The “Bulgarian Alps”
15.05.2012 § 4 Comments
I am a “summer Bulgarian”. I ordinarily reside in Canada and I’m only in Bulgaria for short bursts of time, usually in the summer. After the obligatory two weeks spent with various grandparents, I used to go to the seaside. However, four years ago my cousin convinced me to visit the Seven Rila Lakes with him. After a three-day hike through one of the most beautiful mountains in Bulgaria, I was converted: I was an avid hiker.
Aleko Konstantinov, one of Bulgaria’s most celebrated writers, is also the founder of the ecotourism movement in Bulgaria. An avid mountaineer, he wrote countless accounts highlighting the stunning natural beauty of Bulgaria’s mountains, comparing them to the Swiss Alps in majesty. On August 27, 1895, Konstantinov became the patron of the Bulgarian Tourist Union, laying the foundations for a vast network of sights, lodges and trails, which are some of the best-developed int he world.
Almost without exception, all of Bulgaria’s mountains maintain well-marked hiking trails, with lodges scattered every 6-8 hours’ walk awaiting the weary traveller with hot tea and a cot. Summer trails are marked with paint (a coloured strip sandwiched between two white ones) while winter trails are marked with steel poles painted black and yellow. Anyone from the serious mountaineer who spends weeks roaming the nation’s crags and peaks to the city worker escaping the daily routine and the smog-filled city for a day of hiking, anyone can find a route suitable in length and difficulty.
Unlike the Black Sea coast, which tends to be expensive, hot and overflowing with tourists in the summer, the mountains offer cool, crisp air and breathtaking sights. Instead of a bathing suit, a beach towel and all the year’s savings, pack a rucksack with dry socks, a sturdy jacket, sandwiches and water. A night in a mountain lodge costs around 15 Leva while a plentiful hot dinner can be had for less than 5. Above all, the mountains offer peace, silence and a sense of accomplishment at the end of every gruelling day.
Naturally, the routes are not always easy. A person in good health and average fitness can complete a three-day hike without additional training, but a typical day in the mountains requires 6-8 hours of hiking with only short breaks and often reaching the next lodge before nightfall takes precedence over wordly comforts or weary feet. The mountain is dangerous, even in the summer, and should not be underestimated. For example, Musala peak (Bulgaria’s tallest at 2925 m / 9596 feet) is covered in snow ten months of the year and maintains an average temperature of +4 C – hypothermia in July is not impossible. Places above 1500 m regularly experience fogs, and some of the routes have stretches that can be extremely dangerous. Even so, with some preparation and experience, and with two or three trustworthy companions, one can minimize the risks.
“Bulgaria’s Swiss Alps” as Konstantinov called the natural wealth of Bulgaria’s mountains is world-class in beauty, accessibility and infrastructure. Try it next summer, it will not disappoint you!