The trail ride takes you through the Balkan Mountains on the northern side. The first 2 days are ridden near to the small mountain villages and explore life near to the fields. You'll ride on the top of the mountains as close as possible to a protected reserve high up in the mountains which is characterized by singing rocks - a set of unique natural formations that crown the ancient beech forest. In this reserve you will find rare animals such as the chamois, the brown bear and the golden eagle. Also roe deer, red deer, wild boar, wild cat and a large amount of rare birds live in this area. The riding to the reserve is very varied as to the terrain and pace. The hilly paths and the open land on the top of the mountains are just perfect for big riding experiences. A wonderful combination of culture, nature and challenging riding await you on this riding holiday.

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 BG of Bath on 05/07/2018

Ride Summary

What was your overall impression of the holiday
Lovely scenery, great guides and well kept horses. As you'd expect from this type of trail, lots of walking with just a few trots and canters, so not fast paced but you do cover a lot of ground! Quite a lot of stopping and dismounting/mounting for rests, so you need to be agile enough to cope with this. Also some walking, leading your horse, up and down steep slopes.
Unicorn Trails sales staff
Professionalism     (X) Excellent     (   ) Good     (   ) Fair     (   ) Poor
Friendliness     (X) Excellent     (   ) Good     (   ) Fair     (   ) Poor
Speed of response     (X) Excellent     (   ) Good     (   ) Fair     (   ) Poor
Efficiency     (X) Excellent     (   ) Good     (   ) Fair     (   ) Poor
Knowledge     (X) Excellent     (   ) Good     (   ) Fair     (   ) Poor
Other(please specify)     (   ) Excellent     (   ) Good     (   ) Fair     (   ) Poor
Riding tour leader
Professionalism     (   ) Excellent     (X) Good     (   ) Fair     (   ) Poor     (   ) N/A
Horsemanship     (X) Excellent     (   ) Good     (   ) Fair     (   ) Poor     (   ) N/A
Pacing of Ride     (   ) Excellent     (X) Good     (   ) Fair     (   ) Poor     (   ) N/A
Concern for Safety     (X) Excellent     (   ) Good     (   ) Fair     (   ) Poor     (   ) N/A
Leadership     (   ) Excellent     (X) Good     (   ) Fair     (   ) Poor     (   ) N/A
Friendliness/availability     (X) Excellent     (   ) Good     (   ) Fair     (   ) Poor     (   ) N/A
Knowledge of local Culture     (X) Excellent     (   ) Good     (   ) Fair     (   ) Poor     (   ) N/A
Knowledge of local Flora/Fauna     (X) Excellent     (   ) Good     (   ) Fair     (   ) Poor     (   ) N/A
Concern with Environment     (X) Excellent     (   ) Good     (   ) Fair     (   ) Poor     (   ) N/A
Language skills     (   ) Excellent     (X) Good     (   ) Fair     (   ) Poor     (   ) N/A
Additional Comments
We had the leader (who spoke no English) and 2 further 'translators', both Bulgarian and both with good level of English. The leader was competent and kind, putting the horses' welfare first. I was the only one wearing a body protector.
Horses and Tack
Condition of Horses     (X) Excellent     (   ) Good     (   ) Fair     (   ) Poor
Condition of Tack     (   ) Excellent     (   ) Good     (X) Fair     (   ) Poor
Performance of Horses     (X) Excellent     (   ) Good     (   ) Fair     (   ) Poor
Additional Comments
well looked after, easy to handle.
Meals
Meal Quantity     (   ) Excellent     (X) Good     (   ) Fair     (   ) Poor
Meal Quality     (   ) Excellent     (   ) Good     (X) Fair     (   ) Poor
Meal Punctuality     (   ) Excellent     (X) Good     (   ) Fair     (   ) Poor
Accommodation
Camping Equipment     (   ) Excellent     (   ) Good     (   ) Fair     (   ) Poor     (   ) N/A
Hotels/Lodges/Inns     (   ) Excellent     (   ) Good     (X) Fair     (   ) Poor     (   ) N/A
Hygiene standards     (   ) Excellent     (   ) Good     (X) Fair     (   ) Poor
Miscellaneous
Transfer arrangements     (   ) Excellent     (   ) Good     (X) Fair     (   ) Poor     (   ) N/A
Other office staff     (   ) Excellent     (   ) Good     (   ) Fair     (   ) Poor     (X) N/A
Other ride staff     (   ) Excellent     (X) Good     (   ) Fair     (   ) Poor     (   ) N/A
Weather     (   ) Excellent     (   ) Good     (   ) Fair     (X) Poor
Was this trip accurately described to you beforehand?
    (   ) NO     (X) YES
Please give more details to explain your response:
Western saddles were fine, although we weren't able to tack up ourselves which was a shame. On arrival at the airport, the signage at collection didn't not say Balkan Horse Riding or Unicorn Trails so it was difficult to find the man.
Was there anything you should have known and were not told?     (   ) NO     (X) YES
Please give more details to explain your response:
Mountain hut (Mazarat) on Thursday night - very poor beds (no springs, saggy), and a dorm for the girls and one for the boys. Very basic (no-one dared have a shower). I think for the cost, it would have been interesting to stop there for lunch but not the night. Also, on Weds night it was very cold (we were rained on all day and shivering) but they didn't put the heating on or light a fire. The clothes didn't dry out which was horrid the next day. However, the farm and dairy B&B's were lovely. An update on prices on your website (quotes 2012 prices).
What could we do to improve this ride?
see above
How would you rate the difficulty of this ride out of 10 where 1 is very easy and 10 is very advanced?
7
Please explain why you scored it as you did:
lots of walking. See my above comments re mounting/dismounting
Would you recommend Unicorn Trails to your friends?
    (   ) NO     (X) YES
Please give more details to explain your response:

May we use you as a reference for other people wishing to go on this ride?
    (   ) NO     (X) YES
Any other comments:

Unicorn comments: Thanks for the great comments and glad you had a good time. I have passed a note re the mountain hut to the host, so hope we can avoid using it1

Day 1
You will be met in the airport and transferred to the mountains. Please book your flight to arrive no later than 18:00. Accommodation in a cosy Guest House near the centre of the village in double rooms with shower/toilet. Welcome dinner and presentation of the coming week.

Day 2
After your first real Bulgarian breakfast with all the famous delicacies we go off to the saddled horses and together with the riding guides you will meet your horse for the week. After the first introduction we ride out in the beautiful surroundings and after about 10 km we will have a picnic near one of the rivers. After lunch and a rest we ride back in different paces. Todays rides are about 4-5 hours. Before dinner we recommend a walk to the main square, have a beer in one of the local pubs or a coffee in a local style café and just enjoy the relaxed atmosphere. We overnight in Apriltsi.

Day 3
The trail starts in the morning and we ride in north-east direction through remote villages with traditional architecture from the Bulgarian Revival. At a creek we’ll eat our lunch and after about 6 hours in the saddles and riding along the Balkan ridge over beautiful meadows and through the old woods. We reach the small village Tabashko right under the foothill of the mysterious mountain Mara Gidik. We stay in an old style and comfortable guest house. The panoramic view from the village to the great national park is astonishing. Overnight at "Pri Rado".

Day 4
From Tabashko we start trotting through wood, farm land and creeks. We pass through the picturesque mountain villages Stokite and Kupen. Lunch at Emilovo – a peaceful settlement with an amazing view to the Balkan ridge. In the afternoon we ride in trot and gallop through an area with many red and roe deer, chamois, and brown bear. The days ride is about 6-7 hours before we reach the mountain chalet “Partizanska Pesen” (1000m).

Day 5
After breakfast we ascent through old wood and well up on the pastures on the top we enjoy the fantastic views over north and south Bulgaria at the same time! The pastures give us the possibility to trot and gallop. At a nice little stream in 1450 m we will enjoy a picnic. We continue in the national on the open meadows and after 2-3 more hours on horse back we reach the mountain chalet “Mazalat” (1620m) for overnight.

Day 6
The trail brings us further into the “Central Balkan National Park” and we ride into the reserve “The singing rocks” – and if the wind is blowing we’ll hear the rocks sing. Through the reserve there are two small distances of 10-20 meter where you have to stay off and lead the horse. Today you’ll ride about 25 km in 7 hours. This makes it the longest day. We overnight in a former dairy – Mandra in Bulgarian in about 1450 m. We enjoy the dinner at the fire and watch the sun going down behind the mountain peaks Maragidik (1889m) and Botev (2376m).

Day 7
After breakfast we ride in the northern direction and the circle ride is closed. We ride down the mountains, leave the national park and right down to the villages. The ride of the day is about 5 hours. We will overnight in the same house as the first 2 nights.

Day 8
After breakfast you will have free time until your departure to the airport, where you will have the chance to say good-bye to the horses at the end of your horse riding holiday. Please book your departure flight to leave 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: Mountain and Wildlife 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. When single occupancy rooms are available, a supplement will apply. 

For the set transfer times arrival at Sofia should be no later than 18:00 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
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 which we can book any additional nights you may require. The rates include bed, breakfast, free wireless internet access, free fitness facilities, VAT, insurance and city tax.

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

There are a total of 25 horses available for riding. Breeds range from East Bulgarian horses and crosses between East Bulgarians and Arabians. They vary in size from 14hh to 16.3hh 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 well trained and 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 a combination of lowland and high mountains.


Some parts are at walk on steep and stony places but long trots and canters are a part of the daily rides. The hours are longer than average - from 6 up to 8 hours a day over hilly and mountainous terrains. The trail is fully guided by knowledgeable and safety conscious guides. Saddle bags and bottled water is provided on the ride. The saddles are equipped with ponchos which will be used in case of rain together with your own rain gear.

Rider requirements

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.

Weight Limit

The weight limit for this ride is 14 st/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 Guest House, where you stay the first two nights and the last night. Here you have private facilities in the room and WiFi. On the trail the accommodation is basic with shared facilities. The rooms are neat and clean with twin/double or sometimes multi-bedded rooms. Bathroom and shower facilities may be shared between several rooms but there is plenty of hot water for showers each night. One night is in a monastery.


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. There are swimming pools at some locations.


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.

Documents - Visa and Consulate Info

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.

General information:

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

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

For a more detailed weather forecast and climate history you can also check http://www.wunderground.com/global/BU.html and click on Botev Vrach. This gives Mt. Botev – temperatures on the top. Our data below is from the nearby town of Plovdiv at the foot of the mountains.

Health

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

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.

Film and Camera Equipment

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 a few points along the trail.

Packing List

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

Water bottle (optional, you will be given 500ml mineral water bottles each day),
warm and rain/windproof gear,
binoculars,
mosquito repellant (this is not a problem, but more to have protection against flies),
indoor shoes,
warm fleece,
sport sunglasses,
sunscreen.
towel

In the summer months bring a swimming trunks/costume for the mountains lake or at swimming pools or just sunbathing in the siesta at noon.

Programmes

Set departure dates are available lasting 8 days / 7 nights. For groups of 4 or more other dates can be arranged between May and October.

Departure Dates

2018: 23 June; 21 July; 11 August.
For groups of 4 or more other dates can be arranged between May and October.

Pricing
No single rooms available (on some or all nights). Riders must be prepared to share with someone of the same sex.

On the occasion that single occupancy rooms are available, supplements will apply.

No of   
days/nights
Riding days Product item description £
20188d/7n6double pp959
20188d/7n6single supplement per night when available14
No of   
days/nights
Riding days Product item description
20188d/7n6double pp1,049
20188d/7n6single supplement per night when available15
No of   
days/nights
Riding days Product item description $
20188d/7n6double pp1,225
20188d/7n6single supplement per night when available18
No of   
days/nights
Riding days Product item description SEK
20188d/7n6double pp11,115
20188d/7n6single supplement per night when available159
Wildlife

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 singing Rocks Reserve is sanctury to a wide variety of fruit, flora and fauna as well as the animals. You'll see common fir, sycamore (common and alpine), mountain ash, manna-ash and hornbeam. The high mountain meadows are dotted with cranberries and bilberries, juniper, gentian, campanula, and a variety of aromatic, flowering grasses. Bear, weasel, chamois, golden eagle, black and white-backed woodpecker, red deer, roe, wild cat, wild boar, and a range of predatory birds can also be found on the Reserve. Due to the noise created by a group of riders, the shyer animals are hard to spot. You may have more luck on a quiet walk in the morning or evening.

Other Activities

Exploring by car or foot or you might like to experience an enthralling mountain bike ride (for those in good physical condition) are good options here.

There is a great route, but you'll need your own bike.

Other Information

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 see the feral horses and the eagles in the sky. Every year riders have seen brown bear as well.
- The Singing Rocks Reserve was established in 1979. With an area of 1,465.7 hectares, it consists of a range of high mountain treeless habitats, natural beech forests, and the natural fauna in the Rositsa River watershed. Along with the Sokolna Reserve, it forms the eastern protective zone of the Central Balkan National Park.
- Mountain village life with market squares, small churches and monasteries.

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)
Clients can also fly into Plodiv (PDV) please contact us for transfer details
Transfer:
2018: Included from meeting point according to time of last arriving/earliest departing guest. Flights should be booked to arrive before 18:00 and departure after 12:00 on return. Other times can be arranged for a fee of €150 per car (1-3 pax) each way, payable on site. Approximate transfer time is 3 hours.
Flight Guide:
London - Sofia with Wizz Air /Hemus Air from £110 return. Please see "getting there" for flight information
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