Find your ideal cycling holiday
Bulgaria - Rodopi & Pirin Mountains (4 weeks)
22nd June 2019 - 20th July 2019 (29 days)
Discover this fascinating, little explored and beautiful country at the crossroads of East and West. Spend four weeks cycling through two contrasting mountain ranges, the Rodopi and Pirin. The Rodopies are magical, unspoilt mountains and the legendary birthplace of Orpheus, a complex range of soaring rounded verdantly forested mountains with deep steep sided valleys. After three weeks the landscape opens out, the mountains are higher with rocky peaks and wider valleys, the forest cover diminishes and the landscape is more arid. Even the local culture is different in this 'Macedonian' part of Bulgaria. Cycle on quiet roads through sleepy villages with a rural way of life that has changed little in centuries. Mountain springs provide refreshing cool water while cycling; the excellent food and good quality hotels, many with swimming pools, help relaxation in the evening. This is an all inclusive, moving-on tour with rest days, luggage transfer and vehicle support.
- Holiday Type Guided
- Tour Manager Steve Millard
- Grade Moderate
- Booking Status Places Available
- Accommodation Hotel
- Board Basis Half Board
- Travel Arrangements Land Only
- Road / Off Road Road
- Holiday Style Moving-on
- Vehicle Support Full Vehicle Support
- Holiday Ref 03341
Saturday 22nd June
Meet at Sofia Airport for coach transfer to hotel in Momchilgrad, departing at approx. 1400. Journey time about 4 hours. Evening meal in hotel. Stay 2 nights.
Sunday 23rd June
Day ride including visit to Thracian Shrine of Tatul, lunch in a village restaurant.
Monday 24th June
Cycle to Zlatograd. After a gentle morning ride stop for lunch at a nice picnic spot. In the afternoon climb up to a ridge with views on both sides. Steep and exciting descent followed by winding through a river valley. 56km (1,000m total ascent). Stay 3 nights.
Tuesday 25th June
Day ride to the isolated village of Marzyan at the head of a valley. 42km (500m total ascent).
Wednesday 26th June
Rest day in Zlatograd. Options include a ride to nearby Greece, visit the museum and watermill, explore Zlatograd or use the hotel swimming pools and spa centre.
Thursday 27th June
Cycle to Smilyan. Climb over a mountain pass (1,080m) to the lunch stop, then follow river valleys to the hotel. 57km (1,050m total ascent). Stay 2 nights.
Friday 28th June
Cycle up the Arda river and visit an Ottoman estate on the way, lunch in Arda. Visit caves in the afternoon or free time.
Saturday 29th June
Cycle to Ezerovo. Cross a mountain pass to Smolyan, the longest town in Bulgaria. Visit the history museum and art gallery and have lunch in a nice restaurant. Steep climb up to the highest hotel of the tour at 1350m. 28km (1,000m total ascent). Stay 2 nights.
Sunday 30th June
Take a chairlift up to Snezhanka Peak at 1,928m. Lunch is up a TV tower on top of the mountain, enjoy the views. After lunch cycle to Smolyan, walk to some waterfalls or have a look around town. Cycle or get a lift back up to the hotel.
Monday 1st July
Cycle to Devin via the highest mountain in the Rodopies (2,191m). Ride uphill to lunch in a mountain hut at about 2,000m. Option to ride from the mountain hut to the top of the mountain on a stony track, 8km and 200m extra ascent. Freewheel 40km (1,500m descent) downhill to the hotel. Stop off at the beautiful and well preserved old village of Shiroka Luka on the way. 52km (800m total ascent). Stay 3 nights.
Tuesday 2nd July
Day ride through a beautiful narrow gorge to the village of Yagodina for lunch. Optional walk up to a spectacular viewing platform overhanging the gorge.
Wednesday 3rd July
Rest day. Options include bathe in some thermal baths, a walk along a river gorge, a cycle ride to some caves or have a look around Devin. The hotel has indoor and outdoor swimming pools, sauna and steam bath.
Thursday 4th July
Cycle to Batak. The beautiful ascent offers great views and the descent is enormous fun. The middle section of the ride crosses a high hilly plateau with pine forest, reaching a maximum height of 1,800m. 51km (1,275m total ascent). Stay 1 night.
Friday 5th July
Cycle to Peshtera on the northern flank of the Rhodope Mountains. The town is famous for its wine and rakia production. The hotel has an outdoor swimming pool and spa facilities. 34km (400m total ascent). Stay 3 nights.
Saturday 6th July
Sunday 7th July
Day ride. Climb up a mountain road to see some spectacular views over the Vacha reservoir and valley. Lunch in a village restaurant and descend back down to the hotel.
Monday 8th July
Cycle to a Hotel Complex by the Vacha Reservoir. After leaving the southern edge of the Thracian Plain cycle up the Vacha river valley into the Rodopi Mountains. Optional walk from the hotel, or enjoy the pool. 37km (350m total ascent). Stay 1 night.
Tuesday 9th July
Continue up the spectacular Vacha valley to Kompleks Ribarska Hizha. 46km (700m total ascent). Stay 2 nights.
Wednesday 10th July
Cycle up a beautiful narrow gorge and visit the ‘Devil’s Throat’ cave.
Thursday 11th July
Cycle to Dospat (1,250m). Once there take a short walk for views over the Dospat reservoir with the Rila Mountains in the distant background. 40km (950m total ascent). Stay 1 night.
Friday 12th July
Cycle to Ognyanovo. On the way enjoy a dramatic change in scenery and landscape and 1,500m of descent. See the Falakro Oros mountains (Greece) and the Pirin Mountains. 62km (800m total ascent). Stay 3 nights.
Saturday 13th July
Free day. Options include a visit to a monastery, Roman Ruins, cycle to a village near the Greek border or enjoy the hotel facilities.
Sunday 14th July
Day ride to the well preserved historical village of Kovachevitsa for lunch.
Monday 15th July
Cycle to Dobriynishte at the foot of the Pirin Mountains via a spectacular mountain road. 50km (1,350m total ascent). Stay 2 nights.
Tuesday 16th July
Free day. Options include a cycle ride and chairlift to the Bezbog Mountain Hut (2,240m), visit the town or relax in the mineral baths.
Wednesday 17th July
Cycle to the mountain village of Delchevo. 71km (1,350m total ascent). Stay 1 night.
Thursday 18th July
Cross the Pirin Mountains via a mountain pass to the historic town of Melnik, Bulgaria’s smallest 'town' with a population under 400. 69km (1,290m total ascent). Stay 2 nights.
Friday 19th July
Walk amongst the 'Melnik Pyramids’, strikingly beautiful sandstone rock formations which characterise the region.
Saturday 20th July
After breakfast, transfer to Sofia Airport, arriving about 1030.
Accommodation & Meals
This is in good quality hotels with ensuite rooms. Most hotels have swimming pools or other spa facilities. Rooms are shared twin / doubles as appropriate or, for a supplement, single occupancy is normally available. Breakfast and evening meals 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. It 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 £2,500 is based on a minimum number of 5 people taking part in the holiday and is calculated at a rate of BGN2.22 to £1 sterling (Based on exchange rates published on www.oanda.com on 16 October 2018; please note Booking Conditions, clause 3). If there are insufficient bookings by 13th April 2019, 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.
- Transfers between Sofia airport and hotels as specified in the itinerary
- 28 nights hotel, sharing room, half-board
- 2 drinks with evening meals
- 22 lunches
- Snacks and emergency rations
- Entry fees at Tatul, Smolyan museums, Uhlovitsa Cave, Devil's Throat Cave, TV Tower
- Ride on Ezerovo Chair Lift
- Luggage transfer and 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
- Travel Insurance
- Single occupancy supplement (£300, subject to availability)
A deposit of £250 per person is payable upon booking, with the final balance of £2,250 per person to be paid ten weeks prior to departure, by 13th April 2019.
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 13th April 2019
From 13th April 2019 through to departure
The Area Covered By The Holiday
The Rodopi Mountains lie in the south of Bulgaria and straddle the Greek border. To the west of the Rodopi Mountains lies the valley of the Mesta River, the ancient boundary between Macedonia in the west and Thrace to the east. To the west of the Mesta Valley lie the Pirin Mountains, the second highest mountain range in Bulgaria (2,914m).
The Rodopies are a complicated mountain range comprising myriad rounded peaks, high plains, deep steep sided valleys and rocky outcrops. Despite the forest cover fantastic views can be had from the roads. See grand vistas of mountains rolling into the distance, beautiful river valleys and gorges, villages dotting the hillsides with a patchwork of fields and forest.
In contrast the Pirin Mountains rise above the forest line to reveal rocky peaks. They are dotted with more than a hundred glacial lakes and are home to Europe’s southernmost glaciers. The range is organised around a main ridge about 80km from north-west to south-east. Because of its elevation there are few roads in the Pirin and only one tarmac pass over it.
The route passes within 6km of the Greek border to the south through what used to be the Border Zone of the ‘Iron Curtain’. Under the Communist government this was an area between about 15 and 40km wide along the border where special permission was required to enter and where development was severely restricted; however pre-existing settlements were permitted to continue. Partly for this reason the region has some of the richest wildlife in Europe. The Pirin National Park covers a large part of the upland area above 950m, and it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site of Outstanding Universal Value.
The region has seen many civilisations come and go during its complex history starting with ancient Thracians and Macedonians. Byzantine and Bulgarian Empires gave way in the middle ages to 500 years of Ottoman rule. Liberation was then followed after half a century by communism, which lasted until 1989. Since then there has been a sometimes painful and difficult transition from communism to democracy. All of these civilisations have left their marks on the region as we'll see. However for many people in the villages life goes on much as it always has. The warm summer months are used to prepare for the cold, snowy winter. Food is grown and gathered, animals are raised and the harvest is preserved and bottled. Human muscle power is supplemented by animals, which are used in the fields and for transporting produce and firewood. The bountiful fruit harvest leaves plenty left over for home-made wine and rakia to enjoy during the long cold winter evenings.
The group will stay in a variety of towns and villages that provide the opportunity to explore. Tourism in the region is generally low key and consists mostly of local Bulgarians with few foreigners. The region has a low population density and the traffic is either light or very light; some of the time it’s four legged! Only in the larger towns is there much in the way of motor traffic. It’s a good time to visit before that all changes.
Photographs taken from the route can be viewed here and here.
Rides & Rest Days
This tour is suitable for experienced touring cyclists. Only about half of the days involve moving on to another hotel. Most of these rides involve significant climbs, although the distances are modest. There is very little flat riding, and some of the climbs are prolonged, however they are well graded and easily manageable with a suitably low gear. On most of the other days there are optional rides from the hotels. These days also give the opportunity to independently explore the local towns or to have a complete rest and use the hotel facilities.
Despite the mountainous 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 the group won’t ride together, so that everyone can go at their own pace, particularly on the climbs, though regrouping 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 ensuite and most have air conditioning and free wi-fi. Most hotels have additional facilities such as swimming pools or spa facilities. 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. Evening meals will be in the hotel restaurants. Snacks for emergency rations are available on a help yourself basis.
For food expect an amazing variety of Bulgarian and Rodopian 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.
This is a land-only tour, so you must make your own way to Sofia Airport for the coach transfer to the hotel, 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 set times. 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 before the coach transfer departs - if your flight is delayed the coach may have to depart without you. Flights to Sofia are also available from several regional airports but their arrival times may not be appropriate for the coach transfer.
Should you fail to rendezvous at the agreed time and place, we will not be responsible for any additional expenses you incur in joining the tour. 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 know the tour is going ahead.
The maximum number of participants will be 12 excluding the Tour Manager(s). However the overall maximum number of participants will be 24 because this includes those booking a two week tour.
Weather & Clothing
At this time of year the weather should be sunny and warm or hot, with cool early mornings and temperatures dropping at night in the mountains as the sun goes down. 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 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 the same size or 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 with a tread suitable for varied road surfaces. 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. You are advised to do some riding before the tour with a similar load to that which you will be carrying during the tour to get a feel for how your bike will handle.
Maps & Guides
OFRM Geotrade electronic maps have been used to plan the route, which can be used on Garmin GPS devices. Other electronic maps, such as Google Maps and OpenStreetMap (OSM), also show the route. A free map of Bulgaria can be downloaded to smartphones using OpenStreetMap. GPS tracks that can be uploaded to a suitable device will be made available before the trip. Maps are only necessary if you wish to cycle independently of the group, in which case a GPS or suitable Smartphone is recommended.
Standard Guidebooks on Bulgaria generally cover the region of the tour, though may have little detail on the places along the route.
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.