This riding holiday is a one way point to point trip along the Greek border covering 300km and three distinct mountains and ethnographic Bulgarian areas: the Rhodopes, Slavyanka and Pirin mountains. As well as having the opportunity to see many rare birds, wild animals and endemic plants, you can feel the magic of the smallest Bulgarian Town museum of Melnik, famous for its fine red wines and visit the Rojen Monastery and the emblematic Rila Monastery.
The riding is excellent with fit horses and ever changing scenery and pace. Accommodation is thoughtfully set out in nice guest houses en-route, including some beautiful historical houses, showing various aspects of Bulgarian culture.

Please Note: The opinions expressed in these reviews are the author's and do not necessarily reflect the views of Unicorn Trails Ltd. These reviews are "directly from the horses mouth" and unedited. Unicorn Trails may make additional comments for clarification clearly identified in red.

Review received from KF of OSLO on 29/06/2014

Ride Summary

What was your overall impression of the holiday

Unicorn Trails sales staff
Professionalism     (   ) Excellent     (X) Good     (   ) Fair     (   ) Poor
Friendliness     (   ) Excellent     (X) Good     (   ) Fair     (   ) Poor
Speed of response     (   ) Excellent     (X) Good     (   ) Fair     (   ) Poor
Efficiency     (   ) Excellent     (X) Good     (   ) Fair     (   ) Poor
Knowledge     (   ) Excellent     (X) Good     (   ) Fair     (   ) Poor
Other(please specify)     (   ) Excellent     (   ) Good     (   ) Fair     (   ) Poor
Riding tour leader
Professionalism     (X) Excellent     (   ) Good     (   ) Fair     (   ) Poor     (   ) N/A
Horsemanship     (X) Excellent     (   ) Good     (   ) Fair     (   ) Poor     (   ) N/A
Pacing of Ride     (X) Excellent     (   ) Good     (   ) Fair     (   ) Poor     (   ) N/A
Concern for Safety     (   ) Excellent     (X) Good     (   ) Fair     (   ) Poor     (   ) N/A
Leadership     (X) Excellent     (   ) Good     (   ) Fair     (   ) Poor     (   ) N/A
Friendliness/availability     (X) Excellent     (   ) Good     (   ) Fair     (   ) Poor     (   ) N/A
Knowledge of local Culture     (   ) Excellent     (   ) Good     (   ) Fair     (   ) Poor     (X) N/A
Knowledge of local Flora/Fauna     (   ) Excellent     (   ) Good     (   ) Fair     (   ) Poor     (X) N/A
Concern with Environment     (   ) Excellent     (   ) Good     (   ) Fair     (   ) Poor     (X) N/A
Language skills     (   ) Excellent     (   ) Good     (   ) Fair     (   ) Poor     (X) N/A
Additional Comments I find many of the questions "silly"... and do not answer.
It is not all you can demonstrate in a ride..
"Concern with environment is esp. "politically correct" question.
Also there is the language barrier, do you expect a Bulgarian leader to know names of flowers in English??

Horses and Tack
Condition of Horses     (X) Excellent     (   ) Good     (   ) Fair     (   ) Poor
Condition of Tack     (X) Excellent     (   ) Good     (   ) Fair     (   ) Poor
Performance of Horses     (X) Excellent     (   ) Good     (   ) Fair     (   ) Poor
Additional Comments Amazing how the horses can trot/canter in really difficult terrain at a very good speed.

Meals
Meal Quantity     (X) Excellent     (   ) Good     (   ) Fair     (   ) Poor
Meal Quality     (X) Excellent     (   ) Good     (   ) Fair     (   ) Poor
Meal Punctuality     (X) Excellent     (   ) Good     (   ) Fair     (   ) Poor
Accommodation
Camping Equipment     (X) Excellent     (   ) Good     (   ) Fair     (   ) Poor     (   ) N/A
Hotels/Lodges/Inns     (X) Excellent     (   ) Good     (   ) Fair     (   ) Poor     (   ) N/A
Hygiene standards     (X) Excellent     (   ) Good     (   ) Fair     (   ) Poor
Miscellaneous
Transfer arrangements     (X) Excellent     (   ) Good     (   ) Fair     (   ) Poor     (   ) N/A
Other office staff     (X) Excellent     (   ) Good     (   ) Fair     (   ) Poor     (   ) N/A
Other ride staff     (X) Excellent     (   ) Good     (   ) Fair     (   ) Poor     (   ) N/A
Weather     (   ) Excellent     (X) Good     (   ) Fair     (   ) Poor
Was this trip accurately described to you beforehand?     (X) NO     (   ) YES
Please give more details to explain your response It was described more as a slow mountain ride? It was, however, with Chavdar, a real challenge! That was a very positive surprise, and I enjoyed it very much! We were a few people who tried to get info from Unicorn about this ride, but did not succeed to get any. Maybe somebody in the office then that did not know it? Finally only I decided to go on my own to check it out, as it seemed the distances was long and so the ride should be somewhat enduring.
Was there anything you should have known and were not told?     (X) NO     (   ) YES
Please give more details to explain your response see above.
What could we do to improve this ride? Nothing, this ride was exactly to my taste, one of my best. Nature in this ride is beyond description! We saw game, bears even, and the flowers on the fields..! We also had singing performances of ladies in one village. The variety of hotels was very good. Nothing was spared to give us only the best food, and with such a variety! Also the weather gave us a rich variety, from thundering storms to the sweetest sunshine.
One lady in group had done this ride a few years ago, and at that time it was mostly walking, she seemed to remember. She was almost shocked, and had to rely on her sweet natured mature horse that they brought and changed with her first. Team was extraordinarily nice, only the best for us, food maybe the best of all the rides I have been on.
Saddles (western) disturbing with so much trotting. They were to change that however.

How would you rate the difficulty of this ride out of 10 where 1 is very easy and 10 is very advanced? 8
Please explain why you scored it as you did This was really like a true endurance ride. Trots "endless" and fast/strong, very much fun for people who like to have a challenge and use the body! It could have been a slightly less pleasant experience for other riders who were not quite prepared for it or with a taste for a more "pleasant" ride..
I would seek out rides with Chavdar after this!
Would you recommend Unicorn Trails to your friends?     (   ) NO     (X) YES
Please give more details to explain your response Met also another rider in the group, Patrick, who was customer with you and very content with all your help for rides.
May we use you as a reference for other people wishing to go on this ride?     (   ) NO     (X) YES
Any other comments
Unicorn comments

Day 1
Arrival and transfer. On the way to Trigrad you will pass through the thrilling Trigrad Gorge, 7km long, enclosed with rock walls as high as 250m. Upon arrival, time permitting (arrive by 12 noon), there is an option to visit the Devil’s Throat cave. This cave is over 300,000 years old with a 350m route which passes through “Buchashtata Zala “(the Roaming Hall). According to the legend, this is where Orpheus went down to the Kingdom of Underworld, in search of his beloved Eurydice. While climbing almost 60m of long stairs inside the cave curving among the waterfall, you can see one of the highest underground waterfalls in the Balkan Peninsula (60m high).
Today you will meet your guides and horses. Accommodation is in a family-operated hotel, located on a hillside with a view toward the valley surrounded by tall mountain peaks and an ancient curving Roman road.

Day 2
After breakfast - a ride from the village of Trigrad through a beautiful pine forest to the Videnitsa peak (1652 m). This is a shorter riding day so you can get to know your horse, your trusty companion for this trek. We enjoy a picnic lunch and ride to the village of Bujnovo. In the afternoon we visit the Yagodinska cave. Accommodation in the village, at a cozy hotel with a very picturesque location. Dinner on the terrace. Riding - about 4 hrs.

Day 3
Breakfast at the hotel. A ride from the village of Bujnovo to the town of Dospat, through beautiful forests. We ride past the crystal waters of the Dospat Lake and enjoy some swimming with the horses (weather permitting). Break and lunch in a wooden shelter, beautifully situated among the pine-trees and near a Roman bridge. There is the possibility of a sunset boat trip followed by a dinner of freshly caught fish, before spending the night in a hotel on the banks of the dam. Riding 5-6 hours.

Day 4
After a hearty breakfast, ride out along the lake edge and gradually back into the woodland. We stop for lunch at a wooden summer house and have a barbeque on an open fire. Back in the saddle, ride up through the ancient forests and into the Dikchan Reserve, where it is likely you will see lots of wildlife. As we pass through local villages you will hear the unique singing style of this region. Accommodation is an architectural monument with 200 years of history. We will be able to visit a local church dating back from the XIX century. Riding time - around 6-7 hours. 

We will have the opportunity for a unique experience today- a live performance of polyphonic singing 'Aloud' by Dolen and Satovcha: among the most archaic and rare happenings associated with polyphonic folk singing in Bulgaria, is the peculiar local style from Dolen village and Satovcha village (Southwestern Bulgaria). This style of signing also known as "Singing Aloud" is marked by originality and uniqueness.

Day 5
Today is a shorter ride from the village of Dolen to the Mesta river valley. We are heading to our overnight accommodation - a spa hotel, so after lunch overlooking the valley we can relax in the spa. A well-earned rest! There will also be the opportunity to visit the monastery of St. George. Riding 3-4 hours.

Day 6
After breakfast we can look forward to some fast and picturesque riding. We will ride from Hadjidimovo to Mount. Slavyanka and on the way stop for lunch and a walk around in the eco village of Omaia. Carrying on, we'll ride at the foot of Mount. Slavyanka and overnight in a renovated mountain chalet. Riding around 5 hours.

Day 7
Today our riding continues through the ancient woods to the northwest slopes of the Slavyanka reserve, passing along an old caravan road to Kalimantsi village. Lunch is below the Ali Botush mount. We'll continue by riding through the sand pyramids to Monastery Rozhen, 5km from the town of Melnik. Here we will say a fond farewell to our horses. Accommodation in one of the iconic old Melnik houses, built on the slopes of the sand pyramids. Dinner at an authentic tavern and wine tasting at the rock cellar of the house. Riding 6-7 hours.

Day 8
After breakfast, transfer to the airport. If the earliest flight departure time of the group is past 5:00 pm (17:00h), riders have the opportunity of visiting and taking a tour of one of the ancient, most remarkable and the largest monasteries in Bulgaria – The  Rila Monastery. Established in the 9th century, this architectural and cultural monument has rich heritage of mediaeval and revival art: icons, church plate, prints and embossed gospels and embroidered vestments. The Rila Monastery is a national monument of culture and an invaluable national treasure.

Please follow this link for a map of this itinerary: Land of the Gods


Please note: Itineraries are for guidance only and we reserve the right to make changes in the daily riding schedule and route, considering the safety of our riders, current conditions of the trail, weather factors, or other unforeseen and local circumstances.

This ride can be confirmed for groups of three for a supplement - please see 'detailed prices'. Small group supplement to be refunded once 4 or more riders have booked in.


SOFIA
Sofia is definitely worth a visit. We recommend a few nights to explore the old churches, antique markets with Soviet and WWII relics, art and ethnic museums as well as almost Viennese coffee and cake shops. The best place to stay is the Sveta Sofia Hotel which is located in the heart of Sofia on the main pedestrian road. We can book additional nights in this hotel at a reasonable price - please contact us for details.

 

Please note: All itineraries are given for your guidance only and it may be altered on the ground and in accordance with the prevailing conditions by the organising team.

Horses & Riding

The horses are a mix of sturdy local Bulgarian breeds, Thoroughbreds and Arab-Shagya type and in superb condition. They are friendly, manageable, obedient, and exclusively trained for the terrain types on this trip. The heights of the horses vary from 15 to 16.2hh. Comfortable military saddles, designed for long riding hours, are utilised on the trails, with English style riding. The pace of the ride will be determined both by the terrain and the riders experience but will often include lengthy trots and canters. The horse operation is guided by one of Bulgaria's most well respected equestrian experts and competitor.

Rider requirements

A secure seat at a walk, trot and canter and good riding fitness is required for this ride. Riders need to be fit and capable of being comfortable with long trots and canters and open to trying a gallop. Days can be long, 4-7 hours, so some stamina is needed. There is a minimum age of 14 for children on this trail.
You will be asked to groom and saddle your own horses and will be given a demonstration and help if you are not confident to do this.

Weight Limit

The weight limit for this ride is 16 st/220 lb/100 kg, please enquire if you are an experienced rider exceeding this weight.

Accommodation: In authentic rural Rhodopean houses with unique atmosphere or in two star family hotels. A 250-year-old authentic architectural heritage – Rhodea House in the Village of Dolen is utilised en-route. There is also one night in a spa hotel with the opportunity to enjoy some spa treatments (payable on-site). There are en-suite facilities every night. Meals: The food in Bulgaria is delicious, and many feel it is a highlight of the holiday in itself. The hotels and houses provide the breakfasts and dinners and they offer traditional local dishes. The food is mostly organic with a mix of international and traditional Rhodopean cuisine. Bulgarian food almost always exceeds peoples expectations - hearty, filling and tasty without being too spicy. The midday meals are in the open-air during the ride and they consist of warm food and warm-up drinks, mineral water or picnic, all included in the price. Canned and alcoholic drinks are not included.

Vegetarian or other dietary requirements can be accommodated with advanced notice. Please contact Unicorn Trails with requests.

Climate Summary

Bulgaria's climate is a distinct case of Mediterranean-meets-eastern-Europe. Summers have a few more wet days than the start of the year and are pleasantly hot and sunny, mostly in the low 30°Cs (high 80°Fs) and slightly fresher at higher altitudes.
Winters are your typical European affair, little sunshine and days averaging between -4°C and 6°C (25-42°F). The Black Sea moderates temperatures in the east of the country. Rainfall is highest in the mountains, and winter life throughout Bulgaria is sometimes disrupted by heavy snowfalls.

The weather in the mountains is very changeable and even on the hottest day you should still come prepared with your rain gear! The difference in day and night temperatures is quite vast and you should bring a fleece even in the summer months.

Climate Chart

Health

We strongly advise you to consult with your General Practitioner before travelling. The best medical advice regarding suitable immunisations and prophylaxis to enable you to travel safely requires knowledge of your medical history and therefore cannot be covered in this advice sheet. Recommendations are also subject to change and it is important to obtain the most up to date information available.

Film and Camera Equipment

There will be electricity available on all nights to recharge cameras and batteries. If you need film or specialist batteries we suggest you take them with you. There is mobile phone reception on most days.

Packing List

Come prepared for heat as well as cold. Mountain climates can be very changeable, layers are essential. All riding gear including hat, gloves (also warm), riding trousers, jacket, boots that are suitable to walk in as well etc.

Water bottle
warm rain/windproof gear,
binoculars,
mosquito repellant (this is not a problem, but will help to provde protection against flies),
indoor shoes,
warm fleece,
sport sunglasses,
sunscreen.
towel

In the summer months bring a swimming trunks/costume

Programmes

There are set departure dates for this ride for 8 days / 7 nights. It may be possible to arrange other dates for groups of 6 or more.

Departure Dates

2017: 3, 10 Jun; 26 Aug;

Pricing
No single supplement is charged if the rider is willing to share with someone of the same sex, and a sharer can be found.


No of   
days/nights
Riding days Product item description £
20178d/7n6double pp1,169
20178d/7n6supplement for group of 3189
20178d/7n6single supplement 115
No of   
days/nights
Riding days Product item description
20178d/7n6double pp1,265
20178d/7n6supplement for group of 3205
20178d/7n6single supplement 125
No of   
days/nights
Riding days Product item description $
20178d/7n6double pp1,505
20178d/7n6supplement for group of 3239
20178d/7n6single supplement 149
No of   
days/nights
Riding days Product item description SEK
20178d/7n6double pp13,055
20178d/7n6supplement for group of 32,095
20178d/7n6single supplement 1,289
Wildlife

The Rhodopes are rich in wildlife. The fauna is represented not only by typical species for Bulgaria such as the Deer, Wild Boar, Hare, Fox or Badger, but also by characteristically Mediterranean animals like the Jackal, the rare European Cat Snake, several species of tortoises and lizards, etc.

More than 2,000 floral species grow here, more of 90 of them endemic Balkan plants. The green masses of coniferous species - spruce, pine spruce, black spruce and others, grow mostly in the Western Rhodopes.

Pirin National Park has a unique nature and in 1983 it was included in the UNESCO list of the world's cultural and natural heritage. 30 Bulgarian endemic species grow here, 10 of which are unique to the mountain.

Slavyanka has a rich flora, with more than 1,700 vascular plants, including 20 Bulgarian endemic species and 5 that can be met nowhere else in the country.

The lower part of the mountain is rich in European Black Pine, while the Bosnian Pine grows at over 1,800 m above sea level, making Slavyanka the place with the highest concentraction of the species in the Balkans.

Other Activities

Fishing, hiking, mountaineering, visits to the Yagodinska and the Devil's Gorge caves, cart drive, rare birds and wild animals observation, photography.

Other Country Information

Bulgaria has changed swiftly over the last decade, though in the villages you can still find folk who ride the donkey to work, eat homegrown potatoes and make their own cheese. The difference now is that they wash it all down in front of a satellite TV.
When Bulgaria ran away with the topsy-turvy capitalist circus, no-one told its people they were swinging without a safety net. But what the visitor encounters now is a country struggling valiantly to adapt and people who remain remarkably hospitable in the face of social and economic chaos. Urban Bulgaria, especially Sofia, is much changed, so visit now.

Time Zone is GMT/UTC +2. Daylight saving is in place and starts last Sunday in March, ending on the last Sunday in October. Weights and measures are metric so kilometres and kilograms instead of miles and stone. One mile is about 1.6km and one stone about 6.8kg

Travel Summary

Meeting-point (getting there):
Sofia Airport (SOF) by 12 noon on Day 1.
It is also possible to fly to Plovdiv Airport (PDV). Please enquire for transfer information
Transfer:
Included to and from meeting point
Please arrange departure after 5pm. Approximate transfer time is 4.5 hours
Flight Guide:
London - Sofia from £110 return
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