This trail ride follows the ancient trails that for hundreds of years have connected north Bulgaria with the south. It starts from a small town on the north side of the Balkan Mountains, and brings you to the highest point in the Balkan Range, Mount Botev (2376 m).
You'll ride through small villages with interesting architecture and old monasteries, and spend the night there. It continues through the Valley of Roses to the Sredna Gora mountains where you will stay in a mountain chalet Svezhen 1100m high. The views of the Valley of the Thracian Kings are impressive and after having entered the check-point the ride continues through the Central Balkan National Park before returning back to base. Accommodation is in local guesthouses, the rooms are neat and clean with twin/double or sometimes 3 beds in a room. Bathroom and shower facilities may be shared between several rooms but there is plenty of hot water for showers each night. The riding western style, at a steady pace in the mountains with some trotting and canters on good horses and there are some long days in the saddle.
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 RL of Galashiels on 10/09/2019
You'll be met in the airport and transfered to thand transfer to Apriltsi in the Balkan Mountains. Accommodation in a cosy and new Guest House in the centre of the village in double rooms with shower/toilet. Welcome dinner. During dinner we will inform you about how to pack and give you our practical hints for the Balkan Trail.
After your first real Bulgarian breakfast inclusive the famous Bulgarian yogurt we go off to the saddled horses at the stables. Together with the riding guides you will meet your horse for the week. We have chosen the horses for the week according the information we receive in advance about the riders. We start riding in the fields of the base, continue through small villages and at a creek we know a good place for the lunch. During hot days it is possible to jump into the pool or the cooling mountain creek. After lunch the first mountain experience of the trail is waiting and you ride uphill in roughly 3 hours and enter the Central Balkan National Park. Overnight in a lodge on the top of the mountains.
The trail continues through the National park, one of the most valuable and largest protected areas in Europe, over the Balkan Mountains and with splendid views to the highest peak in the Balkan Range; Mt. Botev (2395 m) and from this high the Mariza plains open up in the horizons. After 6-7 hours ride the day ends at a small monastery, still functioning and with a nice monastery garden and a small church. After the ride we recommend a short walk to Byala reka; an eco-path in the canyon with plenty of bridges over the flossy river). Dinner and overnight in the monastery.
In the morning we have time to explore the monastery and the life on the fields. Here we meet sheep and shepherds and busy farmers in the field. After lunch the trail is passing through the Valley of Roses, blooming from mid May to mid June, followed by a beautiful old forest. After nearly 5 hours we are exactly on the top of the Sredna Gora Mountains, where we will overnight in the chalet Svezhen (1050m). From the top you have a splendid view to the Rila and Rhodopi mountains. We will overnight in a mountain chalet.
Todays ride is in the terrains around the village of Svezhen. The morning ride is downhill to the village more than 600 years old and we will introduce you to modern village life in a living museum with a status of historical – architectural reserve. The village has a blooming summer life and you will experience the history of the country in every corner of the village. Lunch in the restaurant next to the river. Riding back to the mountain chalet we have the best possibilities to break into trot or gallop or to be a pathfinder together with the riding guide at the edge of a small lake in the waste surroundings.
After breakfast we are facing north through remote villages. In one of them we have lunch in a beautiful private garden and the traditional summer meal is homemade by the lovely baba Miche. After lunch we start ascending the mountain passing one of the checkpoints of the national park and we pass the scenic waterfall Babsko (54m) until we reach a mountain complex for the overnight. Once the complex Triglav was an attractive resort, now it is most of all a surreal adventure to enter into a scene from another era. We stay overnight in a contemporary mountain chalet
We continue over the mountains with great views to the peaks Zelenikovets, Kurtbashitsa, Kolata and the sharp pyramid of the peak Maragidik (1889m). We start the descent riding through the centuries-old beech forest and at Ostershka River we have our last lunch before we start riding through the villages and back to the stables, where it all started. After 6 hours ride you can see the meadows, the horses and the base. The loop ride is about to finish.
Breakfast and free time for a last snapshot of the stork family nesting the monument on the central square or village-shopping before departure. Please book your departure flight to depart no earlier than 12 midday.
All itineraries are for guidance only and may be altered due to weather or other unforeseen circumstances.
Please follow this link for a map of this itinerary: Bulgarian Trail
It is may not possible to have a single room on this ride due to accommodation limitations and you should be prepared to share. On the occasion that single occupancy rooms are available, supplements will apply.
For the set transfer times arrival at Sofia should be no later than 17:00 on the day of arrival and departure booked no earlier than 12:00 on the day of departure. The time of departure to the mountains from the airport and from the mountains to Sofia airport is arranged according the timetable for latest arriving guest and earliest departing guest.
If riders are aready in Sofia before the holiday starts, they must still make their way back to the airport for the transfer. A meeting time will be given out around 8-10 days prior to the start of the riding holiday.
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 extra nights for you at this hotel, please enquire for up to date prices.
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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.
There are a total of 40 horses included breeding stock and 25 horses available for riding. Breeds range from East Bulgarian horses and crosses between East Bulgarians and Arabians. They vary in size from 14hh to16.3hh and all have very affectionate loving natures and are well used to being given treats.
The East Bulgarian breed is well known for being tough and surefooted in the mountains. The horses are in excellent health with gleaming coats and strongly muscled. They are all very reliable and steady, some are more forward going than others!
Western tack is utilised for greater comfort on long days, snaffle bridles and English style aids are used. The horses are shod with special shoes to give them grip on steep slopes. Riding is at a walk on steep and stony places but long trots and canters in the middle portion of the ride liven things up.
The hours are longer than average - from 6 to 8 hours a day over hilly and mountainous terrains. The trail is fully guided by knowledgeable and safety conscious guides. Full rain gear (ponchos), saddle bags and bottled water is provided on the ride.
Riders should be able to ride at a walk, trot and canter. Good horses are available for nervous or more inexperienced riders, but riding fitness is essential due to long hours in the saddle.
There is a short distance to walk beside your horse on one day. You should be able to mount and dismount unaided. The horses are saddled and groomed for you. You are welcome to help if you wish but this is not necessary. The minimum age for this ride is 15 years.
The weight limit for this ride is 198 lb/90 kg, please enquire if you are an experienced rider exceeding this weight.
Accommodation is in various places along the route including mountain chalets, and a private house at the base, all basic with shared facilities. The rooms are neat and clean with twin/double or sometimes 3 beds in a room. Bathroom and shower facilities may be shared between several rooms but there is plenty of hot water for showers each night.
The accommodation is limited in this part of the country so you should be prepared to share. When there are 8 riders it may not be possible to have a room to yourself.
The food is one of the highlights of this trail - freshly cooked local produce with many vegetables. Tasty and varied but not very spicy. Local dishes such as vegetable moussaka, tarator soup, schnitzels and banitsa pastry will quickly become firm favourites. A local cookbook is an excellent souvenir! Meals are often 4 courses although on some days lunches are picnics from the saddle bags which are more limited. Excellent local wines and beers are available for a very reasonable price.
Vegetarian or other dietary requirements can be accommodated with advanced notice. Please contact Unicorn Trails with requests.
Please note that it is your responsibility to ensure you have the correct documentation in place for your trip. If Visas are required the requirements can change from year to year depending on diplomatic relations. Please request information from the appropriate Consulate in your home country. Unicorn Trails will assist with any questions you have or supply any necessary supporting documents as required by the consulate on request.
Since Janury 2007 Bulgaria is a member of the EU, so no visas are required for EU citizens. Children need to have their own passports.
The British Embassy in Sofia can be found at: British Embassy, 9 Moskovska Street, Sofia, Telephone: (+359) (2) 933 9222 Web site: http://www.british-embassy.bg
The Bulgarian Embassy in the UK can be found at: 186–188 Queen's Gate, London SW7 5HL, Telephone: 020 7584 9400/9433 or 020 7589 3763 Consular SectionWeb site: http://www.bulgarianembassy.org.uk
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 sitting 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 in winter life throughout Bulgaria is sometimes disrupted by heavy snowfalls.
Facilities in most Bulgarian hospitals are basic and old-fashioned compared to those in the UK. Standards of medical care are acceptable, although specialised equipment/treatment may not be available, and hospital staff may not speak English.
You are required to take out comprehensive travel and medical insurance to cover the full period you will be in the country at the time of booking, we recommend including medivac to the UK if necessary. You should be aware, however, that most insurance companies will not authorise medivac to the UK as a matter of routine, or because local hospitals are not up to UK standards. You should check any exclusions and that your policy covers you for horseriding.
The Form E111 is no longer valid. You should obtain a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) before leaving the UK. The EHIC is not a substitute for medical and travel insurance, but entitles you to any medical treatment that becomes necessary on the same terms as Bulgarian nationals. You will not be covered for medical repatriation, on-going medical treatment or treatment of a non-urgent nature. For more information about how to obtain the EHIC please see Europe and the EHIC.
You should seek medical advice before travelling and ensure that all appropriate vaccinations are up to date. For further information on health, check the Department of Health’s website at: www.dh.gov.uk
You are advised to seek medical advice before you travel about inoculations for tick borne encephalitis
Electricity: 220V, 50Hz as in the UK so electrical appliances can be plugged in with appropriate adaptors. These are widely available for purchase, including at departure airports throughout the UK.
Don’t forget to bring your camera, you'll definitely need it! It is recommended that you bring everything you
need for your camera including memory cards and batteries etc as you wont be able to pick these up in the countryside. On most nights there will be electricity to recharge mobile phones and camera
batteries. On 2 nights a generator provides power for a limited time only. There will be no
mobile phone coverage at few points along the trail and only limited coverage in the monastery due the high mountains.
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 also suitable to walk.
Water bottle (optional, you will be given 500ml mineral water bottles each day)
Warm and rain/windproof gear
Mosquito repellant (this is not a problem, but more to have protection against flies)
Towel - the accommodation along the way do not provide bathroom towels
In the summer months bring a swimming trunks/costume for the mountain lake or just sunbathing in the siesta at noon.
Set departure dates are available, 8 days / 7 nights. For groups of 4 or more other dates can be arranged between May and October. Group discount available for 4+ riders booking together.
On the occasion that single occupancy rooms are available, supplements will apply.
The Valley of Roses, during the blooming period is stunning. You may like to visit the site where rose oil for the perfume industry is produced (extra cost). During the trail you'll ride near to the rose fields.
For people in good physical condition, you might like to experience an enthralling mountain bike ride. There is a great route, but you'll need your own bike.
The Central Balkan National Park is at your disposal here. The varied climatic conditions and complex mountain terrain of the Central Balkan National Park combine to provide a variety of wildlife habitats. The Park is one of the few remaining locations in Europe that provides sanctuary to rare and endangered animals, such as the wolf, marten, otter, wild cat, Geoffrey’s bat, barbastelle, Schreiber’s bat, common dormouse, Balkan chamois, imperial eagle, corncrake, and ring ouzel. The Park is the world’s most significant habitat of the semi-collared flycatcher, white-backed woodpecker, Bechstein’s bat, souslik, and mountain molerat. Out of the 30 species of European Bats, 18 can be found in the park. You'll also find brown bear, roe deer, red deer and wild boar here.
The Central Balkan National Park is a land of untouched wildlife and wilderness. It is situated in the highest and most beautiful part of the Middle Balkan Mountains. On the top of the mountains you might see wild horses and eagles. Due to the noise level of a group of riders, the shyer animals are hard to spot on the ride. Walking quietly in the mornings and evenings you will see more.
There are plenty of highlights on this trip, some are below:
- The Central Balkan National Park is a land of untouched wildlife and wilderness. It is situated in the highest and most beautiful part of the Middle Balkan Mountains. On the top of the mountains you may be will see the wild horses and the eagles in the sky.
- The Valley of Roses – during the blooming period also a visit to the production of the famous rose oil for the perfume industry. During all trails we pass near to the rose fields.
- Monastery overnight – to spend and evening inside a monastery and a night in the monastery at the foot of mt. Botev and wake up when the bells are ringing is really an exiting experience.
- Village visit in Svezhen – you don’t need to visit an ethnographical museum – this remote village is a living one.
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