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The Grand Balkans Circle

€1290 per person

Do you want to spend two full weeks, hiking along the most scenic walking routes in the most famous Bulgarian mountains? An impressive self-guided trekking holiday, revealing the very best of the most enchanting and famous Bulgarian mountains: the Rhodopes, Pirin, Rila and Vitosha. Starting with the lowest one – the Rhodopes, with their rolling landscapes, unique nature phenomena and people’s hospitality, the program takes you higher to a sea of countless rugged peaks and glacial lakes of the Pirin Mountains. Further, passing through the most famous tourist attraction in Bulgaria, and a heritage site of UNESCO – the Rila Monastery, you continue on to the mountains of the same name, housing the highest peak on the Balkan Peninsula (Musala, 2925m). Again here you will have the possibility to find out by yourself why Rila means “well-watered mountain”. As a final stage of this epic itinerary, you will trace Vitosha Mountains – situated just outside Sofia, and overlooking the capital.

This independent trekking tour includes all ground transfers, including those to and from Sofia Airport. Walking treks are moderately arduous to difficult, with some short challenging stages. No rock climbing experience is needed and no “via ferratas” are present. It is meant for very well-trained hikers with an ample experience of dealing with bad climate conditions up in the mountains (incl. fog, thunderstorms etc.) and for people used to walk over rocky slopes, overtaking steep ascends/descends now and then. The terrain in the Pirin and Rila is alpine and includes trails over steep slopes, where sure-footedness is necessary on a couple of occasions. Small patches of snow may still be present on some of the trails in the Pirin and Rila until the end of June.

You walk every day with just a daypack. The rest/unnecessary luggage either remains inside the transfer vehicle, or in your accommodation.

  • Destination
  • Duration
    15 Days I Level: 3/4 (of 5)
  • What is included
    Pick up at Sofia Airport (on the first tour date only) and all other transfers in the itinerary (pre-defined/fixed schedule of the daily transfers, which you need to follow); 3* hotels in towns (Devin, Sofia, Bansko), family pensions/guesthouses in the villages (Trigrad, Lyaskovo, Govedartsi); en-suite rooms; breakfast is included everywhere; dinner is included in Trigrad, Lyaskovo, and Govedartsi (not included in Sofia and Bansko); Luggage transfers; Detailed route descriptions in English; Tourist maps of the mountains; GPS tracks; Emergency hotline.
  • What is not included
    Cave/museum entry charges; lift tickets; extra food and drinks; travel/medical insurance; airport transfer on the last day
  • Best period
    June, July, August, September
1
Day 1: Sofia Airport - Devin (or Plovdiv Airport for a small fee)
We meet you at Sofia Airport (or against a fee of 40 EUR - from Plovdiv too) and transfer you to overnight in Devin (3hrs drive from Sofia). If you arrive early enough you can use the afternoon to visit the picturesque nature trail along Devinska River, or jump in the thermal pools near your accommodation. Single timed transfer from Sofia will be organized in case of overlapping bookings (departing Sofia at 15:30 at latest; please make sure to land at 15:00 at latest).
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Day 2: Devin - Yagodina/Yagodina Cave/Eagle's Eye viewpoint - Trigrad (3-5,30-6,45hrs; 9,50-16-21km)
Today you can choose between two main treks (incl. options to extend them additionally): Shorter (9,50km; +565m/-355m): A 40min transfer takes you to the entry of the Yagodinska Peshtera Cave: one of Bulgaria’s longest caves, which you can opt to view. Once finished with the cave tour, proceed for Trigrad village through a colorful kaleidoscope of landscapes that immerse you in the idyll of rolling crests, forests, and valleys. Longer (16km (+1070m/-750m) or 21km (+1385m/-1065m): A 30min transfer takes you to the trailhead where a moderate but nice ascent through gardens and woods brings you up at the crest of the mountain. Enjoy the breath-taking views from the famous Eagles’ Eye observation platform. Then you descend down to Yagodina village, from where you can make a detour to visit Yagodinska Peshtera Cave or head straight for Trigrad village. *Those who chose the shorter option, can extend their hike with a visit to the Trigradsko Zhdrelo Gorge (with its 350m high vertical cliffs) and the Dyavolskoto Gyrlo (The Devil’s Throat) Cave (housing the highest underground waterfall on the Balkans, 42m high), both near Trigrad. Visiting these sights is a must, and can be done also in the afternoon of Day 3 or Day 4 by those, who opted for the longer treks on Day 2.
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Day 3: Trigrad - Zhrebevo - Trigrad (18,3km, 5-6hrs, +700m/-700m)
Magnetic sights follow each other on a circular hiking tour around Trigrad, with the authentic village of Zhrebevo at its distant end. Legend has it, the village was named after a stallion which shielded it from trouble and strife. Along the route, you observe the entry to the Trigradsko Zhdrelo Gorge and enjoy the wonderful panorama to surrounding parts.
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Day 4: Trigrad – Kesten/Vodni Pad – Trigrad (5,30hrs; 17km; +670m/-760m)
Today, starting with a 10min transfer to the trailhead, you enjoy a particularly pleasant walking trek to the bordering with Greece villages of Kesten and Vodni Pad (until recently within a closely guarded strip proscribed even for those living down the road; you will see remains of the barbed wire border fences, meant to prevent people from escaping to Greece in the years during the 45yrs long communist rule in Bulgaria after WWII). A circular trail takes you up panoramic crests, through pine and beech forests dotted with green meadows and smallholdings, sheltered valleys, and traditional stone houses. The valley of the Trigradska River takes you back to Trigrad.
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Day 5: Trigrad - Beden - Lyaskovo (20,8km, 6hrs, +823m/-859m)
With a transfer to the village of Beden begins today’s particularly panoramic trek. The views of the Rhodopes’ green crests change at each turn. The day ends at the village of Lyaskovo, one of the most distinctive local communities, with unforgettable charm and unique atmosphere. Your stay in the guesthouse of a local family will leave you wonderful memories of Rhodope hospitality.
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Day 6: Rhodopes to Pirin (relaxing day)
Transfer from the Rhodopes to Bansko at the foot of Pirin mountains. This will be your base for the next four nights. In the afternoon you can stroll along the cobbled streets and the charming ancient houses in the old part of the town, try some of the local taverns, or simply relax enjoying the majestic summits of the Pirin Mountains.
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Days 7-9: (final details with the order of the walks in Pirin Mountains will be available inside your tour program, which will be emailed to you prior to your arrival in Bulgaria)
A: Bansko – Mount Polezhan – Bansko (5hrs; 7km; +770m/-770m): Car transfer brings you above Dobrinishte resort, at Gotse Delchev Hut. Chair cable car then takes you up to the Bezbog Hut. This is the setting-off point for the hiking trek to the Polezhan Summit (2851m/9354ft) which offers one of the most beautiful panoramas in the Pirin, over 17 stunning glacier lakes, including the largest Popovo Lake (30m/100ft deep). Polezhan is the 5th highest summit in the Pirin. It is surrounded by three Cirques with three groups of lakes – Disilishki in the north, Polezhanski in the south and Strazhishki in the west. You use the classic route trough the northeast ridge, which is not difficult or too steep, except of the last 15-minute stage of the summit.
B: Bansko – Vihren Hut – Banderishki Lakes Cirque – Demyanitsa Hut – Bansko (6-7hrs; 16km; +615m/-1215m): Pre-arranged transfer brings you up to the Vihren Hut (appr. 30min) where you set off on a hiking trek through the pretty Cirque of the Banderishki Lakes. From there, you go across into the neighbouring valley and the Todorini Ochi Lakes and thence through the thick spruce forests of the Yulen Nature Reserve on to the valley of the playful Demyanitsa River. Stunning sceneries will be expecting you behind every corner. For those, who do not want to exhaust themselves before the most difficult climb to Mount Vihren (or in case of bad weather conditions), we have prepared an easier and shorter version, which is not at all less panoramic. Loop walk among the lakes in the Banderishki Lake Cirque will take you to all five of them, where you can have rest on their shores and enjoy the serenity of the rocky outcrops around you.
C: Bansko – Vihren Hut – Mount Vihren – Vihren Hut – Bansko (6-7hrs; 8km; +960m/-960m): Time to attempt the Pirin’s premier summit, Vihren (transfer time each way: appr. 30min). You trek through the Golem Kazan (The Giant Cauldron) area beneath the breathtaking sheer 400m/1300ft northern wall of Vihren, whose dolomite precipices offer shelter to rare edelweiss flowers and fretful herds of Balkan Chamois (wild goats). The views are genuinely overwhelming, yet they are just the prelude to the panoramas that open up from the summit over a sea of jagged peaks all around.
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Day 10: Bansko - Rila Monastery (UNESCO) - Govedartsi
You bid farewell to Pirin and set off for Rila. During this day, which is meant for relax, you will stop for a short visit at Rila Monastery, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This is the most famous and largest Christian monastery in Bulgaria. The exceptional frescoes in the central church form a gallery of masterpieces of Renaissance art and could be considered a Bulgarian analogue of the frescoes of the Sistine chapel. Thence, you proceed to Govedartsi village at the foot of Rila Mountains, which will be your base for the following three nights.
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Days 11-13: (in the afternoon of Day 13 you will be transferred to Sofia; final details with the order of the walks in Rila Mountains will be available inside your tour program, which will be emailed to you prior to your arrival in Bulgaria)
A: Govedartsi – The Seven Rila Lakes – Govedartsi (6-7hrs; 16-18km; +1100-1300m/-1100-1300m): A shaded path through the Rila’s ancient spruce forests takes you up to the alpine parts of the mountain and the Cirque of the Seven Rila Lakes. Located at between 2100 and 2500 meters (6900 to 8200ft) above sea level, these famous glacier lakes will charm you with their magnificent scenery which you can survey from the edge of the highest one.
B: Govedartsi – Malyovitsa – Scary Lake/Yonchevo Lake or Mount Malyovitsa – Govedartsi (5,30-6hrs; 12-15km; +880-1040m/-880-1040m): Today’s route takes you to the beautiful Malyovitsa Valley and thence high over the alpine peaks sheltering the secretive Strashno Ezero (The Scary) Lake. More enthusiastic mountaineers may opt for an alternative hiking trek to the Malyovitsa summit which offers incredible views over the nearby crests and peaks of the Rila.
C: Govedartsi – Borovets – Mount Musala – Borovets – Govedartsi (5,30hrs; 14,50km; +690m/-690m): A short transfer brings you to the Gondola lift station in Borovets resort. Half an hour lift ride will bring you up, to the trailhead for the Balkans’ highest summit Musala (2925m/9596ft). The hiking is not particularly arduous, yet is particularly panoramic, with the rocky face of Musala visible the whole time while you transit a number of Cirques, glacier lakes and mountain shelters. The view from the peak to surrounding uplands and peaks is head-turning.
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Day 14: Sofia - Vitosha/Cherni Vrah - Sofia (16,50km, 5-5,30hrs,+690m/-1120m)
A panoramic walking route takes you across the crest of Mount Vitosha, including climbing the local high point of Cherni Vrah (2290m/7513ft) as a prelude to the arduous, yet more picturesque hiking treks across the Rila. Along the way, you cross the broad alpine meadows of the Torfeno Branishte Nature Reserve, dip into old spruce groves and follow a path to the stone rivers of the Zlatni Mostove (The Golden Bridges) natural feature. From here, you are transferred back to your hotel in Sofia.
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Day 15: Departure day
Services end after breakfast (easy access to Sofia Airport using cab/metro).

TOUR LOCATION

Price
1290 Euro per person in twin/dbl room
Single room & Solo Traveler supplement
Single room supplement: 215 Euro
Solo traveler supplement: 880 Euros (incl. also sgl. room supplement)
Tips
Daily arrivals between mid-June and mid-September. Limits are set by the working time of the lift used for the climb to Mt. Musala (if you travel in the first half of June or second half of September/October, Mt. Musala should be excluded from the itinerary, thus making the tour 14 days/13 nights).
Accommodation
3* hotels in towns (Devin, Sofia, Bansko), family pensions/guesthouses in the villages (Trigrad, Lyaskovo, Govedartsi); en-suite rooms; breakfast is included everywhere; dinner is included in Trigrad, Lyaskovo, and Govedartsi (not included in Sofia and Bansko); Luggage is transported between accommodations. This independent trekking tour includes all ground transfers, including pick up at Sofia Airport. Walking treks are moderately arduous to difficult, with some short challenging stages. No rock climbing experience is needed and no "via ferratas" are present. It is meant for very well-trained hikers with an ample experience of dealing with bad climate conditions up in the mountains (incl. fog, thunderstorms etc.) and for people used to walk over rocky slopes, overtaking steep ascends/descends now and then. The terrain in the Pirin and Rila is alpine and includes trails over steep slopes, where sure-footedness is necessary on a couple of occasions. Small patches of snow may still be present on some of the trails in the Pirin and Rila until the end of June.

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