This exciting, fast-paced horseback riding trail takes in three mountain ranges – Plana, Verila and Rila. Riders explore numerous forests, hidden valleys and wide open meadows in this remote region of virgin forests and mountain scenery. The equestrian trail covers diverse terrain, sun-drenched villages with friendly hospitality. It is the ideal holiday for nature-lovers and guests are 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 - and a short airport transfer of just 40 minutes.

This is a trail for intermediate horseback riders upward who are happy to spend up to 6 hours a day in the saddle, riding on some steep and challenging terrain. Expect a fast-paced equestrian adventure on Shagya and part Arab horses, all of which are well-trained, calm and good-tempered. They are easily able to handle natural obstacles like 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 horseback 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 JH of Jurbise on 06/10/2023

Ride Summary
What was your overall impression of the holiday
Excellent. Both from an equestrian and a human point of view.
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:
Was there anything you should have known and were not told?
Please give more details to explain your response:
What could we do to improve this ride?
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 didn't encounter any difficulties despite the fact that the pace and equestrian demands were rather high, but this is probably due to the fact that we were a small, very homogeneous group.
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:
Unicorn comments: Thank you for your feedback and glad you had a great ride :)

Day 1: Arriving in Plana
Meet at Sofia airport where the host for the trail will drive guests to the village of Plana (40 minutes) where they are welcomed to the mountains. Riders head straight to the stables to meet the horses and, depending on arrival time, take a short trail ride or walk in the village. A homemade dinner will be provided in the guesthouse.

Day 2 Plana – circular trail (5 hours riding)
After breakfast, 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 with 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, continue riding to Belchin Banya; famous for its thermal waters – 41 degrees with proven healing and prophylactic effects. Spend the night in the family hotel ‘Belchin Wiew’ (or similar). 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's ride leaves the village of Belchin and begins climbing the Verla mountain, stopping for a lunch on the way. In the afternoon, 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 one can relax with a 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)
Leave Sapareva Banya after breakfast and climb up the mountain of Rila, again stopping for lunch on the way. After lunch the ride continues on to the village of Govedartsi which is situated in the Central part of the Rila mountains, on the banks of the Iskar River. This 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 accommodation is in a small family hotel which has a small swimming pool and a sauna. Enjoy dinner on the terrace of the hotel.

Day 6 Govedartzi – Belchin banya (5 hours of riding)
Today the ride heads through the valley of Lakatnitsa before heading back to the village of Belchin Banya. There is the opportunity to visit Tsari Mali Grad – a fortress next to Belchin which was a fortified city inhabited between 4th and 7th century by Thracian, Roman and Byzantine people. There is time for a guided tour to find out the story of the church.

Day 7 Belchin banya – Plana (4 hours of riding)
This morning follows the mountain ridge back to Plana village with its panoramic views from the ridge. Say goodbye to the horses when reaching the stables, and head back to the same guest house from the first two nights

Day 8 
After breakfast there is free time until departing back to the airport. Please book departure flights to leave no earlier than 12 noon.

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 picnics 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 within reason can be accommodated with advance notice. Please contact Unicorn Trails with requests before booking.

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).

Mobile, WiFi and charging

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

- Riding Helmet - we strongly recommend that you wear a properly fitted riding helmet of the current standard which is PAS015 or BSEN1384. (One can be provided, but we recommend you bring your own)
- Gloves
- Jodhpurs - jodhpurs, breeches or other comfortable trousers (jeans may rub and can also be quite hot)
- Chaps
- Riding Boots - it is important to have correct shoes or boots for horse riding. Jodhpur or ankle boots with a rubber sole are recommended but sturdy shoes with a definite heel are acceptable (such as walking boots)
- Jacket
- Warm rain/wind proof gear
- Indoor shoes
- Warm fleece
- Sunglasses
- Sunscreen
- Personal Items - toiletries and any medicines you require
- Mosquito repellent (this is not a problem, but will help to provide protection against flies)
- Refillable Water Bottle - it's very important to drink a lot of water when it's hot, especially when doing physical activities
- Camera, spare Batteries/Chargers - an absolute must! It is also a good idea to take a camera case you can strap around your waist or onto a belt for whilst you are riding
- Binoculars

Come prepared for heat as well as cold. Mountain climates can be very changeable, layers are essential.

Provided by hosts:
Limited number of riding hats are available to borrow however to ensure a good fit we recommend bringing your own

Programmes

8d / 7n programme with 6 riding days. 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

2024: Every other Saturday departures between June and the first week of October, on request.
2024: Every other Saturday departures between the last week of May and the beginning of October

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 £
2024 - 7 nights8d/7n6double pp1,395
2024 - 7 nights8d/7n6Small group supplement 2 riders pp269
2024 - 7 nights8d/7n6single supplement175
No of   
days/nights
Riding days Product item description
2024 - 7 nights8d/7n6double pp1,625
2024 - 7 nights8d/7n6Small group supplement 2 riders pp315
2024 - 7 nights8d/7n6single supplement199
No of   
days/nights
Riding days Product item description US $
2024 - 7 nights8d/7n6double pp1,885
2024 - 7 nights8d/7n6Small group supplement 2 riders pp365
2024 - 7 nights8d/7n6single supplement225
No of   
days/nights
Riding days Product item description SEK
2024 - 7 nights8d/7n6double pp19,569
2024 - 7 nights8d/7n6Small group supplement 2 riders pp3,765
2024 - 7 nights8d/7n6single supplement2,349
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 a donkey to work, eat homegrown potatoes and make their own cheese. The difference now is that they finish the day 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. 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 60 minutes.
Flight Guide:
London - Sofia from £70 return
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