We write at the foot of another great stage, that of the Rila Monastery, but we will leave that for tomorrow because we have arrived after a great route that puts us on a quieter road.
The Belogradchik Fortress and its enclave between rocks
It is clear that the Romans were a great empire for something. Wherever we pass we find great samples of his legacy but always adapting to the conquered territory. The sun illuminates the landscape around us in our modest Bistro Castle Cottage Hotel which we already enjoyed an excellent breakfast.
We are 100 meters from it and it opens at 9 am in summer (closes at 5 pm). What better place to sleep yesterday? Lto Belogradchik Fortress (also called Kaleto or even Belgrad at the first moment) It is one of the best examples of the first Roman constructions taking advantage of the land. We arrive at 9.15 and take the tickets (10 BGN both), but we wait at 9.30 to open a small store with cold water before entering (4.40 BGN 4 bottles)
Stunning rock formations of up to 200 meters served as natural walls to build a defensive fortress, the strongest and most protected possible.
The walls were built from the northwest and southeast and although initially it had a function of mere vigilance, Byzantines and already the Bulgarian Tsar Vidin Ivan Stratsimir would expand it in the fourteenth century, but also its successive occupants to the Ottomans in the fifteenth and nineteenth centuries until the cultural monument that is today
Its state of conservation is impressive and that which has an area of more than 10,000 m2, with walls more than two meters thick at the base and up to 12 meters high
Between 1805 and 1837, the building was enlarged and rebuilt to allow the use of firearms under the supervision of French and Italian engineers, and finally a final expansion was made where 3 bastions were also included where 15 or 16 cannons fit in each .
There are only two main doors called Vidin Kapia and Nish Kapia but the most impressive (and that you are able to assimilate once you are here) is that it is said that up to 3000 people came to protect the fortress including the surrounding hills
According we climbed the stairs from the main area we feel something similar to what "Frodo and Sam" should have felt in their adventure. Don't tell us it doesn't look like the last part of your adventure?
The first settlement is simply spectacular. No wonder they decided this place for their fortification, if it was naturally
But the enclave does not stop there but, integrated into a environment known as the rocks of Belogradchik (in fact it is the set of both that is declared a tourist attraction), the best views are from the upper levels.
One thing that has surprised us (and that speaks very clearly of how Tourism will be in Bulgaria) is that there are no fences or other artificial barriers here. It is you who marks the exploration of the cliffs and rock formations (so you have to have some criteria and care)
We talked to you recently about the ice sculptures of the icebergs of the trip to Greenland, do you remember? Well, the creations that nature leaves us in this vast area of 30 km long and 15 km wide It is not far behind, the effect of 200 million years of water and winds on rock massifs. What do you want to see? Animal shapes? Human figures?
Towards the other, the town of Belogradchik, today more lively than ever (it must be a party) because we have begun to listen to music in the distance
Can you imagine this in more troubled times? With a good "pantry" this place could withstand any siege and with the least possible sacrifice.
People start to enter, a sign that indicates that it may be a good time to leave, going through a small public toilet (0.5 BGN)
The Magura cave, rock art
The northwest of Bulgaria gives for more, such as the strategic port of Vidin on the Danube or museums and other attractions of Belogradchik itself but we were struck by a special one 17 km away, in the Limestone mound “Rabishka Moguila” and on the shores of the largest lake in the interior of the country (with depths of 35-40 m). Roads and infrastructure continue to surprise us, finding good roads, signs in English and parking
Declared a World Heritage Site by Unesco, the Magura cave is, they say, one of the largest (2.5 km) and beautiful in Bulgaria, consisting of a main gallery and three lateral branches (10 BGN)
But what does the Magura cave have in particular? If in Spain already this year we enjoyed the "Covalanas Cave in Ramales" in Cantabria, this formation cavity beyond 15 million years has in one of its rooms rock paintings of incalculable value (! and allow video and photos!)
Beyond traditional animals, figures of women dancing, men hunting, people in disguise, stars or plants carved in the rock, are decorated with bat droppings.
Also here, in addition to the drawings from different eras (Epipaleolithic, Neolithic, Eneolithic and the beginning of the Bronze Age), the solar calendar of the Late Neolithic, the earliest found so far in Europe.
But what excites us most is when we discover that in the Magura cave, remains of wild horses, hyenas or cave bears were found, species already extinct but that lived with our ancestors.
Could it be the most complete cave? Stalactites, stalagmites, cavernous pearls and a large underground labyrinth of all kinds of formations where the Great Stalacton stands out (20 meters high and 4 meters in diameter)
We can also see the Fallen Pine (11 meters high and 6 meters in diameter at the base), considered the largest stalactite found in Bulgaria
Obviously, but that we skip… As you enter the cave, the 35ºC of the outside pass to a better life. It is not too much to put some shelter because 2.5 km of cave give for much
The road, slippery at some point, is completely prepared for the visit, without being able to approach the paintings at any time but without restrictions to take all the shots you want and being able to observe really amazing formations.
In such an attraction could not miss the "typical" pool where to throw some coins and ask for your wishes, but this is already something else of the guide
The most claustrophobic will have no problem on this visit because except for small accesses to rooms, it is a large cavern in different rooms, going down considerably compared to the entrance at certain times
At the end of the 2.5 km walk after the guide (approx. 1 hour) it goes back up leaving very close to the beautiful Rabishka. A small "little train" awaits you to return you to the parking lot at the entrance for 2 BGN per person (whoever wants to walk back)
As a curiosity, especially for lovers of French champagne, the conditions of 12 ° C of the cave and its humidity, is used for the production of sparkling wines, which can even be tasted at the end of the tour in a small "garito", in addition to buying some memory (4 BGN). These Bulgarians do not miss any opportunity
The route by car takes us to the South
Yesterday we commented that we thought it was a great idea to start our route by car through Bulgaria in its Northwest area. However, these first days that the concentration of "wonders" is further away, we will try to make routes a little longer and try tomorrow to get up in a new area (come on, theory "New Zealand type")
If someone is interested in delving deeper into this area, although the main thing is what we have seen, they can approach Vidin (Museum of History or the Ethnographic), Montana (History Museum), Berkovitsa (Ivan Mazov and Ethnographic Museum), Chiprovtsi (Museum of the city or see its colored carpets), Vratsa (Museum of History or the Ethnographic) or theCherepish Monastery, although we are little of museums and we would only have stopped in the latter although we will see many others in our adventure
We have around 4 hours and a half and 300 km to our destination where today we will barely get to sleep, leaving the route of the day something similar to the following ...
Possibly what has surprised us the most, something we did not fall into yesterday, are the extensive fields of sunflowers that "govern" this whole part of the country to Sofia herself, although today they are determined to look elsewhere. We have also realized that the country is rich in rose oil but we believe that we can explain it better later
The food (5.5 BGN) we have done it in ... puff ... in some town whose name I can't ... this ... it is impossible to remember but among our exceptional Cyrillic and that with the language of the "monkeys" it goes everywhere we have managed to take a coffee too (2.10 BGN)
From here the panorama has been transformed into forested mountain roads of beautiful landscapes that reach Sofia (yesterday we came from the airport on the east side and today from the west).
These are the same roads that the Lonely Planet (outdated to rage) puts as impracticable or that the MAEC itself warns of unpaved. Today it seems that Bulgaria is not what it was. Highway works can be seen on all routes in this area, including ditches, conservation and re-asphalt. We do not see those sinkholes that in theory we should have found and although much remains to be improved (especially the level crossings), it is a country that lives up to many others around. They even signal drinking water in natural sources on the shoulders!
Surprised we are from this landscape of contrasts, where as soon as we pass from tourist villages or better cared for with some charm to others of huge communist type blocks of facades that fall apart. I loved today the "road stand route", since in the mountains each town offered different products next to the shoulder. The first with blackberries, the second with yogurt and honey, others of potatoes and some of all kinds of fruits and even stalls selling wine barrels ...
We can't talk about the Bulgarians even though they are treating us very well, just about that "Kamikaze" gene that invades them when they touch the steering wheel of a car. Can you drive faster on worse prepared roads?
Past Sofia we have taken a kind of Highway that goes to the Greek border, recently opened, but still incomplete what has made us leave the almost ghost town of Dupnitsa (at least its suburbs, of abandoned communist blocks). After filling our first deposit (although we had enough but so we provision for tomorrow -the summary of expenses of the car at the end-) we have taken another mountain road to Rila
Of the options we have considered, the accommodation chosen in Rila is the Hotel Neven, a simple family house that gives very simple rooms (so much that they barely have furniture) already almost attached to the monastery
What they do give is a excellent dinner and on top the cook speaks Spanish. What do you think about our dinner? (We have paid for it next to the accommodation and some mid-afternoon drinks in EUR while we do not change until Monday, around 13 EUR)
Today's route has been long but incredible, as Paula said of a dozen contrasts as we advanced and with two jewels to keep ... But we are already in Rila! where hundreds of tourists have had to parade through this place today, among other pilgrims and religious, but now there is only peace and tranquility in its surroundings where night has already fallen. Tomorrow we will get up early to see her before anyone else ... Good evening everyone!
Isaac and Paula from Rila (Bulgaria)
EXPENSES OF THE DAY: 36.50 BGN (approx. 19.62 EUR) and 13 EUR and GIFTS: 4 BGN (approx. 2.15 EUR)