Section 5 of the Sultans Trail runs from Sofia to Edirne and is 550 km in length. It runs predominantly through the mountains of southern Bulgaria, with three distinct landscapes. First, starting at the outskirts of Sofia, the Rila mountains, with alpine conditions. Next, between Velingrad and Kardzhali the heavily forested Western Rhodopes and finally between Kardzhali and Edirne the Eastern Rhodopes.
In the Rila mountains, the trail gains height, at first at Cherni Vrah (2290 m) in the Vitosha Mountains and next at mount Mechit (2572 m).
The Rhodope mountains are less high.
The trail starts in Sofia, at the foot of Cherni Vrah (Black Mountain) and continues uphill until its very summit. From there it passes through the Samokov Valley until at Samokov it meets the Iskra river, which is followed upstream for a while to prepare for the cross-over of the Rila range following parts of the prestigious King Ferdinand Road to the eponymous Rila Monastery. From the monastery the trail crosses the Rila national park until the spa-resort Velingrad, gradually losing height.
The Rhodope mountains extend into Greece and were part of the historical region Thrace. The region is particularly notable for its karst areas with their deep river gorges, large caves and specific sculptured forms. The Western Rhodopes are rich in lakes and are famous for the largest coniferous woods in the Balkans, its rolling hills and lush vegetation.
Near the mining town of Rudozem in the Western Rhodopes the Trail touches upon the river Arda which runs all the way through the Rhodopes until it confluences with the Maritza river near Edirne. This river will be the Sultans Trail hiker’s companion until Edirne.
The Trail briefly passes through Northern Greece, before it crosses the Turkish border.
Visitors of Turkey may need a visa which can be obtained on-line, here.
Recently, Turkey reached an agreement with the EU by which a visa is no longer needed for European citizens.
In the mountains, we have to rely on mountain huts, the quality of which varies considerably, depending on the attitude of the staff. In the valleys, hotels and holiday homes can be found for overnight stay. In mountain villages, you may also find B&B’s. All villages have some kind of shop for provisions.
The Rhodope mountains have been populated since prehistoric times. The first known people are the Thracians who built many temples, cities and fortresses. The most famous town in the area is the sacred city of Perperikon located 15 km northeast of Kardzhali.
Since Roman times it has been an important mining area (lead, zinc, gold, chromite), crisscrossed by trading routes. Mining continued in Ottoman times resulting in many beautiful bridges, where trading routes had to cross a river, such as in Trigrad, Smolyan, Edirne and most impressive of all, Dyavolski Most.
Rila Monastery (10th), hidden deeply in the valley of the Rilska river, is regarded as one of Bulgaria’s most important spiritual, cultural, historical and architectural monuments.
The population of southern Bulgaria has been ethnically and religiously diverse for centuries. The mountains are home to a number of Muslim communities, including Pomak (converted Bulgarians) and Bulgarian Turks.
The Sv. Nedelya church in Batak bears witness to atrocities that took place during the struggle for independence in 1876.
At Belitsa, in the Rila Mountains, the French actress Brigitte Bardot helped to finance a bear sanctuary, which the trail passes.
In the Arda valley, the trail passes the vulture centre in Madzharovo.
Near Ivaylovgrad the remains of a Roman villa have been preserved.
Finally, Edirne, once the capital of the Ottoman Empire, before the capture of Istanbul, still preserves architecture from that ‘golden age’ of the Ottoman Empire, many of which were designed by its most renowned architect Sinan (1490-1588).
How to get there
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
Sofia-Velingrad, bus from Sofia Avtogari, (3 times a day, duration 2h, price 4€-7€), see www.avtogari.info
Sofia-Kardzhali, bus from central station Sofia to Kardzhali, (3-4 times a day, duration 4h 20m, price 9€-€14€).
Sofia-Plovdiv, multiple bus operators from Sofia Avtogari, (1-2 per hour, duration 2h 40m, price 4€-28€).
Train (every hour, duration 2h 30m, price 4€-6€). See www.bdz.bg
Sofia-Ivaylovgrad, train to Svilengrad (3 times a day, 5h, 18€-22€), taxi to Ivaylovgrad, (42m, 11€-14€). See www.bdz.bg
Plovdiv Krumovo Airport (IATA code: PDV) is located 12km south-east of the city centre. It has a limited number of connections. See www.plovdivairport.com.
The airport has a train connection with Plovdiv (leaving every hour from station Mavrudovo, duration 14min, price €1-€2) see www.bdz.bg
Edirne has no airport but does have a bus connection to Istanbul Esenler Otogari (leaving every 2 hours, duration 3h 55m, costs 5€-11€).
From Esenler Otogari into Istanbul use Metro M1 (leaving every 5 min, duration 22 min, price 1€). See Metro Istanbul.
From Esenler Otogari to Istanbul Havalimani Airport (IATA code: IST), Havaist bus IST-3, departure every 30 minutes (between 05:00 and 01:30), duration approximately 75 min., depending on traffic, price 16 TL. See IETT
The train from Edirne Şehir to Istanbul Halkali leaves once a day and takes 3h 45m, price 3€-4€. See Seat61
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