The Pirin and Beyond
The Pirin Mountain region offers some amazing scenery coupled with a rich heritage and plenty to do all year round.
During winter the mountain slopes are covered with powder snow and a carpet of wild flowers in spring. During summer the mountains are the perfect place to catch a round of golf or to seek out some of the ancient sites like the wonderful medieval fortress in the village of Drenkovo, which is the largest spiritual and cultural temple in Bulgaria, or St Katherine's Monastery, which was established in the 10th century by St. Ivan Rilski. During autumn the region is covered with a riot of colours as the leaves change from green to red, yellow, brown and gold. This is the perfect time for hiking and taking a tip to one of the regions vineyards.
The ski resort of Bansko offers much more than just skiing, with art galleries, good restaurants, museums and a picturesque narrow gauge railway from Septemvri to Dobrinishte. Bansko is also a museum town and has managed to preserve the old, traditional look of some of its districts despite the various new building projects. The town features various museum-houses, permanent exhibitions and churches. The town has many traditional restaurants, some of which play live music.
The Earthen Pyramids
The village of Stob, 16 km north from Blagoevgrad is also well worth visiting. This village is home to some outstandingly striking earthen pyramids, which are finished in thick red rock. Each pyramid conjures up a different image and is named accordingly; look out for the Nymphs' Chimneys, the Dolls, the Pinnacles, the Rocky Peaks, The Brothers and the In-laws. Stob is a great stopping off point on the way to Bulgaria's most renowned cultural site, the Rila Monastery. This famous Eastern Orthodox monastery is accessible by bus, which runs from the city and only takes 30 minutes. Founded in the 10th century, it contains some of the world's most impressive architecture and wall paintings and is surrounded by beautiful mountain scenery.
rooftop view of melnik bulgaria.
Nestled between some amazing natural sand pyramids, which resemble giant mushrooms and ancient structures is the old wine town and architectural reserve of Melnik. The town is home to the Rozhen Monastery, the largest in the Pirin Mountains. Winston Churchill was reputed to have counted Melnik wine as one of his favourites and there are plenty of opportunities to visit local wineries and enjoy a glass or two.
Sandanski, birthplace of legendary Thracian warrior Spartacus, is a great place to relax with its multitude of thermal mineral springs. The local water here is so good that it is bottled and sold under the brand name Prepodobna Stoyna.
Exploring Pirin's National Park
Nature lovers will appreciate a visit to the Pirin National Park, noted for its rich flora and fauna is a great place to picnic and observe the indigenous wolf and brown bear or a walk in the dramatic Kresna Gorge, a 13 km, narrow ravine, rich in rare animals and plants located along the Struma River between Simitli and Kresna. Closer to Blagoevgrad is the Parangalista, a nature reserve with over 280 species of plants. There are some great hiking paths here and plenty of opportunities to observe the local wildlife.