Hiking up mountains in beautiful Bansko!
We spent today hiking through Bulgaria’s Pirin Mountains. It was pretty chilly up there at 2,380m, but the views were spectacular.
Moving ever Southwards we left Gorno Draglishte and our Bulgarians babas behind this morning, travelling by bus to Bansko. Bansko is an alpine town in South-Western Bulgaria just 1 hour from Gorno Draglishte but with a completely different feel to it. Located at the foot of the Pirin Mountains, this is a holiday town, In winter the town is packed with skiers from all over Europe, all here to enjoy the cheap snow time (ski lift passes here are about 55 Bulgarian Lev, or $40AUD, per day). The rest of the year it’s a hikers paradise, with lots of trails criss-crossing the mountains.
The town of Bansko itself is a typical alpine village: laid back, relaxed and very chique. The main square is full of trendy cafes and bars, and there are quite a few restaurants and hotels in town – just our kind of town! We’re staying in a great little guesthouse for the night, just 200m from the centre of town and with a great view of the mountains from our balcony.
Being mid-October it was a bit chilly up in the mountain, but as this is our last chance to do some serious trekking for a while, we put our thermals on and decided to give it a go anyway. We chose to hike up Mt Retizhe and then catch the chairlift back down. The hike itself was really more of a clamber than a hike with the path not particularly well marked and snow, mud, rocks and bushes making it even harder to figure out which way we were supposed to be going.
Luckily we didn’t get lost and made it to our desired end point (the chair lift station and restaurant) in one piece. The best surprise was cresting the last incline and seeing the very top of Mt Retizhe reflected in the crystal clear waters of Lake Bezboshko.
Lake Bezboshko was still frozen around the edges after last night’s sub-zero temperatures, but the day was warm enough that it was melting quickly. We walked around the lake and then up a little higher to enjoy views across the whole mountain range. It was fantastic – quiet, peaceful and totally awesome. Bulgaria sure knws how to do “Epic Scenery” well.
After a warming cup of hot chocolate at the mountain-top restaurant we caught the rickety old chairlift back down the mountain, admiring the views all the way down. What a great way to spend our Sunday!
Following our adventorous day up in the mountains we were famished and happily joined some of fellow Intrepid group members at a local restaurant renown for its good food and great atmosphere. The food did, in fact, turn out to be amazing with lots grilled meats and delicious salads on the menu. Shane and I went all out and ordered a giant chicken shashlik to share. For those who don’t speak Bulgarian, turns out shashlik means “meat on a sword“. It was AWESOME!
*Note: The food in Bulgaria generally is fantastic. It’s all so fresh, and the salads are sooooo good. Everything comes with home made yoghurt and/or white cheeses (think fetta, cottage cheese, ricotta), often made from sheep’s milk. And the meat is either grilled over a charcoal fire or stewed in an array of almost-Turkish/almost-Persian spices that leave you begging for more. Yum, yum, yum!
As we were finishing our meal a trio of local musicians walked in and started serenading us. When they found out we were from Australia they even sang us a special song about Australia (I have a feeling they sing the same song for every foreigner but just replace one word in the song with the country name of choice; since I don’t speak Bulgarian however I cannot confirm this suspicion)! There was, of course, the mandatory tip to come after the song, but it was totally worth paying the guys just to see the pain on Shane’s face when they started banging out the goat herding tunes!
We had a great night and are now happily tucked away in bed, ready for a good night’s sleep. Tomorrow we’re off to Plovidv, one of this nation’s most important historical centres and our last stop in Bulgaria. лека нощ (i.e. leka nosht or good night) until then!