From: September 27 to October 7, 2018

Destination: Sofia, Bulgaria

  • Bulgaria's Mountains And Monasteries

    Lying almost forgotten for years behind the Iron Curtain, Bulgaria remains one of the continent's best kept secrets. Our trip provides the opportunity to discover the amazingly rich cultural and natural heritage of Bulgaria's remote Rhodope, Pirin and Rila Mountains, with opportunity to interact with local people and learn about their way-of-life. In particular our trip offers a unique insight into the local Pomak (Bulgarian Muslim) community as some of our time will be spent walking in traditional Muslim villages. By way of contrast, we will also visit three of Bulgaria's most striking Orthodox Christian monasteries! And the natural history is equally fascinating: during our hikes, there will be excellent opportunities to see a fascinating variety of rare flora and fauna. We know Bulgaria may not be on your bucket list - but it should be! Maximum group size: 12
  • Thursday, September 27
    Plan to arrive anytime before 3:30 pm today. Our hotel, the Crystal Palace, is one of the nicest in Sofia and is located right near the city center, a short walk to the Nevski Cathedral and other historic sites. If you arrive before your room is ready, you can leave your luggage and go out for a walk - despite the different alphabet, Sofia is an easy city to navigate. We'll plan to meet at our hotel at 5:30 pm for a welcome and introductions. At 6:30 we'll meet up with our Bulgarian guide and go out for the first of many delicious dinners together. Overnight Sofia D

    Friday, September 28
    After breakfast we'll go for a guided tour of Sofia, the capital city. The city is an interesting mix of the old and venerable, and new and tacky. Our tour will include some of the most famous sites, such as the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. After checking out of the hotel and eating a picnic lunch, we set off east, making our way through the Thracian Plain to Plovdiv, Bulgaria's second major city. Plovdiv is the oldest continuously inhabited city in Europe, with a history going back over 8000 years. After dropping off our bags, we'll explore the city on foot. Our guide will show us old Plovdiv with its many churches, museums, old-style houses, and ancient theatre, followed by dinner in the heart of the city. Tonight we'll stay in a hotel short walk from the old part of town. Overnight Plovdiv B, L, D

    Saturday, September 29
    Today we leave cities behind and head for the hills! We head south, making our way via the Chepelarska Gorge to the Rodopi Mountains. Our first stop is the Bachkovo Monastery, the second largest in Bulgaria. Founded in 1083, the monastery is known for the unique combination of Byzantine, Caucasian, and Bulgarian culture, united by the common faith. Its most remarkable feature is the frescoes that are seen everywhere. As well as looking around the monastery, we will also walk in the beautiful valley behind it. At the edge of a botanic reserve, there are several interesting chapels tucked away in the forest.

    After a picnic lunch we drive on into the heart of the Rodopi Mountains, stopping off at the picturesque village of Shiroka Luka, famous for its traditional architecture. From there we complete our transfer to Yagodina village, a remote mountain town in beautiful surroundings. We will stay in a delightful small family run hotel that offers a warm welcome and wonderful home-cooked food, including some of the best yogurt you will find anywhere. Hiking 2 hours; ascent and descent is about 600 ft. Overnight Yagodina B, L, D

    Sunday, September 30
    This is a region of karst limestone and today we'll explore its glories- caves, gorges, and beautiful rock formations. We'll start with an hour's walk right out of our hotel, through the forest and down into Buynovo Gorge and Yagodina Cave. This cave is one of the most spectacular in the country with numerous stalagmites, stalactites, and other unusual cave formations. Part of the cave also contains a fascinating prehistoric dwelling that still preserves a selection of original artefacts. Meeting our bus, we then drive round into the neighbouring Trigrad Gorge and our second cave, known as The Devil’s Throat. This takes the form of an enormous cavern into which drops a thundering waterfall. It is here that the legendary Thracian musician Orpheus is said to have emerged from the Underworld after a failed attempt to rescue his wife Eurydice. After we emerge from the cave, we'll walk back to Yagodina through the beautiful karst limestone region, famed for its amazingly rich flora that include many endemic species. Hiking 3.5 - 4 hours; 635 ft ascent and 1450 ft descent. Overnight Yagodina B, L, D

    Monday, October 1
    Leaving directly from the hotel, we begin our ascent of Mt. Sveti Iliya (4,947ft), a dramatic limestone peak that rises up directly above the village. Although a steep and stony climb, the effort is worth it, as we are rewarded by panoramic views that not only stretch out over the village itself, but indeed over much of the Western Rodopi Mountains. From the summit, we then make a long zig-zag descent down into the depths of the Buynovsko Gorge, where we will meet up with our bus for a picturesque drive (2 hours 30 minutes) west through the Rodopi Mountains. We spend the night in the tiny village of Leshten, an architectural reserve famed for its vernacular architecture that has only recently been reclaimed. Here we will stay for the next 2 nights in a collection of beautifully restored traditional cottages. Hiking 3 - 4 hours; ascent 1315 ft, descent 1950 ft. Overnight Leshten.

    Tuesday, October 2
    A half-hour drive takes us to the village of Skrebatno, from where we set off on a delightful walk. The trail first follows along the crest of the Kanina Gorge, then along the line of an ancient Roman road which drops us down to cross the river, before climbing up to the village of Kovachevitsa. The latter, like Leshten, is an extremely photogenic architectural reserve with some fine examples of typical Rhodope architecture. The picturesque stone cottages and cobbled alleys are a photographer's dream. After free time to explore the village, the bus will then transfer us the short distance back to Leshten. Hiking 3 - 4 hours; ascent 885 ft, descent 860 ft. Overnight Leshten. B, L, D

    Wednesday, October 3
    Leaving Leshten on foot, we have a gentle morning walk descending downstream along another wonderful panoramic trail, following the flank of the Kanina valley. Arriving at a small spa resort at the mouth of the gorge, there will be time for a refreshing swim in one of the mineral water pools, before making our way to a nearby Bulgarian Muslim village. Here we will be welcomed by some of the local women and treated to a home-cooked lunch, followed by a chance to learn about their traditional handicrafts, customs, and folk music. Later in the afternoon, we drive across the southern Pirin Mountains via the Popovi Livadi pass to arrive in Melnik, the smallest and perhaps most beautiful town in Bulgaria, stunningly set in an amazing sandstone gorge. It is more reminiscent of Greece than other parts of Bulgaria, not surprising when you realize how close we are to the Greece border here. Here we will be based for the next two nights at Hotel 'Melnik', perfectly located on the flank of the cliffs over-looking the town. Hiking 3 hours, descent 1165 ft. Overnight Popovi Livadi Meals: B, L, D

    Thursday, October 4
    After breakfast, we set off on foot from the hotel, following an ancient pilgrim trail threads its way over a sandstone ridge to the remote village of Zlatolist. Here we can visit an interesting church that is connected with the fascinating life history of a famous local prophetess. Continuing our walk, we finally reach the Rozhen Monastery. This is one of the most picturesque and tranquil in Bulgaria and one of the few Bulgarian monasteries from the Middle Ages which has survived relatively intact up to present days. Having looked round the monastery, our bus will take us back to Melnik where the remainder of the afternoon and evening will be left free for you to explore this vey interesting town. Hiking 3 - 4 hours; ascent 1525 ft, descent 560 ft. Overnight Popovi Livadi B, L

    Friday, October 5
    We begin the day with an optional early morning hike on the Sveti Nikola elevation above Melnik where there are ruins of several churches and monasteries as well as an old fortress. The hill also offers superb views over the surrounding region. Leaving Melnik we travel north up the Struma Valley, and then cut back east into the heart of the Rila mountains. Here we will visit the Rila Monastery. This is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is beautifully located beneath the Rila Mountains highest peaks. Aside from the sheer beauty of the many icons, Rila's importance stems from its role as a repository of Bulgarian culture during the different periods that Bulgaria has been dominated by other countries.

    We'll start with a visit to the hermitage of St John of Rila and have the opportunity to purify ourselves as we climb out a tunnel from his cave (this is optional). We will then take a short walk in the surrounding Rila Monastery Nature Park to the monastery itself. We'll take time to look at the many icons and soak up the atmosphere of the monastery itself. Later in the afternoon, we transfer to the other side of the range and our family-run hotel in the village of Govedartsi where we will be based for the next two nights. Hiking (Sveti Nikola) 90 mins; ascent and descent are about 450 ft Hiking (Rila Monastery) 90 mins; ascent is about 600 ft, descent is 300 ft. Overnight Govedartsi B, L, D

    Friday, October 6
    Our final hike in Bulgaria is a rewarding finale, a challenging true mountain hike in stunning alpine terrain. It's a circular hike that starts by ascending the Malyovitsa valley to a mountain hut. Following a short boulder traverse, we climb, first steeply and then steadily, to a beautiful lake called Strashno Ezero, The Terrifying Lake. This lake is so named because of its stunning background of rugged peaks: a perfect place to enjoy our well-earned picnic. From here we have one more short (260 ft) steep and rocky ascent to the highpoint. From here its a long steady descent via another glacial lake, Yonchevo Ezero, back to the starting point, with no overly steep, rocky or difficult sections. We won't be in a hurry and we'll have ample time to enjoy a picnic and put our feet in the lake, take pictures, and drink in the view. We return to Govedartsi and tonight we celebrate our trip with a final farewell dinner. If you haven't yet had the opportunity to sample rakia, the Bulgarian answer to ouzo, this is the night! Hiking about 4.5 - 6 hours, ascent/descent 2300 ft. Overnight Govedartsi B, L, D

    Sunday, October 7
    Leaving the Rila Mountains, we head north to Sofia and its airport. We'll have you there by 11AM and you can plan a flight out for anytime after 1PM
  • Trip price: $2195 (see this page for discounts). $400 deposit. There are a limited number of single supplements (only necessary if you want to be sure of your own room) available for $300.

    Trip Includes

    • A Bulgarian English-speaking mountain (woman) guide and an Adventures in Good Company guide
    • 10 nights lodging in twin/double rooms with private toilet and shower
    • 10 breakfasts and 9 lunches and dinners
    • All transport within Bulgaria including a private bus with A/C
    • Entrance fees to sites that are included in the itinerary
    • Tips for the bus driver and restaurant staff

    What's not included: Travel to and from Bulgaria, alcoholic beverages, snacks, guide gratuities, and travel insurance

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  • Common Questions

    If you’ve never traveled with us before, you may have some questions about how we do things and what you can expect. We’ve answered the most common ones below and are always available by phone or email to answer any others.

    How do I pay for my trip?

    You can make the deposit by submitting a secure form with your credit card information after filling out the registration form or calling us with your card information. We will send you an invoice for the balance due with your Predeparture Information 4 months before an International trip and 3 months before a domestic trip. You can get a 3% discount for paying the balance by check.

    What if I’m coming alone?

    The majority of women who travel with us come by themselves. If you want to pay a single supplement to guarantee your own room, or if you want to share a room with someone with whom you are traveling, you can indicate that on the registration form. Otherwise we randomly assign roommates and rotate every time we change lodging – it’s a great way to get to know different women on the trip.

    Can you accommodate special diets?

    It depends on both the trip and on your specific needs. With advance notice, we can accommodate most dietary restrictions or allergies on our domestic trips, including vegetarian, vegan, and gluten intolerant. This is not always true on international trips, so please contact us in advance if you have specific dietary needs. We've found that if you are willing to bring some of your own snacks and a couple of items to supplement what is on the menu (peanut butter is always good!) and possibly have less variety than you are used to at home, then dietary needs usually are no obstacle. If in doubt about your specific dietary needs, especially if you have Celiac disease, please give us a call (877/439-4042) or send us an email.

    What if I have to cancel my trip?

    The amount of your refund depends on how close to the trip you cancel and whether it is a domestic or an international trip. You can read our cancellation policies here. We highly recommend travel insurance because cancellations are always unexpected; we will send you additional information about insurance when you register.

    Will my family be able to get in touch with me in case of an emergency?

    Yes, we always send out emergency contact information. On a few trips, because of limitations in communication, the best approach is to give them the office number and let us make the contact.

    What other information will you send me?

    When you register, we’ll send you a Trip Summary that includes the itinerary, travel information, and a packing list. Three to four months before your trip we’ll send you Pre-Departure information that includes detailed information on how to get to the trip starting point, pre- or post-trip lodging suggestions, suggested books and websites etc. Four to six weeks before the trip, we’ll send you a list of everyone who is registered along with their travel plans; and a Pre-Trip letter with the name of your guide(s) and how to contact them if your arrival is delayed as well as any other important updates.

    Do you help with pre-trip and/or post-trip hotel reservations?

    For international trips, if you want to stay at the hotel where we’re staying the first night before the trip, or at the hotel we’re staying the last night after the trip, we’re happy to make a reservation for you. Otherwise our PreDeparture Information will have hotel suggestions. Our travel agent is also happy to help you with this.

    How does the waitlist process work and how often do people cancel?

    If you are interested in a trip that is full, you should sign up here. If there is a cancellation, we send out an email to everyone who has expressed interest and ask them to respond within 24 hours. If more than one person is interested, we give the space to the person who has traveled with us before or in the order of being put on the waitlist. Frequently, even when we have a long wait list, it is the last person to sign up who is still available to go. Whether or not there will be a cancellation is completely unpredictable, although not uncommon.

    What is the role of the guide(s)?

    On every trip, the primary roles of the guide(s) are to ensure your safety and to make sure that, to the extent possible, you are having the trip you want. The guide(s) will also make sure that you know what is happening each day and what you need to bring to be prepared. On domestic trips the guide(s) will also likely be driving, preparing picnic lunches and sometimes other meals, providing skills instruction, and giving you information about the natural history of the area. On any trip where we partner with another company (which is most international trips and some trips that require special equipment), the AGC guide will work with the local guide to make sure that the trip is conducted in accordance with the AGC philosophy.

    What if I have more questions?

    Give us a call (877/439-4042) or send us an email. A Program Manager is assigned to each trip. Once you have registered, she will send you a registration confirmation letter that includes her name and email, and she will be your primary contact. Her job is to make sure that you get all your questions answered and that you feel completely prepared for your adventure.

    What if I'm the oldest/youngest/heaviest/least in shape/only single woman/only mom on the trip?

    You might be. Someone has to be the oldest/youngest/heaviest/least in shape person on the trip. And while the great majority of our trips have both single and non-single women, and moms and non-moms, sometimes they don't. But it doesn't matter if you're "different" in any of those ways - what you will share with everyone else is a desire to experience adventure in your life, and an appreciation of the joy and camaraderie of being in an all women's group.

Trip highlights

  • Hiking beautiful mountain landscapes with deep gorges, spectacular caves, ancient forests, and flower-filled meadows
  • Experiencing the culture and cuisine of a little-known region of Eastern Europe
  • Visiting the Bachkovo, Rozhen, and Rila Monasteries
  • Observing life in traditional Bulgarian villages and traditional vernacular architecture
  • Touring Sofia, Bulgaria's capital city, and Plovdiv, the oldest city in Europe

Register for this trip today

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