The Balkan Peninsula is a paradise for the mountaineer. There are dozens of mountains and hundreds of summits, but some of them deserve special attention. Not just because of their particular heights, but also because they belong to the mythologies and culture of this ancient land. Last but not least - because they are stunningly beautiful. If you love high mountains, if you are short on time but full of energy, if your mountaineering collections still lacks these three summits - which are among Europe’s most emblematic - then this is the trip for you. You will have a car and sound organisation to enable you to experience, in a week, the pleasure to climb the three highest peaks in the Balkans: the highest, Musala, in Rila; the beauty Vihren, in Pirin; and the divine Mitikas, on the Olympus. And if you are so fascinated that you don’t feel like getting back, we can offer to extend your stay both in Bulgaria and in Greece, so that you can relish in the cultural and culinary beauties of the two southern neighbours.
♦ Rila National Park and Musala, the highest summit in the Balkan Peninsula
♦ Rila Monastery. Established in the 10th Century and on the UNESCO World Heritage List
♦ Pirin National Park. A site part of the world heritage according and on the UNESCO World Heritage List
♦ Sofia. A city with thousands of years of history. The capital of Bulgaria.
♦ Olympus National Park, and Mitikas, the second-highest summit on the Balkan Peninsula and the home of the Olympian gods
Day 1. Sofia
Arrival in Sofia. Transfer to a downtown hotel and check-in. Meeting representatives of Penguin Travel, from whom you will receive the information you need about the trip, a car, the documents you need, maps and a guide.
Day 2. Sofia - Borovets. Climbing Musala
Drive to Borovets (70 km). Taking the cable car to the Yastrebets Hut (2,369 msl). From then — climbing to Musala (2,925 msl), the highest summit on the Balkan Peninsula. Return along the same route, and then taking the cable car from the Yastrebets Hut to Borovets. Overnight at the hotel.
Ascent: 550 m; Descent: 550
Note: Should you arrive at the cable car after hours, you can get back on foot to Borovets (1,300 msl); however, this means a further 1,070-metre descent.
Day 3. Borovets - Bansko
Drive to Bansko (140 km). On the way, you can stop by at the Rila Monastery (2×30 km). Founded high in Rila in the 10th Century, over the centuries the monastery used to be an important spiritual and cultural centre. The contemporary five-story building dates back from the first half of the 19th Century; however, the oldest building, the tower of the then local ruler, Hrelyuo, is from the 14th Century. The complex is under the protection of UNESCO.
The town of Bansko is situated at almost 1,000 msl and is the starting point of many of the routes around Pirin, which is one of Bulgaria’s national parks. Besides mountain beauties, Bansko offers the cosy atmosphere of its narrow streets with old stone houses. A good portion of Bansko’s glory derives from the culinary challenges it offers: at dozens of traditional _mehani[ital] specialities are cooked according to unique local recipes.
Overnight at a hotel in Bansko.
Day 4. Ascending Vihren
Drive to the Vihren Hut (1,950 msl). From there — ascent to Vihren (2,914 msl), Pirin’s highest peak and the third-highest in the Balkans. Descent to the hut and driving to Bansko. Overnight at the hotel.
Ascent 960 m; Descent: 960 m
Day 5. Bansko - Litochoro - Spilios Agapitos Hut
Drive to Litochoro, the town at the foot of the Olympus (313 km). Then, a 17-km drive to the car park in the Prionia area (1,100 msl). From there — ascending to the Spilios Agapitos Hut (Refuge A) (2,100 msl). Overnight at the hut.
Ascent 1,000 m; Descent 0 m
Day 6. Ascent of Mitikas (or Skolio)
Option 1. Climbing from the Spilios Agapitos Hut to Mitikas, the highest summit of the Olympus (2,917 msl). Descent back to the hut, and then to the car. Drive to Litochoro. A chance for a nighttime beach. Overnight at a hostel on the shore of the Aegean.
Ascent 817 m; Descent: 1,817 m
Option 2. Climbing from the Spilios Agapitos Hut to Skolio (2,907 msl), the second-highest peak of the Olympus. Descent back to the hut, and then to the car. Driving to Litochoro. A chance for a nighttime beach. Overnight at a hostel on the shore of the Aegean.
Ascent 807 m; Descent: 1,807 m
Day 7. Litochoro - Sofia
Driving to Sofia (388 km). While on the road, you can stop at Thessaloniki or take a detour to Melnik, or both. Situated amid high towers of yellow sand, Melnik is among Bulgaria’s most picturesque towns. Up high and close to Melnik is the Rozhen Monastery, whose wooden stature is the highlight in the stunning vista towards the surrounding mountains.
A walk through the cultural and historical centre of Bulgaria, Sofia, is enough to acquaint you with ruins that are more than 2,000 years old, with churches that date back from the earliest Christianity - the St Georgi Rotunda and the St Sophia Basilica - to feel the spirit of the reviving nation from the second half of the 19th Century, whose architecture features buildings such as the National Library, the Sofia University, the National Theatre, the National Art Academy; to view the collections of the National Art Gallery and the Museum of Archaeology, and finally, to feel the atmosphere of the square around the largest temple in the Balkans — the St Alexandr Nevskiy Cathedral. Overnight in Sofia.
Day 8. Departure
Additional charges are made for overnights in a single room and for individual car rental.
Practical information: The last part of the route to the Mitikas is a section that may appear difficult, especially for people who have fear of heights.