Pure and untouched, the Central Balkans reveals to us its natural beauty sharing with us at the same time stories of preservation of Bulgarian culture and spirit, customs and crafts.
The fourth week of this 66 day trip around the country was among all probably the most intense one. After starting with the region of Veliko Tarnovo and Elena and passing through the Gabrovo region, it was the moment to start a journey around the Central Balkans, one of the places that I was looking forward to visiting the most.
Like the Gabrovo region, the Central Balkans are famous for preserving their crafts, especially pottery. Bearing in mind the clay soils, the production of ceramics has been widespread in these lands since antiquity. The natural resources of the region are no less remarkable. Waterfalls, caves, dense forests and picturesque rivers, this part of Bulgaria offers countless opportunities for the most adventurous.
Squeezed by time as usual, in just two and a half days I set out to explore Apriltsi, Troyan and Teteven areas, an undoubtedly challenging task that unfortunately forced me to skip many interesting places. Undoubtedly, I intend to visit the region again in the near future.
Apriltsi is a town created by the confluence of 4 large villages, currently its neighborhoods. Extending along the Ostreshka river, and despite its small size (population of less than 5,000 people), it is one of the longest towns in Bulgaria (22 km).
Apriltsi and its surroundings turn out to be one of the most picturesque places in Bulgaria. Riding around only few months ago during the bike trip around Bulgaria, I was amazed by the magnificent views in the area. This time the impressions from the landscapes were no less spectacular.
Eco-path “The Cross”: Arriving in the late afternoon, unfortunately I was not able to indulge in any of the many eco trails in the region leading to magnificent natural landmarks. However, I was at least able to walk along this short path, which in turn revealed a wonderful panoramic view.
Hotel “Tihiat kat” Apriltsi: If there is a good starting point for your adventures in the region, it is definitely here. Not only will you get valuable information about the sights that are worth a visit, but you can probably get on with other travelers as well, as for example it is often frequented by cycling enthusiasts, in their exploration of the region. Among other things, the kitchen is superb.
Stone & Compass: Descending from Sevlievo to Apriltsi, I came across by chance this remarkable organization created by two Americans, Julie and Robert, who chose Bulgaria, particularly the village of Stolat, to launch an interesting mission-driven project. By organizing various educational programs via children’s camps in our country for youngsters from abroad, in close cooperation with the local people, they are already creating a community and setting the stage for a deep cultural exchange.
Oreshak and its surroundings (Troyan)
After Apriltsi I was about to visit Troyan, but before that I had to go through the village of Oreshak. What I expected to be a short stay became a full-day program, which not only prevented me from even reaching Troyan, but wasn’t enough for getting to know even half of the places I was recommended to in Oreshak itself.
Oreshak is a true incubator for experiences
It’s really impressive to observe the remarkable entrepreneurship of the local people giving life to ancient crafts in their workshops, preserving ancient customs and traditions. What made me even more impressed was how united they were, recommending each other so that the visitor could maximize his/her stay.
If there is someone who embodies this particular quality, it is Rossi from Rossi’s Pottery Atelier in Oreshak. She spent her entire afternoon walking me around the area and introducing me to as many of her fellow craftsmen as possible, as well as to many locals that create interesting experiences. It is people like Rossi, the embodiment of what a true Insaider is, that are the real reason of starting this endeavor.
Rossi’s Pottery Atelier in Oreshak: I rolled my sleeves up, didn’t bother getting my hands dirty and immersed myself in Rossi’s craft. She showed me that in order to get the end result (the ceramic vessel), it is important to focus on the process. Pottery, I learned, is an excellent method of meditation that requires 100% of your attention. Hand work and the precision with which you sculpt every detail has therapeutic elements and helps to relieve the accumulated stress. In addition, Rossi told me about the applications of ceramics today in the storage of food and water. In a world where plastic is widely used, it was important to learn about the ability of ceramic vessels to retain the properties and taste of what we eat, another reason to preserve and promote the preservation of this ancient craft.
Old Carpet Laundry place: Not far from the Troyan Monastery, quite hidden, stands this unique place, where the carpets are washed in a traditional, authentic way, an exceptional attraction located on the riverbank. It is worth seeing.
Baba Stana neighborhood: an extremely picturesque village, like an excerpt of a fairy tale, hidden high on a hill over Oreshak. Occupied since antiquity, this place was abandoned at a certain point and for centuries no human had set foot here. Legend says that here, during the Ottoman occupation, a widow named Stana settled up here with her children in search of a safe place to live, high enough so no one could ever find them.
Minkovski Guest House: This is one of the fabulous houses in the Baba Stana neighborhood, a true experience with stunning views of the Balkans.
Oreshak National Exhibition: An extremely rich exhibition of arts and crafts, where through the many events and demonstrations that are organized, you can get acquainted with local crafts.
Troyan Monastery: Although in this occasion there was no time to visit it, during the bike trip only few months ago, I came here right on Easter Sunday. The third largest monastery in Bulgaria is a must stop for every visitor in the region.
Often in the shadow of Troyan, the Teteven Balkans area offers no less impressive natural landmarks and majestic landscapes as well as cultural and historical sites. I managed to visit a small part of them:
Saeva Dupka Cave: This is one of the most picturesque caves in Bulgaria, definitely a must-visit when in the region.
Glozhene Monastery: it may not be the most impressive in size or the most famous monastery in the country, but its location, high in the mountains, far from any settlements, gives it true grandeur.
Waterfall “Skoka”: located just above Teteven, this beautiful waterfall is easily accessible through a pleasant walk along the eco-trail “Under the Sprays of the Waterfall”, which starts from the town. As its name suggests (“Skoka” meaning “the jump”), this is a truly impressive waterfall nearly 30 meters high.
Where to stay in this part of the Balkan mountains?
In each of my stays in the course of my travels along the Balkan mountains I had so far enjoyed exceptional hospitality. Teteven region was no exception. I had the pleasure of visiting two really singular places in this region, each with its own unique style:
Guest House “Starata Furna”: In the middle of the village of Lopyan, famous for its delicious meals and its traditional atmosphere, this guest house, in the past a bakery, shares with its guests the authentic spirit of the Balkans.
Holiday houses “Boyana”, Cherni Vit village: situated in the village of Cherni Vit, known for its “green cheese”, this family complex fascinates its guests with the exceptional tranquility and coziness, which combined with the sounds of the Cherni Vit river, passing in close proximity, turns this stay into a truly relaxing experience.
Following my personal experience traveling around the central part of the Balkan Mountains, I dare to say that this is one of the most attractive places in the country for adventure travelers. Walking high in the mountains and forests, conquering peaks, visiting caves and waterfalls, or just enjoying the fabulous flora and fauna while recharging the batteries with the clean and fragrant air and bird songs…the opportunities for nature and adventure tourism are endless.
The preserved cultural heritage is equally impressive. Few places in Bulgaria can boast of having such a rich palette of crafts, the main livelihood of the population in this region since the time of the Renaissance, still preserved to this day. Undoubtedly the leading craft here is pottery, with traditions dating back to the Thracians, bearing in mind the rich clay soil. There are numerous ateliers and workshops where one can learn more about local crafts by doing, not only pottery, but also woodworking, leatherworking, copperwork, carving, weaving, and more.
If there is a place where one can completely break away from the stressful daily routine and remind him/herself of what is truly important in life, it is undoubtedly this region. Furthermore local people will make sure turning this into a truly rewarding stay, whether by showing you indescribably beautiful places, by hosting you with fabulously delicious meals, or by teaching you to their craft, by doing something with your own hands and giving you way to express your creativity and imagination.
The Central Balkans region will enchant you with its magnificent nature, challenge you to walk even the steepest paths to reach inaccessible peaks, but what it certainly will not do is disappoint you.
After a real adventure in the Balkan Mountains, in the beginning of the fifth week I was going to head north, direction Lovech and Pleven, a journey, which I will tell you about soon …