Monday, 21 August 2017

Bulgaria in 3 Days: Sofia and Mount Vitosha

Text by Albena Shkodrova | Photographs by Lode Desmet   

The thing is, it is difficult not to love Vitosha after you get to know it. The mountain park, only 30 minutes away from Sofia’s centre, spreads over 260 square kilometres, and offers superb views over Sofia, challenging ski slopes and rare beauties, amongst which Vitosha’s famous stone rivers, woods of century-old trees and a unique, 1,500 year-old peat reserve – a habitat of over 300 kinds of mosses and 500 sorts of weeds.

The outskirts of the mountain host several remarkable architectural monuments, including the twelfth-century Boyana Church and Dragalevski Monastery. Surrounding them are also several of the most valued residential areas of Sofia – Boyana, Dragalevtsi and Simeonovo, as well as Vladaya at the south of the mountain.

Vitosha’s peaks are easily accessible by car or public transportation, and then by the several lifts, which approach from different sides. Riding the lifts offers amazing views over Sofia - they will either surprise you with their beauty or with the colour of the air over Bulgaria's capital. Skiing in the winter, trekking throughout the year, or just taking short strolls around the end stops of the lifts can make for very enjoyable experiences.

Vitosha's ski slopes are predominantly marked ‘blue’ and ‘red’, meaning medium and difficult, with only one really challenging stretch, marked in black, and a single but relatively long one in green, meaning easy.

Tracking routes are aslo well developed, the first one dating from 1901. In the last decade the mountain was included in the E-4 European route from the Perinei in Spain via the Alps and the Bulgarian Rila Mountain to the Peloponnesus in Greece.

One of the most popular destinations for walks is Zlatnite mostove, the Golden Bridges, where many people start their hike along the impressive round rocks of the stone rivers. Bulgarians call these stones moreni – the name that is also used in reference to the glaciers in the Andes. However, newer scientific research proved that the origin of these rock rivers was different – here the rocks were rounded by the winds and water, passing underneath.

The surreal, monumental appearance of the moreni does have the effect that Aleko described: “There the passions and anxieties die down, there the soul calms down and a mute contemplation fills your heart with bliss.” And though there are melancholy traces in the landscape, many Sofianites managed to overcome them – you could often see them having long and joyous picnics along the stone rivers.

To them, and to anyone who spends some time in the mountain, Sofia is unimaginable without Vitosha. That is their “two in one” gift from fate. Especially in the late autumn and winter days, when the city’s grayness comes crashing down and suffocates, it is the proximity of the mountain’s sunny slopes that makes city life bearable.

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Bulgaria in 3 Days: Sofia and Mount Vitosha
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