This exciting and fast-paced trail takes in three mountain ranges – Plana, Verila and Rila – you'll explore numerous forests, hidden valleys and wide open meadows in this remote region of virgin forests and mountain scenery. The trail covers diverse terrain, sun-drenched villages and friendly hospitality. The ideal holiday for nature-lovers, you're likely to spot roes and red deer, rabbits, foxes, hedgehogs, wild boars and birds in this forested, wild and sparsely populated landscape. The itinerary also includes a visit to a water park, complete with pools and jacuzzis as well as a short airport transfer of just 40 minutes.

This is a trail for intermediate riders onwards, happy to spend 6 hours a day in the saddle riding on some steep and challenging terrain. You can expect a fast-paced ride on board Shagya and part Arabs horses, all of which are well-trained, calm and good-tempered, easily able to handle natural obstacles such as rivers, small gullies and fallen trees. Rural Bulgaria is a rarely visited destination and guests on this trail can experience warm and genuine hospitality at the traditional village accommodation, thrilling riding on excellent horses and spectacular mountain scenery.

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 DH of Newport-on-Tay on 10/06/2022

Ride Summary
Thoroughly enjoyable and good value for money
What was your overall impression of the holiday
Overall impression
Unicorn Trails sales staff

Riding tour leader

Additional Comments
Horses and Tack

Additional Comments
Meals

Accommodation

Miscellaneous

Was this trip accurately described to you beforehand?
YES
Please give more details to explain your response:
The ride was put on at very short notice following a previous cancelled tour and we were deeply grateful for the staff for this. There was a limited number of horses with shoes available but the staff were very good in changing horses and tack to suit the riders and meet any problems that arose. The stay in the guide's house made us feel us feel like part of the family and the pride they have in all things Bulgarian added a third dimension to the ride that we don't often see. The weather was great, the terrain we traveled over was magnificent, the food outstanding and the extras, such as spas and massages deeply appreciated by those who needed them
Was there anything you should have known and were not told? YES
Please give more details to explain your response:
One of the stops was in a set of bungalows that were of distinctly lower quality than the other accommodation but the food that night was much better than the other places. A better quality of accommodation would have improve this stop.
Just before we left for the airport we were asked to pay the drinks bill, in euros, in cash. It wasn't itemized. It was only by luck that we had the currency to pay for this. It would be useful to have had some information at the start of the ride as to how alcohol and soft drinks would be charged and paid for.
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?
8
Please explain why you scored it as you did:
We all felt tired and exhilarated at the end of the ride, it is not for the faint hearted, but the distance, pace and terrain was managed in such a way as to make this a true adventure with a great sense of satisfaction at the end
Would you recommend Unicorn Trails to your friends?
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?
YES
Any other comments:
Deep thanks to the whole staff of the organization (and the horses) for putting this ride together at short notice and making it (and Bulgaria as a place to go) so enjoyable
Unicorn comments: Thank you for your feedback. Glad you enjoyed the ride! :) The ride info and pricing does state that drinks are excluded but we will speak to the hosts about a way of making the payment easier in future.

Day 1: Arriving in Plana
You will be met at Sofia airport by your host for the trail and from there will drive to the village of Plana (40 minutes) where you'll be welcomed into their home in the mountains. You'll head straight to the stables to meet the horses and depending on your flight arrival time, you can take a short trail ride or have a short walk in the village. A homemade dinner will be provided in the guesthouse and you'll also have a ride briefing with your guide.

Day 2 Plana – circular trail (5 hours riding)
After a homemade breakfast you will head out on the trail around the village of Plana. The mountain is situated between the Vitosha mountain, Iskar river, Rila Mountain and the Samokov valley in the western part of Bulgaria. The landscape within this region is fascinating; mountains are covered by mixed forests and hidden glades are filled with flowers. In the past, the forests were made up of centuries-old beech trees but now only a few separate giant beech trees are left. The rest of the mountain is covered by pines, white pines and birches. The highest peak is “Manastiriste” (Monastery Place) at 1338m, but there are many others standing at around 1200m.

Day 3 Plana – Belchin banya (5 hours riding)
This morning’s trail leads through pristine forests and across meadows where you'll enjoy magnificent views. Stop for a lunch at a secluded wooden forest shelter next to a little orthodox chapel in the village of Shiroki Dol. After lunch you will continue riding to Belchin Banya; this village is famous for its thermal waters – 41 degrees with proven healing and prophylactic effects. You'll spend the night in the remarkable family hotel ‘Belchin Wiew’. Next to the hotel is a public swimming pool with mineral waters which can be visited in the afternoon.

Day 4 Belchin banya – Sapareva banya (4 hours riding)
Today, you'll leave the village of Belchin and begin climbing the Verla mountain, stopping for a lunch on the way. In the afternoon you will head to Sapareva banya, a small town located at the northern edge of the Rila mountain. The town is known for its hot mineral (103°C/217°F) and clear mountain water, as well as the geyser in the town centre that sprang forth in 1957. Mineral water of Sapareva banya is highly regarded and was once used as a cure-all by Thracians and Romans.

Accomodation is in bungalows on a campsite. Next to the accommodation is an aqua park which offers a spa centre complete with jacuzzi, outdoor and indoor thermal pools and a restaurant. The complex offers four jacuzzi tubs with whirlpool jets and water with a temperature of up to 40°C. There are also geysers, an artificial beach, caves, a water bar where you can relax with your favourite drink, as well as a pool that imitates the strong current of a river; a lot of fun to swim in.

Day 5 Sapareva banya – Govedartsi ( 5 hours of riding)
Today you'll leave the village of Sapareva Banya and climb up the mountain of Rila, again stopping for a lunch on the way. After lunch you'll continue on to the village of Govedartsi which is situated in the Central part of the Rila mountains, on the right side of the Iskar River and is the starting point of classic hiking and riding routes to Musala peak, Seven Rila lakes, Mechit peak, Maliovitsa peak, Yonchevo lake and Urdini lakes. Tonight you'll be staying in a small, cosy family hotel which also has a little swimming pool and a sauna. Homemade dinner on the terrace of the hotel.

Day 6 Govedartzi – Belchin banya (5 hours of riding)
Today you'll be riding through the valley of Lakatnitsa before heading back to the village of Belchin Banya. You'll have the opportunity to visit Tsari Mali Grad – a fortress next to Belchin. It is a fortified city inhabited between 4th and 7th century by Thracian, Roman and Byzanine people. There'll be time to have a guided tour to find out the story of the church.

Day 7 Belchin banya – Plana (4 hours of riding)
This morning you'll be following the mountain ridge back to Plana village and can enjoy astonishing panoramic views from the ridge. Once you arrive back at the stables, it's time to say goodbye to the horses and head back to the guest house where you spent the first 2 nights.

Day 8 
After breakfast you will have free time until your departure to the airport. Please book your departure flight to leave no earlier than 2pm.

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.

 

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 30 horses to choose from and they 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. English saddles are used and if worried about comfort we recommend bringing a seat saver as this trail includes long riding hours and lots of long, fast canters with some steep climbs. Saddle bags are always provided for you to store water bottles and cameras while on the trail.

The pace of the ride will be determined both by the terrain and the riders experience but will often include lengthy trots and canters. You can expect to be spending around a third of the riding time in canter.


Rider requirements

Riders should be confident riding at an intermediate to advanced level, happy to ride at all paces in open country and for long distances. Good riding fitness is required for this ride as some of the terrain is steep and the pace is reasonably fast. 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, 4-6 hours, so some stamina is needed. There is a minimum age of 12 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. We recommend bringing your own hat as there are only a limited selection available to borrow. Hats are compulsory for under 18s.

Weight Limit

The weight limit for this ride is 209 lb/95 kg, please enquire if you are an experienced rider exceeding this weight.

Accommodation is offered in small hotels and guesthouses along the trail. The first and last nights accommodation is at your hosts guesthouse which has shared bathrooms. Single rooms may not be available on these nights but are available on other nights (for a supplement, see Prices). All other nights the accommodation is in comfortable twin and double rooms with private bathrooms and most have free wifi. Some have swimming pools or are close to public pools filled with Bulgaria's natural mineral waters - said to have healing powers and used for relaxation and rejuvenation since the time of the Thacians.



Meals: The food in Bulgaria is delicious and many feel it is a highlight of the holiday in itself. The hotels 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. Lunches are served as picnic during the ride and they consist of hot and cold food (vegetables, soups, barbecues). Canned and alcoholic drinks are not included.


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.

NB: Be sure to check the COVID status of the country you plan to visit including entry procedures and requirements while travelling.

Passport and Visa requirements differ dependent on which country you’re travelling from. Please check with your consulate for the latest regulations and requirements.

Unicorn Trails will assist with any questions you have or supply any necessary supporting documents as required by the consulate should you need a visa.

In the UK the British Foreign Office gives advice: www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/bulgaria

In the US: https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/international-travel/International-Travel-Country-Information-Pages/Bulgaria.html

In Canada: https://travel.gc.ca/destinations/bulgaria

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

COVID: Be sure to check the latest COVID regulations for travelling in any country you visit.

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.

Please check the latest country-specific health advice prior to travel and contact your own GP for up to date advice on vaccinations and prophylaxis prior to travel.

Electricity

In Bulgaria the supply voltage is 230V. If the appliance or its power supply are not dual voltage rated, the single voltage appliance will have to be used alongside a voltage transformer or converter to allow the appliance to work safely and properly (unless the appliance operates at 230V).

Film and Camera Equipment

There will be electricity available on all nights to recharge cameras and batteries and there is also wifi available in most of the hotels. If you need film or specialist batteries we suggest you take them with you. There should be 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.

Riding hat (a limited number are available to borow however to ensure a good fit we recommend bringing your own)
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,
Sunglasses,
Sunscreen
Swimwear

Programmes

This 8 day / 7 night trail is available on request between June and October with Saturday departures. Departures need 3 riders to be confirmed but can depart with 2 riders for a small group supplement (see prices).

Departure Dates

2023: Every other Saturday departures between June and the first week of October, on request.

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

Single rooms may not be available on all nights

No of   
days/nights
Riding days Product item description £
2022 - 7 nights8d/7n6double pp1,319
2022 - 7 nights8d/7n6supplement for group of 2 pp219
2023 - 7 nights8d/7n6double pp1,319
2023 - 7 nights8d/7n6supplement for group of 2 pp165
No of   
days/nights
Riding days Product item description
2022 - 7 nights8d/7n6double pp1,499
2022 - 7 nights8d/7n6supplement for group of 2 pp249
2023 - 7 nights8d/7n6double pp1,499
2023 - 7 nights8d/7n6supplement for group of 2 pp189
No of   
days/nights
Riding days Product item description $
2022 - 7 nights8d/7n6double pp1,655
2022 - 7 nights8d/7n6supplement for group of 2 pp275
2023 - 7 nights8d/7n6double pp1,655
2023 - 7 nights8d/7n6supplement for group of 2 pp209
No of   
days/nights
Riding days Product item description SEK
2022 - 7 nights8d/7n6double pp16,585
2022 - 7 nights8d/7n6supplement for group of 2 pp2,765
2023 - 7 nights8d/7n6double pp16,585
2023 - 7 nights8d/7n6supplement for group of 2 pp2,075
Other Activities

Fishing, hiking, mountaineering, rare birds and wild animals observation and photography are all available locally before or after the trail.

Wildlife

Though small, Bulgaria packs in a huge and diverse array of flora and fauna, helped by the varied climate and topography, relatively sparse human population, and the fact that almost a third of the country is forested. On this trail you're likely to spot roes and red deer, rabbits, foxes, hedgehogs, wild boars and various species of birds.

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)
Transfer:
Included to and from Sofia Airport (SOF). Please arrange departure flights after 12 noon. Approximate transfer time is 40 minutes.
Flight Guide:
London - Sofia from £110 return
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