This recounting of our week in the mountains of Bulgaria is being written a month and many more experiences later. The writing of it reminds me of the advantages of writing closer to the time – you forget things. It also reminds me of how many memories of this wonderful week remain strong.
To begin at the beginning –
Ahead of us – one week exploring the mountains of south west of Bulgaria.
To get the best from this week we had researched and found a guide through the website for Bulgaria Guides well before we arrived in Bulgaria. Our criteria was for someone who could guide us in the mountains, organise accommodation in smaller out of the way villages – someone who knew the mountains but would tolerate our less than mountaineering skillset.
What a treasure we had been given. Even before meeting Nadia we were excited that her background seemed to fit our interest in history and nature. We were quickly to discover it went beyond that – fun, humour, knowledge, experience, and on and on. Despite her incredible mountain fitness Nadia accommodated our (slightly lazy) mantras “Enjoyment not Endurance” and “Scenery no Summits”. We discovered along the way we were also travelling with a screen star. Nadia had been one of four people selected to narrate a National Geographic documentary series on Bulgaria –
That first meeting, that first day – always a little subdued as you meet and get to know one another.
Our first adventure was Malyovista in the Rila Mountains. A rocky, reasonably steep walk up to the tier surrounded by the rock massifs. Once there we looked at the path ahead of us needed to gain a view of the lake and we chose to stay where we were. Ahead of us loomed a steep, shale like rock path – up, up and up. Content with exploring the valley at the centre of the massifs rising around us. Beautiful views of the mountain peaks and even a faded moon crossing the sky.
Back to the hut where a small restaurant served a simple menu, with a simple and delicious meatball and the now regular Shopska salad combo. Sitting at the hut began a pattern that was to continue throughout the week. Nadia finding friends in unlikely places, the frequency became a source of fun between us and a bonus to our trip. This time it was climbing colleagues one of whom was still suffering from a severe injury. After lunch we adjourned to the climbers “base camp” and relaxed in the company of the rock climbers until it was time for us to descend.
The delight of all walks was the supply of fresh drinkable mountain water. Later in the week taps providing fresh water along the road had been built as dedications, or memorials to individuals. A lovely way to commemorate a person’s life.
Our bed for the first night was also our first experience of Bulgarian Guest Houses – we were sold. Such a beautiful experience at the Family Hotel Djambazki – Chris decided he might stay on instead of continuing the tour!
The rooms are commonly decorated with Bulgarian cultural and folklore displays. Traditional style rugs on the floor. Comfortable rustic decoration and rooms. Our host was exceptional and the food delicious.
For our first night our meal was in the restaurant at the guest house. As we would do for most of our time together we left menu choice with Nadia encouraging new delicious local tastes. And with a range of Bulgarian specialties there were always new delicious tastes.
Another delicious breakfast – pancakes for all. Well we told ourselves we were walking them off! Day 2 begins.
Today still in the Rila Mountains it was a waterfall kind of day. The Skakavitsa River Valley and the Skakaviški Waterfall – it was to be my favourite hike. Most of the hike followed the river through the forest up to the waterfall. A beautiful river, with small falls along the way, and shaded forest hiking. Again we came across a hut close to the top for lunch.
The last leg up to the waterfall was steeper, and rocky, but who was going to turn back without getting to the base.
Once there – time for a quiet sit to enjoy the view back down the valley with mountains towering over us, and the valley dipping below us – the 60 foot falls cascaded down above us.
Post walk we were promised a mineral springs spa for a swim. Imagining a small natural complex – we were a little overwhelmed. What we found was beyond anything I could imagine. A huge multi-pooled complex complete with climbing wall over one of the pools. All accompanied by the standard proudly large stomached, bronzed men with skimpy bathers.
Dinner found us with a delightful but harried waitress who described an endless stream of customers throughout the warm, fine Sunday depleting food and drink options. We arrived to a busy evening where the wait saw numbers of customers leave. We stayed on with the promise of new dishes, and were not disappointed.
A rare cloudy day for Day 3 as we headed to our next mountain range – Pirin mountain range. On the way we crossed to the other side of Maliavitsa to visit Rila Monastery, a UNESCO World Heritage Centre, founded in the 10th century. The monastery is a long way from the original simple life of St Ivan (John) an ascetic who lived humbly in the mountains.
Afterwards a delicious treat – despite quite a queue we got to try what was recommended as the best Mekitsa in Bulgaria. Round puffy golden globes – deep fried, yet light. Icing sugar sprinkled to your liking. Oh how delicious. The flavour a little doughnut like yet lighter and fluffier. All this accompanied by conversations with locals on holiday stopping in for their taste sensation.
On to the Pirin mountains where a ski-lift took us up to Bezbog lake with the Bezbog peak behind. This translated as “godless” lake which both Chris and I heard as “gutless lake” initially! A lovely hut overlooking the lake again a café where we had a soup lunch before our walk.
Feeling less than enthusiastic, and somewhat tired I sat at lunch thinking this is far enough! Yet how could I stop when we had such enthusiasm and encouragement from our guide. This day was also the beginning of the phrase “a short climb then a horizontal walk”. By the end of the week we no longer believed this statement and had many a joke about the meaning of a “horizontal” trail.
The walk was originally planned to Popovo lake we modified this to a view over the lake. We were keen to arrive back at the ski lift before closing time!
It was a beautiful walk and completing the first steep section it seemed less onerous than it appeared looking up from the hut.
The view of Lake Popova and the late afternoon sun on the surrounding peaks was worth every step. We stood for some time just soaking up the changing light over the vista before us.
My major challenge for the day was leaping on and off the very long ski lifts – a challenge I found a little terrifying. The strong men at each point helping you on and off was gratefully accepted. As we descended myy sunhat flew off as I clambered onboard – on arriving at the bottom a bucket arrived on another seat soon – after there was my hat safely anchored.
On to Bansko – Our small but pleasant guest house was a first time stay for all of us and we all enjoyed the friendly family, the comfortable rooms and the best breakfast of the week. Well I enjoyed it – Chris was unwell so missed the treat of fresh French toast Bulgarian style and a buffet of other treats.