Sultans Trail Serbia, Bulgaria with refreshing SPA wells
Travelogue from Serbia, Niš to Bulgaria, Pazardzhik
We arrive in Niš and for the first time I set foot in Serbia. We start walking from the airport, the first thing we find is a concentration camp from World War II. When we walk in an eerie feeling arises. Fortunately, the museum is closed and we are asked to leave so we don’t stay too long. Upon arrival in the city we are rejoicing the Nišava river that flows through the city showing off with a promenade full of blossom.
We visit the mountaineering association and meet our guide Rade Nikčević in Serbia and so we are cared for two guided days along old churches, war memorials and we make a beautiful hike of 30 km with a full backpack. That was pretty tough to start with, but the trip was more than worth it. We walk along the ancient caravan roads and pass a chasm that gives great views.
The following days we meet several special people, run into a Red Cross hotel in the mountains, a monastery and even a gluten Bio café. The trails are surely hilly but doable for the daily distances we develop.
We arrive at the border Serbia-Bulgaria and are held by a soldier. We walked out of the paved path and frightened the soldier in the bushes. Of course were very happy that Rade Nikčević could explain the police and the commander by telephone that we were not refugees but trails makers.
We cross the border area and at the first Shell station in Bulgaria we spoil ourselves with a cappuccino. The border area is somewhat desolated but the mountain we climb immediately after the border displays a beautiful image of the beautiful Bulgarian countryside. The villages are empty and with the drizzly rain we shelter in a abandoned building and carry on to Dragoman.
Dragonman offers a somewhat run-down impression and it seems like there is no bar, restaurant or hotel in sight. And again surprise surprise everything we need is actually there. You just need to know which door leads where because there are no signs or commercial bill boards. Coffee also comes from a mysterious cabin in the street. The hotel is super chic and very cheap for Dutch standards.
Then we hike towards Sofia with the snow peak of Vitosha mountain in sight. The walk now continues showing beautiful mountain ranges all the time and after Sofia the route runs mostly through forests and car-free villages. After we arrive in Sofia Krushovitsa a neat village. As we arrive all the villagers gather for the yearly cleanup. Suddenly garbage bags and plastic gloves fly around us and together with the people of Krushovitsa we roll up our sleeves and begin the much needed cleanup. Unfortunately, Bulgaria has a garbage problem, but there is much hope like these neighborhood initiatives.
We clean together that day and enjoy meals and drinks together in the evening we stay over with Emil Petrov and his son. The next day we set off early from the old railroad which previously led to the mines. It is not in use anymore so ideal for us to walk to the next village. The following villages Paunovo Popvsti are like Krushovitsa prosperous villages. You can rent luxury apartments for groups with a pool and views on the Vitosha mountain range. There are many people who have studied in Sofia and invest in villages around Sofia, because there is still much space, potency and inspiration to build and easy to go back and forth with the car to town. Better than the public transport to the city as it is considered slower.
The next larger town Ihtiman unfortunately has a bad reputation but the city does have very special historical objects. There is a very old mosque, a restored Hamam (old bathhouse) and Han (stopping place for caravans) this old Han is now a luxury golf course. Unfortunately we had some delay because I became ill because of food poisoning and shortly after that Sedat became ill too. Luckily we ended up in the hot springs area and we were soon healed and got on our feet. The baths contain minerals and gas including radon and sulsrat there are multiple resorts and spas and all for next to nothing.
After the SPA sources we arrive in Kostenets with all amenities needed. A relatively modern city and here begins the Maritsa river which flows to Turkey. From Kostenets we climb to nearly 1000 m to arrive in a very special village called: Golak. It is basically abandoned the residents left to live in Kostenets, Pazardzhik and other major cities at the foot of the mountain. It’s a beautiful walk for about four hours, and when you arrive, it’s like a filmset of a western. There are only hunters, loggers and horses the little church on a hill has pans and legs ready for the annual festival in May. Thus, the village serves as a party location or a playground for people who work and hunt in nature. The accommodation for this stretch has to be figured out little but the village is a must see on your hiking trail.
After Golak you enter the rich historic region of ancient trading cities. The ancient trading towns in this area have a high archaeological value. The best-known archaeological site is Pistiros they found exquisite jewelry, coins and utensils that give an insight into the everyday life of a distant past. In Septemvri is an archaeological museum that really is worth to visit with lots of excavations of the ancient Greek, Thracian, Persian and Ottoman times. This museum also lent pieces of their collection to the Louvre in Paris. From Septemvri we start our last hike to Pazardzhik it runs to beautiful nature along the river Maritsa where all kinds of birds rest and nest. Pazardzhik is another larger city with something for everyone. For this trip our hike ends here. We bring home all our findings on the Sultans Trail and the fieldwork will be processed at home in OpenStreetmap among other things.
Overall two wonderful weeks walking with lots of variety: two countries, SPA resorts, full of ancient history and nature. Some practical travel information is that rail services in Bulgaria is very cheap, for a ticket from Pazardzhik to Sofia, you pay less then € 6; trains do call at many railway stations. Because the Sultans Trail runs mostly near the railroad it’s easy to combine walking with the train rides as desired. From Eindhoven, in Holland you could use Wizzair to Niš, and walk from airport to airport. Return trip would then be from Sofia to Eindhoven.
If anyone would like to make this hiking trip please let us know, we like to help people with information and all you might need before you start walking.