Cycling across Bulgaria. There’s rural, and then there’s Bulgaria.

We left Sakar Hills Campsite on the 30th May and headed out to cross Bulgaria. As I mentioned in my last post I’ve focussed on the two main cities in my other post, and this one is a recap of our cycling route through the country.

And what a country! In a word, it is R-U-R-A-L. I’ve never seen so many horse/donkey/ass-drawn carts, and I’ve been to the Doncaster Fairs! About 90% of the land also seems to be devoted to farming. More on that later…

Green land and blue skies as far as the eye can see

We continued cycling along the ‘8’ road towards Plovdiv, crossing through a town called Harmanli for a spot of lunch. We were heading towards Gorski Izor, or more specifically, to a small cluster of lakes we saw there on Google Maps. We passed through town after town with no cafes or shops, which was depressing as I’d just solicited and gained approval for an ice cream stop.

Eventually we spied something shop-like on the tail-end of a small town. We stopped the bikes and I headed back to it, to try my luck for an ice cream, or failing that a Coca Cola.

God in heaven. I knocked on the door and after 30 seconds what can only be described as Bulgaria’s answer to a drunk Santa Claus came out, wearing only his boxers and a pair of fake Crocs (a girl can tell these things) and a few fingers missing for good measure.

I was desperate for a fizzy drink so questioned ‘Coke?’ He motioned me in. I’m now writing this from his basement where I’m being kep-ONLY KIDDING! He was sound, just a little grizzly-looking, and after buying the two cokes he pottered outside to give us some free berries from the tree. Lesson learned: never judge a book by it’s cover – or you might miss out on some free fruit!

Eventually we got to the turn off for the cluster of lakes and our pre-ordained wild camping spot. We got about 2/3km down the road and decided we’d gone far enough to camp, even though we hadn’t reached the mythical lakes.

If this potion of the trip had a name, it would be bug-gate. This probably shouldn’t have come as a surprise, as it was in the middle of massive swaths of farmland, but it definitely took us by surprise! We even cooked our meal in the tent to avoid an infestation.

A Bugs Life 3: Wrecking Cycle Tourists Lives
Clearly not in a sharing mood

The next day we were up and out early, and headed for Plovdiv – which I’ve covered in an earlier post.

Nice lil church

When we left that brill lil city, we trundled along the ‘8’ road again, now aiming for some lakes near the town of Pazardshik. This time we actually got to the lakes, and yet again seemed to be in the middle of A Bug’s Life.

The next day we scraped and stopped at a town called Kostenets for a peruse of the market, and an absolutely banging sausage sandwich at a place that was super popular with the locals. This day was also outrageously hot out on the road.

Taking a break in a motorway verge after a stinking hill in the heat. Classy
The market
The sausage butty shop

Afterwards, we split off onto the 822 road to head up towards Borovetz – a Bulgarian ski resort. That’s right! We decided to cycle up to a ski resort, all 1,200 metres of it, as it seemed to be a logical way to get from between Plovdiv and Sofia. God in heaven. It was a punisher. The last 20km of the day I was stopping around every 1km for a breather and a pick-me-up treat.

When we got there it was quite interesting, and I imagine it’s pretty decent when it’s snowing. However it was torrential raining.

Someone is getting a nasty shock when the season starts again!

What few tourists were there (mostly hikers) seemed to be in a tavern on the main road, so we ducked in too. It was managed by a madman calling himself ‘Harry… Harry Potter’, but we met two nice lads there whilst we were having dinner, and popped off to sleep in our sodden tent at a relatively late time for us. Dreamy.

Funky roof at Harry’s Place
All boarded up. Shame!

What comes up, must come down, and the next day we were absolutely flying out of Borovetz, past a massive beautiful lake where we had lunch at a restaurant called The Stork’s Nest, before reaching Sofia.

Downhill. My favourite hill.
Lakeside views for lunch

When we left Bulgaria’s capital we chose to cycle to Camping Ribkata along the ‘16’ road. This was the day where we finally felt like we’d got a handle on predicting the weather – ie we were actually Googling the weather each day, and making practical decisions based on this. Not exactly rocket science but better late than never!

Number 1 on things you don’t want to be cycling into – the thunderstorm

It was lucky we didn’t try to go too far (the camping spot was only 30km away), as an absolutely humongous thunderstorm started (the second of the day) and I was able to keep safe and dry in the bogs.

Hailstones in June. Mental!
Views from the camp site. I saw an otter too! Or it may have been a beaver.

Well rested, we then cycled to a nice guest house in a town called Varshets, before heading north to Belogradchik to the best camp site we’d been to.

Pink hair
Relaxing at our new fave campsite

Madona Inn and Camping also had a restaurant attached (this place wears a lot of hats) and in addition to usual forms of entertainment like serving booze, it also had a homosexual and very charged male peacock. In addition to constantly chasing and ruffling its tail feathers at all the (male) roosters, he also had a crack at Sean. I’m happy to report Sean declined.

Toadstool decorations – a new high

Belogradchik is famous for having some rock formations quite similar to Cappadocia but on a much smaller scale, and a fortress at the top of it all. If I’m honest, I wasn’t blown away, but that could be because we cycled 15km to get there in the brutal heat – which always manages to take a shine off visiting a load of rocks!

The fort/fortress
The rocks
On top of the rocks

While I’m on the subject, the weather has been a bit shocking! We have had non-stop storms, baking hot days and intermittent thunder and lighting for over a week. It is all going on in the Balkans.

We decided to stay another night at Madona Inn and Camping and then head north. We’d planned to wild camp – and indeed we did – until a friendly person who had waved at us, went and grassed up to the farmer whose land we were on, and so he came along on his tractor and told us to scarper!

Why wouldn’t you want us near your farm?!
Making a speedy getaway

We’ve met a lot of people on the road who have camped on piers, in the middle of fields, on football pitches etc and no one has ever been told to move. If there’s a wrong way to do it…

So we packed up and moved off at around 8pm and headed back into town for the warm embrace of a £20 hotel room including brekkie. Boom!

As I said – rural

The next day was a big one – the day we moved into Serbia and joined the EuroVelo 6! Aka the ‘Iron Curtain Traill’. More on that in the next post. Night! X

6 thoughts on “Cycling across Bulgaria. There’s rural, and then there’s Bulgaria.

  1. Hey Emma… your adventures keep getting better and better.. Bulgaria sure looks like one!

    Enjoy the next stretch & keep at the blogging…. fantastic storytelling!

    Keep safe both of you 😊

    Liked by 1 person

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