Bulgarije

The most mountainous part of the SultansTrail

That picture on Sultans Trails homepage – people enjoying their meal and at the same time a 360 degrees view of the surrounding mountains – that is Bulgaria! The Sultans Trail enters Bulgaria in the northwestern corner of the country near Dragoman at the border with Serbia. From Dragoman you can hike all the way to Ivaylovgrad in the Southeast near the border with Greece.

Distances

As the crow flies the distance between Dragoman and Ivaylovgrad is about three hundred kilometers, but because of the mountainous terrain the number of hiking kilometers easily doubles to six-hundred kilometers. A real hiker will not object because the spectacular landscape makes every step worthwhile. If you manage a daily average of twenty kilometers you may be very pleased with yourself and this would mean that you need about a month to cover the entire Bulgarian stretch.

The Bulgarian stretch of the SultansTrail

As said before you enter Bulgaria near the town of Dragoman to continue to the Bulgarian capital Sofia. From Sofia onwards you can choose two possible routes:

Planning

Hiking all the way through Bulgaria requires some planning. Especially for those people that choose the mountain route, the best traveling time is from early June to early October.
Between the end of October and mid-May parts of the route are completely blocked by lots of snow. A hiking trip in winter or early Spring can only be recommended if you have gained a lot of experience in snow trips, own the right material and preferably hire an experienced Bulgarian guide. If you have the guts for such a winter adventure you need to bring your own sleeping gear because some mountain huts along the route are closed in winter.

Marking

Even if you travel during the most obvious seasons it is strongly recommended to bring some kind of device containing a GPS-tracking system. Parts of the Bulgarian stretch are marked but not the entire stretch. Between Sofia and Govedartsi (Rila mountain range) and between Borino and Ivaylovgrad (Rhodopi mountains) both stickers and spray paint have been applied. These are only preliminary markings: once the Bulgarian stretch has been determined more or less permanently, we will also apply more permanent markings with real paint.

Bulgaria’s peculiarities

One of the first things you will notice in Bulgaria is the writing: only a few of the characters they use look familiar to people from Western-Europe. To make things even more complicated most of the characters that are familiar to us have a different meaning in the Bulgarian alphabet that is the base of the Cyrillian writing.

Moreover, although an EU-member state since 2007, Bulgaria does not use the euro as its currency but the Lev. Two Lev is approximately one euro, and one Lev is divided into smaller units called stotinka. In general, a meal will cost about eight Lev and sleeping anywhere between 20 and 40 Lev. Prices for food and lodging in the capital Sofia are usually a bit higher.

Transport

Bulgaria’s bus system is quite refined. Often it is possible to even get to the smaller towns
but those buses will ride with a much lower frequency than between the major cities. It is always possible to arrange your own transport. You just approach someone with a car, name your destination and see what price he has in mind. A price in the range of 1 Lev per kilometer is reasonable, so before you start negotiating it is good to have some idea of the distance to your destination. If all your proposals are met shaking of the head there is no need for despair a Bulgarian shaking his head, agrees with you. As soon as he nods his head he disagrees with you!

Do you want to know more about hiking in Bulgaria?

If you want to know more about hiking the Bulgarian stretch of the SultansTrail, feel free to ask any questions through our forum. Or read ‘ Arjan Schuiling’s adventures in Bulgaria’ under travelogues. Arjan Schuiling is the so-called Bulgaria coordinator of the SultansTrail. He takes groups, from five up to nine people, along with parts of the Bulgarian stretch often in cooperation with local guides several times a year (see under Agenda for the dates and conditions)

Sights to see

  • Sofia city
    • The ArcheologicalMuseum Ulitsa Saborna 2 Admission 10LV opening times 10-18.00 (May-October) 10-17.00 (November-April) open every day but opening times may differ during holidays.
    • Boyana Church Boyansko Ezero Street 3 Admission 10 LV opening times 9.00-17.30 (November-March) 9.30-18.00 (April-October) famous for its colourful frescoes and therefore UNESCO-listed. Note no (flash) photography within the church. GPS-coordinates: 42.655197-23.270878.
    • The Holy Synod and Museum housed in the Theological Faculty on Kliment Ohridski Street (Nedelya square) Admission 5 LV openingtimes Monday-Friday 9.00-17.30 houses icons, carvingsand old manuscripts: www.bulgariatravel.org
    • Earth and Man National MuseumbulCherniVryh 4 Admission 2 LV opening times Tuesday-Saturday 10-6 p.m. Shows minerals and man-made ceramics. sofia-guide.com
    • National History Museum Vitoshko Lale 16 Street Admission: 10 LV opening times 9.30-18.00 (April-October) 9.00-17.30 (November-March) historymuseum.org/en/
    • BanyaBashi Mosque 2 Knyaginya Maria Louise Blvd opening times Monday-Sunday 05.00-20.00. Build by the Ottoman architect Mimar Sinan who also build the Sultan Selim Mosque in Edirne and the Blue Mosque in Istanbul. The official starting point of Sultans Trail in Sofia.
    • Synagogue and Museum corner EkzarhYosif and G. Washington Admission museum: 2 LV opening times Monday-Friday 9.00-1.30 and 2.00-4.30 closed on weekend days. www.bulgariatravel.org
    • Iskar Gorge. The gorge carved out by the river Iskar is 70 kilometres in length and at some points the walls are 300 metres tall. Both a railway and a road pass through the gorge and within the gorge there are plenty of hiking opportunities. Iskar River originates in the Rila mountains and the Sultans Trail stretch between Samokov and Govedartsi runs parallel to the wild river. Iskar Gorge itself is not part of the Sultans Trail. Coordinates: tools.wmflabs.org/geohack
  • Belchin
    • Tsari Mali Grad, Late Antiquity Fortress
  • SAMOKOV
    • The Bayrakli Mosque
    • The History Museum
  • Rila Mountains
  • Batak
  • Borino
    • The Regional Tourist Information has a small exhibition on Rhodopean artefacts
    • Devil’s Gorge. Between the towns of Borino and Yagodina the Sultans Trail runs through a narrow gorge known as the Devil’s Gorge. A hiking path has been constructed for visitors. Not recommended with bad weather.
  • Yagodina
    •  Yagodina Cave. The longest cave in the Rhodopes is situated close to the exit of the Devil’s Gorge. wikipedia
    • Eagle Eye. A viewing platform built on top of Saint Ilia peak (1563 metres) allows views all over the Rhodope mountains and into neighbouring Greece. The steel construction rises 670 metres above the Buynovsko gorge.
    • Devil’s Throat Cave. About half a kilometre from the Sultans Trail near the town of Trigrad. Admission 4 BGN. Every half an hour a guided walk starts past the 42 meter high underground waterfall. All in all, the walk takes 20-25 minutes.
  • Smolyan
    • History Museum 5 DichoPetrov Street, Smolyan opening times Tuesday-Sunday 9.00-12.00 1.00-5.00 closed on Mondays, free admission Thursdays. Exhibitions on region’s history, daily life, handicrafts and architecture.
    • Planetarium 20 Bulgaria Blvd admission 10 LV closed April 1-October 31 Sunday afternoons and November 1- March 31 Sundays.
    • Waterfall Canyon. An eco-trail that has been integrated into Sultans Trail. The nature reserve may be traversed by two different tracks. One that passes all the viewpoints and one that takes in all the waterfalls. Just before leaving the reserve the two tracks merge again.
  • Ardino
    • The OrloviteSkali Thracian SanctuaryThese inaccessible cliffs filled with niches can be visited when passing by on the Sultans Trail just a few kilometres before entering the town of Ardino.
    • The Dyavolskiya Most/Devil’s Bridge.Situated on the Sultans Trail between Ardino and Lyubino crossing river Arda. Legend says it was built by the Romans to connect the Aegean Sea to the region of Thrace. In Ottoman times it was rebuilt. wmflabs.org/geohack
  • Suhovo
    • Suspension bridge. Near the small town of Suhovo a suspension bridge for pedestrians was built crossing the lake StudenKladenets. Once again this is part of the Sultans Trail.
  • Kardzhali
    • The Kardzhali dam. This dam is over 100 metres in height and more than 400 metres in length containing the second largest water volume in Bulgaria. Up to 2015 the dam was integrated in Sultans Trail but after the refugee crisis in 2015 and rising terrorism threats the dam is no longer accessible for pedestrians and a new route has been developed.wmflabs.org/geohack
    • History Museum Republikanska Street 4  mainly archaeological artefacts. wmflabs.org/geohack
    • The Svatbata (The Wedding) natural phenomenon on the northern outskirts of Kardzhali near the town of Zimzelen. Situated on the Sultans Trail.
    • Perperikon. The strategic location of this sacred site on top of a hill attracted both Thracians and Romans. Today it can be visited but access to the site is not easy on foot. There is only one entrance road. Sultans Trail passes through the town of Oresnica. From Oresnica a detour past Perperikon is possible. wikipedia.org/wiki/Perperikon
  • Banks of Arda river 
    • Thracian niches. River Arda has cut out a wide valley between of Rabovo (North bank) and Kotlari (South bank). If you bring your binoculars you can see beautiful limestone formations and Thracian niches in the mountains on both sides of the cliffs.
  • Madzharovo
    • Vulture Centre. On the banks of River Arda a centre has been built focussing attention on vultures. bspb.org/madjarovo
  • Ivaylovgrad
    • The Municipal Historical Museum, 1B “Yavorov” str. open between 8.00 – 12.00 and 13.30 – 17.30 (closedon Sunday). ivaylovgrad.org
    • Lyutitsa fortress.  5km southwest of Ivaylovgrad, near the villa Armira, one of the biggest medieval fortresses in the Rhodope, also known as The Marble city and Kaloyan’s Citadel. http://bulgariatravel.org
    • Villa Armira. Romeinse villa zo’n 4,5 kilometer ten zuidoosten van Ivaylovgrad. wikipedia.org/wiki/Villa_Armira
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Paddy's Blog
Paddy Devlin op on his trail through Bulgaria. Read his blog!