Vitosha is the fourth highest mountain in Bulgaria. It is situated next to Sofia, the capital of the country, in South-West direction. Vitosha is the only dome-shaped mountain in the country. It is a new mountain and there was no glacial activity. Very typical for Vitosha are the stone rivers (usually wrongly called moraines), which are large aggregations of big stones. The climate on a higher altitude is mountainous and the winds can reach more than 10 m/s, in the lower parts the climate is moderately-continental. Vitosha is the foggiest mountain in Bulgaria and despite its relatively small size this is not a threat to underrate, especially if you follow unknown route above the tree line. In the foothills of the mountain there are mineral and karst springs in the neighborhoods of Pancharevo, Bosnek, Zheleznitsa, Rudartsi, Kniazhevo. The larger part of Vitosha is declared as a Nature park. This is the first park in Bulgaria and on the Balkan Peninsula in general, established back in 1934. Within the borders of the park there are 2 nature reserves: “Bistrishko Branishte” and “”Torfeno Branishte” (The Peat Reserve).
The dense network of paths makes Vitosha natural choice for one-day hiking treks for those living in Sofia and not only. It is a very popular walking destination year round. Vitosha is very easily accessible from Sofia, either by public transport, or taxi, or personal car. Have in mind that most of the buses from the public transport are in motion only during the weekend, especially the ones, which are going to “Aleko” hut and Golden Bridges (and even then their working schedule is not reliable). In Vitosha there are more than 20 working huts. Most of them have restaurants, where you can have a some basic meals (soups, tea, grilled meat etc.).
Vitosha is very popular for one-day hiking excursions from Sofia. There are options for guided walking tours, but also for self-guided (independent) rambling (details HERE). Snowshoeing treks are the best choice to explore the mountains in winter as the relief is more gentle and the avalanche threat is insignificant compared to Rila (just a couple of places are known as dangerous).
Natural and cultural sights to be found in Vitosha:
• Boyana Church – a medieval Orthodox church, listed in the UNESCO World Heritage list. It is famous for its murals and frescos from 13th century which are considered as harbingers of the Renaissance by some researchers.
• Cherni Vrah peak (The Black Peak) – the highest peak in the mountain – 2290m/7626ft. It appears to be a crossroad in the mountain, almost all of the hiking paths are crossing this peak.
• Golden Bridges – the largest stone river in Vitosha Mountains, is situated along the valley of Vladaya River.
• Boyana waterfall – the highest in the mountain. The fall is 18m/60ft, at an altitude of 1260m/4196ft.
Although Vitosha is very close to the capital of Bulgaria and the mountain is very exploited in different ways, the bio diversity is unexpectedly high. The number of 300 rare, 85 relict and 148 endemic species is impressive. You can also observe more than 200 bird species, such as Spotted Nutcracker (Nucifraga caryocatactes), Goldcrest (Regulus regulus), Black Woodpecked (Dryocopus martius), Tengmalm’s Owl (Aegolius funereus) and others. Unfortunately the mammals are just a few, due to the poachers. There are some numbers of wolves, deer, bats, wild boars. And if you are very lucky you can even see a Brown Bear. Balkan Chamois (wild goats) have just recently been introduced and some of them successfully released from their adaptation enclosure. The diversity of the high plants is also impressive, there are 1500 species. During the centuries the forests of Vitosha underwent profound changes in terms of quantity and diversity of species in them. Between 14 and 19 century the forests were systematically destroyed, due to the vast felling half of the trees in the mountain were destroyed. In the previous century most of the forest massifs were restored. Typical representatives of the deciduous trees are beech, sessile oak, hornbeam, birch and aspen, more rarely you can see maple, ash, linden and hazel. From the coniferous trees the most widespread species are spruce, white pine and white fir.
Sample hiking trails (the durations of the hikes are approximate and depend on the physical shape and condition of the tourist).
• “Aleko” hut – Cherni Vrah peak – Golden Bridges (1 day): Transfer to Aleko hut. From there the ascent to Cherni Vrah peak is 1.30 hours. And after that descent to the Golden Bridges for 3 hours.
• “Aleko” hut – Cherni Vrah peak – Zheleznitsa village (1 day): Transfer to Aleko hut. From there the ascent to Cherni Vrah peak takes 1.30 hours. And after that 3 hours descent to Zheleznitsa village.
• Vladaya neightbourhood – Golden Bridges – Boyana waterfall – Boyana Lake – Boyana neighbourhood (1 day): The starting point is one of the neighborhoods of Sofia – Vladaya. From there you will reach Golden bridges for 2 hours. After that you will start descending along Boyana River until you reach Boyana waterfall in 1.30 hours. If you make a small diversion on you right, you can pass by Boyana Lake. The ending point is Boyana neighborhood.
There are a few festivals and events taking place within the area of Vitosha:
• Vitosha in 100 km – an annual competition, which makes a circle around the mountain. It takes place during a night (Saturday to Sunday) in June. There are two categories – walking and cycling.
• “There is nothing higher than Vitosha” – an open-air folklore festival on a meadow in the mountain with national songs and dances. The event is organized by “National ensemble “Philip Kutev”, one of the most popular ensembles in the country.
• “Vitosha” – an international folklore festival. Takes place in Sofia, every year in July. Usually the participants are from ensembles from more than 10 countries.
• Drum’n’Bass – open-air summer festival for electronic music, which takes place every July.
Listen to “Bistritsa Grandmothers” – world-famous (UNESCO list of the intangible cultural heritage) for authentic folklore from a village in the foothills of Vitosha (video clip HERE)