The monastery could be reached by foot or by car along a steep dirt road to the right of the antifascist monument in the center of Batulia. Which bring us to the next landmark in the village…
Nothing special or interesting here, but it`s placed in the village center and you can`t miss it. The monument was build in 1973 in memory of the partisans from the battalion “Hristo Botev”. They fought in a battle nearby in 1944. Sadly, the monument is a little bit ugly. And I don`t have a picture. So you have to check it for yourself.
There are several places around the riverbed of Batulia river where one can sunbath and enjoy the water. You can easily spend the day here and also arrange a picnic among the green and delightful scenery. If you wish to swim in a pool, there is in fact one in Batulia where you`ll be offered beach chairs and umbrellas. We haven`t visit it yet so I can`t share any thoughts. But it looks nice from the photos.
Try the traditional cuisine
Batuliya may not be a big village but it has three restaurants or taverns for lack of a better description. The proper word in Bulgarian is kruchma. All of them are placed on the main road that crosses the village. We`ve only tried one of them – the AC DC kruchma. We call it this way because the owner is presumably a big fan and has put a large AC DC sign in front of his place. Here you can try the infamous shkembe chorba, shopska salad or fried meatballs with pom fries. Everything is very tasty and very cheap. And there are a lot of cats around.
Aside from everything described, the nature around the village will enchant you with its secludedness, fresh air, colors and tranquility. Go give it a try – visit Batulia.
Location: Northwestern Bulgaria Type: day trips around Sofia; nature landmarks; caves; Bulgaria Suitable for children: yes; with a baby carrier for babies and toddlers
So we`ve given you a couple of ideas for day trips around Sofia – like a trip to Cherni Vrah or the Tsari Mali Grad fortress, or Zemen monastery and here is the newest one – a trip to geopark Iskar-Panega. It combines a most pleasant walk in the nature and a visit to a magnificent cave – cave Prohodna or the Eyes of God.
We`ve stumble upon this route one a Saturday morning while we were wondering which place to visit. The weather was most pleasant and perfect for a picnic. We`ve heard about the UNESCO-run geopark Iskar-Panega and decided to give it a try.
Created back in 2006, this is the first (and only) geopark in Bulgaria. It`s located 3 km from the town of Lukovit in Northern Bulgaria, and about 100 km from Sofia. It consists of two sections – the Karlukovo Karst Complex (where cave Prohodna is located) and the Landscape Park “Panega”. Both sections are connected by an eco trail.
We`ve decided to enter the geopark from the side of the landscape park. The trail begins near the town of Lukovit and goes along Panega river. All the way there are picturesque wooden bridges and rest areas – gazebos and picnic areas. One of the most impressive sites on this route is a majestic meander. But don`t be fooled – everything here is enchanting. According to the legend the energy of the place soothes the nerves and relieves the stress and tension. We can confirm this wholeheartedly.
Our goal was to reach cave Prohodna via the eco trail but we`ve talked to some other tourists and they`ve told us that the whole track is 12 km long. We didn`t have so much time so we went back to our car and reached the cave very quickly. If you have more time you can explore the whole track.
The entrance of cave Prohodna is near the village of Karlukovo and the first thing that we`ve saw were rock climbers scattered along the cliffs. The cave is 262 long, its ceiling reaches near 50 m in height and you can try bungee jumping here, too. But that`s not the most spectacular thing about it. Two huge and equal-sized holes in the ceiling of its middle chamber, formed through erosion, resemble human eyes. They let light in the cave and are known as the Eyes of God.
Recently we`ve stumbled upon a blog post about Bulgaria`s best beaches that recommends Sunny beach and Golden sands as top destinations. And we do not agree.
Don`t get us wrong – if you want to party and drink your whole vacation and don`t mind the crowds on the beach, the ugly hotels and the loud music all day long, these are the places for you. But Bulgaria can still offer a different type of experience despite the “best” intentions of businessmen and contractors, which are turning our coastline into a shiny ghetto. So here is our list of recommendations for the travelers who wish to enjoy the nature, not the all-inclusive.
Bulgaria`s best beaches
This is one of the last remaining wild beaches on the Bulgarian Black Sea coast. It has no hotels, restaurants, clubs, golf resorts or any other marks of civilization. In fact there is no cell phone reception, tap water or electricity either. The reason? Kara dere is part of the EU’s eco network Natura 2000 for the conservation of wild flora and fauna. Hopefully it will stay that way in the years to come.
The beach is 5 km long and can be reached from the town of Byala or the village of Goritsa via a dirt road that is in an awful condition. Prepare to walk 4 km if your car isn`t suitable for off roads. In the end you`ll be rewarded with a one of a kind view. And did we mention that the sand here is one of the finest and the water clearest?
The government’s decision regarding free camping fluctuates frequently. They can’t decide if camping here should be legal or not, so keep that in mind if you wish to put up a tent.
Another stunning wild beach, part of eco network Natura 2000. But unlike Kara dere here you will find bungalows for rent and a beach bar.
There are also sunshades and sunbeds in one part of the beach. The view is marvelous, the beach – 3 km long, and you will definitely enjoy your time here.
The village of Sinemorets is located in the very southeast of Bulgaria, close to the border with Turkey. We recommend the beach at the mouth of Veleka river – it`s beautiful and it`s also a protected area.
The other beach in Sinemorets – Butamyata, used to be very nice too but nowadays it`s crowded with people, noises and hotels.
This beach is not far from Sinemorets and like Kara dere and Irakli it`s part of eco network Natura 2000. There are bungalows for rent near the beach and a campsite, a beach bar and sunshades and sunbeds on the sand. The bay of Silistar will surely impress you – the water here is very calm.
These beaches used to be camping paradise. Nowadays camping on the sand is forbidden, there are lots of beach bars scattered all over, as well as overpriced sunshades and sunbeds. Nevertheless the view is still pretty nice. They are perfect if you are looking for a place which will offer you opportunities to enjoy the nightlife – the bars are open 24/7. You can rent a bungalow near the beach at Smokiniya or rent a caravan on the sand at Gradina.
First time in Bulgaria?
Then visit the town of Sozopol. It`s located on the southern Bulgarian Black Sea coast, it has a beautiful old town and it`s not far from the beaches of Gradina and Smokiniya. You can rent a car and drive to Sinemorets and Silistar in the south or to Irakli and Kara dere in the north. Keep in mind that Sozopol is very crowded in August – it`s best to visit the town in June, July or September.
Location: Western Rhodope Mountains Type: nature landmarks; road trip; Bulgaria Suitable for children: yes; with a baby carrier for babies and toddlers
Chudnite mostove (or The Marvelous Bridges in English) is a sight that you should enjoy if you ever find yourself in the Rhodope mountains. Located in the valley of the Erkyupriya River in the Western Rhodopes, they are in fact natural arches formed by the erosive activity of the once large river.
It could be combined with a visit to the cities of Plovdiv and Asenovgrad and if you have more time – the villages of Shiroka Laka and Trigrad. The site could be reached by a narrow road from the village of Zaburdo. You can leave your car at a parking lot and walk down a trail to the bridges. If you find yourself hungry, there is a restaurant in the beginning of the trail.
Beautiful forest surrounds the area and the walk here is pleasant and peaceful. Nowadays there are only two bridges remaining, possibly duo to earthquakes. The larger one is 15 meters wide and 96 meters in length, passable under its three vaults. The smaller bridge is 60 meters long and 30 meters at its highest point and not accessible by tourists.
An old legend tells the story of a dragon that once ravaged these lands. The locals found a way to defeat the beast (the story involves the sacrifice of a donkey so we won`t get in details). Anyways the dragon came here to die and its bones turned into the bridges.
Back to reality
There are many caves in the area but unfortunately they are undeveloped and not suitable for tourist visits. There are two huts located nearby however if you wish to stay here longer. Camping is also an option.
Location: Northern Bulgaria Type: historical landmarks; road trip; Bulgaria Suitable for children: yes; with a baby carrier for babies and toddlers in the fortress
Veliko Tarnovo is situated almost in the center of Bulgaria, along the picturesque river valley of Yantra. The medieval capital of Bulgaria can offer much to the traveler, with its ancient history, unique architecture and beautiful nature.
The tree hills
The hill and fortress of Tsarevets is one of Veliko Tarnovo most notable landmarks.
The royal and the patriarchal palaces were situated here during the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396 AD). Here are also the boyar churches (boyars were the Bulgarian noblemen). Fortified with tick walls (reaching up to 3,6 m) and Yantra river from three sides, the fortress was impregnable.
The palace ensemble was located on 6000 square meters area with a 32 meters long and 15 meters wide throne room. Back in the time it was richly decorated with pink marble, green serpentine and Egyptian porphyry.
Trapezitsa is the second fortress of medieval Tarnovo, home of the nobility during the Second Bulgarian Empire.
An interesting fact is that back in 1884-1900 the French archaeologist Georges Seurat first revealed the foundations of 17 churches located on the hill. Nowadays new archaeological structures have been unearthed, dating back to the Late Antiquity and Early Byzantine period.
In the south is the hill Sveta Gora (Holly wood), the cultural and spiritual hearth of the Second Bulgarian Empire.
Located on the hill was the monastery “St. Bogoroditsa Odigitria”, home of hermits and monks. Today you can walk around the hill and enjoy the peaceful scenery.
The old town of Veliko Tarnovo
The old town is situated around the tree hills with its narrow streets and beautiful houses, typical for the Bulgarian Revival (18th-19th century).
Here you can visit some interesting museums and learn more about the history of the region and Bulgaria. Don`t miss the the Archaeological Museum, the Regional Museum of History and the museum of The Bulgarian Revival and the Constituent Assembly. Or enjoy a quiet walk and a nice meal at a local restaurant.
The Sound and Light show
The spectacular audiovisual show tells the story of the fall of Veliko Tarnovo to the Ottomans, using dramatic music, multicolor lights, lasers and chiming bells.
It can be watched for free on public holidays from Tsar Asen I Square in front of the main gate of Tsarevets Fortress. Private showings could be booked for a fee.
If you are in the area don`t miss the famous village of Arbanassi, located 3 km from Veliko Tarnovo. Its houses are fully preserved with typical for the Bulgarian Revival architecture .
Location: Vitosha Mountain Type: day trips around Sofia; hiking; nature landmarks; Bulgaria Suitable for children: yes; with a baby carrier for babies and toddlers
If you find yourself in Sofia, capital of Bulgaria, one of the places you should definitely visit is Cherni Vrah (Vitosha mountain). The city is located at the foot of the mountain, so it won’t take you long to reach it. Cherni Vrah is one of the most popular tourist destination, located on Vitosha, and also the highest peak of the mountain. Rising to 2290 m, this is the fourth highest peak in Bulgaria after Musala, Vihren and Botev peak. So read along and then go and see for yourself if you’re nearby!
How to get to Cherni Vrah
By CAR or TAXI and LIFT
If you choose this option you have to reach Dragalevtsi district and get off the taxi/ leave the car in the parking lot near Vodenitsata reastaurant. The lift station is nearby and the ticket to Bacho Kiro station and then to Goli Vrach station in both directions is 7 Bulgarian lev. The whole trip with the lift takes about 30 minutes. From Goli Vrah you have to hike to Cherni Vrah – it will take you about 2 hours to reach your destination if you are not an experience hiker and/ or you take your time to enjoy the scenary.
By BUS and LIFT
Catch bus route number 64 from Hladilnika district and then get off at the parking lot near Vodenitsata reastaurant. Catch the lift station to Goli Vrah.
This is the most pleasant option, but not one that we’ll personaly choose or recommend for the winter season. The route to the top takes time and it’s better to take the lift if you are in the mountain when it’s snowy. You could access Cherni Vrah if you start hiking from various directions – from Aleko hut or the Golden Bridges but that’s a story for another, more summery post.
When you reach the peak you should definitely enjoy a hot cup of tea or some nice hot meal from the cafeteria in the weather station. Keep in mind that the station does not provide accommodation and that you`ll have to catch the lift for Dragalevtsi before 16 p.m. But also take your time to breath deep fresh air and enjoy the beauty of Vitosha mountain.
Location: Western Rhodope Mountains Type: road trip; nature landmarks; caves; Bulgaria Suitable for children: yes
Trigrad is surely a place you’ll fall in love with. Located in Rhodope mountains, the tiny village is really lovely with its green meadows, hills and forests, picturesque houses and yards and not to forget – the impressive Trigrad Gorge which leads to the village. Near Trigrad is also the Devil’s Throat cave. According to legends Orpheus attempted to retrieve his beloved Eurydice from the Underworld through this cave. Nearby is also another spectacular landmark – the Yagodina cave, the longest known cave in the Rhodopes. Plenty to see in this area and you should definitely visit it if you’re in Bulgaria.
So how to arrange your trip to this beautiful places? Here is how we’ve done it and you can come up with ideas on your on…
We’ve travelled from the village of Leshten to Trigrad and decided that our first stop will be the Yagodina cave, located nearby. In order to reach the cave you have to go through the Buynovsko Gorge. It`s the longest in Bulgaria and simply breathtakingly beautiful. With many twists and turns, some parts of the road are so narrow that it seems impossible for two cars to pass one another.
The cave is at the end of the road where a parking lot and a restaurant are situated as well. Entrance to the cave is on every hour with a guide who may (or may not) speak English. The tour takes about 45 minutes but keep in mind that the temperature inside is a constant 6°C yearlong, so pack some warm clothes with you.
An interesting fact is that New Year is celebrated here by locals. And the Christmas tree that they decorate for the occasion lasts up to 3 years.
Next to the exit of the cave is another landmark – a cave dwelling which is also worth a visit.
On our trip we had decided that we would go to Trigrad first and find accommodation for the night and visit the Devil’s Throat cave the next day. It was already 5 p.m., the cave was probably closed and we needed to find where to stay for the night. It turned out to be a very wise decision for us. But if you have more time you could first visit the Devil’s Throat cave and then Trigrad. The cave is located on the road that leads to the village.
To get to Trigrad you have to get out of the Buynovsko Gorge and then enter the Trigrad Gorge, which is as narrow and magnificent as the former one. It’s impossible to express in words the beauties of nature here – you’ll have to come and see for yourself.
The village of Trigrad is tiny, beautiful and peaceful. We were very lucky in finding accommodation here – we stayed at a family guest house – Vila Radost, for the night, located in the village center, with view to the church and the mosque.
We highly recommend Vila Radost – the people are very nice and hospitable, the rooms are comfortable, the view from the gazebo in the yard is splendid, and the cooking… simply amazing. The traditional local dish patatnik (a meal made from potatoes) was unbelievably delicious. And we are not even mentioning the mekitzi (batter fried in oil) for breakfast.
You could stay in Trigrad for a couple of days, enjoy the beautiful nature and fresh air, as well as the local cuisine and even go horse riding if you like.
Devil’s Throat cave
Our next stop was the notorious Devil’s Throat cave from where it`s believed that the legendary Thracian singer Orpheus descended into the Underworld to seek his beloved Eurydice. The name of the cave comes from the resemblance of its entrance to a devil head with yawning mouth.
An artificial tunnel will lead you to the main hall of the cave which is very large and impressive. Inside the river of Trigrad forms a 42 meters high underground waterfall, the highest underground waterfall in the Balkans.
The whole tour will take you about half an hour and you’ll need warm clothes – the temperature inside is a constant 8°C yearlong. In order to exit the cave you’ll have to climb up 300 stairs which are narrow and steep (don`t forget to pack comfortable shoes as well).
Outside will great you waterfalls and lush greenery (if you’re visiting in spring and summer), as well as numerous stalls and people who will try to sell you everything from Mursalski chai (a local herbal tea) to honey – do try them, they are enchanting… like everything here.
Ever wish to go road tripping and wake up in a different town each day? (No? Keep reading – may be you will! 🙂 ) Because that’s what we did around this summer. Ten days and a lot of memories later we have visited 13 cities, villages and areas in Bulgaria – from south to the north and from west to the east. And you know what? – our country is beautiful.
Here is a little glimpse of the places we’ve been…
Around this summer
For some of the places there are posts already in the blog. Stay tuned for the other posts – they are coming soon.
Location: Western Bulgaria Type: day trips around Sofia; hiking; monasteries; Bulgaria Suitable for children: yes; with a baby carrier for babies and toddlers
You may have noticed (if you`ve read our other posts) that old monasteries, surrounded by magnificent nature, are a common thing in Bulgaria. Razboishte monastery is not an exception. Built into the rocks above the Nishava river in the most western part of the country, the monastery is a must-visit for those who enjoy pleasant walks in the mountains.
The monastery was built around the 18th century, but the rock caves in the area were populated by monks since the Middle Ages. According to legends St. Sava has found shelter in the caves once, too. Centuries later the Bulgarian revolutionary Vasil Levski did the same, while hiding from the Ottoman conquerors (though he stayed in the monastery, not in the caves).
To visit Razboishte monastery you`ll have to reach the tiny village of Razboishte first (follow the google maps instructions). It`s best to leave your car parked in the village, because the road to the monastery gets rougher. The walk is not much – about a kilometer, through the mountains. You`ll have to cross a railway line, but don`t worry – trains don`t run here frequently.
Then you`ll need to pass through some relevantly new buildings, part of the monastery, in order to reach the rocks above Nishava river and begin climbing up stone stairs. The climb is also not long and the sensation and view from above are worth it.
We recommend visiting Razboishte monastery in the spring, while everything is still fresh green. Then you can combine this walk with a visit to Kotlite waterfalls, located very near (we did our trip in the summer and there were no waterfalls). And don`t forget to pack something to eat – there are tables near the river and the monastery, where you can sit and enjoy the peaceful beauty of the place.
Location: Eastern Rhodope Mountains Type: historical landmarks; road trip; Bulgaria Suitable for children: yes; with a baby carrier for babies and toddlers
There are places where energies runs so high that you definitely can feel it; so ancient that history has left its mark in the stones, earth and air. Such a place is the ancient rock city Perpericon. Located in the southeast part of Bulgaria, in the Eastern Rhodopes, on a 470 m high rocky hill, above a lovely river valley, parts of it are dated back to 6th century B.C. So prepare for a little climbing up the hill on stairs carved in the rocks, should you decide to visit Perpericon. The climbing is not so much and the end you will be rewarded with a breathtaking view.
The ancient city is in fact a large megalith complex. On its site there are traces left from the Bronze Age, the Antiquity, as well as a medieval palace and fortress. Through the ages it has been inhabited by Thracians, Romans, Goths, Byzantines and Bulgarians.
Walking around the ancient city you will see where the former streets and homes were located, as well as the impressive system of altars, where probably sacrifices where made. You can also sit on a throne carved in the rocks and enjoy the view above the Perpereshka river. In fact it is thought that the name Perpericon (originally Hyperperakion) comes from the river and the gold-mining done in the region.
But most interesting is that legends connect Perpericon with Dionysus, the Greek god of joy, madness and wine. Archeologists have long sought his infamous Temple and the researches give prove that it was located right here. According to myths, two significant prophecies were made from the temple altar – the one that predicted glory for Alexander the Macedonian, and the other, made centuries later, predetermined the rise of the first Roman Emperor – Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus.
So have no doubt about it – this ancient place will surely enchant you – with its history, vibrations and view. Go and see for yourself.
Location: Stara Planina Mountain Type: road trip; monasteries; Bulgaria Suitable for children: yes
Bulgaria is a country with lots of marvelous sights and preserved old buildings, such as the monasteries. One of the most eminent is the Glozhene monastery, located in the mountains near the town of Teteven.
The mountain road that leads to there is very picturesque and slightly frightening – it`s very narrow and gives the illusion that only car can pass at a time, but buses and cars actually pass without problem.
If you decide to travel to this beautiful place you won’t be disappointed. The monastery complex features several buildings, including a cozy restaurant with a breathtaking view.
According to the legend Glozhene monastery was built in the 13th century by the Kiev Prince Glozh with Bulgarian tsar Ivan Asen II’s approval. The tunnels under the monastery were used by Bulgarian revolutionary and national hero Vasil Levski during the battles for Bulgaria’s liberation. Sadly the old monastery church and tunnels were destroyed by earthquakes in the first half of the 20th century. Nevertheless, the spirit of the ages is still preserved here and you will definitely feel it.
If you wish you could stay for the night in the monastery – it offers accommodation in both independent rooms and in common premises. And also, around the monastery there are a lot of nice walking routes, so give it a try and go visit Glozhene monastery
Location: Black Sea Coast Type: road trip; nature landmarks; historical landmarks; caves; Black Sea Coast; Bulgaria Suitable for children: yes; with a baby carrier for babies and toddlers
Yailata is a national archaeological reserve on the Bulgarian seaside, famous for its 101 cave “apartments” from the 5th century B.C and an early-Byzantine stronghold from the late 5th century A.D. The area is situated 18 km northeast from the town of Kavarna, close to the Rusalka resort.
It is a seaside ledge with an area of 300 acres, separated from the sea by cliffs of 50-60 meters height. The name of the site comes from the characteristics of the terrain. Translated from Turkish, Yailata means “high pasture.” It has been inhabited by Thracians, Greeks, Romans, Slavs, and each of these cultures has left its mark on the land over the centuries.
Some years ago the area was quite wild and unknown to the general public. Its existence was only known to local people, fishermen, archaeologists and campers. It is in the cave apartments that the campers found shelter in the warm summer evenings. They slept in the 2 or 3-bedroom homes of the ancient people or on the beach under the stars, enjoying the tranquility of the severed sea paradise in the daytime, gathering around the fire in the evening. And then there was always someone to play the guitar and embody the magic of the place in music.
But contractors and real estate developers have long been trying to end this old-fashioned romance. And with time campers have ceased to come here. On the other hand everywhere around the reserve are emerging signs, information boards and litter bins. Once even a concrete slab, but that’s another story… And at the very beginning of the path, that leads into the reserve, nowadays is a parking lot and an information desk, where you have to pay a 3 Bulgarian lev entrance fee.
Never mind, nothing I wrote or could write on this topic could fully express the beauty of the place, which will be revealed to you, as you enter Yailata.
A signboard will lead you down a narrow but safe path over the breaking waves, first to the fortress and then to the caves. The fortress itself could not impress you very much. There are four towers and a tower-gate, which are only partially preserved, and are generally like any other ancient pile of stones.
Much more interesting are the caves, hollowed in the rocks above the roaring sea. They can be reached down a path of stone stairs and are rather easily accessible. In some of the ancient apartments you can still recognize the purpose of each room – whether by the stone bed or the remains of “cupboards”, carved into the rocks.
Here you can also see the a cave turned into a church during the middle ages – the Saints Constantine and Helena temple, with unique Bulgarian runes, crosses and stone icons, as well as Thracian wineries from the fifth century B.C.
Walking around Yailata you will surely enjoy the beautiful scenery and mystical calmness of the place. After awhile you will reach the end of the path where one can sit on the rocks, listen to the sea and watch how the waves break at his feet.
Another trail enters into a forest and comes across the cliffs on a small beach, and then goes all the way to the Rusalka resort. But stop and rest here for a while. Listen to the waves and they will carry you centuries ago…
Location: Western Bulgaria Type: day trips around Sofia; nature landmarks; monasteries; Bulgaria Suiable for children: yes
There are many nice places that you can enjoy nearby Sofia, if you’re visiting the Bulgarian capital, like Zemen monastery and Pchelina dam. They are both in the same direction and worth a visit. We recommend that you first go to the Zemen monastery and, if you wish, have lunch at the restaurant there and then enjoy the view of the Pchelina dam.
Zemen monastery and Pchelina dam
Zemen is located about 80 km from Sofia and can be reached by train and by car. The town itself is picturesque, situated on both sides of the Struma river, surrounded by mountains. The Zemen monastery towers over the town and can be reached on foot from the center or by car straight to the gates. Well maintained and with authentic architecture, today the monastery is not active. The yard is spacious and accommodates a nice restaurant, which has already been mentioned. The view to the town of Zemen and the serenity of the place is worth taking a break here.
Part of the monastery complex is also the remarkable Saint John the Theologian church, built in the 11 century. The frescoes are fully preserved, accomplished in an archaic decorative style and very beautiful. The church is really remarkable and they say that if you make a wish with hand of the altar, it will come true.
Next to visit is Pchelina dam. An interesting fact is that once a village named Pchelintsi was situated at the site of the dam. It was completely submerged, so that the dam could take its place. From the village remained only a small church, which today stands on a rock above the Pchelina dam.
Built in 1350, the church is called St. John Letni. Its frescoes are partially preserved and it is evident that once they were really beautiful. And the view, which opens around the church will reward you for trying to find this lovely place. The thing is that it is a little bit hard to get to if you are not GPS equipped or prepared for lots of talking with the locals for directions. To get here, you have to go through the village of Potsurnentsi and then it`s best to follow Google coordinates. Also the road form Potsurnentsi to the church is not so good and will be a challenge for a regular car.
The Pchelina dam is also perfect for camping and a longer stay, especially if you are into fishing. Regardless, you will surely enjoy the beautiful vista.
Location: Danube river, near Lom Type: boat trip; nature landmarks; Danube river; island; Bulgaria Suitable for children: for older children
Skomen island is among the highest of the 75 Bulgarian Danube islands and relatively easily accessible. Located near the city of Lom, its area is about 1200 acres. And although its official name is Skomen, the locals call it Kovachev – the name of the family whose property it was before the communist regime in Bulgaria.
Today the island is owned by the state. It`s one of those places that you won`t find in any tourist guide, though its flora and fauna are unique. Keep in mind: it`s perfect for a day walk, but there are no conditions for a longer stay.
The channel between the island and the shore is actually not very wide – enough to allow wild pigs that inhabit it at daytime, to swim across, when night falls. But don`t try this yourself. If you want to take a walk around the island, you can contact local fishermen for transportation.
And you won`t be disappointed. With its lush greenery it resembles a jungle. On this island endangered and extremely rare plants can still be found – Vardim oak, plain ash tree, black poplar, swamp snowdrop. Disappeared, felled by poachers, suffocated from outlandish bushes “invasion”, they are the last representatives all along the river.
So consider this if you decide to visit the island and be careful not to tear or damage the plants. Just enjoy the peace and gorgeous scenery.
Location: Stara Planina Mountain Type: hiking; nature landmarks; Bulgaria Suitable for children: yes; with a baby carrier for babies and toddlers
Sometimes, you have to go through hell in order to reach paradise. That`s what awaits you if you decide to visit Rai hut and Botev peak. They are located in the Central Balkan National Park, Stara planina mountain, Bulgaria (rai is the Bulgarian word for paradise). Not surprisingly the reserve which you have to pass so you can reach the hut is called Dzhendema (translated from Turkish dzhendema means hell). At the end of the road, however, you will be rewarded with magnificent views, fresh air, divine peace and a walk through the clouds. And the clouds are literally at your feet, because the hut is located 1430 meters above sea level.
Rai hut and Botev peak
The Central Balkan is the highest and steepest part of Stara planina. The highest peak is Botev peak and the hut lies at its foot. Not far is also the highest waterfall in the country – Raiskoto pruskalo, with a height of 124.5 meters.
Be prepared: you can`t reach the hut by car but only by foot, accessible by several routes. You can go through Panitsite area above the town of Kalofer or through Karlovo and then Levski hut. The first route takes from 4 to 6 hours, and if you choose the second you will have to stay for the night in Levski hut. Either way the strip marking (blue and white) will be your guide, and be sure – the view is very picturesque.
If you decide to go on this hike, no matter the route you choose, be well equipped (with comfortable shoes and warm clothes) for a long and sometimes steep road. It is best to visit the hut in the spring, when you will enjoy Raiskoto pruskalo in its full splendor, or in the summer.
And also: book the hut in advance and note that the rooms are with 4, 5, 7 and 10 beds – you could be put in a room with someone else. Check its Official Facebook page and take a walk around with Google street view. There is a bathroom (external) and a dining room, where typical Bulgarian food is offered. Tip: ask for purjeni filiiki (french toast) or mekitci (fried dough) for breakfast – they are pure hеaven!
Location: Pirin Mountain Type: road trip; nature landmarks; hiking; monasteries; Bulgaria Suitable for children: yes
Be sure – the tiny town of Melnik will enchant you. Famous for its red wine and beautiful restored old houses, this is the smallest town in Bulgaria with population around 400 people.
Melnik lays in the southwest part of the country, 180 km from the capital, Sofia. You can reach it by bus or car. Its city status is retained only for cultural reasons – 96 of its buildings are historical monuments. А trip to the town could be combined with a visit to the city of Sandanski, where you can go for a walk in the nice city park or visit a swimming pool with mineral water.
Not far is also Rozhen Monastery, built around the 12th century. Located 6 km southeast of Melnik this is the biggest monastery in the Pirin Mountain. If you go for a walk up the hill near the monastery you will reach a place where you will enjoy a magnificent view of the natural sand pyramids, spread around Melnik.
The protected area of Rupite is also nearby, situated at the eastern foot of the extinct volcano Kozhuh Mountain. Rupite is best known as the place where the Bulgarian prophet Vanga lived, but also for its’ healing mineral springs and alluring view.
Location: Belchin village Type: day trips around Sofia; historical landmarks; Bulgaria Suitable for children: yes
If you are in Sofia and wish to escape the city life for a few hours, go to Tsari Mali Grad and enjoy the centuries-old history of the area. It`s a restored ancient fortress, located on the hill Saint Spas above the village of Belchin, 15 km from the town of Samokov. The distance from Sofia is about 50 km.
Tsari Mali Grad
The entrance fee is 4 Bulgarian Lev (or 2 Euros), including transportation to the fortress in a rail cabin, if you don`t wish to walk, and entrance to an ethnographic museum.
Archaeological researches on the hill show that the construction of the fortress began in the 4th century. Tracing the historical layers has also proven that the earliest habitation of this site began in the second phase of the early Iron Age (VIII-VI century BC). But more about the history of the fortress and the area on which it`s built, you`ll find when you visit.
We recommend a trip to Tsari Mali Grad in the spring or summer – then you will be fully able to enjoy the view from above the hill. Moreover, before or after the walk to the fortress you could go to a swimming pool in Belchin – the village is famous for its mineral springs.
Location: Northern Bulgaria Type: road trip; nature and historical landmarks; caves; Danube river; Bulgaria Suitable for children: yes; with a baby carrier for babies and toddlers
Belogradchik, Magurata and Vidin were on our to-visit list for some time.
Belogradchik is one of those alluring places in Bulgaria which will surely impress you. The rocks above the town were nominated for a new Wonder of the World a few years ago. A visit to Belogradchik can also be combined with a walk through the city of Vidin on the Danube river, Baba Vida fortress, located in Vidin – the only fully preserved fortress in Bulgaria. And with a tour around the Magurata cave, which contains prehistoric drawings.
Belogradchik, Magurata and Vidin
Belogradchik, Magurata and Vidin are located in the northwest part of the country. If you travel by car from Sofia you should take the E79 route through Botevgrad, Vratsa and Montana. Drive carefully in these cities, especially if it rains, because there are quite a few holes in the road that form thanks to the bad weather.
Vidin and the fortress
The trip from Sofia to Vidin takes about three hours and a half, and if you leave Sofia early in the morning the destination is reached right before lunch. You can check the tidy city center of Vidin, the beautiful promenade on the Danube river and the city park before you visit the Baba Vida fortress. The fortress is open for visitors between 8:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. (on weekdays) and between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. (during the weekends and holidays). The entrance fee is 4 Bulgarian Lev (or 2 Euros) and you can also pay for a guide. You will hear the legend of Vida, daughter of a nobleman, who once lived in the fortress. The massive stone building, perched on the banks of the Danube, will fill your imagination with fantastic dreams of gallant knights and noble ladies. Simply put, the view is enchanting.
The Magurata cave
One of the largest and most beautiful caves in Bulgaria is located close to the village of Rabisha, 17 km from the town of Belogradchik, in the limestone Rabisha mound. The cave is open for visitors between 10 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. and the entrance fee with a guide is 10 Bulgarian Lev (or 5 Euros). The guide will tell you all about the history of the cave and the origin of the prehistoric drawings. The cave is impressive and beautiful and in the last years many couples have been getting married here. But beware of the slippery stairs. The temperature in the cave is a constant 12 degrees Celsius, year-round, keep that in mind if you visit in the summer and prepare a jacket.
The rocks above the city certainly deserve the nomination for a new Wonder of the World. A walk through and over them, and a visit to the Belogradchik fortress are among some of the things to do in Belogradchik. The entrance fee for the fortress is 2 Bulgarian Lev (or 1 Euro) and the view from above – priceless.
We will not go into more details – go and see for yourself! The town of Belogradchik itself is small, cute and well maintained, with nice buildings from the early 20th century. The only drawback of the neat center is an ugly 4-star hotel, which could be seen from everywhere in the town. This bad impression is somewhat fixed, thanks to the beautifully restored building of the old town school. There is also a time capsule, stamped in a stone plate in front of the school. So if you find yourself in Bulgaria – go and visit these beautiful places!
Location: Southwestern Bulgaria Type: road trip; spa; historical landmarks; Bulgaria Suitable for children: yes
Do you wish to combine a trip to the mountains with a relaxing spa weekend for your next vacation? If so, you should definitely visit Ognyanovo. The village, famous for its thermal mineral water springs, is located in the skirts of Rhodope Mountains, in the valley of Mesta river.
It lays 125 kilometers from Bulgarian capital Sofia and can be reached by car or bus. There are hotels and guest houses in the village, as well as in Garmen and Marchevo, which are very close to Ognyanovo. In fact the three villages are almost merged. But the mineral water springs are all in Ognyanovo.
For our last trip there we chose the Therma Vitae hotel for day spa. The hotel has an indoor swimming pool, an outdoor hot tub and swimming pool. We highly recommend the outdoor hot tub, even in the winter. The water is pleasantly hot and the view – breathtaking. If you are not а guest of the hotel you have to pay 10 Bulgarian lev (5 Euros) entrance fee for two hours.
What else to do and see when in Ognyanovo? There’s plenty…
The Roman town Nicopolis ad Nestum, situated a few kilometers south of the village, is currently being restored. Hopefully soon it will be open for visitors.
In the village of Garmen you will see an impressive and glorious plane tree, which is over 600 years old. The city of Gotse Delchev is near Ognyanovo (12 km) and has a very nice park.
Location: Western Bulgaria Type: day trips around Sofia; festivals; Bulgaria Suitable for children: yes
Ever heard of Pernik, Bulgaria? If yes – you may know that it`s not the most beautiful city in the country. But every year, in the end of January, the city is taken by magic, music and madness. Masked men are dancing in the streets, bells hanging from their costumes, filling the air with joyful sounds. The masquerade games in Pernik begin.
The masquerade games in Pernik
All this is part of the annual masquerade games, held in Pernik. They originate from ancient rituals, still alive in the Bulgarian folklore tradition, performed between Christmas and Easter. The masked men are called kukeri and their purpose is to scare away the evil spirits and to bring good fortune, health and happiness to the people.
The festival in Pernik lasts 3 days – from Friday till Sunday of the last week of January, and it`s worth a visit if you are in Sofia at the time. The distance between Sofia and Pernik is only 30 km and you can reach Pernik by bus or train. If you miss it, don`t worry – another masquerade festival is held in Shiroka Luka in the beginning of March. The picturesque village is located in the very south of Bulgaria, in Smolyan municipality and it`s perfect for a short vacation.