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: Italy Type: 3 day trip; historical landmarks; Italy Suitable for children: yes
What can one see on a 3-day vacation in Rome with a toddler? In our previuos post we paid attention to the planning of the trip. And in this, we will tell you about the beautiful sights that we managed to enjoy in the capital of Italy.
As already mentioned, all the interesting landmarks are situated in the center within walking distance from each other. So you have to choose a starting point (ours was Piazza Venezia) and keep walking. You surely are going to see much more than you`ve planned. In Rome everything is sehenswürdig, as the Germans would say.
Rome, day 1
Piazza Venezia – Largo di Torre Argentina – Piazza Navona – The Pantheon – Trevi Fountain – The Spanish Steps
We landed in Rome early in the morning – at 8 a.m., and thank god for having arranged shuttle service in advance. I’m not quite sure that after I had to got up at 4 o’clock in the morning, my brain would function properly to arrange anything else.
My first impression of Rome is how different the greenery is – the high and graceful Italian stone pine trees give extra aristocracy to the exquisite Eternal City and its surroundings.
After we got settled and refreshed, we embark on our first adventure around the city. For that day, given the few hours of sleep due to the flight, I had planned a casual walk through the historic center. We arrived at Piazza Venezia and enjoyed for the first time the splendor of Rome. And met our very first crowd of tourists.
Situated at the foot of the Capitoline Hill, next to the Forum of Trajan, Piazza Venezia is not a pedestrian area and the traffic around is massive. It`s worth it, however, to climb the stairs to the Venetian palace (formerly the Embassy of Venice in Rome) and to look closely at the statue of King Victor Emanuel II, situated in front of the palace. The view from above is quite splendid. Soon we realized that this is customary for Rome. Wherever you go, wherever you look, you are greeted with beautiful buildings, squares, statues.
We took a great deal of pictures of the surroundings and headed to Piazza Navona. Quite by chance, we came to Largo di Torre Argentina. This, according to the latest archaeological discoveries, is the place where Julius Caesar was stabbed.
Next was Piazza Navona. The most remarkable part there is the Fountain of the Four Rivers. Created in 1651 by Bernini on a commission by Pope Innocent X, the fountain is simply magnificent. It consists of four male figures that symbolize the four rivers: Nile, Ganges, the Danube and the Rio de la Plata.
Our next stop was the Pantheon, which could be entered without paying an entrance fee. It was built on a commission by Hadrian between 188 and 125 BC on the site of an earlier temple and in honor of the Roman gods. The building is in excellent condition, thanks to renovations from the time of the Byzantine Emperor Phocas, when in 609 it was converted into a Christian church. During the Renaissance era, prominent people were buried here, including King Victor Emmanuel II, Humberto I and the artist Rafael and his fiancée.
Today one can walk through the impressive building and admire the different eras that have left their mark. The most interesting part for me was the dome in which center lies an open circle called the oculus or the Eye of the Pantheon. Through it comes natural light and water when it rains. I`ve read that it is a very interesting sight. The water drains without any problems thanks to a drainage system built on the floor.
We walked around the Pantheon and then headed to the next emblematic sight of Rome – the Trevi Fountain. We passed through large boulevards and narrow streets typical for Italy, and accidentally came across Venchi – the best Gelato I’ve ever tasted. Our attention was first drawn by a long queue, and then we spotted the chocolate fountain wall. It was definitely worth the 20-minutes wait, and the prices were not high for Rome – two balls in a waffle cone, dipped in liquid chocolate and nuts, cost 4.70 euro.
Fueled with energy, we met the view of one of the world’s most famous fountains – Trevi (named after the three streets connecting on the square on which it`s placed).
Built in 1762 by Nicola Salvi, the first impression here is that you can barely get to the fountain, let alone throw a coin and wish to come back to Rome. The tourists are in huge crowds and it`s quite understandable – the sculptural scene, made by Pietro Bracci, is infinitely beautiful. In the center is the god Neptune, and on both sides are two female figures, symbolizing abundance and health. If you are lucky or you visit the fountain in the early or late hours, you may have the opportunity to capture it without having a random tourist in your pictures.
On our list, after the Trevi Fountain, we had one last landmark to visit this day – the Spanish Steps – another popular tourist destination in Rome. Build with funds donated by French diplomat Étienne Gueffier in 1723-1725, the nearly 140-steps staircase connects Piazza di Spagna with the Trinità dei Monti church on the top of the hill. At the foot of the stairs is the Barcaccia fountain, and around the square are the boutiques of famous fashion brands – Gucci, Prada, Versace. The Spanish Steps are a really attractive place for tourists, so if you want to take a nice picture, visit them in the early hours.
Rome, day 2
Vatican city – Castel Sant`Angelo – Villa Borghese
That day of our stay in Rome was quite rainy. It was a fortunate chance that I had booked the tickets for the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel namely for this day. As I`ve mentioned in the previous post, it`s best to buy online skip the line tickets from the official site so you could avoid waiting.
After we walked around the impressive St. Peter’s Square in front of the basilica of the same name, we headed for the entrance of the museums.
Vatican officials are located everywhere around the square and give directions how to get to the entrance. They warned us that if we then want to enter the basilica (whose entrance is free), we will have to go back to the square and stand on the queue. Or buy a skip the line ticket and go directly to the basilica from the museums. We didn`t take advantage of this offer. The crowds in the Vatican museums are huge, and we`ve decided not to bring our daughter in. So she stayed with her father at home, and we didn`t want to leave them waiting for us longer than planned. However, if you have more time available, it`s best to buy skip the line ticket for the basilica as well.
The first museum we visited in the Vatican was the Gregorian Egyptian Museum. It did not impress me much because I had already seen such artifacts in the British Museum years ago. The crown of the exhibition is an Egyptian mummy, which seemed to me rather creepy.
Then we went through the galleries painted by Raphael and to the Sistine Chapel with Michelangelo’s famous frescoes on the ceiling. Various exhibits – sculptures, tapestries, geographic maps, are scattered across the many museums along the way. To see all, you have to walk 8 km. It`s best to get an audio guide at the entrance – so you will determine your own pace of movement and you will know where you are and what you see.
Keep in mind that the crowds in the Sistine Chapel are really formidable. It`s forbidden to take pictures and staff members closely observe everyone and urge you not to stand in one place so that the next tourists can enter the Chapel. We enjoyed the marvelous sights as long as we could, and then we made a mistake. Instead of going for the exit of the Chapel, we poured into a stream of tourists with tour guides on the way to the basilica. Nobody stopped us, but later I read that staff members generally doesn`t allow this if you haven`t paid for a tour guide. So we found ourselves directly at the entrance of the basilica. And we would have walked around it but we had to go back to rest of the group.
Our next stop this day was Castel Sant`Angelo. Originally the castle was build as a mausoleum for Hadrian, then became residence of the popes and storage for their values, as well as a prison. Today it`s a museum that keeps a variety of interesting exhibits.
We thought that our daughter won`t like the idea of touring around. So we took pictures of the building from the outside, as well as the beautiful statues on the bridges over Tiber.
If it wasn`t raining, we would include in our program for this day and a walk around Villa Borghese and eventually the zoo, located there. Unfortunately, the weather was very instable, and we didn`t want to risk soaking. In fact, in the vicinity of Villa Borghese you can see many more things – Villa Medici and Villa Borghese Gallery. The park itself is also worth touring, but as I have already emphasized – in good weather.
Rome, day 3
Capitoline Hill – Roman Forum – Palatine Hill – The Colosseum – Trastevere
On the third day of our vacation, it was time for us to walk around ancient Rome. Our tour started with the Capitoline Hill – one of the seven hills of Rome and the one where all started. According to the legend, the twin brothers Romulus and Remus were suckled by the Capitoline Wolf on this hill.
We climbed the stairs designed by Michelangelo towards the hill. In fact, the entire square of the hill is designed by the great artist commissioned by Pope Paul III. At its center is the statue of Emperor Mark Aurelius (a copy of the only horse statue remaining from the antiquity), and three palaces, now converted into Capitoline Museums. For 15 euro one can enter the oldest public museums in the world (dating back to 1471), and can see many interesting exhibits. Among them are the original of the statue of Mark Aurelius, the statue of the Capitoline Wolf and many other works of art from Ancient Rome and Greece, the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.
We could not fit the Capitoline Museums in our program because we had a lot of things planned for that day. But if you have more time in Rome, the museums are definitely worth visiting.
After exploring the Capitoline Hill, we walked down the hill and found ourselves near the entrance of the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill. Despite the valuable tips we shared in the previous post, we haven`t bought online skip the line tickets for this sights and had to wait 1 hour to enter. This is a mistake we recommend you not to repeat – the price difference is ridiculous – instead of 12 euro* the skip the line ticket is 14 euro but it saves valuable time in Rome. No matter how you get it, the ticket gives you access not only to the Forum and Palatine Hill, but also to the Colosseum (but you have to specify the exact time you want to enter the Colosseum).
The tour of the oldest square of ancient Rome, set in a valley between the hills of Palatine, Capitoline and Esquiline, was worth the whole wait. Over the centuries, here have risen temples of Roman deities and triumphal arches of emperors, and more recently basilicas. Today, there are mainly columns and stone blocks left from its former majesty, but the place is so picturesque that it is worth walking around. Keep in mind that the flooring is a combination of gravel and stones and pushing a baby stroller would be a challenge. If you are with a baby or a toddler, it will be best to bring a baby carrier. And prepare yourself with comfortable shoes.
Signs will take you up the path to Palatine Hill, which reveals an incredible panorama. According to the legend, it was on this hill where Romulus founded the city that bears his name – Rome. Later emperors started building their palaces here, the first palace was that of Augustus. In some of the more preserved buildings on the hill, including his house, you can see frescoes dating back 2000 years.
After strolling around everything of interest here, one have to leave the Forum and queue to enter the Colosseum, which is located in close proximity. Since we have already purchased a ticket, the entry didn`t take long. We displayed the tickets, passed the security check and found ourselves under the remarkable columns of the ancient arena. Its construction began in the years 70 and 72 by emperor Vespasian and was completed in the 80’s by Titus. Used for spectacular gladiator games, it once accommodated up to 50,000 viewers. Today, one of Rome’s main symbols has been partially destroyed by earthquakes over the centuries, but it`s still extremely impressive.
If you are with a baby or toddler: the pavement in front of the Colosseum is in the form of huge stone blocks with space apart. Moving with a stroller will be difficult here, but once you enter the building, there are no problems. Lifts are available to help get to the second floor and take a tour around the amphitheater.
In our program, after the Colosseum, the agenda was lunch. We had decided that for this purpose we would visit the artistic heart of Rome, the Trastevere neighborhood. Tram 3, which stops near the Colosseum, took us there in 15 minutes. Picturesque narrow streets, cozy restaurants and small souvenir shops are scattered all around the area.
Tired of walking the whole day, we sat at the first restaurant we came across – Ombre Rossé, near the Basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere, and this decision turned out to be extremely good. The pizza was superb, and the service was excellent. They gave us a chair for the baby, and brought color pages and pencils.
If you have the opportunity (or in other words, you are in Rome without a child), you could also check the nightlife in Trastevere. The neighborhood boasts many bars where one can have a drink or two..
Our vacation in Rome with a toddler turned out quite perfect. We certainly didn`t manage to visit all the landmarks and beautiful sights of the Italian capital. There is no way this could happen in just 3 days. But that’s just a reason to come back to Rome…
* The Italian media reported in early April 2019 that the entry fee for the Roman Forum, Palatine hill and the Colosseum will be raised on November 1, 2019 – instead of 12 euro, the regular ticket will be 16 euro. The price increase will be accompanied by a new “smart” entry system, which is expected to reduce waiting queues. Whether it will, only time will show.
Location: Italy Type: 3 day trip; travel tips; Italy Suitable for children: yes
A huge preparation took the first plane trip with our little daughter – our 3-day vacation in Rome with a toddler. But it was worth it. Not only because Rome is an amazing city and surpassed all our expectations, but also because we shared this experience with our child. Sure, in years, she will probably not remember she once visited the Eternal City. But I believe that traveling is able to feed the soul not only of adults. And the new beautiful sights we`ve enjoyed during the three days in Rome definitely impressed her. Not to mention that, quite like an Italian, she now says “chao” on every occasion.
3-day vacation in Rome with a toddler
I decided to organize our vacation in Rome myself. I looked at the various flight options on Google flights and searched for an Airbnb apartment. Our tours around Rome were fast and easily planned with the Visit A City application. It allows you to set the length of your stay in a city of your choosing by adding different landmarks each day. You can set your starting position (address of the hotel or apartment you are staying at) and departure time, and the app will show you how to get to the different sights (on foot or with transport) and how much time it will take you. It also provides brief information about each landmark, which is also very convenient. More on how to organize your trip yourself you can read here.
We used a stroller around Rome for the little one – in the historic center the ground is with paving stones and overcoming them isn`t a big problem. In the Roman Forum and in front of the Colosseum however is more difficult to move with a stroller – the flooring there is respectively gravel and huge stones with distances between them. If you have a baby carrier, you would be more comfortable with it visiting these places. In the stroller, however, the child can sleep when it gets tired, so we chose this option.
I strongly recommend to everyone, whether with a baby or a child or not, to buy online tickets for the landmarks in Rome, especially for the Vatican, the Roman Forum, the Palatine Hill and the Colosseum. They are a bit more expensive* – for the Vatican museums and the Sistine Chapel the regular ticket (without a tour guide) is 21 euro instead of 17, and for the Roman Forum, Palatine hill and Colosseum (these three are entered with one ticket) is 14 euro instead of 12. But they are skip the line tickets – instead of queuing, you enter very quickly. And the queues are really impressive in Rome, even out of season. We thought it`s better to pay a few euro more, but to save valuable hours in tedious waiting of our short 3-day vacation Rome. However, you have to choose the time of your visit to the landmarks and to be right on time. Which is not bad from an organizational point of view.
The flight to Rome
I chose for us to fly to Rome from Sofia, Bulgaria with Ryanair, because at first glance it seemed cheaper. However, after paying for 20 kg checked luggage, for regular hand luggage (the company policy allows only one small free bag in the plane), reserved seats and a pre-check, the tickets turned out roughly the same price as those of Bulgaria Air. Everything went surprisingly smoothly (I had not flown before with Ryanair and I`d read many negative reviews). But honestly, next time I would choose Bulgaria Air – at least, because the seats are more comfortable. Also, the flights are set at a better time than those of Ryanair – our take-off flight was at 6:40 a.m., and on return – at 8 o’clock in the morning.
How did our daughter experience her first flight?, you would probably ask. She behaved extremely well. Since she is not 2 years old yet, she was sitting in my lap during the flight and was worried only slightly when the plane took off and then when landing. There is an option to buy a separate seat for the child with a discount, but for an hour and a half to Rome I decided that it makes no sense. Ryanair allows you to bring on board a baby bag of up to 5 kg free of charge (with baby items only – food, water, clothes, diapers) and you can get to the plane staircase with a stroller (then the staff takes it and it`s waiting for you when you leave the plane). You don`t have to pay anything for the stroller, and you can take another item free of charge on board – a folding baby cot or a baby car seat. In fact, most airline companies provide this comfort to their little passengers – just check out before booking.
The big dilemma where to stay in Rome was whether to choose the center (where prices are much higher) or a neighborhood nearby, and to use public transport. I found a pretty decent apartment while browsing AirBnb – less than 2 km from the Vatican and at a reasonable price, and the decision was made. It turned out to be extremely good. The apartment was spacious enough for all of us (we traveled not only with our little daughter, but aslo with both grandmothers plus an aunt): 3 bedrooms (two with one double bed and one with two beds) and 2 bathrooms, kitchen with everything needed, a dining room and 3 balconies . The only drawback was that one of the rooms – with the separate beds – was once probably a closet, and is with a very small window. But if you are visiting for a short period and don`t intend to stay all the time inside of the apartment, there is no big drama. The biggest plus of the apartment is that it`s located in a nice and quiet neighborhood, in a very convenient location – minutes from the public transport, the busses are quite regular and it will take you to reach any point of interest in Rome for 15-20 minutes.
Now is the time to mention our hosts. They were very kind and they arranged for us shuttle service with baby car seat from and to the airport for 60 euro in direction. The apartment had a baby chair and a baby cot, so the little one was equipped with all amenities needed for a comfortable stay.
Keep in mind that wherever you stay in Rome – a hotel, a rental apartment or a house, you have to pay a tourist tax of 3.50 euro per day at check-in.
The public transport
All historical sites in Rome are concentrated in the city center within walking distance from each other. Our starting point was Piazza Venezia – the last stop of bus 916 we were traveling with. On the first day, we headed north of the square and got to see the incredibly beautiful fountains of Rome, the Pantheon and the Spanish stairs. On the third day we headed south from the square to visit the Capitoline hill, the Roman Forum, the Palatine hill and the Colosseum. The second day was planned for the Vatican tour and the bus left us just outside St. Peter’s Square.
We traveled with standard tickets, valid for 100 minutes on all buses allowing transfer, or for one Metro ride. The price of this thicket is 1.50 euro. The 24-hours ticket for all public transport is 7 euro, the 48-hours ticket is 12.50 euro and the 72-hours ticket is 18 euro. We chose to use 2 standard tickets a day – one to the center and one back home, instead of buying whole day tickets. This turned out quite a reasonable decision because we didn`t have to use any more public transport.
There is also the option to buy a so-called Roma Pass which allows you to ride all public transport plus free access to one or two landmarks, as well as discounts for many other. Included in the Roma Pass are the Colosseum and the Borghese Gallery, for example, but not the Vatican. The price for 2 days with 1 free entrance is 28 euro and for 3 days with 2 free admissions – 38.50 euro. Since we were in Rome for the first time, with a toddler, we decided that we won`t be able to make the most of the Roma Pass discounts. Honestly, I don`t know if otherwise it would also make any sense to buy it. In just three days, one can not visit all possible sights.
I read that one should avoid restaurants in the center of Rome – firstly, because the prices are higher, and also because the food is not so tasty. The very first day in Rome, weary of our early flight, we were confronted with the rightness of this statement. We sat down to have lunch at a restaurant located on a main street near Largo di Torre Argentina, where neither the service nor the pizza were anything special. Did not repeat this error. We were most pleased with a small restaurant in Trastevere – Ombre Rossé, where the staff was extremely kind (and provided a baby chair, as well as coloring pages and pencils), and the pizza was divine. But wherever you choose to dine, the prices are all the same. The pizza and pasta are about 10 euro, the beer – 5 euro. You could enjoy a glass of Chianti at the same price. In the supermarkets you can find great fresh pasta for about 2-3 euro a packet, as well as a huge variety of cheese and salami at a decent price. Wines are ridiculously cheap – they start from 3 euro a bottle.
This post has become too long! So you`ll find the details of what we`ve seen on our 3-day vacation in Rome with a toddler in out next post.
* The Italian media reported in early April 2019 that the entry fee for the Roman Forum, Palatine hill and the Colosseum will be raised on November 1, 2019 – instead of 12 euro, the regular ticket, bought on site, will be 16 euro. The price increase will be accompanied by a new “smart” entry system, which is expected to reduce waiting queues. Whether it will, only time will show.
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.
Recently we`ve decided to plan a trip abroad. I checked the different deals offered by travel agencies and it turned out that I can`t even find one that fully meets our requirements. So now I had to answer that looming question: how to plan a vacation using tech?
Don`t get me wrong – I usually go into this endeavor with great excitement. I prefer to choose how to travel and where to stay, and I don`t like the group sightseeing. But in this case, I had decided to trust an agency, as we would travel for the first time with our baby daughter. I gathered my thoughts and realized that the organization won`t be different than any other time, it would just need more detailed planning.
So, with great pleasure, I dedicated myself to my favorite activity – exploring the many online resources which can help create the perfect vacation. Gathering them in one file, I realized that this information would be extremely useful for anyone who wants to plan their vacation on their own using only tech. That’s why I decided to share all the useful links with you – for cheap airline ticket booking, accommodation, sightseeing planning, and many more. With their help, a little patience and a good research you could give yourself the best trip to any dream place. Good luck!
How to plan a vacation using tech
Planning a route
Airline tickets and accommodation package deals
Train and bus tickets in Europe
Rent a car
Sightseeing planning with a baby or child
Trips and tours
You are about to embark on the first vacation with your baby heading to the seaside or the mountain? Or you`ve already survived this circus, but you want to make sure you`re not missing something important? We are here for you sharing a sample list of (almost) all the things to consider when traveling with your baby or toddler. You can change and adapt the list according to your needs. And now, let`s check what you`ll need to pack.
Traveling with your baby or toddler
- T-shirts, underpants, socks
- Tops with short and long sleeves
- Pants – short and long
- Dresses, skirts
- Shoes – sandals, sneakers, flip flops
- Beach towels
- Sunscreen lotion
- Sunburn lotion
- Umbrella for sun protection
- Insect repellent
- Insect bite and sting cream
- Anti-allergic syrup
- Dehydration, vomiting, diarrhea and constipation remedies
- Cough medicine
- Ear drops
- Fever medicine
- Fever gel plasters
- Hydrogen peroxide, rivanol, gauze, patches
- Scissors, tweezers
- Medical insurance if traveling abroad (plus a passport)
- Breastfeeding pump if you are breastfeeding
- Infant formula and bottles if you are feeding your baby with formula
- Spring water
- Cutlery – spoons, forks, dish
- Dishwashing liquid and sponge
- Jars with homemade or bought food
- Kid’s shampoo, soap, shower gel, after bath lotion
- Toothbrush and toothpaste
- Wet towels, diapers
- Hairpin and hairbands
- Pot, if it’s already in use
- Bathrobe or towel
- Summer stroller
- Ergonomic Baby Carrier
- Baby Walker Belt
- Beach pail and Shovel
- Inflatable toys, kiddie pool
- Drawing sheets, color pen and pencils
- Children’s books
Location: Greece Type: 1 week trip; island vacation; Greece Suitable for children: yes
Days have passed since we`ve come back home from Samothraki and I still can`t shake the blissful calmness that caught me there. Everything on this island – the nature, the places, and the people makes you feel relaxed and enjoy the moment.
The small Greek island is located in the northern Aegean Sea. To reach it one has to take the ferry from Alexandroupoli. You`ll see no crowds on the beach or big hotels, there are no clubs or nightlife either. Just an endless coast line, the bluest water, pink and purple flowers, olive trees and many, many goats. I`ll get back to the goats later. Above all is mount Saos, the highest mountain on an island in the Aegean Sea. Legend says that Poseidon watched the Trojan War from its highest peak.
Nowadays Samothraki is popular not so much with the Greek goods, but with the young people who stay at the camp sites. They come here for the same reason that attracts all tourists to the island – Samothraki will offer you not only the option to relax on pristine beaches, but also hiking in the mountain, enjoying some beautiful waterfalls and the healing waters of the hot springs. Not to forget that the infamous winged statue of the goddess Nike, displayed in the Louvre, was found here. A replica of the sculpture is shown in the local History museum. And you can visit the Sanctuary of the great gods where the statue was originally placed. Now, let`s take a walk around Samothraki…
We stayed in the village famous with its hot springs, located on the north side of the island. Unfortunately, the thermal baths were closed during our stay. But that`s just another reason for us to come back. The village is small, but has various places to eat or enjoy some drinks. There are also two supermarkets where you can buy everything you may need. You can reach the beach within a 10-minutes walk, nearby is the beginning of the path to mount Saos and the waterfalls are also not far away.
Samothraki will offer you different kind of scenery to sunbath and enjoy the crystal clear waters. The most famous beaches are:
This is the only sandy beach on the island, located on the south side. You can have lunch in the restaurant next to the beach (the fish was very delicious) and relax on a sunbed on the sand – it`s free if you order a drink.
Grab something to eat and drink if you plan to visit this wild pebbly beach, located on the east side of the island. There are no restaurants or bars there but the view is really worth it and the water very calm and clean.
This was the nearest beach during our stay and most of the days we chose to sunbath there. The beach consists of small pebbles, there are two bars where you can grab a drink and lie down on a sunbed.
Fonias gorge and waterfalls are located on the north side of the island. The river flows down from the mountain and forms small and large waterfalls and pounds. Have in mind that the water is chillier that the one in the sea. But it`s also very refreshing.
You`ll have to park your car on a small parking lot and hike up the mountain. The path to the first waterfall is easy, we`ve reached it with our baby daughter. You have to be prepared with good shoes and stamina to reach the next two waterfalls. Keep in mind that it could be dangerous – during our hike some other tourists got in an incident (we didn`t found out what happened) and an ambulance was called.
The mountain covers the whole island and it`s the first thing you will see from it in the distance, approaching with the ferry. Its highest peak Fengari rises to 1,611 m. we didn’t have an opportunity to climb it as we were on a vacation with our baby daughter. Some other tourists told us that the path uphill is hard so be sure to be prepared.
The small and picturesque capital of Samothraki will enchant you with its traditional houses, tiny streets, cozy taverns and a majestic view to the sea. There are also many shops where you can buy interesting souvenirs – like soap made from goat milk.
Sanctuary of the great gods
The site dates back to 7th century B.C. and is the place where the winged statue of Nike was found in 1863. It`s also the place where the parents of Alexander the Great – Macedonian king Phillip II and the Epirote princess Olympias, first met. According to Plutarch this happened during an initiation into the mysteries of Samothraki. Today, there are a few columns and a lot of rocks left from the sanctuary where once the ancient people worshiped their gods and took part in mysterious rituals. More about the history of the site you can learn here.
There are approximately 100 000 goats on the island and 3000 people. So goats are a common sight. In fact, they are everywhere – near the beach, in the mountain, on the roads. That`s the reason that most of the restaurants offer various dishes with goat meat. And the local cheese and milk are very delicious.
Rania Studious and cafe
And now some words for our hosts from the Rania Studious – Panos and Maria, who are the nicest people. Their place is located in the center of Therma. They`ve welcomed us with some delicious sweet treats from their cafeteria (where they also make great espresso and the best pizza on the island) and offered us many helpful tips during our stay. We`d love to come back to Rania Studios not only for the perfect location, the spotless rooms or the hospitality of Panos and Maria, but also because they are genuinely good people.
We had some adventures on the island and they didn`t hesitate to help us. Long story short – our car got stuck on a dirt road because the GPS got us lost and then our friends lost one of their three dogs while we were hiking to the waterfalls. Panos helped us more than once – he pulled our car out with his jeep, and also printed some lost dog ads for our friends. Fortunately, we found the dog and had enough time to enjoy the rest of our vacation. So if you plan to visit Samothraki, be sure to at least stop by their cafeteria and treat yourself with some tasty donuts with honey or with traditional baklava.
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: Balkans Type: 1 week trip; road trip; Montenegro Suitable for children: yes, but babies and toddlers may find the road trip a bit tiresome
Montenegro was on our to-do list for some time, so this summer we’ve decided to finally visit it. It was so worth it! The tiny country on the Adriatic cost is simply enchanting. The majestic mountains end in the sea and everywhere you look, you encounter picturesque views.
Heading for Montenegro, we got the idea to visit Croatia, Montenegro’s neighborhood country, too. The plan was set and we embarked on our south-east European adventure.*
This was our first stop, travelling from Bulgaria to Montenegro by car. We decided to stop for rest and lunch in Emir Kosturica`s little town in Serbia, close to the border with Bosna and Herzegovina.
According to the information from internet the director build the town for a movie he was filming back in the early 2000s – Life is a Miracle. He even won an award for the town in 2005 – the Philippe Rotthier European Architecture award.
Drven grad, also known as Küstendorf and Mećavnik, is indeed really beautiful. Set high in the mountains, all the buildings in the town are made from wood (“drven” means wooden translated from Serbian), the name of the streets bear the names of famous people (like Nikola Tesla, Ernesto “Che” Guevara, Diego Maradona, Federico Fellini, Ingmar Bergman) and the altogether feeling is of peace and relaxation.
High and majestic mountains welcomed us in Montenegro. It’s no wonder that the name of the country means black mountains – they are everywhere and they are really impressive. The most impressive part is the bay of Kotor, so when we were planning our trip we knew that we’d want to rent a house there.
We stayed at Zelenika village, next to Herzeg novi – in a beautiful old stone house in the mountains, with a lush garden and a setting straight form a fairy tale. We found this place through airbnb.com and we were very happy with our choice. This was our view…
We highly recommend that you also stay at a place by the Kotor bay for your time in Montenegro. There are many villages around the bay like Zelenika, as well as bigger towns like the infamous Kotor, the perfect Perast and the lively Herzeg novi, and many more tiny cottages with views of the sea or the mountains.
We had 4 days in Montenegro and we had a plan to visit all of them and more. Below you can take a look at our planned routs around Montenegro.
And now a little bit more about the places that we visited in Montenegro…
This is the most beautiful and atmospheric town that we toured in Montenegro. Kotor old town has a very Venetian vibe, with narrow streets and stone houses, tiny squares and lots of cats.
We asked a lady from a shop we visited why are there so many cats everywhere and she told us that once upon a time every family in Montenegro used to have at least one cat because it was considered that they bring good luck (and also chase the mice).
When in Kotor old town, you definitely have to visit the fortress above the city – the view from the top is marvelous. But be prepared – there are 1350 stairs to climb. Afterwards you can treat yourself with a lunch or dinner in some of the cozy restaurants around the town.
We didn’t had big expectation for Perast after the beauties of Kotor, but Perast surprised us pleasantly.
The city doesn’t have a distinct old part like Kotor, but the beautiful old stone houses are everywhere. There is also an old belfry that you can visit and make scenic photos from above.
The beach in the beginning of the town is pebbly, but nice and with a terrific view.
The old town of Herceg novi is also very nice, but we marked this destination because it was the starting point for a boat trip to the so called blue lagoon.
Unfortunately, most of the boats leave at 10 a.m. and we were a little bit late. So we took a walk around the city, had lunch at a nice restaurant by the sea and relaxed at the beach – not a bad way to spend your vacation time either.
If you are in your 20s and like to party, Budva is your place. The city has an old town just like Kotor and Herzeg novi.
But unlike the places around the Kotor bay in Budva there are a lot of ugly big hotels, loud music from every café and young people in beachwear everywhere.
The biggest lake on the Balkans deserves a visit. We arrived at the village of Virpazar and almost immediately they offered us a boat trip around the lake.
The trip was around 2 hours and the best way to get a good look at the beautiful nature. It featured some snacks, free beer and a stop at a small beach where we swam.
Need more reasons to visit Montenegro? Go and see for yourself!
And now, check this useful information that may help you better plan your trip…
Montenegro doesn’t have a lot of sandy beaches so be prepared to recreate scenes from the Walking Dead, getting in and out of the water – the seabed is entirely from pebbles. We have marked 2 sandy beaches when researching for our trip – Plavi horizonti near Kotor bay and Drobni Pijesak near Budva, but we manage to visit only Plavi horisonti. The beach is indeed sandy but overcrowded and you have to walk in order to reach the deeper part.
Montenegro was part of Serbia till 2006 so pleskavica should go on your menu at least once. Don’t know what pleskavica is? Simply put, it is a giant meat ball with filling which diverses from yellow cheese to vegetables. In most restaurants you will be brought bread without any prompting and the service will be included in the bill. Staying in Zelenika, we had only one option to dine in the vicinity – restaurant Moreto, which is in fact a really good place – with big portions and good prices.
*On the Road
Getting in and out Montenegro and Croatia was really an adventure for us. We travelled by car for 18 hours and more. On our way to Montenegro we travelled through Serbia and Bosna and Herzegovina.
And on our way back home to Bulgaria we went through Albania and Macedonia.
Bosna and Herzegovina and Albania impressed us with majestic mountains and blue rivers, but the roads, especially in Bosna and Herzegovina were a little bit scary – narrow and with lots of turns, and the locals are driving fast and very irresponsible.
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: Indonesia Type: 1 week trip; island vacation Suitable for children: yes
I used to associate January with snow and ice, cold weather and hot drinks, grumpy mood and short days. Not anymore. For me January from now on is an endless sky, breathtaking sunsets, hot days and nights, blue waves and sandy beaches, tropical forests and happy smiling people. The reason is Bali – a living and breathing postcard. We’ve traveled to the beautiful and evergreen island of Indonesia in the begging of January, when the raining season was supposed to be in full motion but we’ve had the perfect weather. And the best time.
It`s one of the 17 500 islands of Indonesia, famous for its beaches, perfect for surfing or just soaking up in the sun. But Bali is so much more with its tropical forests and creatures, stunning Hindu temples and fascinating culture.
You’ll be presented with various options to tour around the island when you arrive, so better don’t book your trips in advance. Just check what is worth to see (almost everything) and book a driver when you settle down in your hotel or hostel. That’s what we’ve done and it was the best decision.
We found accommodation trough Airbnb and stayed at Maya village in Kuta – a dеcent place, not far from Kuta beach, with a very friendly staff and a nice bar. The staff organized a driver to pick us from the airport and we’ve booked the same driver for our tours. We’ve paid 500 000 idr for a whole day trip for 5 people (which is less than 50 usd), but everywhere in the streets people will be offering to drive you anywhere, may be for even less money.
If you are staying in Kuta like us, be prepared for lots of people, noises, smells and a very active nightlife. Also watch where you are going because scooters are everywhere – that is the main mean of transportation for the locals and most streets are very narrow.
Around the island
We’ve visited some very interesting places during our stay in Bali which we can recommend and we’ll mention some more, that we haven’t got the time to check.
Uluwatu temple is one of the six temples believed to be Bali’s spiritual pillars. Perched on top of a 70 meter high cliff, it offers a magnificent view of the Indian ocean.
Here you can witness a spectacular sunset and also you can watch the famous Kecak dance, performed daily. The unique Balinese dance is not accompanied by any orchestra but by a choir of seventy men.
Monkey forest, Ubud will offer you an unique glimpse in the life of its inhabitants. But be careful – the monkeys are notorious for stealing so keep your valuable items secure.
Tegalalang rice fields will definitely impress you with this beautiful view.
Kintamani volcano is really stunning and in fact an active volcano. We’ve had a lunch at a restaurant with direct view to the volcano and lake Batur for 130 000 idr per person for all-you-can-eat buffet. This was one of the best places to try the local food.
Holy Spring Water Temple is where Balinese Hindus go to for ritual purification. You can walk around the temple and enjoy the beautiful scenery.
We’ve stopped at a coffee plantation on our way back home during one of our trips and we’ve tried the famous Luwak coffee. We’ve also met a civet and some other interesting creatures.
Waterbom is the third best waterpark in the world and the first in all of Asia according to TripAdvisor. You can stay a whole day here, enjoying the different attractions. The entrance fee is 490 000 idr per person.
And the beaches…
Padang padang beach
Blue point beach
You can also check the Tenah Lot Temple and Tegenungan waterfall, climb mount Batur and walk around Ubud – Bali’s artistic hearth and home of many art galleries and craft shops. And last but not least – treat yourself with a day of spa and massage and enjoy your stay in Bali to the fullest.
Things to consider before visiting Bali
- In Bali the weather is hot year-round, so don’t pack anything besides your summer clothes, swimsuits and flip-flops.
- You may have to check many ATMs before you find the one suitable with you card.
- Don’t forget to take a repellent with you – the risk of catching malaria or dengue is low but nevertheless it’s better to be careful.
- Keep in mind that the local dishes are spicy and don’t purchase food from the streets. Choose a nice restaurant and try the local food there – like nasi goreng (fried rice) with chicken or seafood.
On the streets, in front of homes and warungs (restaurants), beaches and almost everywhere you will see small bowls, full with flowers and fruits. The locals prepare them every morning and they represent a blessing and a gift for the Hindu gods. So pay attention and don’t stamp down the bowls – nobody will make a remark but it wouldn’t be polite.
The locals are more than friendly and polite. They will offer to drive you wherever you wish by car or scooter, they will try to sell you almost everything (you can bargain all day for all kind of stuff on the markets) and the smile will never leave their faces.
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.
They say that the easiest way to get to know another culture is to try the local cuisine specialties. No one has said that it`s the most pleasant. Culinary adventures often hide some not so pleasant surprises.
There are many local traditional dishes all over the world that seem disgusting to the foreigners. Eating baked rat on a stick (plenty of ketchup and mustard required) is not a figment of Terry Pratchett`s imagination, but a typical dish for Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia. The popular scene from the Indiana Jones trilogy, in which Indy is offered a snake and monkey brain dish, could be replayed nowadays in China.
And there are also people who are willing to explore culinary specialties, in any point of the world they find themselves, rather than stick to the banal, but well tested hamburgers. They will try almost anything. A typical representative of the culinary adventurers is Natacha Du Pont de Bie. She describes her experience in Laos in her book “Ant Egg Soup”. The title is enough to give you a clue of what the author has undergone in the name of the curious book, full of impressions from the extreme culinary art.
Random fact: in 1998 Joe Staton, then a professor at the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard, published his infamous article “Tastes like chicken?”. Staton spent a long time researching and proving the thesis that in the end everything tastes like chicken. According to his theory the meat that we eat today comes from a chicken-flavoured animal ancestor, excluding beef, pork and venison. Furthermore, based on evidence for dinosaurs as the ancestors of birds, Tyrannosaurus Rex would most likely also taste like chicken, Staton claims.
However interesting this theory is, let`s get back to the culinary adventures abroad. Examples from the European cuisine have their special place in the most bizarre world delicacies ranking, too. These are the traditional Norwegian dish “rakfisk” (trout, salted and fermented for up to a year and eaten without cooking) and “lutefisk ” (dried cod steeped in lye and served with pork cracklings), not to mention the garden ortolan roast banned in 1999 in France (garden ortolan are small, sweet songbirds from the sparrows family).
Traditional Bulgarian cuisine has also some very interesting examples that could shock the ordinary tourist. We`ll list just a few of them like shkembe chroba (broth made from paunch) and cooked lamb’s head, sauerkraut juice and boza (a slightly fermented drink made from wheat or millet).
Sounds yummy, doesn’t it?
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.