THE GRAND BALKANS CIRCLE – RHODOPES, PIRIN, RILA & VITOSHA

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DURATION: 15 days
PRICE: € 990
DIFFICULTY: 2/3/4 (of 4)
BEST PERIOD: June-September
START/FINISH: Sofia
TOUR TYPE: Self-guided

There are plenty of reasons why you should visit Bulgarian mountains – magnificent landscapes, crystal-clear air and joyful rhapsody of nature noises such as chirping birds, gurgling rivers and howl of the wildlife.
Your hiking adventure will take your breath away every now and then, offering marvellous panoramic vistas. Two weeks of trekking across old dense forests, through vast alpine meadows, lush river valleys and landscape dotted with small vivid villages, embroidered on the hills. This self-guided trip will provoke your curiosity for knowledge and passion for adventures! From the colourful kaleidoscope of the mythical Rhodope mountains to the pristine outlook of the alpine-like ridges of Pirin and Rila mountains, this independent hiking trip will be a memorable experience worthy to be listed in your travel journal.
Rain or shine, day or night – Bulgarian mountains are a place that holds an enchantment that must be felt!

Тhe self-guided trekking tour includes all ground transfers as well as those from and to Sofia Airport. The trip is meant for very well-trained hikers with sufficient experience of dealing with adverse weather conditions (fog, thunderstorm, heavy rain, etc.) The treks are moderately arduous to difficult, some challenging stages present but won’t be included rock-climbing or “via ferratas”. Most of the time the terrain consist of rocky rivers, overtaking steep ascends/descends. The terrain in Pirin and Rila mountains is alpine, most of the routes are above the tree line. Some small patches of snow may present along some of the trails in Pirin and Rila until the end of July. You will walk every day with a daypack with necessary stuff, while the main luggage remains either inside the transfer vehicle or in your accommodation.


Day 1: Sofia – Devin

We meet you at Sofia or Plovdiv airport and transfer you to Devin, a city located in the heart of Rhodope Mountains. The transfer from Sofia will last about 3 hrs and from Plovdiv approximately 1,30 hrs. If you arrive early enough you can use the afternoon to visit the picturesque nature trail along Devinska River, or jump in the thermal pools near your accommodation.
Day 2: Devin – Yagodina/Yagodina Cave/Eagle’s Eye viewpoint – Trigrad (3-5,30-6,45hrs; 9,50-16-21km)
Today you can choose between two main treks (incl. options to extend them additionally):
Shorter (9,50km; +565m/-355m): A 40min transfer takes you to the entry of the Yagodina Cave: one of Bulgaria’s longest caves, which you can opt to view. Once finished with the cave tour, proceed for Trigrad village through a colorful kaleidoscope of landscapes that immerse you in the idyll of rolling crests, forests, and valleys.
Longer (16km (+1070m/-750m) or 21km (+1385m/-1065m): A 30min transfer takes you to the trailhead where a moderate but nice ascent through gardens and woods brings you up at the crest of the mountain. Enjoy the breath-taking views from the famous Eagles’ Eye observation platform. Then you descend down to Yagodina village, from where you can make a detour to visit Yagodina Cave or head straight for Trigrad village.
*Those who chose the shorter option, can extend their hike with a visit to the Trigrad Gorge (with its 350m high vertical cliffs) and the The Devil’s Throat Cave (housing the highest underground waterfall on the Balkans, 42m high), both near Trigrad. Visiting these sights is a must, and can be done also in the afternoon of Day 3 or Day 4 by those, who opted for the longer treks on Day 2.
Day 3: Trigrad – Zhrebevo – Trigrad (5,30hrs; 18,50km; +700m/-700m)
Magnetic sights follow each other on a circular hiking tour around Trigrad, with the authentic village of Zhrebevo at its distant end. Legend has it, the village was named after a stallion which shielded it from trouble and strife. Along the route, you observe the entry to the Trigrad Gorge and enjoy the wonderful panorama to surrounding parts.
Day 4: Trigrad – Kesten/Vodni Pad – Trigrad (5,30hrs; 17km; +670m/-760m)
Today, starting with a 10min transfer to the trailhead, you enjoy a particularly pleasant walking trek to the bordering with Greece villages of Kesten and Vodni Pad (until recently within a closely guarded strip proscribed even for those living down the road; you will see remains of the barbed wire border fences, meant to prevent people from escaping to Greece in the years during the 45yrs long communist rule in Bulgaria after WWII). A circular trail takes you up panoramic crests, through pine and beech forests dotted with green meadows and smallholdings, sheltered valleys, and traditional stone houses. The valley of the Trigradska River takes you back to Trigrad.
Day 5: Trigrad – Beden – Lyaskovo (6-6,30hrs; 21km; +825m/-860m)
Time to say goodbye to Trigrad but still not to the Rhodope mountains. An early morning transfer will take you to the village of Beden (45 mins driving time) from where you start your hiking, while your luggage will continue travelling to the other side of the rounded peaks and waits for you in an adorable guest house. The route from Beden to Lyaskovo is probably the most scenic and beautiful one, passing through shady forests and sunny verdant meadows where you can stop for a picnic. Once you reach the first houses of the village, do not get lied that this is the end of the walk. Lyaskovo is a pretty long settlement and your guest-house is in the centre of it so an exploration stroll along the street, parallel to the river, will meet you with the locals and the harmonious ambience.
Day 6: Lyaskovo – Bansko
Time to move along on your self-guided walking experience in Bulgarian mountains. After leaving the peaceful and greenish Rhodope mountains, you head off towards Pirin mountain – an alpine-like mountain range, immensely beautiful and meanwhile very challenging. Keep your energy well today, you will need it for the upcoming treks. Enjoy the picturesque car transfer which will last about 3 hrs (transfer time without stops). As we are getting closer to Bansko, you will start seeing the marble jagged crest of Pirin mountain. In Bansko you may consider strolling in the cobblestone streets in the Old Town, enriching your knowledge of Bulgarian culture and history in these areas. Bansko is not famous only to be one of the most attractive ski resorts but is also proud of its glorious past during the Revival Period.
Day 7: Bansko – Mount Polezhan – Bansko (5hrs; 7km; +770m/-770m)
You start the day with a morning transfer to the nearby Gotse Delchev hut (30 mins driving time). From here you board the chair lift which will take you to Bezbog hut, located in the foothills of a peak with the same name. Today’s trek is not demanding, except the last stage before your target destination Polezhan summit (2871 m/9353 ft). From the top, you will be rewarded with stunning views towards many lakes, among which the Upper Gazey Lake with its odd shape of a woman with a bun.
Day 8: Bansko – Vihren Hut – Banderishki Lakes Cirque – Demyanitsa Hut – Bansko (6-7hrs; 16km; +615m/-1215m)
Bit by bit we start adding some challenges to your hikes and for today is planned a trek to a marvellous Cirque of 16 glacier lakes also known as the Banderishki Lakes. The day starts with a short transfer (30 mins) to the nearby Vihren hut from where many hiking trails have their start. The lakes, surrounded by mighty rugged peaks, are dotting the u-shape alpine valleys with their turquoise waters. You will have many excuses to make stops today as each of them deserves your attention and the right to be captured on a photo! The end of today’s hiking trail will pass under the leaves of dense forest, next to the gurgling waters of Demyanitsa River. The driver will be waiting next to another hut from which the transfer time back to Bansko is approximately 25 mins.
Enjoy the evening resting as tomorrow you will face the giant marble figure of Vihren Summit (2914m).
For those who want to save their energy for tomorrow’s trek, we may propose a shorter circular trail around the Cirque of Banderishki Lakes, which will take you around five of them. You can enjoy the serenity of sitting by the shores of each one and inhaling the crystal-clear mountain air.
Day 9: Bansko – Vihren Hut – Mount Vihren – Vihren Hut – Bansko (6-7hrs; 8km; +960m/-960m)
The day will start again with a transfer to the same hut as yesterday where you will also end the hike. You are about to climb on the highest summit in Pirin mountain and also the third-highest one at the Balkans – Vihren summit (2914m). Trekking today will be challenging, on rocky and steep terrain. As you gain elevation, splendid views across the folded mountains will open up yet this is just a small teaser of what’s expecting you. The jaw-dropping scenery will be from the very top of the peak! While hiking, look around you, you may spot the endangered Edelweiss flower or scurrying herds of wild goats.
Day 10: Bansko – Rila Monastery – Govedartsi
Time to bid farewell to Pirin mountains and continue your independent walking journey towards Rila mountain – the highest ridge not only in Bulgaria but also on the Balkan Peninsula. The total transfer time will be around 2 hrs but there will be one long stop at the largest monastery complex in the country – Rila Monastery. Being listed on the UNESCO Heritage list, this Holy Cloister attracts many visitors all over the world. You may continue your self-guided tour in a cultural exploration of the main church, the Medieval tower, the museums, and do not forget to pay a visit of the Old Bakery, still active and producing extremely delicious fried flat donuts call “mekitsa”. Advise the time of departure with your driver to be sure you have enough time for this divine place, from whose yard you can also admire a view towards the majestic Malyovitsa Peak. From Rila Monastery you proceed towards Govedartsi, where you will spend the following 3 nights.
Day 11: Govedartsi – The Seven Rila Lakes – Govedartsi (6-7hrs; 16-18km; +1100-1300m/-1100-1300m)
You will start your self-guided hiking exploration in Rila mountains right from its pearls – the Seven Rila Lakes. This group of glacier lakes, each with a unique shape, is just a small piece of heaven on the Earth. In fact, they are just a small proof of why the Thracian tribes gave the name Rila to this mountain. It is translated as “well-watered mountain”. Many of the biggest and longest rivers in Bulgaria actually had their origin from Rila mountain. When you reach the highest located lake Salzata (The Teardrop) you can admire a post-card panorama towards all of the lakes below.
Day 12: Govedartsi – Malyovitsa – Scary Lake/Yonchevo Lake or Mount Malyovitsa – Govedartsi (5,30-6hrs; 12-15km; +880-1040m/-880-1040m)
A short transfer (20 mins) to the Central Mountain School in the valley of Malyovitsa Peak will give the start of today’s ramble. The suggested itinerary passes through fir forests which takes you to the divine small meadow where you can stop for a herbal tea at Malyovitsa hut. The refreshing start of the hike across the green woods will be soon behind your back as you start gaining elevation on rocky rivers. There are two options on how to spend the day and both of them are above the tree line. For the more adventurous ones, the route to Malyovitsa Peak (2729m/8953 ft) may seem more attractive, especially because of the panoramic views from the top. The other trail goes towards The Scary Lake. Definitely a place where you can feel the serenity of nature with all of your heart. Probably the Lake gain this name after a tourist has described a terrible storm he had experienced near it. The same tourist is actually a famous Bulgarian painter who often hiked to this Lake and to another one named after him – Yonchevo Lake. Your trail continues with a steep descend towards it and will slope again between the dwarf pine trees, later through dense green forest and take you back to where you started. If you choose this trekking option you will fulfil your eyes with a variety of landscapes!
Day 13: Govedartsi – Borovets – Mount Musala – Borovets – Sofia (5,30hrs; 14,50km; +690m/-690m)
Your last day in Rila mountain will be a remarkable way to say goodbye to this marvellous area. Pack your luggage in the morning as after the hike you continue directly towards Sofia (approx. 1hrand 30 mins driving time). In the morning you will be picked up by a vehicle which will take you to the famous ski resort Borovets. You then board on the cabin lift to reach the starting point of the trail towards the highest peak at the Balkans – Musala (2925m). Despite being the highest summit it does not means it will be the most challenging one to conquer. In fact, the first stage of the trail is a very pleasant, almost flat pathway, crossing some of the slopes which during the winter are very popular with the experienced skiers and snowboarders. As soon as you reach Musala hut with a big lake next to it, you will start gaining elevation bit by bit over rocky rivers. The last stage of the climbing – from the Icy Lake, which happens to be also the highest lake at the Balkans (2709m). will be challenging itself but the divine vistas from the top will compensate your efforts. Everywhere you turn your head, you will be rewarded with the green crest of the Rhodopes mountains, the marble giants of the Pirin mountain, of course, the jagged rocks of Rila and also, in the distant will be the long chain of Balkan mountains.
Day 14: Sofia – Mount Cherni Vrah – Golden Bridges – Sofia (5,00-5,30hrs; 16,5km; +690m/-1120m)
The last hiking day of your program will be devoted to the mountain in whose arms the capital of Bulgaria is lying and flourishing – Vitosha. Being so close to the city, it attracts many tourists, especially during the weekends, who make short escapes from the hurried lifestyle. The morning transfer (50 mins driving time) will drop you off near a hut from where your final trek will start. You can enjoy panoramic views of Sofia and meanwhile be so far from all of the city noises and the buzzing atmosphere. The target of the day is the highest peak in the mountain – Cherni Vrah (The Black Peak – 2290m). On the top is built a weather station with a small tea house where you can please your soul with fragrant herbal tea. The trail is not circular and it would pass through the Natural Reserve and continue down to the natural phenomenon of a rocky river called Zlatnite mostove (The Golden Bridges). This is the end of today’s hike and your two-week independent walking trip around Bulgarian mountains.
The transfer back to your accommodation will be approximately 40 mins. You will have time in the late afternoon to stroll around the streets of Sofia. The main landmarks are concentrated in the downtown which is compact and allows short exploration in just 2-3 hrs. Reward yourself with a tasty dish from a local restaurant.
Day 15: Sofia
Transfer from Sofia city to Sofia Airport.

Hiking time: hiking time only is mentioned on each day (not including stops for pictures, picnics, breaks, etc.); these are based on an average hiker’s speed of 4-5km/hr on flat terrain, additional 30min for each 300m elevation gain, and a backpack weighing not more than 10-15% of your body weight. Still, this varies a lot on the terrain and hiking experience of each client.

A DETAILED ROUTE BOOK AND MAP WILL BE PROVIDED UPON ARRIVAL


Limited time offer:

Price:
990 € per person in twin/dbl room
(Already saw a tour with similar program and price? Give us a chance to convince you why our offer is much better!)
Single room supplement: 185€ (obligatory for all individual clients)
Solo travelers: 1600 € (incl. also sgl room supplement)
(Traveling solo? Ask us to join you to an existing reservation in order to reduce the above price)
Rent of hiking poles: 30 €/person
Price includes: transfers to and from Sofia Airport (on first/last tour date only) and all other transfers in the itinerary; accommodation and catering as in the itinerary; luggage transfers; detailed route descriptions in English; GPS tracks; tourist maps of the mountains; 24/7 emergency hotline, and all local taxes.
Price does not include: cave/museum entry charges; lift tickets; extra food and drinks; travel/medical insurance; SPA procedures.
Accommodation: three-star hotels in towns (Devin, Sofia, Bansko), family pensions/guesthouses in the villages (Trigrad, Lyaskovo, Govedartsi); en-suite rooms; breakfast is included everywhere; dinner is included in Devin, Trigrad, Lyaskovo, and Govedartsi (not included in Sofia and Bansko).
Best period: the tour can start every day during the period mid-June – mid-September (advance booking is required as some accommodations are small and get fully booked months in advance)

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