Once you’ve landed in the beautiful city of Sofia, it may be hard to imagine going anywhere else on your Bulgarian holiday. But upon leaving the urban sprawl, you’ll find endless exciting times awaiting you in the mountain ranges of rural Bulgaria.
With the Rila and Pirin mountain ranges to the southwest, and the Balkan mountains stretching across the centre of the country, there’s something for everybody to be included in a 2022 trip.
1) The absolutely essential skiing trip
As the winter months approach, many people’s minds jump straight to skiing. If you’re looking for something a little different to the classic Alpine holiday, the ski resorts of Bansko, Borovets and Pamporovo might be up your alley.
Bansko, a village at the foot of the Pirin mountains, has won “Best Ski Resort in Bulgaria” at the World Ski Awards every year since 2013. With 75km of marked ski pistes and 9km of cross country tracks, there’s a slope for people at every level.
After a long day of adrenaline seeking downhill, you can relax après-ski with a taste of Bulgarian folk tradition. “Mehanas”, traditional Bulgarian tavernas provide you with roasting fires to dry your socks, warming food to fill your stomach and potent glasses of rakia to sharpen your senses.
2) Biking through the passes
When the snow melts, swap your skis for wheels and experience the thrills of Bulgaria’s mountains by bike. Our top choice for a tour would be in the Rhodope mountains.
Birthplace of the mythical singer Orpheus, the Rhodope mountains are known as the “green heart of Europe” because of their ever-verdant pinewood forests. A cycle tour can take you via the spa town of Velingrad, where you can bathe in warm mineral waters, and through the dizzying heights of the Buinovsko gorge where you can explore Bulgaria’s longest cave, the Yagodina Cave.
3) Hiking Musala and Vihren
Don’t fancy skis or a bike but still hankering for some vertigo-inducing thrills? A romp to the top of either Vihren or Musala will sate any serial hiker. The peaks of the Pirin and Rila mountain ranges tower at more than 2,900m high. Musala’s 2925m peak is the highest in south-eastern Europe.
Both mountains have staggering views throughout the year. For those not fancying such an arduous trek to the top, Musala’s peak can be done in a single day with the help of the Borovets ski resorts cabin-lift in the summer months. From there, your walk will take in views of glacial lakes and the Rila Primrose flower, endemic to the area and only found above 2,200m.
4) A trip to the mountain monasteries
An unmissable part of any journey to Bulgaria’s mountains is a visit to one of the over 100 monasteries scattered across the country.
For a unique monastery experience, the Rila Monastery is a good choice. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the ascetic cave home of hermit St John of Rila in the 10th century has remained a holy site ever since.
Destroyed by fire in 1862, the monastery was rebuilt to embody the stunning visions of Bulgarian Renaissance architecture. Monks still walk to and fro across this stunning mist-shrouded cultural gem that will take your breath away.
5) Stunning mountain lakes
Along your mountain travels, you may want to visit a lake beautiful lake with mountain panoramas and there are plenty of opportunities to do this.
In the Rila mountains, you can find two sets of stunning lakes. The Seven Rila Lakes and the Urdini Lakes both provide travellers with a collection of glacial idylls.
The popular Seven Rila Lakes are accessible from chalets close by and in mid-August is home to the Paneurhythmy Dance, a dance at the Kidney lake in celebration of Bulgarian philosopher, Beinsa Douno.
6) Balkan mountain wine
The local spirit rakia may be a bit too strong for most meals, so why not pair your mountain tour with a trip to Valley of Roses, a wine region south of the Balkan Mountains.
The mountains don’t just make for a pretty setting for the Valley of Roses, they also shield the vineyards from extreme weather that might upset the production of Bulgaria’s unique grape varieties. An essential grape to check out is the Red Misket, an ancient Bulgarian variety that produces white wines with a pinkish colour.
7) High-altitude cuisine
Sharing much of its cuisine with neighbours Greece and Turkey, travellers can expect delicious tahini, börek, and moussaka. But it’s in the Rhodope Mountains that you’ll find some true Bulgarian delicacies.
Patatnik, a potato pie with tons of Bulgarian sirene white cheese, is the perfect dinner for a hungry hiker or a starving skier. For vegan travellers, there’s also the delectable bob chorba, a bean soup that includes pretty much any vegetables to hand.