Bulgaria's Mountains And Monasteries

Destination: Sofia, Bulgaria

| Activities: Hiking and Culture

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 much of our time will be spent staying in and walking amongst 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!

Bulgaria is a diverse and stunningly beautiful country with charming small villages, colorful history and culture, and delicious fresh food, much of it organically grown. It also a bit of a hidden gem so we won't see many other American tourists and prices are quite low compared to other countries. We will visit longstanding monasteries; hike in the Rila, Pirin, and Rhodope mountains; meet the local residents of traditional Muslim villages; and learn about the transition this country is going through as it emerges from a long period of Soviet domination.

Maximum group size: 14

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

Departures and Prices

June 19 to June 29, 2025
$3595.00 - Available
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October 09 to October 19, 2025
$3595.00 - Available
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Inclusions

  • A female Bulgarian English-speaking mountain guide and an AGC guide (provided there are 8 or more registered - if there are fewer than 8 on the trip, there will not be an AGC 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

Trip Info

This trip is for women in good physical condition who enjoy hiking in beautiful countryside and want to learn about the history and culture of Bulgaria. Although for the most part the hiking is moderate, there are occasional steep ascents and descents on rocky paths; the last day in particular is a challenging true mountain hike. The trip is rated 3. Prior to beginning the trip, participants should be engaging in aerobic conditioning, such as walking vigorously up hills, jogging, cross country skiing or stair stepping for 30 - 45 minutes at least 4 times a week. Rating: 1 2 [3] 4 5.

On this trip we combine hiking with cultural exploration, including visiting some of the major monasteries, learning about the culture of Bulgarian Muslim women, eating traditional Bulgarian food, touring its two largest cities, visiting limestone caves, and listening to Bulgarian music. Following traditional shepherds' paths, forest tracks, and ancient Roman roads, we hike in the Rhodope, Pirin and Rila mountains between 1-5 hours per day, with time to stop for photographs, look at nature, and talk to local people. Our daily hikes will take us through a mixture of silent forests and open meadows, as well as over some rough and rocky terrain with occasional steep ascents and descents.

In Sofia we will be staying at one of the nicest hotels in the city. Other than that we'll stay in comfortable tourist-class hotels, often family-owned, that are classified two to three star by the Bulgarian classification system. These hotels offer twin rooms with private facilities. Where possible, we try to use smaller more atmospheric hotels.

Below is the proposed itinerary for the trip. As is true on any adventure travel trip, plans for any specific day may be modified due to weather considerations, unforeseen circumstances, new opportunities, and group interests.

DAY 1

Plan to arrive any time before 3:30PM. 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 5:30PM for a welcome and introductions. At 6:30PM we'll meet up with our Bulgarian guide for the first of many delicious dinners together. (D)

Overnight Sofia


DAY 2

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 theater, followed by dinner in the heart of the city. Tonight, we'll stay in a hotel short walk from the old part of town. (B, L, D)

Overnight Plovdiv


DAY 3

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 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 Smolyanski Ezera (Smolyan Lakes), a small mountain resort situated above the town of Smolyan. (B, L, D)

Hiking: 3.1 miles or 2 hours, 600-foot elevation gain and loss.

Overnight Smolyanski Ezera (Smolyan Lakes)


DAY 4

The Rodopi Mountains are their most beautiful in the spring, and on our hike today, we will get to see the mountains in all of their glory. We begin the day with a wonderful panoramic hike along the main ridge of the Perelik Massif. Throughout our hike, we will see blooming wildflowers, meandering rivers, and vistas for miles. We skirt just below the summit of the Rodopi’s highest peak, Mt. Golyam Perelik (7100ft), before ascending Mt. Golyam Snezhnik (7178ft) just two meters lower! We can enjoy a well-deserved lunch and rest on the summit of Mt. Golyam Snezhnik before descending to the picturesque village of Gela. Our bus will meet us in Gela, and we will drive to our hotel in Yagodina for dinner. (B, L, D)

Hiking: 9.3 miles or 5 - 6 hours, 1000 foot elevation gain, 3,400 foot loss.

Overnight Yagodina


DAY 5

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 artifacts. Meeting our bus, we then drive round into the neighboring 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. (B, L, D)

Hiking: 1.9 and 4.3 miles, 3 - 4 hours total, 635-foot elevation gain, 1,450-foot loss.

Overnight Yagodina


DAY 6

A half hour drive up the picturesque Buynovska valley brings us to the village of Buynovo where we will start our walk. Our hike today will wander through the mountain meadows and forests close up to the border with Greece. During the Cold War period, this region was known as the 'Zone of Death', as it was a forbidden region patrolled by armed border guards ordered to prevent anyone trying to escape across the Iron Curtain into Greece. Remnants of the old border fence can still be seen. Thankfully today it is a peaceful region, roamed by wolves and bears which can now once again disperse freely between the two countries. (B, L, D)

Hiking: 8.7 miles or 3 - 4 hours, 1,300-foot elevation gain, 1,800-foot loss.

Overnight Yagodina


DAY 7

Leaving directly from the hotel, we begin our ascent of Mount Sveti Iliya (4,947 feet), a dramatic limestone peak that rises up directly above the village. Although a steep and stony zig-zag 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 make a long descent into the depths of the Trigrad Gorge, where we meet up with our bus for a picturesque drive 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. (B, L, D)

Hiking: 6.2 miles or 3 - 4 hours, 1,315-foot elevation gain, 1,950-foot loss.

Overnight Leshten


DAY 8

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 overlooking the town. (B, L, D)

Hiking: 3.7 miles or 3 hours, 1,165-foot elevation loss.

Overnight Melnik


DAY 9

After breakfast, we take a short drive to 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, we set off on foot from the hotel, following a dirt road down a dry valley 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 follow an ancient pilgrims' trail that threads its way over a sandstone ridge back to Melnik. The remainder of the afternoon and evening will be left free for you to explore this very engaging and picturesque town. (B, L)

Hiking: 6.8 miles or 3 - 4 hours, 560-foot elevation gain, 1,525 -foot loss.

Overnight Melnik


DAY 10

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 and hermitage of Saint John of Rila. 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 Saint John of Rila and have the opportunity to purify ourselves as we climb out a tunnel from his cave (this is optional). We then take a short walk in the surrounding Rila Monastary 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 Sofia for our final night. (B, L, D)

Hiking: Nikola - 2.5 miles or 90 minutes, 450-foot elevation gain and loss.
Hiking Rila Monastery - 2.5 miles or 90 minutes, 600-foot elevation gain, 300-foot loss.

Overnight Sofia


DAY 11

Sadly, we say farewell after breakfast. We'll have you back to the Sofia airport by 11 a.m for flights out after 1 p.m. (B)


4.7

(11 reviews)
4.5 Food
4.7 Lodging
5 Safety
5
(8)
4
(3)
3
(0)
2
(0)
1
(0)

*These are the unfiltered reviews of women who have been on this trip in answer to the question "What made this trip special for you?". We take reviews very seriously and often tweak itineraries based on feedback. Please feel free to contact us about any questions you have.

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Linda B.
8 months ago

The spectacular beauty of the Aleksandur Nevski Memorial Church and the Rila Monastery, breathtakingly gorgeous gorges and caves, fascinating remnants of former civilizations along with enjoyable hikes through stunning scenery and charming villages. Delicious fresh figs, fig ice cream and baclava! Truly a GREAT trip!

Laurie L.
8 months ago

Amazing culture and environment I dont see an individual evaluation for the in-country guide, Neli. She was excellent. Knowledgeable, enthusiastic, energetic and invested. I recommend her participation highly.

Karen G.
8 months ago

Unspoiled countryside. Nobody on the trails! Both guides (Lanie and Nelli) were fantastic. My only and very real disappointment was the fact I was the fifth person on this trip and didn’t receive the first five discount. I know I mentioned it prior to the trip - I don’t know - To me it’s a bit of a scam if people sign up just to get the discount and then transfer to something else.

Monica H.
5 years ago

I loved everything about this trip! It was all so wonderful that it's impossible to pick my favorite part!

Anonymous
5 years ago

Interacting with locals and learning their customs; having a mix of hiking and cultural activities. The one negative for me was some bus rides were too long.

Carolyn S.
5 years ago

It was great interacting with locals. The last day was the highlight with the lift ride and more strenuous hike above treeline and seeing the beautiful lakes. Also enjoyed the luncheon prepared by local ladies and featuring Bulgarian foods.

Julie B.
5 years ago

The monasteries, the solitude of the hikes, the cultural experiences.

Loretta M.
5 years ago

Our Bulgarian guide Nelly was awesome! A negative would be the amount of bus travel but I realize that she wanted to show us some specific sites.

Annmarie E.
5 years ago

I fell in love with Bulgaria on this trip. The food was excellent. The hiking was just the right mix of easy to challenging, with stunning views at every turn. The monasteries were amazing and the history of them so interesting. Two highlights for me were the 5pm service at the Rila Monastery and dancing with the Bulgarian women in Yagodina.

Marie R.
5 years ago

Everything ! it was fabulous. Loved Karen, Loved Nellie (she is wonderful) - loved the integration into the local culture and people.

Linda M.
5 years ago

Lunch Bulgarian Muslim village, seeing traditional handicrafts, hike the last day up to the lakes, the stone work in the houses, ref

  1. Where do we eat?

    Your breakfasts will be buffets at the hotels where you're staying. Dinner is in restaurants and is typically soup, salad and dessert with a choice of vegetarian or non-vegetarian entree. Lunches are typically packed lunches. Women are always amazed at just how delicious and fresh the food in Bulgaria is.
  2. What dietary preferences or restrictions can you accommodate on this trip?

    Vegetarian options for this trip are available but may be more limited than you are used to. If you are concerned about having enough protein during your trip, plan to bring some plant-based protein sources such as nut butter, instant dried hummus, or high-protein energy bars. If you cannot eat gluten or if you have other dietary restrictions i.e. vegan, you will need to bring some supplemental food with you.
  3. I will be coming by myself. Do I need to pay a single supplement?

    You only need to pay a single supplement if you want to guarantee you have your own room. Otherwise we'll pair you up with someone and then switch roommates every time we switch lodging.
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