What are some of the places that pop to mind when you think about Bulgaria? I can bet that its most probably Sofia, Sunny Beach (please dont go there), Plovdiv, possibly Bansko and Veliko Tarnovo. Well, there is so much more to see in this small country - from seaside resorts and natural phenomenons, to high mountains and historic towns. In this blog post Ill tell you about some of the places you can visit in Central Bulgaria, in the region of the Balkan mountains.
On a cold rainy evening in June, my family and I headed to Central Bulgaria and the city of Apriltsi (or, to be exact, 12 km from Apriltsi) to stay in one of the most beautiful authentic Bulgarian houses we have ever seen. We have been planning this trip for quite some time and the excitement was big - it was finally happening!
In this article Ill share about the magnificent place we stayed at, as well as the sights in the region of Central Stara Planina (the Balkan mountains) that we visited in just 4 days.
Where to stay in Central Bulgaria
During our 4 days in Central Bulgaria, my family and I stayed in a secluded guest house, called Karashka house.
This is an old house, which has been restored using only natural materials such as stone, wood and clay, so as to preserve its original appearance but at the same time to be adapted to modern life.
The house can accommodate up to 5 people. On the upper floor there are 3 bedrooms - two double ones and one single one, as well as a bathroom. Downstairs youll find the kitchen and living room, which are fully equipped. As my mother said - we have never seen such well equipped accommodation in any AirBnb weve been in. And its true.
If you want to check out what Karshka House has to offer, visit their website.
Let yourself be pleasantly surprised by the hidden closets and niches in which Kalin (the host) keeps local products - lutenitsa, jam, juices and, of course, rakia!
Most of the time Karashka house welcomes foreigners who visit Bulgaria with the goal to explore Bulgaria in the most authentic way possible. The host - Kalin, also offers some daily excursions in the region. He is able to share a lot of interesting things about the sights nearby and show you around. And if this sounds good to you, Karashka house is definitely the right place for you.
Places to visit in Central Bulgaria
Thanks to the central location of the house, we had the opportunity to visit a big part of the sights in Stara Planina (The Balkan Mountains) and Central Bulgaria.
Here is a map of the sights mentioned in this article.
1. The city of Apriltsi
The first day was dedicated to visiting the sights that were closest to us. The nearest city is Apriltsi, located about 12 km from Karashka house. Despite having already visited Apriltsi before, there was one thing which I still hadnt seen and that was the tourist trail The Cross. The rest of the group had never been to this town in the first place, so we took a lovely walk around. If you want to read about all the best things to do in Apriltsi, take a look at this blog post.
2. Tourist trail “The Cross“
The tourist trail The Cross is an easy and pleasant walk. Its 600-700 meters long and leads you to a beautiful viewpoint. The trail starts from the central square in Novo selo in Apriltsi, along the cemetery. You can find a map of the route in the square right next to the stairs where it is shown where to go.
There are two options - the first is through the cemetery where you can see the church St. Petka Paraskeva - a church completely dug into the ground which is considered a cultural monument of national importance. The other option is to go through the right side of the road. From here, you can go by car if you find it more convenient.
We parked the car at the square and continued by foot through the stairs. After you pass by the church, you have to leave the cemetery through a dark gate and continue on the way up. You will see a sign which indicates where you should go.
Just look out for the solar lamps - they will lead you to the right path. The trail was restored in 2013 by a European project but keep in mind that its not very well maintained and I recommend long pants or at least long socks to protect you from the tall grass.
Once you reach the top, you fill find a playground with benches and facilities for children, as well as a metal cross where you can climb to a certain level. The ground provides a beautiful panoramic view of the surrounding mountain peaks which is why I recommend it. I really hope that someone will take care of the place in the near future because its a pity that one cannot enjoy it properly.
3. Batoshevo Monastery
After the visit of the city of Apriltsi and the trail The Cross, we were back on the road and heading to the Batoshevo Monastery. Its approximately 30 minutes away from Apriltsi.
Honestly, I was left with mixed feelings from the visit of the monastery. Once we arrived we were met by locked gates although it was written on the online page that the monastery is open from 8 am to 17:30 pm (we were there at 14:30 pm).
We also met some other people who had come to visit the monastery. They found a phone number of the monastery and decided to call and ask if they could open the gates for us. It turned out that the person who was responsible for the monastery was not there at the moment and thus it was not possible to visit it.
Batoshevo Monastery is exceptionally beautiful (at least from the outside) so if you wish to come here, I would recommend calling beforehand and warning about your visit so that youre not unpleasantly surprised.
4. Dryanovo Monastery
Day two of our journey in Central Bulgaria began and it was time to get back on the road. This time we headed east and drove approximately 1 hour from the Karashka House. The first sight of the day was the Dryanovo Monastery.
The Monastery can be reached by car - you just have to be careful not to miss the sharp turn leading to it. Once you arrive, you will see a sign which points to the left and leads you to a paid parking lot (it costs 1 BGN per hour, at least when we were there). In front you will also see the sign for the cave Bacho Kiro towards where we headed in order to save on parking costs. We arrived at the small parking lot of the local restaurant - if you eat there you can park your car for free.
The Dryanovo Monastery St. Archangel Michael was established in the beginning of the XII century, during the Second Bulgarian Empire. During the time of the Ottoman rule, the monastery was destroyed and robbed two times. But it was quickly restored after that.
The monastery is located in the picturesque gorge of the Dryanovo River, and around it you can see high limestone cliffs, which create a wonderful atmosphere. Above the monastery is located the Bacho Kiro cave, which is just a couple of minutes away.
5. Bacho Kiro cave
Bacho Kiro is the first cave in Bulgaria which was available for tourists - this happened in 1937. The cave is only 300 meters away from the Dryanovo monastery and both are a must visit if you come to this area.
The temperature in the cave is approximately 13 degrees all-year-round, so even if you come during the summer time, make sure to bring a coat. Another interesting fact is that some of the oldest traces of Homo Sapiens in Europe have been found here.
The visitors have a choice to buy a ticket for the short tour (4BGN) or the long tour (6BGN). If you choose the short tour, you will only be able to see the front part of the cave which takes about 10 minutes to walk around and you wont see anything from the true beauty of the cave. There are also no options for a guide.
I strongly recommend choosing the long tour if youre able to. The long tour is only available with a guide and will only take place if there are 15 or more people. If you insist on getting a guide and seeing the whole cave, you can do so during the summer when a guided group goes in every single day at 2pm, regardless of the number of people. This is what we did!
We arrived in front of the cave at 1:10 pm and wanted to enter with a guide but they told us that we had to be at least 15 people ( there were 4 of us).The other option was to wait for the tour at 2 pm. For a moment I thought about buying the tickets for the short tour as I didnt want to wait that long, but Im actually really happy that we waited.
There was about 1 hour left before the beginning of the cave tour, so we asked what we could do in the meantime. Luckily there was another sight nearby which I will include as a bonus tip.
Bonus: The Love bench
In front of the entrance of the cave you will see signs pointing towards different sights. One of them is the Love bench which is worth visiting for the view. We followed the sign and headed up the stairs, and then on the forest path which took us only 10 - 15 minutes to reach the Love bench. The place is a fenced area with a really beautiful view of the Dryanovo monastery.
After we finished our visit to the cave, we decided to go to the town of Dryanovo for two reasons - to find a good place to eat and to take a walk in the city. Dryanovo is only 5km away from the monastery and the cave.
One of the most important landmarks here are the bridge of Kolyu Ficheto, the clock tower, the monastery St. Nikola, the museum Kolyu Ficheto and the lay map of Bulgaria (the most precisely created map of Bulgaria).
7. Bozhentsi village
On our way back we realised that we were really close to the village of Bozhentsi, so we decided to visit it. Its believed that this is the only settlement in Bulgaria that has an entirely Revival appearance. The village of Bozhentsi has preserved the Bulgarian Revival spirit although it was established 6 centuries ago.The village is not big and you can look around it quickly - in just about an hour or two.
8. State hunting farm “Rositsa” – Lagut area
On Saturday the owner of the Karashka house - Kalin was so kind to take us to some of the lesser known sights in the area. Our first stop from the adventure was the State hunting farm Rositsa - Lagut. This is the former residence of Todor Zhivkov - the Bulgarian communist statesman who served as the de facto leader of the Peoples Republic of Bulgaria from 1954 until 1989.
State hunting farm Rositsa is located on the northern slopes of the Central Balkan Mountains in the area of Lagut which is approximately 10 km away from the Karashka house. The residence is in beautiful alpine style and its located in a very picturesque place with a mountain view.
The building was constructed in 1986 and was completely restored in 2008. The only preserved room is the bathroom in the room of Todor Zhivkov, which can still be seen today. The residency can accommodate up to 15 people and the place is often visited by haunting enthusiasts.
Our host - Kalin, had some binoculars, so we could observe and see some deers and stags in the distance. Up until this moment I had never seen deers in their natural habitat and it was very impressive, to say the least!
The residency can be visited by tourists when there is no hunting group accomodated. If you wish to book a room, make sure to visit their website and contact them directly.
9. The white school – a gallery of Nikolay Panayotov
The white school is surely one of the less-known places in Central Bulgaria which not many have visited. This is an old abandoned school which the Bulgarian painter Nikolay Panayotov buys and turns into a gallery and art-center.
Nikolay Panayotov lives and creates art in Paris, Sofia and the village Stokite - where the school is located. The Bulgarian painter has exhibitions in many countries - from Europe (France, Germany, Monaco and Switzerland) to the USA. Every room in the school is decorated with his abstract paintings and some rooms are turned into studios where children´s training takes place.
The White School is locked most of the time. If you wish to take a look at it, you have to contact the owner and arrange a date and hour.
10. The Shipka Monument
After visiting The White school, we decided to head towards one of the most historically important places in Bulgaria - the Shipka Monument. As strange as it may sound, I had never been to this place before.
Once you reach the parking area, there are two options to climb to the top - on foot with about 800 steps to climb, or by car (if the barriers are lifted). Our enthusiasm to climb on foot was cut short by the strong wind and the occasional downpour, so the choice was obvious - we got in the car and continued up the road.
The road is slightly steep with sharp turns so you have to drive carefully. Once we reached the parking lot we looked towards the place where the monument is located but only fog could be seen. We climbed up the stairs and the view got clearer - we managed to see this magnificent monument even for a short period of time.
The Monument of Freedom was built in 1930 with the aim to eternalize the feat of the heroes who died for the freedom of Bulgaria in The Battle of Shipka. These were key battles in the Russian-Turkish war and the Liberation of Bulgaria which happened in 1877.
(2022 Update) I got to visit the Shipka monument once again in the beginning of 2022, so here is a photo of when we had better luck with the weather.
11. The Shipka monastery
The Shipka monastery was built in memory of those who died for the Liberation of Bulgaria in the Russian - Turkish war. The memorial was founded on September 27, 1902 in honor of the 25th anniversary of The Battle of Shipka. The church impresses with its gilded domes, beautiful frescoes and ancient icons and there are 17 bells in the bell tower.
If you manage to reach the Shipka peak and the weather is good you should definitely visit the monastery. Its located only a few minutes away by car, in the village of Shipka.
12.Ethnographic open-air museum of Etara
Sunday came and with that came the end of our stay in the Karashka House. Our host - Kalin, had arranged a traditional Bulgarian breakfast for the weekend. This morning we had the opportunity to eat some homemade banitsa and mekitsi with homemade jam. Incredibly delicious!
After breakfast, we had enough energy for the day and it was about time to leave the house and get back on track. Since we had to travel to Veliko Tarnovo, we decided to visit a landmark that was on our way there.
The ethnographic open-air museum of Etara is located near the cities of Gabrovo and Tryavna.
This is an open-air museum where youll find traditional Bulgarian houses with craft workshops, water facilities and other buildings. The idea of the museum is to show the architecture and the life of the people from the region during the second half of the ХVІІІ century and the beginning of the ХІХ century.
This marks the end of our 4-day long journey around Central Bulgaria and despite the bad weather we managed to see a lot of sights in the Balkan Mountains. I hope that I managed to give you at least a few ideas for travel in Central Bulgaria.
In the following lines I will tell you about a few more impressive places that we wanted to see but the weather didnt allow us to.
Other sights in Central Bulgaria:
Buzludzha, whose official name is The house - monument of the party, was built in 1981 on the Hadzhi Dimitar peak. Sadly the monument has been in ruins since 1989 when political changes took place in Bulgaria. The monument is truly impressive and can be seen from different points of view - for example from Tryavna, and even from Veliko Tarnovo during good weather.
Buzludzha is located close to the Monument of Shipka - only 12 km away but due to bad weather we did not manage to reach it. Despite that Buzludzha remains one of the places which I cannot wait to visit soon.
An interesting fact is that the monument is at the honorable 25th place in the ranking of the most beautiful abandoned places in the world.
14. Mazalat Hut
Mazalat Hut was also on our list with sights but well have to come back because this time we didnt manage to visit it.
The hut was built in 1935 and received the award for Hut of the year in 2015. The place is famous for its hospitality - clean and warm rooms, delicious food and most of all - amazing nature.
15. Vidimsko Praskalo Waterfall
This is the last landmark in Central Bulgaria which I will share with you.
With its height of 80 meters the Vidimsko Praskalo waterfall is the second highest waterfall in Bulgaria, after Raisko Praskalo. The waterfall flows down the slopes of the North Jendem Reserve, in Central Balkan Montains. Its located near the city of Apriltsi, and the starting point leading towards it is located in the Vidima district in the city of Apriltsi.
The eco trail is about 16 km long and takes approximately 4 hours to walk but its an easy track. And the beauty of nature will impress you so much that you will arrive in no time.
I hope that this long article in the form of a travelogue has given you at least a few ideas about the journey you take to the Balkan mountains. This journey was a great pleasure for us not only because we managed to see so many landmarks but because we had the chance to settle in a traditional Bulgarian house and relax from the hectic life.
*Note: This article was prepared in partnership with Karashka House. However, all the opinions expressed in the publication are entirely mine and unbiased.
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For travelling in Bulgaria, I highly recommend renting a car so you are able to visit as many places as possible without being dependent on buses and trains. One of the biggest and most reliable car rental companies is Top Rent a Car. Ive used their services and was very happy with them, so I can definitely recommend them. Click here to discover car rental options.
You can find the best accommodation options at Booking. They have many discounts and excellent customer service. Click here to look for a place to stay in Apriltsi.
Organized tours can spare you the hassle of planning the full trip by yourself. You can find a great selection of tours at Get Your Guide - click here.
Make sure to have the offline map always installed on your phone, as they can save you so many troubles. I always use the free app Maps.Me.
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