The most mountainous part of the Sultan’s Trail
That picture on Sultan’s Trail’s homepage – people enjoying their meal and at the same time a 360 degrees view of the surrounding mountains – that is Bulgaria! The Sultan’s Trail enters Bulgaria in the northwestern corner of the country near Dragoman at the border with Serbia. From Dragoman you can hike all the way to Ivaylovgrad in the Southeast on the border with Greece.
As the crow flies the distance between Dragoman and Ivaylovgrad is about three hundred kilometers, but because of the mountainous terrain the number of hiking kilometers easily doubles to six-hundred kilometers. A real hiker will not object because the spectacular landscape makes every step worthwhile. If you manage a daily average of twenty kilometers you may be very pleased with yourself and this would mean that you need about a month to cover the entire Bulgarian stretch.
The Bulgarian stretch of the Sultan’s Trail
As said before you enter Bulgaria near the town of Dragoman to continue to the Bulgarian capital Sofia. From Sofia onwards you can choose two possible routes:
The so-called Seferyolu route is a lowland route passing through: Ihtiman, Pazardzhik,Stamboliyski, Plovdiv, Sadovo, Parvomay, Mineralni Bani, Haskovo, Harmanli, Lyubimets, and Svilengrad.
The other route is much more mountainous and will take you through the mountain ranges of Vitosha and Rila. Rila monastery, Velingrad, Borino, Smoljan, Ardino, Kardzjali, and Ivaylovgrad. Maps of these mountain ranges can be obtained at outdoor shop Stenata right in the heart of Sofia (5 Miladinovi str.)
Hiking all the way through Bulgaria requires some planning. Especially, for those people that choose the mountain route the best travelling time is from early June to early October. Between the end of October and mid May parts of the route are completely blocked by lots of snow. A hiking trip in winter or early Spring can only be recommended if you have gained a lot of experience in snow trips, own the right material and preferably hire an experienced Bulgarian guide. If you have the guts for such a winter adventure you need to bring your own sleeping gear because some mountain huts along the route are closed in winter.
Even if you travel during the most obvious seasons it is strongly recommended to bring some kind of device containing a GPS-tracking system. Parts of the Bulgarian stretch are marked but not the entire stretch. Between Sofia and Govedartsi (Rila mountain range) and between Borino and Ivaylovgrad (Rhodopi mountains) both stickers and spray paint have been applied. These are only preliminary markings: once the Bulgarian stretch has been determined more or less permanently, we will also apply more permanent markings with real paint.
One of the first things you will notice in Bulgaria is the writing: only a few of the characters they use look familiar to people from Western-Europe. To make things even more complicated most of the characters that are familiar to us have a different meaning in the Bulgarian alphabet that is the base of the Cyrillian writing.
Moreover, although an EU-member state since 2007, Bulgaria does not use the euro as its currency but the Lev. Two Lev is approximately one euro, and one Lev is divided into smaller units called stotinka. In general a meal will cost about eight Lev and sleeping anywhere between 20 and 40 Lev. Prices for food and lodging in the capital Sofia are usually a bit higher.
Bulgaria’s bus system is quite refined. Often it is possible to even get to the smaller towns but those buses will ride with a much lower frequency than between the major cities. It is always possible to arrange your own transport. You just approach someone with a car, name your destination and see what price he has in mind. A price in the range of 1 Lev per kilometer is reasonable, so before you start negotiating it is good to have some idea of the distance to your destination. If all you proposals are met shaking of the head there is no need for despair a Bulgarian shaking his head, agrees with you. As soon as he nods his head he disagrees with you!
You want to know more about hiking in Bulgaria?
If you want to know more about hiking the Bulgarian stretch of the Sultan’s Trail, feel free to ask any questions through our forum . Or read ‘ Arjan Schuiling’s adventures in Bulgaria’ under travelogues. Arjan Schuiling is the so-called Bulgaria coordinator of the Sultan’s Trail. He takes groups, from five up to nine people, along parts of the Bulgarian stretch often in cooperation with local guides several times a year (see under Agenda for the dates and conditions)