Hiking the Balkans

Lejla Dizdarevic | Live the World

November 23, 2022

The Balkan Mountain range that will not leave you indifferent

Are you an adventorurs type of person, who loves exploring different parts of the world? Tired of sitting on a sofa and just spending days with Netflix and chill? I think it is high time you got up, prepared your hiking shoes and some warm clothes. Indeed, it is still early to plan your winter holidays so I am not going to make you feel bad about not figuring things out yet, as myself I arrange things in the last minute. However, this is the perfect time for planning a bit more active type of a fall break, an escape from hectic and polluted reality of city life and a complete mind and body detox. Allow me to present you the best mountain chains in the Balkans that are perfect for hiking routes, either if you are alone or with great company. Feel like breathing fully and jumping of your couch? Then keep scrolling.


Before embarking on the hiking route, let me give you some of the background. Maybe you have heard of the Balkan mountain range, covering the eastern part of the Balkan peninsula, until the Black sea, with its highest peaks in Bulgaria. The mountain range gives the name to the whole peninsula, originating from the Turkish language which means “a chain of wooded mountains”. Even though its other name is Stara Planina, which means The Old Mountain, it is one of the youngest mountains in the Balkan region, being part of the Alp-Himalayan chain.


As this is a waste hiking area, there are over 80 huts and shelters in the mountain chain, connected with a wide network of walking trails. Also, there are plenty of towns and villages on both foothills of Stara Planina (Northern and Southern), where you can stay in a hotel or a guesthouse along with many tourists and enjoy the hospitality of the locals. Many people do two-day walking tours, hiking up to the ridge, spending a night in a hut there, and then going down along a different route. In any case, there are plenty of places to go and see, but make sure you get all the rest needed.


Up to 800 meters of the Balkan mountain range, the majority of the forest is formed by deciduous trees, such as hornbeam, oak, beech. What is good to know is that above this level there are small formations of black pine, as most of the coniferous trees are fir trees and spruces. The highest part of the mountain is occupied with gorgeous meadows, wild briar, hawthorn, blackthorn,and juniper. If you are lucky, you can find Stara Planina’s cowslip, which is an endemic species, or even an edelweiss in the Central part of the mountain. You will be thirlled to see the main representatives of the fauna of Stara Planina such as brown bears, wild goats, wild boars, deer, wolves, and foxes. Ok, well, maybe not so thriled, but still.


The Balkan Mountain hiking routes are particularly convenient for combining a first-hand experience in the rich history of the beautiful and hidden countries of the region. Along with the Rhodope Mountains, the Balkan Mountains are the best place to experience authentic "rural Bulgaria", the charm of the Bulgarian villages, crafts and traditions as well as Serbia's untouched, au naturel beauties. One of the most challenging and definitely the most popular hiking tours in the Balkan mountains is Climbing Mount Botev. You would be climibing one of the three highest mountains in the range called Rila mountains.


The summit is located in the territory of the three national parks in Bulgaria and along with their purely hiking merits you will be able to enjoy stunning panoramas, unique nature phenomena including natural caves, waterfalls, beautiful villages and unique monasteries. The most famous monasteries and the ones you should not miss when there are situated in the mountain and its foothills, such as Kilifarevo, Dryanovo, Klusura, Sokolsky monastery and of course Troyan Monastery,the third biggest in the country.


Moreover, genuinely warm suggestion is to explore rural Bulgaria, visit UNESCO-listed heritage sites, learn more about ancient cultures and see the Festival of Roses, the biggest event of the region, organised yearly in The Valley of the Roses, an area of about 3,300 square kilometres along the Balkan range and enclosed by two mountains, which helps create a specific microclimate that’s ideal for roses.


The Balkan Mountains are home to the Central Balkan National Park, as well as ten individual nature reserves. The mountains are rich with water, and while you are on your hiking route, you will cross many rivers, springs and streams, while waterfalls are considered a special attraction of the region. What would be exciting for you is to knot that the terrain features a number of caves, including the Magura Cave, known as the “Bulgarian Altamira”, included in the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites because of its cave paintings, made with guano, which date back to between 3000 and 1200 B.C.

©iStock/Milen Dobrev

To sum it up, these have been only a few suggestions just for you to get a general idea about hiking the Balkans, but really there is way much more to it that is to be discovered. Check out the suggested activities below for some of the exciting walking trails and things to see in the Balkan mountain range. If you want to discover more, and perhaps plan your mountain winter trip after all, stay tuned as I promise I will reveal you the hidden mountain resorts of Serbia and Montenegro and give you all the necessary scoop. Join me on this journey and now, turn off that TV and let's get on the road.


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