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Vratsa-Bulgaria's Colorado

Imagine tall snow capped mountain peaks, lush green forests that fill the air with the scent of pine and the tinkle of the river as it calmly weaves its way through the town centre, this is not Colorado, USA, this is Vratsa, one of the most scenic cities in Bulgaria.

The town and area surrounding it is rich in natural features and historic sites, which combined with the recreation and entertainment potential gives this part of Northwestern Bulgaria a special magic.

The Vrachanski Balkan National Park

The Vrachanski Balkan National Park is the key attraction in this area and there is much to see and do here. It encompasses a large part of the Vrachanska Planina, which contains over 500 caves and karst precipices - more than any other region in the country. Perhaps the most renowned of these caves is the awe-inspiring Ledenika. The caves impressive size is best appreciated in winter when it is ornately decorated with ice. Also within the park, the Vrachanski Skali or Vratsa Rocks is popular with hikers and rock climbers alike, with many international climbing competitions being held on the daunting, 400 m vertical wall. Close to the wall the famous Vrachansky Karst, a UNESCO heritage site and the spring that flows directly from it close to the village of Liliache the karst spring as well as the Bridges of the Gods, a stunning, natural rocky bridge and the Borovanska Mogila, an old Thracian fortress. Not to be missed whilst traversing this beautiful stretch of Bulgaria is the memorials to the revolutionary Hristo Botev, who lost his life in these mountains fighting for Bulgaria's freedom and the Skaklia,which is one of the highest waterfalls in the country.

Sports and Recreation

There are fantastic opportunities for all kinds of sporting activities and few realise that this area of Bulgaria offers skiing facilities for 3 - 5 months of the year. The ski-lift at Parshevitsa is 1100 m. in length and lies about 1300 m. above sea level. At the top of the lift there is a quaint rural holiday hut, which has a bed capacity for 40 people. The hut can also be accessed by road by taking the Ledenika cave road. This mountainous, forested area is also perfect for hunting, hiking, fishing, skiing, caving, cycling and horse riding. Thrill seekers will be able to hang and paraglide here or if you prefer to keep your feet on the ground, you can try your hand at go - carting or motocross. The site is also perfect for camping during summer.

There are numerous facilities for relaxation and entertainment including swimming pools and water cycles as well as some fantastic hotels, bars and restaurants.

Thracian Treasure

Within the town, the Museum of History on Hristo Botev Square has a variety of exhibits from Thracian times through to the Middle Ages. The museum also houses the world famous Rogozen Thracian Treasure, one of the greatest archaeological discoveries in Europe to date, which includes everything from gold masks to ornate pottery. Another ancient Thracian legacy discovered in the centre of the town and can be seen now in the museum; the Mogilanskata Mogila was a burial tomb, which contained a chariot and the skeletons of two horses and that of a man who was also killed during the burial ceremony. Each of the horses' mouths contained silver reins and over 200 pieces of silver jewellery were laid around the bodies of the horses. Many other skeletons were found here as well as a host of other incredible relics.

Other Must Sees

Another interesting museum is the Ethnographic and Revival Complex, which exhibits items from Vratsa life through the ages. Some of its best exhibits include items relating to marriage customs of the time and its inspiring collection of folk costumes. Next to the Ethnographic Centre is the Revival Complex, a group of wooden National Revival house grouped around the Vanesenska Church. Some are open to the public and one houses the work of local jewellers whilst another features details about the towns once thriving silk industry. One of the most notable sites in the town is the 16th century Meschii Tower, a 13 m high stone clock tower located off the main square.



Beyond the Town

It is well worth taking time out to visit the small town of Mezdra, which lies 15 km away on the Iskar River's left bank close to the panoramic Iskar Gorge. Many relics from the Neolith and the Copper age have been found in this area and the ruins of the ancient Roman fortress, the Kaleto can still be seen on the edge on the rocks and opposite the Iskar River. Within the town there is an Art Gallery, housing a precious collection of sculptures and the beer factory, which produces Ledenika beer.

There are also a number of monasteries in the area, which are well worth a visit and it is possible to take your tent and camp overnight in this region; the Cherepishki, Stroupetski, and Sedemte Prestola Monasteries close to the quaint villages of Pavlotche and Zgorigrad renowned for their hospitality, tasty traditional fare and local wines. Possibly the best to visit is the Assumption Monastery in Cherepishiki lies at the base of the mountains on the Iskar River. It is 29 km away from Vratsa and was one of the strongholds of Bulgarian spirit and nationalism during Ottoman rule; St. Sofroniy Vrachanski sought asylum here during this era and stayed hidden for several years running the resistance army from the chapel. The cloister contains century's worth of Bulgarian church literature and there are many tales of hidden gold buried in the monastery's grounds.

Pictures courtesy of Peter Petrov