Information

About the country, the arrival, the accommodation and our adventures.
Bulgaria and the Mountains

Bulgaria is situated on the Balkan Peninsula, on the old thoroughfare between Europe and the Orient.
After a successful defeat of the Byzantine Empire, Bulgaria was founded in 681, making it the third country of the continent at that time.
Today, fascinating and virgin landscapes mark this small peace of land on the West coast of the Black sea in south-eastern Europe. Most of Bulgaria’s regions are home to historical monuments from mystical times and reflect a very traditional lifestyle.

The Bulgarian mountain landscape is shaped by five mighty mountain ranges.

The Balkan Range (Stara Planina Mountains) extends across the entire country, from the very western border all the way to Cape Emine on the coast of the Black Sea. Small antique villages are situated in between the steep slopes to the north and wide ranges to the south.

The Vitosha mountain range rises to 2290m south of Bulgaria’s capital city of Sofia. The south-western aspect of Vitosha incudes the entrance to the “Duchlata”, Bulgaria’s longest cave labyrinth, which extends over a length of 17,6km. Massive stone rivers with huge boulders up to 4m in height (the Moraines) run down the mountainside – Zlatnite Mostove being the largest one, with a width of 150m and a length of 2,2km.

The Rila and Pirin mountains dominate the landscape in the south-west of Bulgaria, with summits reaching nearly 3000m. Countless glacier lakes reflect the rocky peaks of the high alpine in the summer.

The oldest mountain range in the country are the Rhodope Mountains, located in the south and home to the legendary Orpheus. According to a very famous legend, the mythical singer Orpheus was born in the Rhodope mountains and enchanted people and animals with his magical music. Boasting picturesque broadleaf forests, deep canyons and giant caves, the Rhodope mountains are said to be Bulgaria’s most gentle and friendly mountains.

Aside from its mountainous landscape, Bulgaria has numerous treasures to offer, like hot mineral springs, antique monasteries or various sacred places, all of which are characterized by the influence and presence of ancient cultures.

Climate

The climate in Bulgaria is influenced by the contrasting continental and Mediterranean climate zones as well as the Black Sea. Mountains and valleys receive different weather over relatively short distances. The continental influence is predominant in the north, where the continental air masses flow into the unobstructed Danubian Plain. The Mediterranean influence increases behind the Balkan mountain range to the south, creating hot and dry weather in the summer. The alpine climate dominates the mountains above 2000m altitude.
What makes Bulgaria so special and appealing to its visitors are the four distinct seasons, each of which hold their own unique character. Spring is the time for lush green trees with soft blossoms. Summer days are hot and sunny, typically with a slight chance of some late afternoon thunderstorms. The autumn landscape is decorated with splendid gold and red colors. Winter brings excellent conditions for skiing and winter relaxation in spas and unique retreats.
All in all, be prepared to bring proper equipment for the mountains, but don’t forget the sandals and swimsuits for the Black Sea coast. Check out our recommendations and packing lists below.

Flora and Fauna

Fortunately, Bulgarian mountains are still very wild and non-commercialized. The National Parks and preserved areas are home to bears, wolves and boars. In the high mountain areas you can find two kinds of vipers – the crossed viper and the horned viper. In Bulgaria, both humans and wildlife have their place in nature, and crossing paths is quite possible. With our activities we try not to disturb mountain life, respecting it at all times. Outdoor enthusiasts are requested to remain on the designated hiking/biking trails and always be aware of animals and other creatures in the mountains.
Herds of cows, sheep and even wild horses are a common sight in the mountains during the summertime. Livestock is often accomodated by guardian dogs closeby. Beware of them, stay calm and try to go around if possible.
The Bulgarian flora is rich in variety and truly exceptional. Various medical plants, mushrooms and berries can be found all over the mountains. The flora and fauna are protected in all preserved areas and must be respected. The picking of protected plants like the edelweiss flower is strictly forbidden.

Best time for my bike vacation in Bulgaria

We recommend the time frame between the beginning of May to the middle of September. In the spring, you can experience the incredible blossom of flowers and trees. The cool shade of walnut trees, oaks and beech woods are a natural salvation from the hot summer sun. And finally, early fall brings a one-of-a-kind explosion of colors in the mixed forests of the mountains.

Trails
Mountain biking is a relatively new sport and still only practiced by a small group of people. However, numerous MTB clubs and organisations have been founded during the past years. Young and ambitious riders from MTB clubs and organisations are constantly contributing to the development and progress of the mountain bike culture in Bulgaria. Cross-country routes and trails are being repaired and marked and even downhill bike parks have been built.

Forest trails vary in character and quality. Typically, you usually find meadows and forest paths, but also sand or rough gravel in some areas. Deep groves, washed out passages and rooted sections can also be found here and there. Designated walking/biking paths can also be very different: from singletracks and trails with flow to rocky alpine crossings or wild forest paths.

Beginners and experienced bikers alike will easily find “sunshine trails” with moderate uphills and ridable downhills with picturesque backgrounds often marked by enchanting woods, antique cultural sites or typical Bulgarian villages.
For adrenalin junkies, there are lots of extreme and virgin places with steep and rough ascents and long technical downhills. Many singletracks are truly challenge and offer a pure and incredible adventure.

Tour levels
In regard to the priorities for a perfect bike vacation, the factors physical fitness (riding speed, km and altitude), and riding skills (technical confidence and trail-character) let us categorize our trips into five different levels.

★☆☆☆☆

Physical fitness:

• Distance: max. 30/day
• Altitude: max. 400 m in height/day
• Tempo: altitude of 350 m/hour

Ridings skills according to difficulty of Roads and trails:

• Asphalt, concrete, wide forest roads with solid surface, without any obstacles
• Trails wider not less than 150 cm, max. slope to 8 %
• No tight turns without sight
• fixed, smooth and flat surface

★★☆☆☆

Physical fitness:

• Distance: max. 50 km/day
• Altitude: max. 1000 m in height/day
• Tempo: altitude of 400 m/hour

Ridings skills according to difficulty of Roads and trails:

• Secondary roads with mixed surface (grass, dirt, sand, gravel, rocks or stones), without big obstacles
• easy roads or trails, width more than 75 cm (tighter sections are possible, within sight and without any obstacles, with average steepness up to %, max, steepness up to 15 %, fixed, smooth and flat surface, tight turns and with clear exits.

★★★☆☆

Physical fitness:

• Distance: max. 75 km/day
• Altitude: max. 1500 m in height/day
• Tempo: altitude of 500 m/hour

Ridings skills according to difficulty of Roads and trails:

• Width not less than 50 cm
• Average steepness is about 15 %
• Max steep hill about 20 %
• Mainly fixed and solid underground/surface, however there are several bumpy places. Some places with unfixed ground could be found.
• Bumpy places, fixed stones, roots, grooves, sloped passages, steps, obstacles high about 20 cm, without possibility for bypass; other higher obstacles possible to bypass could be found.
• Narrow turns with hindered sight, extended turns on easy slopes
• Bridges with width over 50 cm and without possibility to ride around can be found
• Next to the trail might have steep or vertical slope, still not dangerous
• Short passages could exceed the characteristics above.

★★★★☆

Physical fitness:

• Distance: max. 100 km/day
• Altitude: max. 2000 m in height/day
• Tempo: altitude of 600 m/hour

Ridings skills according to difficulty of Roads and trails:

• Width is not shorter than 30 cm.
• Max. Steepness up to 30 %.
• Variable ground, mostly rough and loose.
• Many different obstacles might be found: rough areas, solid or loose stones, roots, rills or grooves, slope traverses, steps, obstacles (40 cm height) without possibility to ride around, or higher obstacles, possible to be ridden around.
• Narrow curves with bad sight or switchbacks with average slope can be found.
• Bridges tighter than 50 cm, where you cannot ride.
• Steep and dangerous slope on the side of the trail can be found.
• Short passages could exceed the characteristics above.
• Part of the trail, longer than 50 m, where you can’t ride and should push or carry the bike

★★★★★

Physical fitness:

• Distance: over 100 km/day
• Altitude: over 2000 m in height/day
• Tempo: altitude of 750 m/hour

Ridings skills according to difficulty of Roads and trails:

• Width is not limited.
• Average slope is not limited.
• Max steepness is not limited.
• Very rough and loose ground.
• Many different obstacles – bumps, solid or loose stones, roots, rills or grooves, sidewards slope, steps, sharp turns with no sight, very narrow switchbacks, steep slopes.
• Bridges narrow than 50 cm, that cannot be ridden around.
• Part of the trail, longer than 50 m, where you can’t ride and should push or carry the bike.

Equipment

For participation on a bike trip you will definitely need a fully functional mountain bike, as well as a helmet. In line with the level and character of your particular trip (XC, Freeride or Downhill) you can use different kinds of bikes: Hardtail, X-Country (80-100 mm travel), All Mountain (120-140 mm), Freeride (180 mm) or Downhill-bike (200 mm). Considering your personal skills and experience, you are free to choose what bike you prefer to ride. For instance, riders with technical confidence may feel safe on a XC-bike or even a hardtail, while those interested in comfort, could prefer full-suspension bikes.
For our downhill trips, all participants must wear a full-face helmet and body armour, like elbow/knee/shin guards as well as a safety jacket or at least a back protector (body vest).

HIER you will find a detailed packing list.

Accommodation and food

Depending on the trip, various accommodations are possible. On the Kom-Emine trip, we will mostly stay at huts, but also camp for three days. On other trips, we usually stay in small guest-houses or hostels in typical mountain villages, which give us the opportunity to experience the local way of life. On the one hand, we will be surrounded by traditional architecture, furnishing and catering. On the other hand, you can expect pure minimalism in the mountains. Nevertheless, essentials like warm showers, clean beds and hot meals are available.

Traditional Bulgarian dishes reflect the flavor of different tribes and nationalities situated in the Balkan region. You will find various corn dishes, fish or vegetarian plates, as well as hearty and delicious meat dishes.
Water in the cities is generally untreated. However, before use, please ask your guide or the locals if it is ok to drink. In the outdoors, you will find numerous mineral water springs with extremely fresh and clean water.

Arrival

Considering the duration of the trip, we recommend travelling by plane. However, travelling by train, bus or your own car is also possible.
The main arrival destination for our trips is the capital city of Sofia. Other international airports are located on the Black Sea cost in Bourgas and Varna and also in the south of Bulgaria, in Plovdiv. From those locations you can travel to Sofia by bus (Bourgas-Sofia: about 7 Std.; Varna-Sofia: about 7 Std.; Plovdiv-Sofia: about 2 Std.)

Visa

As of January 1. 2007, Bulgaria has been applying the European Union’s Common Visa Policy. Holders of valid Schengen visas have the right to enter and reside in Bulgaria for a period of no more than three months within a six-month period from the date of the first entry, without the need to obtain a Bulgarian short-stay visa. Non-European visitors with ordinary passports can obtain more information HIER.

Travel insurance

We strongly recommend the purchase of a travel insurance that covers the following services: lost/stolen luggage, trip delays, medical support and evacuation to your home-country in case of major injuries.
In this matter, we can recommend a partner company, and you can easily purchase the insurance online HIER.

How much Bulgarian money do I need?

The Bulgarian currency is Lev(BGN). You can change money in local banks or exchange offices.
One Lev is around 0,51 €, 0,62 CHF, 0,6 USD or 0,4 GBP.
We recommend you have around 500 Levs for your bike vacation.

Do you have more questions?

Please contact us.
Balkanche in WE:RIDE magazine

Balkanche in WE:RIDE magazine

In issue 38, from October 2017 of the Israeli bike culture magazine WE:RIDE you can read more about Balkanche and our fantastic tour in the Rhodopes mountains from the last summer - Rhodopes Heights. Thank you Ayelet Nir for the shared ride and for the good words....