Bulgaria – natural history of the mountainous south west
Exploring the mountains of western Bulgaria, home to endemic plants, abundant butterflies and peaceful monasteries.
We will start our holiday in the western Rhodopes, where the rounded, pine-covered hills are occasionally cut by streams and rivers running through deep gorges. Heading west, the Rhodope mountains reach their highest point with the massifs of Rila and Pirin, cloaked in ancient conifer forests, leading on to alpine meadows and rock screes higher up.
The mountains are home to many local specialities: with a little searching, flowers such as Lilium jankae, Aquilegia aurea, Geum coccineum, Primula deorum, Pinguicula balcanica and the beautiful Orpheus flower Haberlea rhodopensis could all be expected, along with beautiful pine forests including trees as old as 1,000 years.
For the bird enthusiast, the highlight will no doubt be time spent in the stunning Trigrad Gorge, looking for the beautiful Wallcreeper that nests in cracks on the rock face here. We will also keep our eyes open for Balkan Chamois grazing on the high mountain slopes, Common Rosefinch, Black Woodpecker and Nutcracker.
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Please note that holidays change, although sometimes only slightly, from year to year and previous trip reports may not reflect the planned itinerary, or other holiday details, for the current trip. Please ask us if you would like to know of any significant differences.
TBC with local guides
Single Room Supplement – £TBC
Return flights from UK. Local transport on excursions as specified in the itinerary. Seven nights’ accommodation, full board basis.
Refreshments. Entrance fees for optional sightseeing. Gratuities. Travel insurance.
Mountain flowers and a great range of butterflies may be among the main focus, but we also hope to find some interesting birds and other wildlife, with plenty of Balkan specialities promised.
Day 1 – Our flight takes us to Sofia from where we travel eastwards to the Western Rhodopes, stopping along the way for our first taster of the Bulgarian countryside.
Days 2-3 – We spend three days exploring the Western Rhodopes, with its meadows and woodlands. More than 2,000 species of plants have been recorded here, of which more than 90 are endemic to the Balkans, including Viola rhodopaea, Geum rhodopaeum, and a bewildering variety of saxifrages and campanulas, dianthuses and astragaluses. We will explore flower-rich meadows, home to orchids including Anacamptis coriophora, Dactylorhiza cordigera and Orchis ustulata, and spend time in pine forests, where we hope to find Crested Tit, Black Woodpecker, Honey Buzzard and Firecrest.
Day 4 – Today we drive west towards the high mountains of Rila and Pirin, with time in the afternoon to explore meadows and woodland home to Common Rosefinch, Red-backed Shrike and plenty of flowers and butterflies.
Days 5-6 – We will spend two days exploring the massifs of Pirin and Rila, the latter the highest mountain in the Balkans. This is a beautiful landscape of high peaks (over 2,500m), alpine meadows dotted with glacial lakes, spectacular rocky gorges, precipitous cliffs and dense forests. The summer flowers should include many local specialities – amongst them Geum coccineum, Primula deorum, Lilium jankae and Aquilegia aurea, and many butterflies can be spotted including Apollo, Clouded Apollo, Mountain Small White, Balkan Copper, Amanda’s Blue and Balkan Fritillary.
Day 7 – Today we visit Rila monastery, the largest monastery in Bulgaria founded by St Ivan in the 10th century and now a UNESCO World Heritage site, as well as some more mountain meadows.
Day 8 – Today we head back to Sofia and our flights home.
Please note that the itinerary may be changed to suit the weather or other practicalities at the discretion of the leaders.
We will be staying at three hotels during the holiday, all with en-suite accommodation.
Meals provided during the stay will be a mixture of Balkan and International dishes, with an emphasis on local cuisine and plenty of salads. Requests for special diets can be accommodated.
Transport will be by small bus, minibus or smaller vehicles if necessary.
The group flights are with British Airways from London Heathrow. Flights times are not yet available but are likely to be similar to 2018.
depart London Heathrow 08.15, arrive Sofia 13.25
depart Sofia 14.30, arrive London Heathrow 16.00
Bulgaria is two hours ahead of UK time.
If you hold a UK passport, you do not currently need a visa to travel to Bulgaria. If you do not have a UK passport, please check with your local consulate.
The weather should be spring like, between 10 and 20 degrees, but perhaps hotter. We hope for dry weather, but rain, wind or cold weather and even snow are always a possibility at this time of year.
On most days, we are out and about for much of the day, albeit walking a relatively slow pace and making several stops each day. It is necessary to walk on rougher ground and up some slopes, although none of the walking is strenuous. Walking boots are essential. The highers altitude we go to is about 2,200-2,400m but our accommodation will be lower (around 1,100m). There are steps at our hotels, often with no lift, as well as up/down into the vehicles.