The Best of Rila, Pirin and the Rhodope Mountains

About

A guided mountain hiking tour of three of Bulgaria’s mountains – Rila, Pirin and the Rhodopes. This hiking trip takes you on a journey through their most picturesque areas and to their most famous natural and cultural landmarks. Over the course of 11 days you’ll get to see some of Bulgaria’s top attractions, immerse yourself in traditional rural villages and big cities, enjoy the best of what local cuisine has to offer and climb its highest mountain peaks.

Highlights

Go sightseeing in Plovdiv – 2019 European Capital of Culture

• Visit natural landmarks like the Wondrous Bridges, the Trigrad Gorge, the Devil’s Throat, Yagodina cave and the Seven Rila Lakes

• Explore the two biggest monasteries in Bulgaria – Rila Monastery and Bachkovo Monastery

• Immerse yourself in Bulgarian culture in the Shiroka Laka architectural reserve

• Climb the highest mountain summit in the Balkans – Mount Musala, and the second highest – Mount Vihren

• Hike through stunningly beautiful mountain landscapes and protected areas

• Try the local cuisine

• Bring a camera - you’ll want pictures :)

Description

Day 1

Individual arrivals at Sofia airport. Transfer by coach to one of the oldest European cities and second biggest in the country – Plovdiv. Situated on 7 unique syenite hills, it is a cultural, historical and touristic centre. Accommodation and sightseeing in the architectural reserve “the Old Plovdiv” and the Ancient Theatre. Dinner at a traditional Bulgarian restaurant.

Day 2

From here on out, our hiking in Bulgaria's three most prominent mountain begins. The day starts with a short transfer (20 min) to Asenovgrad and Asen’s Fortress, overlooking the city from the picturesque cliffs above it. From here, we’ll be entering the Rhodope mountains.

Bachkovo Monastery is only 10 minutes way by bus. It is the second largest monastery in Bulgaria, founded 1000 years ago. It takes an hour to reach the Wondrous Bridges (1450 m) – two natural rock bridges unique in size and beauty and towering over the Aidar Dere river, 1450 m above sea level amidst a pine forest. The size of the upper bridge is particularly imposing – 96 m long, with an impressive 43 by 45 m opening. The lower bridge is impassable, akin to a canyon in a cave.

This is where our fairytale walk in the woods begins. The terrain around Skalni Mostove lodge becomes steeper towards Mezargidik Pass (1950 m) and the preserved parts of the ancient, almost 2000-year-old road. We’ll be following this road through the centuries old forests on the way to Persenk lodge. After a short break by the lodge, we’ll continue our moderate ascent towards Orehovo village, where we’ll be spending the night.

Day 3

This day begins with a transfer to the Shiroka Laka architectural reserve. After exploring it, we’ll be transferred to Gela village (10 min), where the day’s hike begins.

After leaving Gela, we’ll begin a light descent down a dirt road in a south-west direction towards the Kikezite area. A short, steep path followed by a nearly even forest path takes us to the beautiful area around Lednitsata lodge. From there we leave the forest path behind us and head through an old pine forest and gorgeous flower meadows. This moderately steep route leads us up the mountain’s crest to the entrance of a small scenic pass.

From there, we’ll begin a descent down the spacious meadows covering the slopes of mount Karlak – the tallest and largest summit in the area, with a peak reaching 2188 m above sea level. We soon leave the main road and we begin a steep descent towards Mugla village, passing by a spring, a small forest-covered valley and a stream with about 10 small waterfalls, through fields and meadows. It is as if time has stopped here centuries ago.

From Mugla’s ancient wooden minaret onward, the route suddenly begins to get steeper towards the mountain crest. Past the crest, the path goes down to open meadows surrounded by hills in all directions. A soft grassy path leads to the Chairi Lakes protected area. This is one of the most beautiful places in the Rhodopes – small lakes with bogged islands, on a plateau wreathed by hills, all possessing a sort of untouched beauty. It is worth spending more time here. On this day the bus will not be staying with the group.

Day 4

After leaving the Chairi lakes via a forest path between the lakes and along a collapsed bridge, we reach the Pierced Rock – a short picturesque tunnel. The road slopes gracefully through the black pines of the gorge of Chairska river. You haven't gone hiking in Bulgaria until you've been through the Trigrad gorge. There are 11 km to its entry point.

From here on, the river valley narrows significantly, the slope becomes steeper and the route enters the most picturesque part of the Trigrad gorge. The vertical cliffs are 8-10 m from each other and the path is carved into the cliff itself. After several dizzying turns, in the most narrow and deep up to 400 m part of the gorge, we’ll go out to a small parking lot at the entrance of the Devil’s Throat cave. We’ll enter the cave’s enormous chamber and see the 60 m tall underground waterfall. 1 km away from the cave is the village of Trigrad, from where we’ll go on a nice walk (2 km) down the forest road.

This is followed by a modest climb (1,3 km) up the left slope of the gorge and a 6 km descent through a beautiful spruce forest and spacious meadows in the direction of Yagodina village. The view towards the surrounding canyons is breathtaking. Shortly before the village we cross a karst area dotted with ponors and whirpools and we start climbing to Mount St. Elijah, famous for its panoramic view and the vertical 600-meter-tall wall. From there we descend to the village and the place of accommodation.

Day 5

The day begins with a walk to the Yagodina cave, which has, along with its fantastic stalactites and stalagmites, so called “pearls” formed out of the minerals contained within drops of water that fall on small rocks.

The cave is well laid out and is to be explored with a tour guide in small groups. After a tour of the cave, we’ll be transported to the second highest mountain in Bulgaria – Pirin, the village of Dobrinishte and the lower station of the chair lift that leads up to Bezbog Lodge. We’ll take the lift up to the lodge, which is situated on the banks of the eponymous lake at the base of the mountain peak that bears the same name. We’ll have enough time for a relaxing walk along the lake. On this day the minibus will not be staying with the group.

Day 6

From the lodge starts the hiking trail to Mount Polezhan (2851 m) – a vantage point from which you can see one of the most spectacular panoramic views in Pirin Mountain, more than 17 glacial lakes, including Lake Popovoto (30 m/100 ft. deep). Polezhan is the fifth highest of Pirin’s summits. Surrounded by three cirques with three lake groups – the Dislishki Lakes to the north, the Polezhanski Lakes to the south and the Strazhishki Lakes to the west. We’ll take the classical route along the mountain ridge. It is not difficult, nor is it too steep, except for the last 15 minutes. We’ll go back to the lodge and take the lift to the minibus, which will transport us to the nearest mountain town – Bansko.

Day 7

A short morning transfer takes us to the starting point towards Mount Vihren – the second highest in Bulgaria, at 2914 m above sea level. Along the steep path meandering through the dry karst cirques called Little Kazan and Big Kazan, and by Europe’s southernmost glacier beneath the 400-meter-tall northern wall of the summit, we climb up to Mount Vihren, a place the beauty of which makes even the longest day of hiking in Bulgaria well worth the effort. The panoramic view from the top is breathtaking and there are eldelweiss flowers and wild goats in the area. After that we’ll go back to the minibus, which will transport us to the highest mountain in South-Eastern Europe – Rila Mountain, specifically the area of the Seven Rila Lakes.

Day 8

The morning begins with a short transfer to the chair lift in the area of the Seven Rila Lakes. From the upper lift station, we’ll start along a moderately steep path towards Lake Kidney, followed by the Eye and the Tear. On our walk we’ll find ourselves constantly surrounded by beautiful landscapes. We’ll climb up to the Razdela Saddle and the nearby Mount Vazov/Damga (2670 m), from where we’ll be able to enjoy a stunning view of the Urdini Lakes and the deep valley they’re situated in. We’ll go around the valley to the south and then to the east.

A short up-and-down hike takes us to Mount Dodov (2661 m), from where we’ll continue along the ridge towards Mount Malyovitsa. On our left we’ll once again see Urdini Lakes, and on our right – Rila Monastery and all of Rila Mountain. After a nearly even section of the ridge, we’ll begin a moderate ascent up the slope of Mount Malyovitsa. We’ll go out to the ridge and 10 minutes to the left is Mount Malyovitsa, which we’ll go up to because of the beautiful view from the top, and then we’ll continue down the slope past Lake Elenino and towards Malyovitsa Lodge. On this day the minibus will not spend the night with the group.

Day 9

A short, steep climb from the lodge takes us up the steep slopes of this part of the mountain, strewn with shallow glacial valleys surrounding small lakes and ponds. The first destination for the day is the Scary Lake and the stone shelter near it, as well as Mount Big Kupen towering over them (2731 m). From here we’ll go on a light ascent to the spacious peak, from where we’ll begin our light descent to Rila Monastery past the Dry Lake. At the end of our hike, we’ll reach Kiril’s Meadow, from where we’ll be able to enjoy beautiful fantastic view towards the peaks we’d climbed in the past couple of days. What’s left is a trip to the largest and most significant monastery in Bulgaria – Rila Monastery. From there we’ll be transferred by car to the base of Mount Musala.

Day 10

On this day we’ll climb the highest mountain summit on the Balkans – Mount Musala (2925 m), a challenge all of the most passionate mountaineers undertake when hiking in Bulgaria. We’ll take the chair lift up to the starting point of the trekking trail. The ragged wall of the summit will accompany us as we climb the stone runs and past the glacial lakes and alpine lodges. The truly breathtaking view from atop Mount Musala towards the mountains is well worth the adventure. At the top we’ll reward ourselves with a nice cup of tea as we relax and enjoy the view of the peaks of each of Bulgaria’s most notable mountain chains – Stara Planina, Sredna Gora, Vitosha, the Rhodopes, Pirin, and, of course, Rila. We’ll be coming back the same way and after going down via the lift, we’ll be transferred to Sofia.

Day 11

On our last day, with the time we have left, we’ll go on a short sightseeing trip around Sofia, followed by a drop-off at the airport.

Inclusions/ exclusions

The price includes

• Accommodation in 3-star hotels and guest houses, huts in double rooms with private facilities

• Full board treatment from the first day's dinner to the last day's breakfast

• Minibus transport throughout the stay and luggage transport during hotel transfers

• A map of the itinerary

• Professional English speaking tour guide

The price does not include

• The trip to/from Bulgaria

• Alcoholic beverages

• Entrance fees

Notes

A total of 11 days / 10 overnight stays / 9 days of hiking

The level of difficulty ranges from easy to moderately difficult.

860 €

per person

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Hiking

Пловдив, България

Starting point - Sofia, Bulgaria

11 days

Spring, Summer, Autumn

Live tour guide available in English

Maxiumum number of participants - 15 people

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