Section 4

Belgrade – Sofia

Stamboli gate at the Kalemegdan in Belgrade

Section 4 of the Sultanstrail runs from Belgrade to Sofia and is 558 km long.

The trail leaves Belgrade from Stamboli Gate at the Kalemegdan fortress. It runs via the mountain Avala, through the hills at the Danube shore, to Smederevo where the Danube is left behind. The trail turns south at Smederevo into the Morava valley. The direction of travel is the one that in Roman times was known as Via Militaris. In the east, the mountains of the Stara Planina (Slavic: old mountains) also known as Balkan (Turkish: a range of mountains covered with forests), are closing in. In the west low hills at first, followed by low mountains of the Johur massive near Kruševac and the Jastrebac before Niš will be passed.

At Niš, the Via Militaris branches off, one branch towards Skopje and Thessaloniki, the other one to Sofia and Istanbul. The later branch seeks its way around the Suva Planina (Dry Mountain) and so does the Sultans Trail. Two alternative roads are presented here, both with logistical issues. The first route follows the old Roman trajectory through the Sićevo gorge, the other one penetrates the Suva Planina area and passes over the ridge at the Preslap mountain pass. Both routes join again at Bela Palanka.

The old road to Sofia has disappeared, probably paved over with the concrete of the international highway E-80, which is currently being replaced by a new motorway.

The Morava valley in autumn near Varvarin

After crossing the Bulgarian border near Dimitrovgrad the trail crosses the hills at the border and enters the plain of the Sofia valley. The trail continues into the heart of the Bulgarian capital, Sofia.

While agriculture in central Serbia is carried out on small scale private plots, where everybody seems to possess a red tractor, villages are lively and full of children. Bulgaria, on the other hand, conducts large-scale agriculture with huge fields, large machines, and extensive villages.

Accommodation

The villages along the way provide for the necessary provisions.

Accommodation is generally well available, albeit sometimes widespread, except for the specific sections between Nis and Bela Palanka where accommodation is an issue.

Special places

The mighty Donjon of Manasija Monastery
This monastery had the largest scriptorium in medieval Serbia, which continued working in Ottoman times, thus preserving many sacred books for the Serbian orthodoxy

In Serbia, we come across remarkable places. Such as the Smederevo fortress (15th), the temporary capital of Serbia in the Middle Ages. It’s mighty walls and towers survived intact until during the second WW when a German ammunition train exploded nearby. But the remains are still very impressive.

Further on, the Trail passes through the lovely monastery of Koporin.
A few legs further, at Despotovac the majestic fortified Manasija monastery is found.

In Kruševac remains of the mediaeval city are preserved.

Tucked away in the Jastrebac mountains, the trail passes through the lovely medical spa-resort, Ribarska banja.

A meeting in the Suva Planina

Across the Jastrebac we find the city of Niš, a landmark on the trail in Serbia. The history of Niš goes far back in time. Its present-day fortress was built in Ottoman times on the foundations of an earlier Roman fortification. Memories of Roman times are also exhibited in Mediana, the birthplace of emperor Constantine the Great (272-337).
Of a different order is the testimony of the violent encounter between Serbian insurgents and Ottoman forces during the first Serbian uprising (1809), which are preserved in the  Skull tower, located at the old road to Istanbul. More recent atrocities are commemorated in the SS-prison camp.

Bela Palanka houses two working watermills and displays a Roman milestone and remains of Ottoman city walls.

The city of Pirot had its name written in Greek, in ancient times. Thus indicating the cultural demarcation line between the Latin and the Greek world. The small castle of Pirot is recently restored.

Enjoying the view from the Suva Planina

How to get there

Both Belgrade and Sofia have an international airport used by a number of low-cost carriers. Niš airport is frequented far less.

Belgrade Nikola Tesla Airport (IATA code: BEG) is located ca.12km west of downtown Belgrade. Public transportation to the city is carried out by (mini)bus.
The A1 minibus airport shuttle to Slavija Square, stops at the central station also, ticket price ca. RSD 330 (pay on the bus), approximate travel time 30 minutes.
Bus line 72 to Zeleni venac square (downtown Belgrade), ticket price RSD 89 (when bought at the kiosk) of RSD 150 (when bought on the bus), approximate travel time 30-40 minutes.
Bus line 607 to New Belgrade, ticket price RSD 89 (when bought at the kiosk) or RSD 150 (when bought on the bus), approximate travel time 30 minutes.

Taxi service is best arranged at TAXI INFO to ensure the best rate. TAXI INFO is located in the baggage claim area at the airport.

For city-transport see www.eway.rs or download the EasyWay public transport App

Niš Constantine the Great Airport (IATA code: INI) is located 4 km northwest of downtown Niš. The airport has a limited number of connections. Airliners using it are Ryanair and Wizz Air.

Sofia Airport (IATA code: SOF) is located 5 km east of the city centre. The airport has two terminals, connected by a free shuttle bus.
Next to Terminal 2 is the final stop of Metro Line 1 a fast connection to the city centre. Travel time ca. 18 minutes. Price 1.60 LEV, tickets from the ticket machine at the station.
Two bus lines, 84 and 184, also connect both terminals to Sofia University at the east side of the city centre. Travel time 35-45 minutes. Price 1.60 LEV, tickets from the ticket machine on the bus. See www.sofia-airport.bg
For city-transport see www.eway.bg or download the EasyWay public transport App

Map

The Map below shows the Trail on Open Street Map.
Click on “Fullscreen” to get a full view.
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