Wild Bulgaria: Winter Walk & Snowshoe
Explore remote winter landscapes of Bulgaria
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Vacation Style Holiday Type
Activity Level Leisurely / Moderate
Group Size Small Group
This winter adventure explores a remote and largely untouched part of the Rodopi Mountains that lies seemingly cut off from the outside world. A varied selection of routes will lead us through ancient forests, across panoramic ridges and into deep gorges studded with mysterious caves, discovering more about the amazingly rich wildlife and heritage of the region.
* All breakfasts, 4 lunches and 7 dinners included
* 7 nights hotels, all ensuite
* Airport transfers (at designated times)
5 days guided snowshoeing and winter walking. Groups normally 6 to 16, plus guide. Min age 16 yrs.
- Single Accommodation (available on request, inquire for supplement)
- Explore remote mountain landscape
- Discover subterranean caves
- Taste delicious local cuisine and wines
Start Sofia Airport
Start at Sofia Airport (Terminal 2) where you will be met by your leader and transferred east across the Thracian Plain to the historic city of Plovdiv where we will spend the first night.**
Walking tour of old Plovdiv, transfer to Rodopi mountains stopping at Bachkovo Monastery; gentle walk in the valley behind and on to Yagodina
After breakfast, we will have a short walk around the old part of Plovdiv, seeing some of the main sights such as the Roman theatre, stadium and beautifully preserved merchants’ houses. Then, having bought ourselves some picnic food, we drive south into the Rodopi Mountains and begin our explorations with a visit to one of the most sacred sites in Bulgaria, the Bachkovo Monastery. The largest and most atmospheric monasteries in the country, we enjoy a glimpse into the seemingly timeless monastic world of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, and have a chance to admire some of the most outstanding examples of religious art in the country. As well as visiting the monastery itself, we will also enjoy a gentle walk (2 hours) in the tranquil valley behind, a nature reserve that shelters several picturesque chapels. In the afternoon we drive on into the heart of the Rodopi Mountains, briefly stopping off at the village of Shiroka Laka, an architectural reserve that preserves a picturesque church and some fine examples of local vernacular architecture. Completing our transfer, we then arrive at the remote village of Yagodina, seemingly located at the end of the world in a rugged karst region. Here we will be based for the next four nights in a comfortable family-run hotel that is renowned for its hospitality and delicious traditional food.**
Walk or snowshoe up to ridge behind the village to 'Eagle's Eye' viewpoint for fabulous views over the mountains; evening cookery lesson.
Setting off on foot from the hotel, we will climb steadily up onto the broad open ridge that rises directly north of the village. Here on the cliffs at the westernmost end we will find an amazing viewpoint known as the ‘Eagle’s Eye’, from which there is a breathtaking view down into the depths of the Buynovo Gorge. The cliffs are the haunt of Peregrine Falcon, and occasionally Golden Eagles can also be seen soaring overhead. Resuming our walk (3-4 hours), we then head east along the ridge, being rewarded with a succession of stunning winter panoramas that stretch out over the village and across the seemingly unending folds and forests of the Rodopi Mountains. Having returned to the hotel, we will then receive a cookery lesson, and have an opportunity to prepare ourselves a traditional Rodopi dish that will then be served up as part of our dinner.*Standard Hotel*
Transfer to 'Devil's Throat' cave in Trigrad Gorge for exploration; snowshoe back to Yagodina, stopping at Yagodina Cave.
The focus of todays’ exploration is the amazing subterranean world of the Trigrad-Yagodina karst region. During the day we will visit two of the most famous caves in Bulgaria, and discover more about their formation as well as the fascinating creatures that live within. Beginning at the dramatic Trigrad Gorge, we first visit the so-called ‘Devil’s Throat’ Cave, an enormous chasm containing a thundering waterfall and underground river. This is the cave from which Orpheus is said to have emerged after his fateful trip to the Underworld. However, today the cave is renowned as one of the most important hibernating sites in Europe for Schreiber’s Bent-winged Bat which is found here in colonies numbering several thousand, accompanied by smaller numbers of Long-fingered Bat. Having emerged from the cave, we then make our way back towards Yagodina on foot (3 hours), skirting around the Durdaga massif through prime Brown Bear habitat. At this time of the year, the bears are normally tucked away sleeping in their dens, but if the weather is unseasonably mild, then they often awake from hibernation, and we may come across their tracks. Our hike finishes at the Yagodina Cave, internationally renowned for its great variety of cave formations. We will spend about an hour walking through the cave learning about the different speleothems, and also keeping our eyes open for hibernating Greater Horseshoe and Lesser Horseshoe Bat.**
Head out into the surrounding forests to experience this wild region, home to boar, deer and the grey wolf; evening demonstration of folk dancing.
Leaving the hotel on foot, we set off on an exciting walk (4-5 hours) into the lonely wilds of the surrounding forests. Often this part of the mountains experiences significant snowfall in winter, so it is likely we will need to use snowshoes in places to help us break a trail. Our route leads us into a remote region that in winter becomes the realm of the Grey Wolf, and we will keep our eyes open for any signs of their presence, as well as look out for the tracks of other animals such as Wild Boar, Roe Deer, Brown Hare and Red Squirrel. The silent forests also shelter a variety of interesting birds, and if we are lucky we may encounter species such as Black Woodpecker, Hazel Grouse and Crested Tit. Finally, having made our way across the mountains to the village of Trigrad, we will be picked up by our bus and driven back to Yagodina. Later in the evening, some of the village ladies will come to the hotel and, as well us entertaining us with traditional songs, will also teach us some of the local folkdances, thus bringing a lively close to our stay in Yagodina!**
Transfer to Devin, meet local guides and set off tracking local species such as the Balkan Chamois and Mouflon.
Leaving the village of Yagodina, we have a short drive to the nearby town of Devin. Here, in the mountains surrounding the town, we will meet up with guides from the local game reserve and spend several hours trying to track, observe and photograph a variety of elusive animals such as Wild Boar, Balkan Chamois, Mouflon, Roe Deer and Red Deer. Our exciting forest safari will be partly on foot and partly in four-wheel-drive vehicles. Later in the afternoon, you can then thaw out and soothe away any tired and aching muscles in the warm mineral waters of our hotel swimming pool; or if you are feeling especially self-indulgent, perhaps treat yourself to a massage or other treatment in the hotel spa.**
Follow the Devinska Reka Valley along the eco trail along the water's edge; afternoon transfer across Thracian Plain to Sofia.
After breakfast, we will spend the morning walking (2 hours) along the valley of the Devinska Reka, following a specially constructed eco-trail that sticks close to the water’s edge. The sparkling stream is home to Otter and a habitat for typical riverine birds such as White-throated Dipper, Kingfisher and Grey Wagtail. Finally, having checked out of the hotel and bought yourself something for lunch in the town of Devin, we then start the transfer back to Sofia, a long but interesting journey that first takes us through the dramatic Krichim Gorge, then out into the Thracian Plain. The final night of the holiday is at a hotel in the Bulgarian capital Sofia.**
Depending on flight schedules, there should be time for a short sightseeing tour of Sofia’s main sites, before driving on to the airport for departure.**
Our first night is spent at a centrally located hotel in Plovdiv. We then have four nights in the village of Yagodina, in one of the most remote parts of the Rodopi Mountains. This family-run hotel offers comfortable twin rooms with en suite facilities. We then have one night at a spa hotel in Devin, a mountain town famed for its mineral water, before moving on for a final night at a hotel in Sofia.
7 breakfasts, 4 lunches and 7 dinners are included in this trip.
Breakfast: Will usually include tea or coffee, bread, jam, honey and cheese, supplemented in Yagodina by fresh home-made yoghurt and traditional local specialities such as thick pancakes known as ‘katmi’ and a rice-based dish called ‘rodopski klin’.
Lunch: Picnic lunches will be eaten in the mountains and typically comprise of bread, cheese, salami, salad, biscuits and fruit. Our hotel in Yagodina provides us with picnic food, but on other days you will need to buy your own provisions in local shops.
Dinner: Will be taken in our hotel restaurant, and will normally include three courses comprising a salad or vegetarian soup and main course, followed by a dessert of fruit, ice cream, or cake/pudding. The cuisine reflects a mixture of Bulgarian, Greek, Turkish and Slavonic influences. We sample many traditional local specialities including ‘smilyanski fasul’, a delicious bean soup and ‘patatnik’, a local delicacy made with grated potatoes, onions, and cheese, then seasoned with mint and other herbs. Jugs of tap water will be provided on the table with the evening meal. Bottled mineral water, soft drinks and alcohol are not included but may be purchased. There are several local wines that you may wish to try, including an excellent red ‘Mavrud’ from vineyards on the northern slopes of the Rodopi. Vegetarians and Vegans: Bulgaria is famed for its fresh vegetables and fruit, so vegetarians are usually well catered for. However, as dairy produce and eggs form the staple part of the diet in this region and occur in the vast majority of meals, it is more difficult for vegans who will find the variety of their menu more restricted.
This trip is for those who seek a winter wildlife and cultural experience in a remote and unspoiled mountain environment far away from the bustle of crowded ski resorts, and who appreciate the excitement of tracking, observing and photographing elusive animals. It also offers the opportunity to immerse yourself in the traditional culture of rural Bulgaria. Walking for between 3-5 hours each day, we will explore a range of habitats including caves, cliffs, forests and rivers, following traditional shepherds’ paths, forest tracks, and ancient Roman roads. Although for the most part moderately gentle, the trails on this holiday can sometimes be rough and undulating, and do include the occasional steeper ascent and descent as we climb over ridges or drop down into gorges. In places, it is likely we will encounter deeper snow, so on some of our walks we will use snowshoes and ski-poles to ease our progress.