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Bulgaria - Eastern Balkan Mountains
27th June 2020 - 11th July 2020 (15 days)
This tour follows quiet roads through beautiful countryside. Signs of the rich history and culture are everywhere: in the monuments, hilltop fortresses, orthodox churches, towns and friendly people along the route. The region is particularly rich in ancient historical sites with, for example, the oldest gold treasure in the world, the largest Roman baths in Europe outside Rome, and it lays claim to hosting the oldest town in Europe. There are also two capital cities from the First Bulgarian Empire and a UNESCO World Heritage listed rock engraving.
The lower foothills host a mixture of agricultural and woodland, the higher mountains boast unspoilt landscapes and host an extraordinary biodiversity; as well as a varied plant life, you might see deer, tortoise and wild boar as well as birds of prey soaring above. Mountain springs provide refreshing cool water while cycling, and the excellent food and good quality hotels help make the evenings relaxing and sociable. Fully supported tour.
- Holiday Type Guided
- Tour Manager Steve Millard
- Grade Moderate
- Booking Status Fully Booked
- Accommodation Hotel
- Board Basis Most Meals
- Travel Arrangements Land Only
- Road / Off Road Road
- Holiday Style Moving-on
- Vehicle Support Full Vehicle Support
- Holiday Ref 03280
Saturday 27th June
Meet at Sofia airport and assemble the bikes. We'll ride from the airport to our hotel in the city centre. On the way we'll see a fascinating cross section of the city going via residential, commercial and administrative districts, an urban forest, several parks, the national stadium, the Soviet Army Memorial, one of the largest Orthodox cathedrals and one of the oldest churches in Christendom. On the way we'll use mostly quiet roads and cycling facilities. At 600m Sofia is second highest capital in Europe after Madrid, and it is also by far the largest city in Bulgaria. 12km. Stay 1 night. Meals: D
Sunday 28th June
It's a short distance from the hotel to the station where we'll take the train to Varna on the Black Sea Coast. The train first crosses the Balkan Mountains from south to north along the beautiful Iskar Valley and then runs to the north of the mountains all the way to the coast, crossing most of Bulgaria west to east. We'll customise the train for our requirements, with a wagon for the bikes and a buffet car so we can eat and drink on the train to make it a relaxing, sociable and scenic start to the holiday. The hotel in Varna is close to the railway station and the beach. Stay 2 nights. Meals: B L D
Monday 29th June
Explore fascinating Varna. Options include the beach, massive seafront park (see the Alley of Cosmonauts), the local archaelogical museum with artefacts from Thracian, Ancient Greek, Roman, two Bulgarian and Byzantine empires; the museum hosts the oldest gold treasure in the world found locally. The cathedral with shining domes is modelled on one in St Petersburg, or see communist memorabilia in the Retro museum and the largest Roman Baths in Europe outside Rome. Meals: B D
Tuesday 30th June
We'll cycle away from the coast using Varna's new network of cycle paths. After passing the final socialist suburbs we exit the city on a dirt road and quickly leave the hustle and bustle behind, replaced by a gentle rural landscape with quiet roads and sleepy villages, interspersed with some industrial complexes. On our way we'll visit Pobiti Kameni, or “Stone Desert”, which features natural cylindrical stone columns up to 7m tall and 3m wide giving it the look of a petrified forest. It's one of only two natural deserts in Europe complete with cactii and desert reptiles -- hard to believe considering the vegetation and forests nearby! 58km (700m total ascent). Stay 1 night. Meals B L D
Wednesday 1st July
Cycle to Provadia through gentle hills rising to around 300m in height. After lunch we'll explore a 2nd century Thracian ruined hilltop Fortress on breathtaking clifftop plateau. Nearby is the archaelogical site claimed as the oldest town in Europe; it thrived supplying salt throughout the Balkans 1500 years before Greek civilisation. Today an 'inexhaustible' salt dome 3900m high is mined, first exploited 7500 years ago. 34km (450m total ascent). Stay 1 night. Meals B L D
Thursday 2nd July
Today we cycle to Shumen, the 10th largest city in Bulgaria (pop. 100,000). We'll skirt along the northern limits of the mountains, through mixed vegetation and pretty hills that rise to about 400m. Part of the route follows the same railway line we used on Sunday. On the way we'll visit the 'Madara Rider' which is on the UNESCO World Heritage List. This is a near life size image of a horse and rider carved in a rock face 23m above the ground. Dating from the 8thcentury, it's the only one of its kind in Europe. 73km (650m total ascent). Stay 1 night. Meals: B L D
Friday 3rd July
In the morning climb up steps from town to a huge Communist memorial -- just the granite Lion on top of the memorial weighs 1000 tonnes. It's one of very few memorials from that era which are still maintained, and it's reputed to be the only memorial to depict a country's entire history. At 200m above the town it can be seen from 30km away. After lunch we'll cycle to Veliki Preslav, once the capital of the first Bulgarian Empire; the ruins of the ancient city can still be visited. 30km (400m total ascent). Stay 1 night. Meals B L D
Saturday 4th July
Today we head right into the heart of the Eastern Balkan Mountains. First our route takes us through villages and mixed agricultural land before entering a massive forest. We cross the backbone of the Balkan Mountains from north to south. Enjoy riding over a traffic-free mountain pass at 880m -- it's closed to motor vehicles! We'll stay in a small riverside village with traditional buildings made from wood and stone. 84km (1450m total ascent). Stay 2 nights. Meals B L D
Sunday 5th July
Today we'll have an easier day ride to visit a couple of historical villages including Zheravna, which has more than 200 wooden houses from the Bulgarian National Revival period registered as national monuments of culture. We can also take a short walk to a waterfall. 35km (500m total ascent). Meals B L D
Monday 6th July
Today after riding uphill for 35km we again reach the backbone of the Balkan Mountains at 1100m. Instead of crossing the ridge, we head south to the town of Sliven, nestled on the southern flank of the mountain, giving us 38km of downhill riding interrupted only by a 200m climb. Sliven lies in a picturesque location at the northern edge of the Thracian Plain nestled against the mountains, with the Blue Rocks National Park and highest peak in the Eastern Balkan Mountains towering above the town. It's the 8th largest city in Bulgaria (pop 125,000). 74km (900m total ascent). Stay 3 nights. Meals: B L D
Tuesday 7th July
Rest/sightseeing day to explore Sliven and/or the mountains. Sliven has parks, pedestrian areas, shops, cafes restaurants, monuments, museums and art galleries to explore. It is famous for its fresh air and mineral springs and for the Haidut heroes who fought the Ottomans. There is a huge Elm tree older than 1000 years in the centre where some of the Haiduts were hung by the Ottomans; it was voted European Tree of the Year in 2014. Other options include taking a chairlift up into the heart of the Blue Rocks national park, or there are cycle routes in the mountains. Meals: B
Wednesday 8th July
A circular route from Sliven takes us into the mountains and the Blue Rocks National Park. We'll get some beautiful views back over the Thracian Plain. Alternatively take the chairlift and meet us for lunch -- the chairlift even takes bikes! 56km (1150m total ascent). Meals B L D.
Thursday 9th July
Today we cross back over the central ridge of the Balkan Mountains via a 1200m high pass, the highest on this tour. Once we leave Sliven behind and start heading into the mountains, we'll again be enjoying very quiet roads through an unspoilt natural mountain landscape with very few small settlements. For 40km over the pass there are no settlements at all, just occasional isolated buildings. Despite the forest we'll still get some great mountain views from the road. After a relatively flat 20km we'll have about 30km of climbing followed by 35km downhill. We stay in Elena, a small historical town in the eponymous river valley. 85km (1300m total ascent). Stay 2 nights. Meals B L D
Friday 10th July
We'll take a beautiful hilly morning ride today via a dozen small mountain villages. In the afternoon there will be time to explore the town and pack your bikes. 32km (600m total ascent). Meals B D
Saturday 11th July
Transfer to Sofia Airport where the tour ends.
Meals: B = Breakfast L = Lunch D = Dinner
Accommodation & Meals
This is in good quality hotels with en-suite rooms. Rooms are shared twin / doubles as appropriate or, for a supplement, single occupancy is normally available. Breakfast and dinner are provided at the hotel. Lunches are provided on cycling days and are mostly in restaurants, occasionally a roadside picnic. Snacks and emergency rations are available on a help-yourself basis. The food is excellent comprising a wide variety and choice of dishes from the local cuisine prepared using fresh local produce. Vegetarians are well catered for.
There is a support vehicle for luggage, which has limited space for riders if they are unable to cycle on a particular day. The very friendly and helpful driver is also on call to assist with any difficulties during the tour.
Passports, Visa & Health
EU citizens must hold a passport that is still valid on the date of their return to their home country. Holders of non-EU passports are advised to check whether they require a visa. There are no compulsory health related requirements for UK residents, but you are strongly advised to check that your tetanus protection has not expired. You must also carry your European Health Insurance Card.
Our Booking Conditions stipulate that, for holidays outside the UK, travel Insurance is mandatory. Details of the level of cover needed and other conditions you should check are stated in the Booking Conditions. CTC Cycling Holidays & Tours Ltd cannot accept responsibility for any costs that may be incurred due to insufficient insurance cover.
The price of £1,400 is based on a minimum number of 10 people taking part in the holiday; please note Booking Conditions, clause 3. If there are insufficient bookings by 18th April 2020, we will contact you and return all monies paid, although in certain circumstances the holiday may still run at below minimum numbers but at the same price.
- 14 nights hotel, sharing room
- 14 breakfasts, 10 lunches, 13 dinners
- Water plus 2 beverages per day with lunch or dinner
- Snacks and emergency rations
- Entry fees at Pobiti Kameni Stone Desert
- Train from Sofia to Varna including lunch
- Transfer from the final hotel to Sofia airport at the end of the tour
- Luggage transfer and limited vehicle support for riders and bikes
- CTC Cycling Holidays & Tours costs
Price Does Not Include
- Travel to and from Bulgaria
- Entry fees at attractions not described above
- Any other personal expenses
- Gratuity for support driver
- Travel Insurance
- Single occupancy supplement (£170, subject to availability)
A deposit of £240 per person is payable upon booking, with the final balance of £1,160 per person to be paid ten weeks prior to departure, by 18th April 2020.
Should you be forced to cancel your booking for any reason you must notify us in writing. Cancellation charges are as follows:
Written notice received:
Before 18th April 2020
From 18th April 2020 through to departure
The Area Covered By The Holiday
The Balkan Mountains stretch right across the middle of Bulgaria from the Black Sea coast in the east to the Serbian border in the west and give their name to the wider region, the Balkans. We’ll be cycling in the eastern and lowest part of the range where there are plenty of passes over the mountains and no shortage of quiet mountain roads; we'll be using a completely traffic free pass which is closed to motor vehicles. The highest pass we'll use rises to 1200m.
The region has a fascinating history going right back into prehistory with the first migration of humans to Europe 1.5 million years ago. It's especially rich in ancient archaeological sites: there's the oldest gold treasure in the world, the oldest town in Europe and the largest Roman baths in Europe outside Rome. Two previous capitals from the First Bulgarian Empire lie in ruins, and there's a well preserved rock carving that's unique in Europe and on the UNESCO World Heritage list, many impressive Bulgarian Orthodox churches and cathedrals in addition to mosques and two ruined clifftop fortresses from the 2nd century on our route. We'll see architecture from the Bulgarian revival period, a time under Ottoman rule when Bulgarians rediscovered their culture and resisted their rulers. During this period large Bulgarian populations lived in mountain areas to escape Ottoman interference in their daily lives. The more recent communist period is shown in the large number of monuments and public art, architecture, infrastructure and town planning. We'll see for example one of the largest communist memorials still in existence.
The tour offers great contrasts from the bustling capital city and largest Bulgarian Black Sea city to unspoilt mountain landscapes and villages. We'll even visit one of only two deserts in Europe, complete with cactii and reptiles, remarkable when the rest of the route passes through such verdant landscapes! We'll stay in interesting locations offering the opportunity to explore; away from the coast tourism is very low key, and we'll have the higher parts of the mountains to ourselves.
Photographs taken from the route can be viewed here.
Rides & Rest Days
This is a tour classified as suitable for experienced touring cyclists. The first four days of riding are in gently hilly countryside with individual climbs up to about 250m. After that we'll build up to some longer days with more climbing; overall there are four individual climbs between 700m and 1000m of ascent, and the longest day has 1450m total ascent. The tour is paced so these climbs can be done at a relaxed pace with a low gear while enjoying the scenery. The longer days are followed by easier day rides while staying more than one night in a hotel to give the opportunity to recover. There are five days when we stay put; on three of these days there is an optional ride organised, or alternatively you can independently explore the places where we’re staying. Despite the hilly terrain most of the tour is designed around a leisurely pace leaving plenty of time en-route for taking in the views, seeing interesting sights, taking photographs, enjoying the food and experiencing the culture. Most of the time we won’t ride as one group so that people can go at their own pace, particularly on the climbs, though we’ll regroup occasionally throughout the day. One of the Tour Managers will always ride at the back to help with any problems and ensure no one is ever left behind.
Accommodation & Meals
Accommodation is in good quality comfortable hotels. Rooms are en-suite and most have air conditioning and free wi-fi. Breakfast choice varies and can be continental style, pancakes, omelettes, scrambled eggs, French toast or a buffet. Lunches will mostly be taken in local restaurants. Dinners will be in the hotel restaurants. Snacks for emergency rations are available on a help yourself basis. Water plus 2 beverages per day with lunch or dinner are included; these can be soft or locally produced alcoholic drinks.
For food expect an amazing variety of Bulgarian specialities made from fresh local produce. Most meals will be served as lots of individual dishes in the centre of the table for everyone to share, allowing everyone to try out different foods and eat from those they like most. There’s plenty for everyone and vegetarians are well catered for. On tours in Bulgaria dining has always been considered a highlight.
As no travel is included it is very important to note that neither your Tour Manager nor CTC Holidays & Tours are responsible for you in any way until the appointed time at the designated meeting point. Should you fail to arrive at the appointed time for whatever reason, we will not be responsible for any additional expenses you may incur in order to meet up with the tour group. Before finalising travel arrangements to meet the tour, you should ensure that you have read and understood our booking conditions. Should this tour not attract sufficient bookings to reach the minimum operating size, we may cancel the tour at any time up to 10 weeks before departure. It is therefore recommended that you book fully flexible and refundable transport and accommodation or wait until you have been informed that the tour is going ahead, as in the event of the tour being cancelled, we will not be responsible for any losses incurred.
You must make your own way to Sofia Airport or make your way to the hotel where the tour begins. Large bicycle bags or boxes can be stored during the tour ONLY if arriving at and departing from Sofia Airport at the times set out below. If you wish to join or leave the tour at the first or last hotels, only a polythene bag such as the CTC Bike Bag can be taken on the tour in the luggage vehicle.
There are flights to Sofia from Manchester and London Heathrow. Please make sure that the flight will carry your bike. Also make sure that your flight arrives on the first day by 1330 or earlier so you can join the ride to the centre of Sofia; if your flight is delayed you might have to get a taxi to the hotel. Also, make sure the flight leaves Sofia Airport after 1230 on 11 July. Flights to Sofia are now available from several regional airports; but their arrival times might not be appropriate for the tour. Indirect connecting flights are also available, however with these there is more chance of serious delay for yourself or your luggage (bike) if you fail to make the connection. Please check with the Tour Manager before making any flight bookings if you're at all unsure.
The maximum group size will be 25 excluding the Tour Manager(s).
Weather & Clothing
At this time of year the average weather is sunny and warm or hot, upper 20s during the day and cooling off to mid teens during the night. This can vary considerably according to the weather pattern at the time, and rain or thunder storms are possible. It is recommended you take a fleece and long trousers for evenings and waterproof cycling jacket and gloves in case of rain. Sunscreen is essential, as is covering your head.
Cycles & Equipment
A reliable touring cycle, hybrid or lightweight ATB is suitable for this tour. You should ensure your cycle is well maintained, paying particular attention to wheels, tyres and brakes. A low bottom gear (e.g. small chainring smaller than the largest cog on your rear wheel) is recommended. If you are unsure about gears, please discuss with the Tour Manager. Mudguards are optional but show courtesy to those who are following you in wet weather. Lights are recommended but might not prove essential. New tyres are recommended of at least 32mm diameter and a tread for varied road surfaces; some sections of the route are in a poor condition with potholes and short sections are unpaved. Participants will be expected to carry each day sufficient spares and tools to deal with punctures and minor repairs.
You will not need to carry luggage, but a rack top pack or bar bag will be useful for carrying wet weather gear, spare clothing needed for the day, camera, snacks and your map.
Maps & Guides
OFRM Geotrade electronic maps, which can be used on Garmin GPS devices, have been used to plan the route, and GPS tracks will be made available before the trip. Additionally other electronic maps, such as Google Maps and OpenStreetMap (OSM), also show the route. A free map of Bulgaria can be downloaded to smartphones or suitable gps devices from OpenStreetMap.
Printed road maps of Bulgaria cover the route of the tour, though have little detail in the towns. Having your own map is only necessary if you wish to cycle independently of the group, and for that purpose a GPS or suitable Smartphone is recommended. Standard Guidebooks on Bulgaria generally cover the main towns in the region of the tour.
Travel Insurance & Advice
In addition to travel insurance, EU nationals should carry a European Health Insurance Card, obtainable from www.nhs.uk/NHSEngland/Healthcareabroad/EHIC/. This enables you to take advantage of emergency medical services free or at a discount under a reciprocal provision that exists between EU member states. Your travel insurer may refuse to meet the extra costs of medical treatment if you do not carry this card.
Before booking you should check the latest travel advice from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office including security and local laws, plus passport and visa information, at www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice or on 0845 850 2829.