Rila & Pirin mountains
Bulgaria is a country in southeastern Europe. It is bordered by Romania to the north, Serbia and Macedonia to the west, Greece and Turkey to the south, and the Black Sea to the east. Its nature is stunning and travelling by car is easy. If you’re looking for more friendly fauna and flora, you can find over 200 species of butterflies, over 400 species of birds and over 3000 plant species. This is a country with unspoilt countryside and traditional methods of farming.
The Rila mountains in southwestern Bulgaria (just 2 hour drive from Sofia) belong the highest mountain range of Bulgaria and the Balkans, with its highest peak being Musala at 2925m. More than one-third of the mountain is occupied by the Rila National Park, the rest lies within the Rila Monastery Nature Park. To visit the Rila mountains the best place to stay is Borovets. More of a ghost town in summer, but a good place to stay to explore the area. It is possible to get high into the Rila mountains by cabin lift “Yastrebetz” in Borovets to Musala Peak and the Panichishte cable car from Pionerska lodge to visit the Seven Rila Lakes.
Culturally, Rila is famous for the Rila Monastery, Bulgaria's largest and most important monastery, founded in the 10th century by Saint John of Rila. Alongside the cultural landmarks the mountain is also famous for the Seven Rila Lakes where you can find many endemic alpine plants like Primula deorum. Other plants to be seen here are Aquilegia aurea, Pinguicula leptoceras and Dianthus microlepis.
The Seven Rila Lakes are the most visited group of lakes in Bulgaria because of the inspiring natural beauty of the place. The lakes are located one above the other and are connected by small streams, which form tiny waterfalls and cascades. The lakes are situated between 2100 and 2500 m.
Another tour in the Rila mountains I can recommend is to explore around Malyovitsa. The valley of Malyovitsa is situated in the northwest parts of Rila Mountains – easily accessible from the capital Sofia, it is a good weekend, or even a day, destination. About 1,5 hour drive via the town of Samokov and village of Govedartsi takes you at 1730 m. There is numerous other options for hiking in this area – both for climbing the peaks around as well as just to enjoy the view of the beautiful lakes at their foot. If you are fit it is also possible to hike for a day from Malyovitsa valley to the Seven Lakes area or to the Rila Monastery.
Pirin is probably the most beautiful Bulgarian mountain range and about 4 hour drive from Sofia. To explore this area you should base yourself in Bansko, the biggest ski-resort in Bulgaria, but also a treasury of numerous Bulgarian revival-style houses and a lovely old city center. As this city has masses of hotels for the winter tourist, in summer you can get a very cheap deal to stay a week here. You can stay in guesthouses, family-run hotels or luxury hotels. If you prefer to sleep on higher altitude, you can stay in one of the huts or refuges in the mountain. Peak Vihren (2914m) is the area to explore here. Vihren it is only about 12 km away from Bansko. The Vihren hut, which is possible to drive to on an asphalt road, is the best starting point for many of the trails in the mountains. It is also possible to start your day trek at the Banderitsa hut, just 1,5 km before the Vihren hut. At the very start you will discover beautiful landscapes and scenery of the Pirin Mountains. The characteristic of Vihren is that it looks very different from any direction.
Around Vihren you can find many rare, endemic species, glacial relicts or endangered plants. If you are very lucky you will see Daphne velenovskyi, Centaurea achtarovii and Leontopodium alpinum var. nivale, one of the best Edelweiss!. The trails up to Vihren are sometimes steep, but you need to go high to find these treasures. Near to the Vihren hut you can find the oldest tree from Bulgaria the Baikushev's pine , Pinus heldreichii, which is around 1300 years old.
You can also take the chair lift at the Gotse Delchev hut, 11 kilometers from Dobrinishte. This will bring you to the Bezbog hut from where you can start your easy daily walk at 2240m. A wonderful area with lots of plants.
Melnik is the smallest town in Bulgaria, is situated 175 km south from Sofia (1,5 hour drive from Bansko) and it is only 30 km from the border with Greece, but it has a long history. When you enter the town it seems like you fall into the past. There are picturesque houses with tiled roofs, narrow streets, stone roads and carts loaded with wine barrels. It is a calm and quiet town. The red wine which you can try here will make you doubt that the best wine is only in France. Wine of Melnik has rich taste. Wine makers from Melnik are famous far outside Bulgaria. Wine making has been prospering here for centuries. But Melnik is not famous only for its great wine. Among local attractions is the Kordopulva house (wine making museum) and ruins of medieval churchеs. The area around Melnik is also interesting. Sandy pyramids of Melnik for sure are an extraordinary miracle created by nature.
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