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Vrachanski Balkan Nature Park – for those who like to discover


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Vrachanski Balkan Nature Park – for those who like to discover

Footprints of the Bulgarian fighters
Looking historically, Vrachanski Balkan Nature Park is interesting not only because of the rich heritage of the Thracians, but also as a territory in which some important events during the Bulgarian uprising against the Ottoman Empire took place. The Bulgaria’s beloved poet and revolutionary Hristo Botev died here after a battle with the Ottoman army in 1876. His death place is marked by a cross high in the Vratsa Mountain. If you ever wondered why nearly every Bulgarian city has got a street named after Botev and want to know more about the poet’s life story and the uprising in general, a pilgrimage to the park is a must. Vratsa has got two statues of Botev – one in the town’s main square (also named after the revolutionary), and one in the History museum. Every year on 2 June ceremonies are held both in the square in Vratsa and next to the cross in the mountains to commemorate Botev’s death anniversary and long queues of wreaths are left at the feet of the monuments afterwards. 

Another essential stop in the trail of the revolutionaries is at the Cherepish Monastery. During the 500 year Ottoman rule monasteries served as shelters of the Bulgarian culture. This particular monastery before and during the uprising was a hiding place for the rebels. Later the famous writer Ivan Vazov stayed here and, among the other works, wrote a popular short story ‘A Bulgarian Woman’ about a Grandmother (Baba) Iliytsa from the nearby Chelopek village who, risking her own life, helped a Botev’s rebel and therefore has been pictured as a dignified Bulgarian woman. A restored Baba Iliytsa’s house in Chelopek nowadays is an ethnographical museum, and it is easy to visit on the same trip as the Cherepish Monastery. Even more authentic the Baba Iliytsa’s story feels after meeting her great-great granddaughter who lives in the village.

Hiking, caving, rock climbing
Although there are plenty of hiking routes to choose from while visiting Vrachanski Balkan, a particularly pleasant one for a first time visitor is the Pine Stone eco-trail. Most of the two-hour hike goes against a swift rivulet in the forest which means a refreshing shelter from the sun and hot temperatures on a typical summer day, and beautifully coloured trees in autumn; while in the early spring before the trees sprout their leaves one can adore the dramatic landscapes.

The path, starting in the village of Zorigrad, gradually goes up the hill (with a few sets of steep wooden stairs) and leads to the tall Pine Stone (Borov Kamak) waterfall. There is enough space behind the waterfall for the path to continue, so it is possible to stop for a while behind the waterfall, watching the rainbows at the point where the water cascade turns into a mountain rivulet and rapidly getting soaked by its splashes.

 The Pine Stone eco-path indeed does live up to its name. The waters of the waterfall and the rivulet are clean enough to drink. However, if you do feel hesitant about drinking straight from the waterfall, towards the end of the route, on the right side if facing the waterfall, under a beech there is a small mountain spring providing ice cold water, affectionately called by the hikers the ‘beech lemonade’.     

Some other interesting hikes in Vrachanski Balkan lead to caves. The most prominent of the caves and the one that is easiest to enter is Ledenica. It is rather well known and clearly signposted; sometimes musical concerts take place there because of the cave’s excellent acoustics. Those looking for less popular places after a wander in tree-covered hills might come across a random gathering of enthusiasts equipped with helmets, headlights and ropes all trying to get into the Toshina Dupka cave. This cave is not as welcoming as Ledenica; in fact, without special equipment and without assistance from an experienced counterpart the trip into the cave is hardly possible. Even with assistance, be prepared to crawl in the mud and get your shoes covered in bats’ faeces. The reward for the efforts is mainly the ‘I have made it!’ type self-satisfaction and a bond with the fellow adventurers, although there are some corals, stalactites and crustaceans waiting to be discovered, and an underground lake.        

Another type of adventures can be sought at the Vratzata rock climbing spot just outside Vratza. To find Vratzata is easiest while finding a way to the well-known Hotel Chaika and continuing on the same road a bit further away. On the right side of the road there are tall and steep rocks, described by some local mountaineers as ‘the most difficult ones to climb in Bulgaria’. On the left side of the road there is a river and some ‘easier’ – and much busier – rocks. Not so much it is yet known outside the country – but, with an adequate promotion and development of the tourist infrastructure, Vratzata could probably become an international destination.

Finally, for the lazier ones, there is a recently opened ecological adventure park Fairytale ("Prikazkata"), where activities like archery, shooting, paintball, mini golf, climbing are on offer.


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