The Grand Balkans Circle - Rhodopes, Pirin, Rila and Vitosha mountains
Do you want to spend two full weeks, hiking along the most scenic walking routes in the most famous Bulgarian mountains? An impressive self-guided trekking holiday, revealing the very best of the most enchanting and famous Bulgarian mountains: the Rhodopes, Pirin, Rila and Vitosha. Starting with the lowest one - the Rhodopes, with their rolling landscapes, unique nature phenomena and people's hospitality, the program takes you higher to a sea of countless rugged peaks and glacial lakes of the Pirin Mountains. Further, passing through the most famous tourist attraction in Bulgaria, and a heritage site of UNESCO - the Rila Monastery, you continue on to the mountains of the same name, housing the highest peak on the Balkan Peninsula (Musala, 2925m). Again here you will have the possibility to find out by yourself why Rila means “well-watered mountain”. As a final stage of this epic itinerary, you will trace Vitosha Mountains - situated just outside Sofia, and overlooking the capital.
This independent trekking tour includes all ground transfers, including those to and from Sofia Airport. Walking treks are moderately arduous to difficult, with some short challenging stages. No rock climbing experience is needed and no "via ferratas" are present. It is meant for very well-trained hikers with an ample experience of dealing with bad climate conditions up in the mountains (incl. fog, thunderstorms etc.) and for people used to walk over rocky slopes, overtaking steep ascends/descends now and then. The terrain in the Pirin and Rila is alpine and includes trails over steep slopes, where sure-footedness is necessary on a couple of occasions. Small patches of snow may still be present on some of the trails in the Pirin and Rila until the end of July.
You walk every day with just a daypack. The rest/unnecessary luggage either remains inside the transfer vehicle, or in your accommodation.
/The tour program can be shortened or extended to match your travel period/
Day 1: We meet you at Sofia Airport (or Sofia / Plovdiv city) and transfer you to overnight in Devin.
Day 2: Your first hiking trek across the Rhodopes follows a picturesque nature trail along the valley of the Devinska River. A short transfer takes you to the entry of the Yagodinska Peshtera Cave: one of Bulgaria’s longest and prettiest caves, which you can opt to view. The afternoon brings a colourful kaleidoscope of landscapes that immerse you in the traditional lives of local people and the idyll of rolling crests, forests, and valleys. Three overnight stays at Trigrad. (5-6hrs of walking; 18km/11miles, climbing 700m/2100ft and descending 450m/1350ft.)
Day 3: Today, you enjoy a particularly pleasant walking trek to the village of Vodni Pad right by the Greek border, until recently within a closely guarded strip proscribed even for those living down the road. A circular trail takes you up panoramic crests, through pine forests dotted with green meadows and smallholdings, sheltered valleys, and traditional stone houses. The valley of the Trigradska River takes you back to Trigrad. (5-6hrs of walking; 18km/11miles, climbing and descending 700m/2150ft.)
Day 4: Magnetic sights follow each other on another 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 Trigradsko Zhdrelo Gorge and enjoy the wonderful panorama to surrounding parts. This is also the best option to visit the Dyavolskoto Gyrlo (The Devil's Throat) Cave, housing the highest underground waterfall on the Balkans - 42m high. (5-6hrs of walking; 18km/11miles, climbing and descending 700m/2150ft.)
Day 5: With a transfer to the village of Beden begins today’s particularly panoramic trek. The views of the Rhodopes’ green crests change at each turn. The day ends at the village of Lyaskovo, one of the most distinctive local communities, with unforgettable charm and unique atmosphere. Your stay in the guesthouse of a local family will leave you wonderful memories of Rhodope hospitality. (6hrs of walking; 21km/13miles, climbing 800m/2400ft and descending 850m/2550ft.)
Day 6: Transfer from the Rhodopes to Bansko at the foot of Pirin mountains. This will be your base for the next four nights. In the afternoon you can stroll along the cobbled streets and the charming ancient houses in the old part of the town, try some of the local taverns, or simply relax enjoying the majestic summits of the Pirin Mountains.
Day 7: Car transfer brings you above Dobrinishte resort, at Gotse Delchev Hut. Chair cable car then takes you up to the Bezbog Hut. This is the setting-off point for the hiking trek to the Polezhan Summit (2851m/9354ft) which offers one of the most beautiful panoramas in the Pirin, over 17 stunning glacier lakes, including the largest Popovo Lake (30m/100ft deep). Polezhan is the 5th highest summit in the Pirin. It is surrounded by three Cirques with three groups of lakes - Disilishki in the north, Polezhanski in the south and Strazhishki in the west. You use the classic route trough the northeast ridge, which is not difficult or too steep, except of the last 15-minute stage of the summit. (5hrs of walking; 8km/5miles; climbing and descending 650m/2100ft.)
Day 8: Pre-arranged transfer brings you up to the Vihren Hut (appr. 30min) where you set off on a hiking trek through the pretty Cirque of the Banderishki Lakes. From there, you go across into the neighbouring valley and the Todorini Ochi Lakes and thence through the thick spruce forests of the Yulen Nature Reserve on to the valley of the playful Demyanitsa River. Stunning sceneries will be expecting you behind every corner. (6-7hrs of walking; 16km/10miles; climbing 700m/2300ft and descending 1100m/3650ft)
For those, who do not want to exhaust themselves before the most difficult climb to Mount Vihren on Day 7 (or in case of bad weather conditions), we have prepared an easier and shorter version, which is not at all less panoramic. Loop walk among the lakes in the Bunderishki Lake Cirque will take you to all five of them, where you can have rest on their shores and enjoy the serenity of the rocky outcrops around you. (3,30-4hrs of walking; 7km/4,5miles; climbing and descending 700m/2300ft)
Day 9: Time to attempt the Pirin’s premier summit, Vihren (transfer time each way: appr. 30min). You trek through the Golem Kazan (The Giant Cauldron) area beneath the breathtaking sheer 400m/1300ft northern wall of Vihren, whose dolomite precipices offer shelter to rare edelweiss flowers and fretful herds of Balkan Chamois (wild goats). The views are genuinely overwhelming, yet they are just the prelude to the panoramas that open up from the summit over a sea of jagged peaks all around. (6hrs of walking; 9km/5,5miles; climbing and descending 1000m/3300ft)
Day 10: You bid farewell to Pirin and set off for Rila. During this day, which is meant for relax, you will stop for a short visit at Rila Monastery, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This is the most famous and largest Christian monastery in Bulgaria. The exceptional frescoes in the central church form a gallery of masterpieces of Renaissance art and could be considered a Bulgarian analogue of the frescoes of the Sistine chapel. Thence, you proceed to Govedartsi at the foot of Rila Mountains, which will be your base for the following three nights.
Day 11: A shaded path through the Rila’s ancient spruce forests takes you up to the alpine parts of the mountain and the Cirque of the Seven Rila Lakes. Located at between 2100 and 2500 metres (6900 to 8200ft) above sea level, these famous glacier lakes will charm you with their magnificent scenery which you can survey from the edge of the highest one. (5-6 hrs of walking; 16km/10miles, climbing and descending 750 to 1000m/2500 to 3300ft.)
Day 12: Today’s route takes you to the beautiful Malyovitsa Valley and thence high over the alpine peaks sheltering the secretive Strashno Ezero (The Scary) Lake. More enthusiastic mountaineers may opt for an alternative hiking trek to the Malyovitsa summit which offers incredible views over the nearby crests and peaks of the Rila. (5hrs of walking; 12km/7miles, climbing and descending 900m/3000ft)
Day 13: A short transfer brings you to the Gondola lift station in Borovets resort. Half an hour lift ride will bring you up, to the trailhead for the Balkans’ highest summit Musala (2925m/9596ft). The hiking is not particularly arduous, yet is particularly panoramic, with the rocky face of Musala visible the whole time while you transit a number of Cirques, glacier lakes and mountain shelters. The view from the peak to surrounding uplands and peaks is head-turning. Transfer to Sofia in the afternoon (appr. 1,30hrs). (5hrs of walking; 13km/8miles, climbing and descending through 750m/2460ft)
Day 14: A panoramic walking route takes you across the crest of Mount Vitosha, including climbing the local high point of Cherni Vrah (2290m/7513ft). Along the way, you cross the broad alpine meadows of the Torfeno Branishte Nature Reserve, dip into old spruce groves and follow a path to the stone rivers of the Zlatni Mostove natural feature. From here, you are transferred down to your accommodation in Sofia. (4,30hrs of walking; 11km/7miles, climbing 500m/1600ft and descending 800m/2600ft.)
Day 15: Transfer to Sofia Airport.
A DETAILED ROUTE BOOK AND MAP WILL BE PROVIDED UPON ARRIVAL
Accommodation and luggage transfers: 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); Luggage is transported between accommodations.
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.
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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)
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; 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.
Group size: Min. 2 persons (Traveling solo? Ask us to join you to an existing reservation in order to reduce costs.)
Limited time offer:
Price: 990 €
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Single room supplement: 170 € (obligatory for all individual clients)
Rent of hiking poles: 25 €/person