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

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 well-trained hikers with a good 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. Patches of snow may still be present on some of the trails in the Pirin and Rila until the end of June.
You walk every day with just a daypack. The rest/unnecessary luggage either remains inside the transfer vehicle, or in your accommodation.


/shortening the tour to match your travel dates is also possible; get in touch to check details/

Day 1: Sofia – Devin
We meet you at Sofia Airport (or Plovdiv Airport for a small fee) 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)
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.
Day 6: Lyaskovo – Bansko
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: Bansko – Mount Polezhan – Bansko (5hrs; 7km; +770m/-770m)
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) which offers one of the most beautiful panoramas in the Pirin, over 17 stunning glacier lakes, including the largest Popovo Lake (30m 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 through the northeast ridge, which is not difficult or too steep, except the last 20-minute stage of the summit. There are options to extend this walk, including also a climb to the nearby Mount Bezbog, or a walk to Popovo Lake itself.
Day 8: Bansko – Vihren Hut – Banderishki Lakes Cirque – Demyanitsa Hut – Bansko (6-7hrs; 16km; +615m/-1215m)
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.
For those, who do not want to exhaust themselves before the demanding climb to Mount Vihren on Day 9 (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 five of them, where you can have a rest on their shores and enjoy the serenity of the rocky outcrops around you.
Day 9: Bansko – Vihren Hut – Mount Vihren – Vihren Hut – Bansko (6-7hrs; 8km; +960m/-960m)
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 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. The proposed trek is circular, but if you do not feel well on exposed slopes you can do the standard there-and-back trail.
Day 10: Bansko – Rila Monastery – Govedartsi
You bid farewell to Pirin and set off for Rila. During this day, which is meant for relaxation, 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: Govedartsi – The Seven Rila Lakes – Govedartsi (6-7hrs; 16-18km; +1100-1300m/-1100-1300m)
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 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.
Day 12: Govedartsi – Malyovitsa – Scary Lake/Yonchevo Lake or Mount Malyovitsa – Govedartsi (5,30-6hrs; 12-15km; +880-1040m/-880-1040m)
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.
Day 13: Govedartsi – Borovets – Mount Musala – Borovets – Sofia (5,30hrs; 14,50km; +690m/-690m)
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). 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).
Day 14: Sofia – Mount Cherni Vrah – Golden Bridges – Sofia (5,00-5,30hrs; 16,5km; +690m/-1120m)
A panoramic walking route takes you across the crest of Mount Vitosha, including climbing the local high point of Cherni Vrah (2290m). 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.
Day 15: Sofia
Transfer 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)

SUBMIT A REVIEW ABOUT THIS TOUR


Four mountains

5.0 rating
September 4, 2016

In two weeks we managed to see four mountains. Each one differs significantly from the others. You don’t have to be an experienced mountaineer to feel the difference. Extremely interesting visit. Wonderful organization, very good description and information. The food in this country is amazing. We will definitely come again.

Erik Møller, Denmark

Wonderful trip in Bulgria

5.0 rating
August 20, 2016

This tour is for all of the tourists around the world that want to explore as much as they can n 2 weeks! That’s the perfect description for this self-guided trek!
Definitely, for us the best part was in Rhodope mountain. Not because it was an easier mountain compared to Rila and Pirin, but because it’s a like a fairy tale universe, far from reality and you expect an elf or goblin to pop up behind every turn of the trail!
Thanks to Roumen, one of the hosts we had there, for the super warm welcome and for his efforts to make us feel like his own children!
Wonderful!

Flora Linder, Germany

Nice 2 weeks

5.0 rating
July 24, 2016

On behalf of my small group – Lilly, Adele and Tom – we want to say BIG BLAGODARJA to Traventuria for their efforts to make our stay memorable. Everyone was so kind, from the driver George who collected us from the airport, through the hosts in the family-houses, the strangers we met along the treks and also – thanks to Lilia – our personal customer care agent. She was so patient with all of our needs, stupid questions and even the wrong flight data that we mistakenly sent her. 
We really loved the nature of Bulgaria, surprisingly for us some of the treks were challenging but any effort was worthwhile since we are capable to mark the end of the day with a glass of cold beer or tasty rakija! lol
The price is reasonable for what we get – nice and clean accommodations, tasty food, mainly prepared with local ingredients (when saying local I mean so local, that there are picked from the gardens of the houses, hahaha). Route notes were quiet clear, maps not at all but it wasn’t a big deal. So once again – thank you, merci, danke, blagodarja! 

Hans Huber, Germany

Hikers Paradise-Grand Balkans Circle Tour-Self Guided

5.0 rating
July 14, 2016

Read the original review on TripAdvisor
My husband and I really enjoyed our trip. Traventuria did a fantastic job selecting the hikes and the accomodations. The hiking directions and maps were very good, easy to follow.
The accomodations were comfortable. Large, clean rooms, lots of hot water for showers.
The breakfasts were good, with large portions, and varied.
The transfers to and from the trailheads were right on time. Overall a hassle free, well executed itinerary.

Carol Bruder, Canada

Trekking Riemst Rila and Pirin Mountains july 2016

5.0 rating
July 13, 2016

Read the original review on TripAdvisor
My husband and I really enjoyed our trip. Traventuria did a fantastic job selecting the hikes and the accomodations. The hiking directions and maps were very good, easy to follow.
The accomodations were comfortable. Large, clean rooms, lots of hot water for showers.
The breakfasts were good, with large portions, and varied.
The transfers to and from the trailheads were right on time. Overall a hassle free, well executed itinerary.

Berto Schoenmaekers, Belgium

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