From Belogradchik, through Montana to Vratsa, the foothills of the Balkan Mountains offer an abundance of hidden treasures accessible to those true travelers looking to discover the magic of the Northwest!
The 5th week of the 66-day summer trip from Bulgaria took me to the Northwest. After the first part of this week, dedicated to Lovech, Pleven and Kozloduy, the next days it was time to go south, along the foot of the Balkan mountain.
Many people associate Northwest Bulgaria with the poorest region in the European Union. This may be economically so, but when it comes to nature, that’s a completely different story.
I planned to spend 3-4 days getting around this vast region, but this time turned out to be so scarce that I had no other option than missing some mandatory stops, such as Vidin region. Undoubtedly, I will soon be back here again, not only because of Vidin, but also because of many other places, which truly captivated me.
Traveling through this magical region is an experience of a new dimension. It feels like a fairy tale. Mother Nature has sculpted forms so exquisite and unusual that even the most rigorous people of art, creators, artists, writers, or film directors would be inspired.
There are many places and experiences that I am eager to share, but one of them rises above all and I will start from there.
Belogradchik Rocks: It is difficult to describe them with words, even the most talented artist would not be able to sculpt with sufficient precision the unique natural forms, nor to recreate the magic radiated by the Belogradchik Rocks. This true natural phenomenon has to be seen live. It is no accident that several years ago, this majestic place was nominated for one of the 7 Natural Wonders of the World. It is a vast area of almost 100 km2, covered by numerous rock formations, some of them with a very peculiar appearance and reaching a height of more than 200 meters. However, the most interesting thing about the rocks is related to the different legends along their formation. 230 million years ago, the Belogradchik Rocks were at the bottom of the sea, and after the withdrawal of water, under the influence of sunlight, wind and natural phenomena, they acquired strange shapes that could easily be likened to human and animal images. Whether it is just a product of our imagination or something else remains a mystery.
Magura Cave: Another place known for its secrecy and mysticism. This is the only cave with rock paintings from the Paleolithic Era (Stone Age) in Bulgaria. These are more than 700 drawings depicting life scenes of the prehistoric inhabitants of these lands, animal rituals, multiple symbols whose interpretation creates various theories and legends related to the beginning of life and the development of mankind. Although the average visitor does not have access to the area with the paintings, a visit to the cave does not leave anyone indifferent.
Venetsa Cave: Far less popular than the Magura, “Venetsa” is probably the most picturesque cave I have had the pleasure of visiting in Bulgaria. Despite its smaller size, there is a collection of indescribably beautiful shapes, stalactites and stalagmites illuminated in such a way that they shine in their full glory, creating a true spectacle.
Wine Cellar Borovitsa: a small neat winery whose owner manages to pass on her love of wine to every visitor, eager to taste the magic of this elixir and willing to get to know the characteristics of wine in Northwest Bulgaria.
Horseback Riding in the Village of Veshtitsa: One of those places, visually detached from the world, where one can enjoy unforgettable adventures in nature.
4×4 Belogradchik Safari: I do not know a person who has not been astonished by contemplating the extraordinary landscape formed by the rocks of Belogradchik. However, imagine an extreme experience that leads you to a 4×4 journey between the rocks themselves. The result is an indescribable safari that can hardly be compared to anything.
Where to stay near Belogradchik?
Han Madona: One of those places where hospitality and delicious food are non negotiable hallmarks. The host, Rado, makes sure that guests do not miss anything, and in addition to the small hotel complex, he has also built an extremely comfortable camping area.
Clay Houses Eco Village, Belogradchik: On the way to Belogradchik, you will probably pass through the village of Izvos, where you can enjoy a magnificent view of the rocks. That’s where this unique clay house complex is located, where they not only offer accommodation in a stunningly unusual place, but rather create a truly magical experience. The owner, Kiril, has devoted the last few years to the study of the paintings in Magura cave and the prehistoric people living in these lands. The conclusions he reaches reveal a world filled with mystery and also great hope. Often he offers his guests walks between the cliffs, sharing incredible stories in a place filled with energy and a lot of mysticism.
The Montana region is no less unusual. It is one of those places that has managed to preserve its traditions and customs, surrounded by an indescribably beautiful natural landscape.
In a little more than a day I was able to visit some of the popular villages and get acquainted with local sites and experiences, many of which, due to lack of time, I had to leave for future visits.
Castra ad Montanensium: Located in the southern part of Montana, this ancient Roman fortress tells us about this town’s rich history.
Torlacite (Chiprovtsi): The future of the popular Chiprovtsi carpets is in good hands when it comes to places like this guest house, a true museum for carpet making. Here anyone can get acquainted with this specific craft, get demonstrations, and learn how to weave. Among other things, the hosts are extremely friendly and will welcome you with the most delicious meals.
Starting point for the hike to Kom peak – the beginning of the popular Kom-Emine route, about 600 km long, alongside the Balkan Mountain range – Berkovitsa is a fabulous town, a ski resort, a place with rich cultural heritage.
Ivan Vazov House-Museum: It is no coincidence that the patriarch of Bulgarian literature chose this place – a typical house from the Bulgarian Revival period – as his home, turning this temporary stay into one of the most creative periods of his career.
Ethnographic Museum: Preserving the spirit and culture of this place, with its extensive collection of local ceramics, Chiprovtsi carpets, Karakachan costumes, city dresses and other exhibits from the beginning of the last century, this museum contains valuable heritage of the region.
Krasteva Guest House: a stay in Berkovitsa is even more enjoyable when it includes an overnight stay in such a special place as the Krasteva Guest House, where in addition to the cozy family hotel and warm welcome, they serve delicious meals in their tavern, which has become a must stop for many people passing and staying in the city.
Klisurski Monastery: From Berkovitsa, on the way to Varshets one stumbles across the fourth largest monastery in Bulgaria, a must stop place that has managed to preserve the Bulgarian spirit and culture over the centuries.
Varshets: Located at the foot of the Western Balkan Mountain range, with its motto “City of Health” and abundant of mineral springs, Varshets has been a well-known spa resort for many years. However, the city is much more than that and is increasingly attracting more active and adventurous tourists, tempted by the opportunities for walking in the mountains, eco trails through the woods and waterfalls, as well as the rich cultural program. Another place, which I am in debt with and promise to return soon.
Everyone who visits Vratsa for the first time remains amazed by the astonishing view of the mountain, so close to the city that is seemingly at the end of your fingertips. It was not the first time for me – rather the third within the previous three months – but as it happened before, the town captivated me again with its unique landscapes. You can get a slight idea here:
It is worth taking the time to wander through the Vratsa Balkan, preferably by bike or on foot, so that you can enjoy the stunning 360º panoramic views that open up from every corner. If you do not have enough time, of course the car will do a great job too, but make sure to plan enough time for picture stops. You will not regret it.
One of the places you simply cannot miss is the Ledenika Cave, a true marvel of nature that we managed to visit during the bike tour around Bulgaria, three months earlier.
Guest House Ray – Chelopek Village: I have no words to describe the hospitality I enjoyed while staying with Boris and Svetlana at this house in the village of Chelopek, one of those places where you feel at home away from home. What makes the stay even more special are the walks that Boris offers to his guests, whether on foot or by bike or on horseback. We used the good weather to do a bike tour around the region historical landmarks such as Okolchitsa summit.
Chelopek village is also known with the Baba Iliytsa house-museum, the birthplace of the heroine of Ivan Vazov in his work “One Bulgarian”, who helped Hristo Botev’s tribe after its defeat at Okolchitsa summit back in 1876.
I could also not miss the inspiring meeting with one of the most active creators of the village of Chelopek, Miglena Mladenova, responsible for the many events, festivals and programs organized in the village, bringing the local lifestyle, customs and traditions closer to its visitors.
Cherepish Monastery: located on the very shore of the Iskar River, nestled between the rocks of the Vratsa Balkan, we find this unique monastery dating from the Second Bulgarian Kingdom, during the time of Tsar Shishman. An enriching visit for everyone interested in Bulgarian history and how it has been preserved over the centuries.
Archaeological Complex Citadel “Kaleto” (Mezdra): a true crossroads of civilizations that have collected remains of human history over the last 6-7 millennia, from the Chalcolithic to the Middle Ages. This place flourished during the Roman Empire, when the city was the focal point connecting Serdica with the Danube Plain, as well as Eastern with Western Bulgaria, something that is still happening today.
Majestic rocky landscapes, mysterious caves, enigmatic stories, ancient crafts – this is just a small part of the greatness of Northwest Bulgaria – a region that has the huge potential to become favorite destination for many travelers.
So ended the fifth week of this long journey, after which I planned to continue to Botevgrad and from there alongside the southern side of the Balkan Mountain range, which I will tell you about very soon …