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Southwestern Bulgaria
Bansko
The town of Bansko (9134 inhabitants; 925 m above sea level) is situated by the Glazne River (the right tributary of Mesta) at the northeastern foothills of Pirin beneath the highest and most beautiful karst part of the mountain.
Blagoevgrad
The town of Blagoevgrad (71 361 inhabitants; 430 m above sea level) is one of the largest towns in South Western Bulgaria. It is situated at the foot of the southwestern slopes of Rila Mountain, on both banks of Blagoevgradska Bistritsa River, within the river basin of the big Bulgarian River Strouma.
Doupnitsa
The town of Doupnitsa (38 323 inhabitants; 510 m above sea level) is situated at the northwestern foot of Rila, on both banks of River German, a left tributary of Strouma, which springs from the Seven Rila Lakes.
Gotse Delchev
The town of Gotse Delchev (20 546 inhabitants; 540 m above sea level) is situated in the valley of the Mesta River, along the banks of its right tributary - the Nevrokop River.
Kostenets
The municipality of Kostenets (about 17 000 inhabitants; 500-600 m above sea level) with almost all its settlements is a spa and a resort region of national importance, situated in the valley of Dolna Banya, along the upper flow of River Maritsa.
Kyustendil
The town of Kyustendil (50 243 inhabitants; 525 m above sea level) is situated in the most western parts of Bulgaria, only 27 km in the air from the three borders - Bulgarian-Macedonian, Bulgarian-Serbian and Serbian-Macedonian.
Panagyurishte
The town of Panagyurishte (21 228 inhabitants; 530 m above sea level) is situated in a small valley in Sashtinska Sredna Gora, on both banks of Luda Yana River. It is 91 km east of Sofia, 43 km north of Pazardzhik and 37 km south of Zlatitsa.
Pernik
The town of Pernik (86 133 inhabitants; 710 meters above sea level) is the largest town in Southwestern Bulgaria after Sofia. It is situated in the high Pernik Plain between Vitosha, Lyulin and Golo Burdo Mountains, along the Strouma River.
Petrich
The town of Petrich (population: 29 785) is 200 m above sea level. It is situated in the southwestern part of Bulgaria where the Bulgarian-Greek and the Bulgarian-Macedonian borders touch.
Pirdop and Zlatitsa
The two small towns of Pirdop (8548 inhabitants) and Zlatitsa (5648 inhabitants) of the sub-Balkan Range are located in the Zlatitsa-Pirdop Valley, between Stara Planina Mounatin (to the north) and Sredna Gora Mountain (to the south) at 680 m above sea level.
Razlog
The town of Razlog (13 403 inhabitants, 825 m above the sea level) is located in the Razlozhka Valley, in the hug of three mountains - Rila to the north, Pirin to the south and the Rhodopes to the east.
Samokov
The town of Samokov (27 664 inhabitants; 950 m above sea level) is situated in the northern foot of Rila Mountain in the field of the same name, which is the highest in Bulgaria.
Sandanski
The town of Sandanski (population: 26 695) is 240 m above sea level. It is situated in Southwestern Bulgaria, immediately to the west of Pirin Mountain, along the banks of the Sandanska Bistritsa River, which shortly after passing the town, flows into the Strouma River.
Velingrad
The town of Velingrad (25 509 inhabitants; about 750 meters above sea level) is our largest spa resort. It is situated amidst the wonderful natural surrounding of the Western Rhodopes, in the western part of the Chepino Valley.

Petrich (top)
Intro:
The town of Petrich (population: 29 785) is 200 m above sea level. It is situated in the southwestern part of Bulgaria where the Bulgarian-Greek and the Bulgarian-Macedonian borders touch.

Full text:
It is 13 km west of the frontier checkpoint of Koulata (at the border with Greece), 20 km east of the frontier checkpoint of Zlatarevo (at the border with Macedonia), 23 km from the town of Sandanski, 88 km from Blagoevgrad, and 189 km from the capital city Sofia It is located at the immediate northern foothill of the Belasitsa Mountain, along the banks of the Petrich River (the right tributary of the Stroumeshnitsa River flowing into the River Strouma). The Petrich Field along the Stroumeshnitsa Valley is one of the most fertile in Bulgaria. Due to the Mediterranean influence coming through the valley of the Strouma River a number of citrus fruits grow here - lemons, kiwi, figs, etc., as well as early fruits and vegetables.

History. Petrich was included in the territory of the Bulgarian State during the reign of Knyaz Boris I (852-889). In the Middle Ages it was a solid Bulgarian fortress of utmost importance for Tsar Samouil's wars (997-1014) with Byzantium. Petrich preserved its Bulgarian spirit under the Ottoman rule as well. In 16th century, the Christian population was 90%. In the second half of 19th century, the town decayed and at the threshold of 20th century, there are about 6000 inhabitants. In 1873, the first school was opened, and here in 1878 the Macedonian Bulgarians signed and sealed their appeal to the Great Powers against the resolutions of the Berlin Congress of the same year according to which the Petrich district was detached from Bulgaria. From 19th January 1892 Petrich and its district were included in Bulgarian Exarchate. The town population actively participated in the national liberation struggles of Macedonia. In 1899, a revolutionary committee of the IMRO (Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organisation) was set up. Petrich was liberated from Turkish rule in the Balkan War (1912-1913). Part of the population emigrated but refugees from Vardar and Aegean Macedonia settled here. During the World War I, the town was almost completely destroyed.

Landmarks. The Town Museum of History is situated in the centre (tel.: 0745 23092). The Holy Virgin Church, erected in 1857 and declared a cultural monument (tel.: 0745 24504) The Assumption Church, 19, 28th October Street (tel.: 0745 22444); St. Georgi Church 14, Moussala Str. (tel.: 0745 28420); St Nikola Church (tel.: 0745 27139).

Accommodation. Bulgaria Hotel - the biggest and most luxurious hotel in the town. It is situated right opposite the bus station in the central part of the town at 21, Tsar Boris III. Agatha Hotel in the Tsar Samouil National Sports Base (near the stadium). In Petrich there are a few private family hotels.

Transport. There is bus and railway transport to and from Petrich connecting it with the rest of the country. The bus station is situated in the central part of the town opposite the Bulgaria Hotel (tel.: 0745 24348, 22136). There are bus lines to Sofia, Blagoevgrad, Sandanski, Koulata, Zlatarevo and all villages in the Petrich Field. Petrich is the last railway station on the General Todorov - Petrich extension of the railway line Sofia - Koulata -Athens. The railway station is located in the northern part of the town (tel.: 0745 23357, 22842); there is a public bus line to the railway station. There are several bus lines within the town itself.

Surrounding areas. The most significant sight near Petrich is the Samouil Fortress-National Museum (18 km west of the town and 6 km north of the village of Klyuch, on the right bank of the Stroumeshnitsa River). At the beginning of 11th century, the Bulgarian Tsar Samouil built a defensive system against the Byzantine invasion in the Klyuch Saddle (between Belasitsa and Ograzhden Mountains). In the summer of 1014, the Byzantine Emperor Vasilius II and numerous armies entered the saddle. After a series of futile attacks to the Bulgarian defence, he sent part of the army to march round the Belasitsa Mountain and turn up in the rear of the Bulgarians. The defenders of the fortification were taken by surprise and 15 000 of them were taken prisoners. The infuriated Byzantine Emperor ordered all the captives to be blinded; to every 100 soldiers he left one with one eye to lead them. All this broke Tsar Samouil and on 6th October 1014 he died desperate. Ever since the Byzantine Emperor has been called Vasilius the Murderer of Bulgarians. Four years after this crucial battle Bulgaria fell under Byzantine rule for nearly two centuries. The imposing bronze statue of Samouil is a remarkable sight; he is in full height with legs bent in the knees under the burden of severe anguish. On either side of the statue, there are stone plates with embossed figures of the blinded soldiers. There is a museum exhibition offering significant historical information about the Bulgarian State. The biggest dwelling-place in the settlement is preserved under a glass dome. The whole of the Klyuch Saddle can be viewed from a 25 m high panoramic platform. Working hours: 08.00 a.m. - 05.00 p.m. One can use the regular bus lines from Petrich to Zlatarevo border checkpoint. Five kilometers northeast of Petrich one can find remains dating back to the Hellenic epoch (most probably of the ancient town of Petra) “Parts of a fortress wall, foundations of public buildings, architectural fragments. Coins dating back to 4th-3th centuries BC were discovered. The Roupite Nature Reserve is 10 km northeast of the town. There is a railway station on the General Todorov -Petrich line. One can see the hot steaming mineral springs at the bottom of the dead volcano of Kozhouh. This is an extremely beautiful and impressive place. The Bulgarian prophet Vanga lived here and helped the people in her last years. Her house and the St. Petka Church remind us of her. She herself was the initiator and donator for the construction of the church. The village of Marikostinovo is a spa resort 13 km east of Petrich. There are many hot mineral springs with water temperature of 58-62 C. The water is good for various illnesses. An ancient necropolis of 7th-10th century is situated nearby. The mountain of Belassitsa - it rises steep south above the town and in fact is its biggest natural park. The biggest area of edible chestnut trees can be found on the northern slopes. The mountain spreads in the territories of three countries - Bulgaria, Greece and Macedonia, and the crossing point of their borders is Mt. Toumba (1881 m), which can be climbed up for 6-7 hours starting at the village of Gabrene (only upon permission of the border authorities, there are no markings). Nine kilometers away from the town (there is an asphalt road), 720 m above sea level is the Belasitsa Chalet. One can walk the distance for 2 hours following a direct marked track. The chalet is a massive three-storied building with 80 beds in separate rooms. Tel.: 0745 22449 (Kalabak Tourist Association. Petrich). The chalet is the starting point of several marked tracks to Vodopada (the Waterfall) (0.30 min), Zaslona (the Shelter) (1 hour). Tourists can climb up the highest peak of the mountain, Mt. Radomir (2029 m) for about 6 hours but only upon permission of the border authorities at the piquet. There are no markings above the piquet.

Sandanski (top)
Intro:
The town of Sandanski (population: 26 695) is 240 m above sea level. It is situated in Southwestern Bulgaria, immediately to the west of Pirin Mountain, along the banks of the Sandanska Bistritsa River, which shortly after passing the town, flows into the Strouma River.

Full text:
The town is named after the great Bulgarian revolutionary Yane Sandanski who fought for the liberation of Macedonia from the Turkish rule. It is 23 km north-east of Petrich, 22 km north of Koulata (the border checkpoint with Greece), 65 km south of Blagoevgrad and 166 km north of Sofia. The area of Sandanski has the best climate in the whole of Bulgaria and if one adds up the hot mineral springs (33°-83°C) it becomes evident why the town has turned into a resort of international significance.

History. On the place of the present day town there was an old Thracian settlement that had sprung up near the hot mineral springs. The first inhabitants were the tribe called medi. With the arrival of the Romans, the small settlement was extended and improved. The curative springs were impounded and a big public bath (asklepion) was built. Most probably, the settlement grew into a town during the reign of Emperor Pius (138-161) and was surrounded by fortification walls made of pebble stones from the local river. The town reached cultural and economic boom during the time of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian II (527-565). After 6th century, the town was destroyed. The Slavonic tribe called strimontsi (stroumentsi) settled here; they named the settlement Sveti Vrach, meaning Saint Healer. According to the legend, this name is connected with two folk healers - the brothers Kozma and Damyan. The settlement was included in the territory of the Bulgarian Kingdom during the reign of Khan Pressian (836-852). During the Ottoman domination, Sveti Vrach fell into decay and turned into a small village. In the year of its liberation -1912 (the Balkan War) its population was no more than 500 inhabitants (the nearby town of Melnik had a population of 12 000 inhabitants at the time). Many refugees from the Aegean region settled in the area in 1913-1925. Nowadays the town is one of the most significant centers in Europe for treatment of diseases of the upper respiratory track and the lungs.

Landmarks. On entering the town along the road where the main Sofia-Koulata-Athens road forks the visitor faces the architectural and sculptural complex (a monument) among which the white seven-meter high stone statue of the ancient hero Spartacus rises. In the centre of the town is the Museum of Archaeology (2, Macedonia Street, tel.: 0746 3118, 3188, 2287, 2540) exhibiting remains of the Episcopal Basilica and treasuring material evidence of more than 27 centuries. Particular attention should be paid to the St. Georgi Church from 1861 - it is the only building preserved from the Revival Period (10, St. St. Cyiril and Methodius Street, tel.: 0746 2428). The Town Art Gallery, 51, Macedonia Street, tel.: 0746 5165), Likin Art Gallery, 3, Melnik Street, tel.: 0746 2231.

Accommodation. Sandanski offers great accommodation opportunities. The biggest and most prestigious is the 4-star Sandanski Interhotel situated at the entrance of the Sveti Vrach Park. Here are 2-star hotels: Andoni, Bacheto, Kartalovets, Mramor, Sveti Vrach, in the town centre, Yug, Spartak (2, Macedonia Street), Garant. The Sports Resort Complex (Base 1 and Base 2) near the Sveti Vrach Park offers excellent opportunities. There are several motels, rest homes with accommodation facilities and a camping site called Chetvurti Kilometre (4th kilometer) on the road to the village of Lilyanovo, and Popina Luka Holiday Resort. There are more than 30 private lodgings in Sandanski.

Tourist information. One can obtain information at Sandanski Tourist Information Bureau at 1, Bulgaria Square (Otets Paisii Communal Cultural Centre), tel.: 0746 22549, fax: 0746 2403, e-mail: bicc@omega.bg and at the Council on Tourism (2800 Sandanski, 4, General Todorov Str).

Transport. Sandanski is an important point on the international road and railway lines Sofia-Koulata-Athens and this in itself determines the type of the transport links. There is bus transport to and from the town, which forms a branched net in the adjacent towns and villages. The bus station is located in the centre of the town on the right bank of the Sandanska Bistritsa River (17, Peroun Street, tel.-0746 2130, 2134, 2137, 2140). There is railway transport connecting Sandanski to the big towns of Blagoevgrad, Doupnitsa, Pernik and the capital city Sofia as well as to the rest of the railway system of the country. The railway station is 4 km west of the town and there is a regular bus line in this direction (tel.: 0746 2213, 2235, and 2413). In the town, there are several regular bus lines. Parks. The town of Sandanski, as well as Bulgaria, as a whole is proud of the unique Town Park called since 1891 with the old name of the town - Sveti Vrach. Its territory is 344 decares. More than 100 tree species and more than 150 flower species grow here. One can see here old hollow plane trees, slender cedars and sequoias, evergreen tui, branchy willows, pine-trees, pomegranates, fig trees, wild geranium, garden geranium, all sorts of roses, etc. The small stone slopes resemble the Alpine outlook of the white marble massif of Pirin Mountain rising to the east. Suspension bridges hang over the foamy and rapid Sandanska Bistritsa River. A number of alleys, wooden alcoves, playgrounds for children and other specific corners offer unique conditions for rest and entertainment. The verdure of the park surrounds the town stadium, the open-air theatre, the open-air swimming pool, an artificial lake with a bar, a lot of boats and water wheels, an original restaurant with separate niches in the shape of casks, etc. At the very gate of the park, a unique ferroconcrete map of Northern Pirin was made and installed by Nikola Mironski, a well-known Bulgarian mountaineer. The Town Park has naturally merged in the bigger forest-park that surrounds the town as in a horseshoe, which people call the green necklace of Sandanski.

Surrounding areas. 24 km southeast is the town-museum of Melnik, 6 km further on is the Rozhen Monastery (refer to the Pirin Mountain related chapter herein). 18 km northeast within Pirin is the Popina Luka Resort (1230 m above sea level). Many private villas, bars and restaurants, and several hotels (The Vodopada (the Waterfall) Hotel, the Kotarite Hotel) are situated here. The R. Bozhinov Villa is also opened for guests. Within the holiday resort is the Yane Sandanski Chalet offering 70 beds (tel.: 0746 3198 - Edelweiss Tourist Association). The eleven-meter high Popina Luka Waterfall is located at the Bashliitsa River (one of the initial tributaries of Sandanska Bistritsa River) running through the Popina Luka Resort. The resort is a point of departure for several marked tourist routes in Pirin - refer to the points of departure in the section about Pirin Mountain herein. The telephone of the Mountain Rescue Service in Sandanski is 0746 4013.

Gotse Delchev (top)
Intro:
The town of Gotse Delchev (20 546 inhabitants; 540 m above sea level) is situated in the valley of the Mesta River, along the banks of its right tributary - the Nevrokop River.

Full text:
It is 22 km north of the Greek border, 51 km south of Bansko, 112 km away from Blagoevgrad and 212 km away from Sofia. It bears the name of legendary Gotse Delchev, ideologist and leader of the Bulgarians from Macedonia in their struggle against the Ottoman domination (until 1959 the town's name had been Nevrokop). To the west above, the town is the Mid Pirin Mountain Massif, and to the east opposite to it is the southwestern sub-part of the Western Rhodopes called Dubrash Mountain.

History. The first information about this settlement dates back to 9th-10th centuries and in 15th century the name of Nevrokoub was mentioned. In 1625, it was registered as a town. During the Ottoman rule, the town developed as a crafts centre. It was famous for the production of small and large cow and sheep bells - the renowned chamove (bells) for the herds in Pirin and the Rhodopes (the tradition is been preserved only here). The crafts of skin processing and saddlery also developed. Annual trade fairs were held in the town during the second half of 14th century. In the Revival Period, the inhabitants of the town showed acute national consciousness. They erected churches, a monastery school, a secular school, and separate schools for young boys and young girls respectively, a communal cultural centre. As stipulated in the Berlin Treaty the town remained in the territory of Turkey and was liberated in the Balkan War (October 1912). The town gave shelter to many refugees from the Serr and Drama areas.

Landmarks. The Town Museum of History is located in a house dating back to 1879 (Hristo Botev Street, the Central Square, tel.: 0751 23156). The Revival Architecture Complex of Rifat Bei (in the old central part of the town). The historical Holy Virgin Church dating back to 1833; the St. Archangel Michail Church (11, Ekzarh Antim Street, tel.: 0751 24014). The private ethnographic collection of Zafir Kunchev (tel.: 0751 23078). The 500 year-old plane tree is a natural sight of the town. The tree is 24 meter high with perimeter of the trunk of 7.6 meters.

Accommodation. The biggest of all is the Nevrokop Hotel in the centre of the town. Smaller but cozier are Malamovata Kashta Hotel (Malamov's House) (25, Hristo Botev Street) and Mesta Hotel. The Forest Rest House welcomes guests, too. There is a Tourist Hostel near the bus station (26, Soloun Street).

Tourist Information. Tourist Information Centre, 2900 Gotse Delchev, 2, Tsaritsa Yoanna Street, tel.: 0751 22086. Council on Tourism (2900 Gotsa Delchev, 2, Tsaritsa Yoanna Street, tel.: 0751 29185). The Momini Dvori Tourist Association (in the tourist hostel).

Transport. The connection of Gotse Delchev to the rest of the country is only by bus transport. There are regular bus lines to Sofia, Plovdiv, Blagoevgrad, Razlog, Bansko, Dobrinishte and all the villages in the district. The town has got three bus stations -Central Bus Station (Byalo More Street, tel.: 0751 23547, 23367, 23597), Bus Station-Zapad (tel.: 0751 22417) and a private bus station (tel.: 0751 23811).

Surrounding areas. In honour to his victory over the Dacian tribe Emperor Trayan (98-117) built the ancient Roman town called Nikopolis ad Nestum whose remains are to be found 7 km east of Gotse Delchev, in the Zagrade Quarter of the village of Gurmen, on the left bank of the Mesta River. The fortification walls have the shape of an irregular quadrangle. Its imposing remains are an evidence of its past grandeur. It used to be an important crossing point of the roads connecting the ancient towns by the Aegean Sea with the valley of the Hebros River (Maritsa River). Twenty-five kilometers north-east of the town, in the Dubrash Massif of the Rhodopes, high on the left bank of the Kanina River is the village of Kovachevitsa - a unique architecture and historical reserve. Time seems to have stopped forever. The Rhodope houses resembling fortresses are magnificent. The nature is magical, the atmosphere of the narrow cobble stone streets between high stonewalls, the hospitality of local people are unforgettable. A number of famous people have bought houses here and spend a great part of their time in this fairy place. Kovechevitsa is a paradise not only for artists but also for anyone of poetical soul. The village is the native place of the poet Lyudmil Stoyanov. There is a regular bus line to Gotse Delchev. Some of the old houses have been turned into hotels offering specialties of the original Rhodope cuisine - these are the the Bayatev's House, the Daskalov's, the Zhechev's House, the Kapsuzov's House, the Milchev's and the Spassov's House. Sixteen kilometers west of the Popovi Livadi Saddle between Middle and South Pirin is the holiday resort of the same name (about 1400 meters above sea level). There is no regular transport. It takes 4.30-5 hours to walk there along a marked track. The vast green fields surrounded by thick and impenetrable spruce forests create wonderful conditions for escape from the tension of the big town. There are accommodation opportunities as well - the Popovi Livadi Chalet offering 70 beds in different rooms. The Papazov Villa, the Orbel Ltd. Rest House, the Pirinplast Ltd. Rest House, the Orelyak Rest House, the Bulgartabac Hotel. One could go on hiking trails to Mt. Orelyak (2099 m above sea level, the highest peak of Middle Pirin, 2 hours), the Malina Chalet (5-6 hours), the Pirin Chalet (7 hours), and along an unmarked track to the highest peak of South Pirin called Mt. Sveshtnik (1975 m above sea level, 2 hours). The following sights are of great interest as well: the ancient and medieval fortresses in the Gradishteto Area, the waterfall at the Toufcha River, the Draganov Rocks, the Momina Koula (Maiden's Tower) Fortress, the Soudin Grad Fortress dating back to late ancient times and the Middle Ages, the Holy Virgin Monastery, the St. Martyr Georgi Monastery, the meanders of the Mutenitsa River, the Mousomish mineral springs in the area of Toplika, the Pavlov's Saddle, the Manouilova Doupka Cave (Manouilov's Hole), the precipice cave called Propaduka, the Steneto rock formations in the gorge of Kochanska River, the rock formation called the Koziyat Kamuk (Goat's Stone), the rock formation called Koupena in the area of Trebichki Dol, the Pirostiyata rock formation, the Black Rock.

Bansko (top)
Intro:
The town of Bansko (9134 inhabitants; 925 m above sea level) is situated by the Glazne River (the right tributary of Mesta) at the northeastern foothills of Pirin beneath the highest and most beautiful karst part of the mountain.

Full text:
Its name is related with the ancient Bulgarian word ban (from boean, boyan) which means master. It is 160 km south of Sofia, 60 km south-east of Blagoevgrad, 6 km south of Razlog and 51 km north of Gotse Delchev. Bansko is the entrance to the most beautiful Bulgarian Mountain - Pirin and one of the biggest winter resorts in the country. If one adds to this its architectural and historical value, Bansko is a pearl in the Bulgarian necklace.

History. The town rose up on its present location around 9th-10th centuries after the formation of the adjacent quarters of Bansko. In the middle of 18th century, Bansko was a big and rich settlement developing crafts and trade. The caravans of Bansko traders travelled to the Aegean Region and to Middle Europe transporting tobacco, poppy seeds from Serr, cotton, processed skins, precious goods, gold. Bansko lived its Golden Age in the second half of 18th century and the beginning of 19th century when it reached economic and cultural boom - the Bansko School of Art was established. The resentatives of this school introduced many secular and historical themes in art. Monastery schools and a mutual school were opened. However, Napoleon's Wars against Austria and the opening of the waterway along the Danube River put an end to its growth. In the middle of 19th century, the economy of the town suffered decay. According to the resolutions of the Berlin Treaty Bansko was left within the boundaries of the Turkish Empire and its inhabitants actively participated in the consequent rebellions - Kresna-Razlog Uprising (1878-1879) and the Ilinden-Preobra-zhenie Uprising (1903). The town was liberated from the Turkish rule on 5th October 1912 (the Balkan War). Bansko is the native place of the titans of Bulgarian Revival Paisii Hilendarski and Neofit Rilski.

Landmarks. First, this is the Sveta Troitsa (St. Trinity) Church (the biggest and the richest in the region of Pirin Mountain); its construction was completed in 1835. The church strikes the viewer with beautiful frescoes and woodcarvings made by Master (Ousta) Velyan Ognev. The most outstanding representative of the Bansko School of Art -Dimitar Molerov, painted the icons. The size of the temple is impressive - too big for that time. A thirty-meter high stone tower rises up in the yard of the church (built by Master Grigor Doyuv in 1850) with a belfry and a clock made by Todor Hadzhiradonov and installed in 1869. It is located in the centre of the town behind a high stone fence. The Holy Virgin Church built in 14th century and restored at the end of 18th century and the beginning of 19th century has a wonderful wood carved iconostasis. The native house of Neofit Rilski - preserved in its initial outer appearance and known as the Benina's House. It is located by the neighbouring St. Trinity Church at 17, Pirin Street (tel.: 07443 4005). The native house of the poet Nikola Vaptsarov - in the centre of the town, on the square named the same way. The Velvanov's House - a monument dating back to the Revival; one of the most beautiful houses having a rich fresco decoration and fine woodcarvings (2, Velyan Ognev Street, tel.: 07443 4181). The Sirleshtov's House is a small fortress. The special role of this house in Bansko is evidenced by the one-meter thick stonewalls, the narrow and dark loop-holes, the iron bars on the windows and the heavy doors. The Todev's (Buinov's) House is an illustration of construction mastership and the delicate sense of beauty in everyday life. It was built in 1835. Bansko House of Culture and Art Gallery (tel.: 07443 2292, 5504, 5096). The monument of Father Paisii Hilendarski is in the centre of the town at the place of his native house.

Accommodation and catering. As one of the biggest resorts in Bulgaria, Bansko practically offers unlimited opportunities in this respect satisfying visitors of different financial status. The tourists have at their disposal more than 40 private (predominantly family-type) hotels and more than 100 restaurants and bars. Here is a small part of them: the biggest and most luxurious hotel in the town is the 4-star Bansko Hotel (17, Glazne Str); the Izvori Hotel (3-star), 5 km away from the town in Pirin among a beautiful coniferous wood in the area called Chalin Valog; the Strazhite Hotel Complex (2-star), one of the biggest in Bansko (Glazne Street); the Pirin Hotel (2-star), the oldest in the town (68, Tsar Simeon Street, in the centre). The following are 2-star hotels: the Albert Hotel located in a silent street in the central part of the town; the Aneli Hotel; the Hadzhirouskovi Kashti Hotel with a big tavern; the Boyanova Kashta Hotel, the Bunderitsa Hotel (5, Bunderitsa Street); the Dzhangal Hotel (24, Gotse Delchev Street); the Tipik Hotel (15, Todor Aleksandrov Street) and many others. All of them have preserved the town's typical style helping the visitor to enjoy the atmosphere of ages gone long ago. Almost every hotel offers original Bulgarian cuisine, typical for the region but there are restaurants, which are worth visiting. These include the Todeva Kushta Wine Bar (7, Neofit Rilski Street; the Dedo Pene Pub in the Pampoulov's House (1, Aleksandar Bouynov Street); the Lovna Sreshta Tavern in the Molerov's House (29, Pirin Street); the Poptodorov's Tavern (1, Dimitar Talev Str); the Sharkov's House Tavern (26, 5th October Street); the Alex Pizza Restaurant (14, Ohrid Str); the Beli Noshti Restaurant in the Vakanov's House (1, Yane Sandanski Street); the Motikata Restaurant in the western part of the town at the exit to the Mt. Vihren and Vihren, etc.

Tourist information regarding all issues of interest to the visitor can be obtained at Tourist Information Centre, 2770 Bansko, 2, N. Y. Vaptsarov Sq., tel.: 07443 5048); Chamber of Tourism (Union of Private Hotel Managers), tel.: 07443 5016 and fax: 07443 5139); the Vihren Tourist Association (4, Vuzrazhdane Square, tel.: 07443 2683, 2271 and tel. /fax: 07443 2641). The Mountain Rescue Service in Bansko (100, Pirin Street, in the western part of the town at the exit to the mountain, tel.: 07443 3075, 3076).

Transport. The basic type of transport that connects the town to the rest of the country is the bus transport. There are regular bus lines to Sofia, Blagoevgrad, Gotse Delchev, Razlog, Dobrinishte and many other villages in the district. The bus station is modern and spacious. It is located in the eastern end of the town on the main road Sofia-Blagoevgrad-Gotse Delchev, by the railway station (tel.: 07443 2441, 2420). Bansko is the last but one station on the narrow-gauge line Septemvri-Velingrad-Dobrinishte. The railway station is behind the bus station (tel.: 07443 2215).

Surrounding areas. Most impressive is the legendary Pirin Mountain. The greater part of the tourist flow heading for the mountain goes through the town. In the immediate vicinity are the Chalin Valog Ski-Centre, the Shiligarnika Ski-Centre - one of the biggest in Bulgaria (refer to the Pirin Mountain related section herein), Damyanitsa, Bunderitsa and Vihren Chalets as well as the highest Mt. Vihren (refer to the Pirin related chapter herein). 6 km south of Bansko is the village of Dobrinishte (final station on the narrow-gauge line from Septemvri). It is one of the largest villages in the country with a population of over 3000 inhabitants. There are 17 mineral springs with water temperature between 30 and 43 °C, as well as a big mineral public bath. The town is a point of departure to the Gotse Delchev, Mocharata and Bezbog Chalets and to the Bezbog Ski-Centre (refers to the Pirin Mountain related section herein). There are a number of private hotels in the village as well as a Tourist House. There is a bus line to Sofia, Blagoevgrad, Razlog, Bansko, Gotse Delchev, etc. The bus station is near the railway station, about 1 kilometer east of Dobrinishte. Of great interest are the following sights: the basilica and the necropolis in the Shipotsko Area; Bansko karst springs in the area of Murtva Polyana; a ceramic workshop dating back to late antiquity; the Stana Kale Fortress of late antiquity and a necropolis, a Thracian fortress and necropolis together with early Christian basilica in St. Nickola Area; Thracian mound in the area of Lisicha Mogila; the Birth of the Holy Virgin Church.

Razlog (top)
Intro:
The town of Razlog (13 403 inhabitants, 825 m above the sea level) is located in the Razlozhka Valley, in the hug of three mountains - Rila to the north, Pirin to the south and the Rhodopes to the east.

Full text:
It is nestled between two hills - Golak to the north and Sarovitsa to the south Mesta River flows here. The town is 155 km to the south of Sofia, 53 km to the south-west of Blagoevgrad, 141 km south-west of Plovdiv and 6 km north of Bansko.

History. The past of Razlog to great extent was predetermined by its central location. The first known settlers in these places were the Tracian tribes satri and dii, and later - the kelts and Slavs. The accession of Razlog to the Bulgarian State took place in 847 during the time of Khan Pressiyan and its subjugation by the Turks - in 1382. As a name, Razlog is mentioned in the Charter of the Bizantine Emperor Vassilii II from 1019. The remains of an early Christian basilica (4th century) near Razlog and the ruins of many churches and sacred places from the Middle Ages and from the period of the Ottoman domination testify for the heroic struggle of the Christian population in defending its faith. After the Berlin Treaty, Razlog remained under Turkish domination. Its population actively participated in the struggle for Bulgarian enlightenment, independent church and national liberation. The most turbulent events during the Kressnensko-Razlozhko (1878) and Ilindensko-Preobrazhensko (1903) Uprisings in the Pirin Region developed here. The town had the name Mehomia until 1925.

Landmarks. The sightseeing tour of Razlog is a pleasant and interesting experience. 41 residential buildings of the Razlog-Chepino house revival architectural type have the qualities of monuments of culture. They are mostly at Macedonia Square and in Vuzrazhdane Street. Houses typical for the 1930s add specific outlook to the main square of the town. The Parapounov's House at Macedonia Square (5 minutes from the central square, tel.: 0747 2060) functions as a Museum of History. The Kiprev's House Ethnographic Museum Complex exhibits the old crafts and a wide variety of folk costumes and textiles from the region. The old St. Georgi Church from 1834 is not attractive in outlook, but the murals and the wooden panelled iconostasis, decorated with icons and partially with woodcarving have a high artistic value. The comparatively new Holy Annunciation Church from 1939 is a very imposing building whose painting still goes on. The water mill for processing woollen cloth at River Yazo (10 minutes to the west of the centre) is attractive and is often used even now. With the mediation of the museum guide, workshops and houses of masters artisans, weavers, knitters and creative artists can be visited - all of them being modern followers of the traditions in artistic clay, wood and textile processing.

Accommodation and catering. The opportunities for accommodation in the town are so far comparatively limited: N. Popov Familty-type of Hotel, G. Krainova House-Hotel, M. Kyurkchieva House-Hotel. The three of them are situated in the southern part of Razlog. Numerous catering establishments offer local Bulgarian cuisine - Zahova Maaza Tavern, Koukeri Tavern, Pirin Restaurant, Murata Restaurant and many others.

Tourist Information. Chamber of Tourism (tel.: 0747 6471), Pirin Tourist Association (2, Bogomil Street, tel.: 0747 2256, 5278), Mountain Rescue Service (tel.: 0747 2622).

Transport. Razlog is a big transport centre as regards to bus services in the region of Pirin. It has regular connections with Sofia, Blagoev¬grad, Gotse Delchev, Bansko, Yakorouda, Belitsa, Velingrad and many other smaller settlements. There is a big bus station in the town (tel.: 0747 2040, 2041). Razlog has a railway station, as well, on the narrow-gauge railway line Septemvri-Velingrad-Dobrinishte (tel.: 0747 2690, 2031).

Surrounding areas. The central location of Razllog makes it a starting point for two mountains - Rila and Pirin. To Rila Mountain, one can set out along a marked trail from Predela Saddle, distanced at 12 kilometers, where all buses with destination to Blagoevgrad and Sofia have a stop. One can set out from the nearby village of Bachevo (6 km to the north) to the Macedonia Chalet and Chakalitsa Chalet, but the trails are not marked. For the opportunities, round Pirin refer to the Pirin Mountain related section herein. In the vicinity of Razlog there are interesting natural sights and archaeological remains, situated in picturesque places, that are worth visiting. On the slopes of Pirin, one can find the Iztoka protected area (6 km south-west of the town) where the mineral water springs Iztoka and Yazo sprout out, and nearby are the Propadnaloto and Mechata Doupka Caves. The large protected area of Kroushe (7 km south-west), notorious as the only habitat of arhangeliev lazerpizium in Bulgaria, where the archaeological remains of a late antiquity and medieval settlement can be found, and close to it - the relics of the medieval Pisanata Church and Byalata Church, as well as the mineral water springs Babina Voda and Vurbovets. In the Kalyata Area (9 km south-west) one can visit the impressive ruins of a late antiquity fortress, the amazingly beautiful Betalovoto Area (10 km south-west) with the comfortable for accommodation and booking Hunter's Home and VANG.L Hotel-Club. On the slopes of Rila Mountain worthy of special attention are the Stolovatets Area (5 km north-west of Razlog) with the remains of a Thracian sanctuary and the Katarino Area (7 km to the west) with its warm mineral water spring. The remains of the late medieval St. Katerina Church and the regularly held horse races on St. Todor's day (in March).

Blagoevgrad (top)
Intro:
The town of Blagoevgrad (71 361 inhabitants; 430 m above sea level) is one of the largest towns in South Western Bulgaria. It is situated at the foot of the southwestern slopes of Rila Mountain, on both banks of Blagoevgradska Bistritsa River, within the river basin of the big Bulgarian River Strouma.

Full text:
It is situated 101 km south of the capital city Sofia, 53 km north-west of Razlog, 65 km north of Sandanski. The town is the main centre of Bulgarian Macedonia. There are 30 mineral springs in catchment with temperature up to 55°C. This makes it a spa resort. It is a regional administrative centre as well.

History. The town originated at the place of the ancient Thracian settlement Skaptopara, evidence of which we find in the notorious Skaptoparski inscription from 238. As the town of Gorna Dzhoumaya it was mentioned for the first time in 1502, and with the name Banya - in 1576. In the past, the town was an important roadside fortress. In 17th century, monks from the Rila Monastery opened a monastery school. During the second half of 18th and the beginning of the 19th century the town developed as a big centre of craftsmanship and commerce. After the Berlin Treaty, Gorna Dzhoumaya (until 1950 the town had this name) remained within the borders of Turkey and for this reason it turned into the cradle of resistance and people's unity. The population actively took part in the uprisings that followed. The town was liberated on 5th October 1912 (the Balkan War) and then had only 7000 inhabitants.

Landmarks. The Museum of History in Varosha Quarter (tel.: 073 29020, 21170, 29173), the house-museum of Georgj Izmirliev-Makedoncheto, Stoyan Sotirov Art Gallery, Stanislav Art Gallery, Petit Bizhou Art Gallery, Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Church (Vuvedenie Bogorodichno), as well as the Revival houses in Varosha Quarter. There are monuments to llyo Voivoda, Gotse Delchev, R K. Yavorov, Cyril and Methodius and to the Macedonian-Odrin volunteers, to those who were killed in the Balkan War (1912-1913). As a cultural centre Blagoevgrad has several theatres - Theatre of Drama (tel.: 073 23475), Puppet Theatre (Varosha Quarter, phone 073 21080, 22210), Chamber Opera House (tel.: 073 20703. The town is a university centre - American University, Neofit Rilski Southwestern University. Blagoevgrad is famous with its beautiful and functional town centre, all laid out in marble.

Accommodation. The accommodation facilities are not sufficient. Only several hotels are available - the 3-star Alen Mak Hotel at the central town square (1, St. St. Cyril and Methodius Street), Bor Hotel and Riltsi Motel - 2 km north of the town, by the motorway to Sofia. There are enough catering facilities, offering original Bulgarian cuisine.

Tourist information: Tourist Information Centre, 2770 Blagoevgrad, Varosha Quarter, tel./fax 073 65458, 36795, e-mail: scabrin@pop3.aubg.bg /Pirin Tourist House/ ; Council on Tourism (2700 Blagoevgrad, 1, Georgi Izmirliev Square, tel.: 073 65459, 23133); Bureau for Complex Tourist Services, located at the central town square (1, St. St. Cyril and Methodius Square, tel.: 073 23218); Pirin Tourist Forum (tel./fax: 073 65458); Orbita Chain for Youth Tourism (6, Trakiya Street, tel.: 073 23267, 22583, fax: 073 25516); Travel Bite Agency for Students' and Youth' Travel (9, St. St.Cyril and Methodius Street, tel.: 073 36917, 36918). There are many other tourist travel agencies. Aigidik Tourist Association (1, Vassil Levski Street, tel.: 073 26839, 26939).

Transport. Blagoevgrad is a major and important transport centre in this part of Bulgaria. It is the main stop on the international motorway and railway line Sofia-Koulata-Athens. It maintains regular bus connections with Sofia and many of the towns in Southwestern Bulgaria, as well as with the villages in the region. It has a regular bus line to the Bulgarian sanctuary - The Rila Monastery. The bus station (tel.: 073 22348, 23750) and the railway station (tel.: 073 22286, 23695, 22174) are situated close to each other at the southwestern end of the town. Blagoevgrad has a developed and well-organized bus transport within the town.

Surrounding areas. At 3.5 km to the northeast, in the valley of Blagoevgradska Bistritsa River is located the Bachinovo Park, where, annually, in June, a town festival is held. In the same valley, 30 km away from the town, in Northwestern Rila the Bodrost Resort is situated, with many recreation houses, bungalows, and villas. At 5 km distance from the resort is the oldest reserve park for coniferous species of trees in Bulgaria - Parangalitsa. There is the highest tree in our country - a 60-metre spruce. From Bodrost Resort, marked trails set out to various destinations in Rila - Macedonia Chalet (3-4 hours), Chakalitsa Chalet (2-3 hours), Tsarev Vruh (2 hours). In the summer, a regular bus line is maintained between the town and the resort. Town bus line No. 4 can be taken opposite the railway station to the village of Hursovo, from where on foot, along a marked trail the Chakalitsa Chalet can be reached for about 5-6 hours. 16 km north of Blagoevgrad and several km before the town of Rila is situated the village of Stob with the famous nearby pyramids of Stob - exceptionally beautiful and elegant earthen pyramids, finished with rounded rocky blocks. They are moulded in up to 40 meters thick reddish drifts. They are called in different ways - Samodivski Komini (Nymphs' Chimneys), Kouklite (the Dolls), Zuberite (the Pinnacles), Choukite (Rocky Peaks), Bratyata (The Brothers), Svatovete (In-laws), etc. Several regular bus lines pass through the village of Stob on their way to the town of Rila and the Rila Monastery. Other interesting sights around Blagoevgrad: The antique fortress by the village of Klissoura; an ancient settlement, a necropolis and a late antique fortress - close to the Bodrost Resort; another late antique fortress - at about several kilometers from the village Selishte. There are remains of antique fortresses near the village of Gabrovo. There is a medieval fortress between the town and the village of Tserovo. The Ascension of Christ Church near the village of Pokrovnik, the St. Archangel Mihail Church and remains from a late antique fortress near the village of Leshko, the St. Ivan the Precursor Church and St. Georgi Church (built in 1861, presently a monument of culture) in the village of Bistritsa. The rock Markov Kamuk to the south of Mt. Tsarev Vruh. Chernata Skala (The Black rock) - over the right bank of Blagoevgradska Bistritsa River nearby Macedonia chalet.

Doupnitsa (top)
Intro:
The town of Doupnitsa (38 323 inhabitants; 510 m above sea level) is situated at the northwestern foot of Rila, on both banks of River German, a left tributary of Strouma, which springs from the Seven Rila Lakes.

Full text:
It is situated 69 km south of Sofia, 38 km south of Kyustendil, 33 km north of Blagoevgrad and 40 km west of Samokov.

History. The town originated after the Ottoman invasion. First accounts about it date back to 14th century. Its name is mentioned in the diary of the knight Arnold von Harf who visited the country in 1499. He described it as "a nice town". The town is the birthplace of the activist from the Revival Period Hristaki Pavlovitch (1804 - 1848), a teacher and a scholar, who published the first Bulgarian textbooks in Arithmetics and history ("Tsarstvenik ili Istoriya Bolgarskaya"), the first Bulgarian book in secular script and the first Bulgarian printed publication of Slav-Bulgarian History of Paissii Hilendarski.

Landmarks. The Town Museum of History (tel.: 0701 22208), the remains of the medieval fortress Koulata, the clock tower from 1782, the St. St. Konstantin and Elena Church, restored in 1902, the Holly Virgin Church from 1789, the St. Nikola Church from 1844. The town has its Institute of Pedagogy.

Accommodation. Hotel Rila (1, Svoboda Square), Moskva Hotel, in the nearby Sapareva Banya Resort and Panichishte Resort.

Tourist Information. Rilski Ezera Tourist Association (1, Kokiche Street, tel.: 0701 22524), Balkantourist Bureau, Mountain Rescue Service (tel.: 0701 25466).

Transport. The town is located on the international motorway and the railway line Sofia-Koulata-Athens. Every hour there is a bus to Sofia and Sapareva Banya. There are regular bus connections with Kyustendil, Blagoevgrad, Razlog, Bansko, Pernik, the Rila Monastery, the town of Rila and all villages in the region. The bus station is located in the western part of the town (tel.: 0701 22368). The railway station is 10 minutes walking time to the south of the railway station (tel.: 0701 25834). There is bus transport within the town.

Surrounding areas. The resort town Sapareva Banya is 15 km southeast from Doupnitsa in the foothills of Northwestern Rila. It is built on the place of an ancient Thracian settlement, which in Roman time grew into the town Germanea. The fortress of Germanea was restored by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian the Great (6th century). The main Roman road from Kyustendil via Samokov and Plovdiv to Tsarigrad passed through it. The fortress walls found there reveal the importance of the settlement. The St. Nikola Church from the 12th century is a sight of interest. Sapareva Banya is the birthplace of Velizarius - a renowned leader of Emperor Ustinian (527-565). The present and the past of the resort town are linked with the curative mineral springs. The temperature of the water varies between 57° and 100°C, and a 10 meters high gazer of 103.8°C, erupted recently in the process hydrological studies - the hottest spring in Bulgaria and extraordinary rare for Europe. Illness of the bones, joints and the locomotion system, as well as the peripheral nervous system can be treated with it. There is a Tourist Hostel in Sapareva Banya - Verila, 400 meters to the west of the road for Doupnitsa, close to the spa. It is a complex of 13 two-room bungalows with 2-3 beds. There are several sanatorium in the town, where overnight is also possible, as well as several family hotels. Every hour there is a bus connection with Doupnitsa (at the bus station), as well as with Samokov and other settlements in the region. A private minibus to Panichishte Resort starts several times a day from the centre. There is a marked 2 hours long hiking trail. From Sapareva Banya one can set out for the St. Stefan Monastery (1.30 hours, 6 km along an asphalt road and a trail) and to the Ovcharenski (Shepherd's) Waterfall of River Goritsa (1.15 hours, 5 km along an asphalt road and trail). The resort is one of the most frequented outgoing points for North-Western Rila. Reaching from here Panichishte Mountain Resort (1350 m above sea level) one may set out in various directions to the numerous tourist chalets in the region -Pionerska Chalet (1 hour), Lovna Chalet (2 hours), Skakavitsa Chalet (2-2.30 hours), Rilski Ezera Chalet (2.30-3 hours), Vada Chalet (2.30-3 hours), the 7 Rila Lakes Chalet (the most beautiful lake circus in Rila, 3-3.30 hours), Ivan Vazov Chalet (6-8 hours) and others. The resort Panichishte is situated in the surrounding of beautiful old coniferous forests. There are many recreation facilities, profilactoria, big, modern information centre, ski lift with a good ski run and several hotels - Bor, Pondera, Doroteya, Zdravets, Lira, Temenuga, CSKA, etc. There are many catering facilities, offering delicious Bulgarian cuisine. The lowest-lying glacier-lake in Rila, the Suhoto Ezero is located near the resort. From villages near Doupnitsa interesting mountain passages across North-Western Rila can be made to the villages of Bistritsa (at 1.30-2 hours distance along a truck road to the Samokovishteto Waterfall of River Bistritsa), Samoranovo (along a marked trail to Otovitsa Challet for 3.30 hours), Ressilovo (along unmarked tracks to Mt. Golyama Sivriya, Mt. Malka Sivriya, Mt. Kabul and others), Ovchartsi (for 30 min along Goritsa River, there is a cascade of 7 waterfalls and the penultimate, the Ovcharenski Waterfall is 39 metres high.). All villages are linked by regular town transport.

Samokov (top)
Intro:
The town of Samokov (27 664 inhabitants; 950 m above sea level) is situated in the northern foot of Rila Mountain in the field of the same name, which is the highest in Bulgaria.

Full text:
The longest Bulgarian River Iskar, springing from Rila, flows through it. It is situated 60 km south-east of Sofia, 40 km east of Doupnitsa, 36 km south-west of Ihtiman, 37 km west of Kostenets and 12 km north-west of Borovets Resort. There are 6 more resorts in the region, 2 of them being of international significance. Samokov is the biggest potato-producing town in Bulgaria.

History. The past of the town is related to iron mining. Once there was a Roman settlement and the present town originated much later - at the beginning of 14th century as an ore mining settlement. At that time, Bulgarian craftsmen had direct contacts with the West-European miners - Saxons, called Sassi, and after their model Saxon furnaces (vidni) were introduced, as well as forgery workshops (madani) with blowers and big hammers (samokovi - from where originates the name of the town) set in motion by water power. When the Turks conquered the town (1372), Samokov was an economic and cultural centre. Initially, it became municipal and later regional centre, administering today's Blagoevgrad, Doupnitsa, Razlog, Ihtiman and many other settlements. The first Bulgarian printing house of Nikola Karastoyanov was opened here (1827). It is not occasional that in the end of 18th and the beginning of 19th century the most numerous and renowned art (icon painting, landscape and woodcarving) school of art in our country was founded here - the Samokov School of Art. Some of the most famous Bulgarian painters were born or worked in Samokov, such as Hristo Dimitrov and his sons Dimitar and Zahari Zograf, Stanislav Dospevski, the son of Dimitar Zograf, Ivan and Nikola Obrazopisovi and others. Konstantin Fotinov, the founder of the first Bulgarian magazine, Lyuboslovie (1844) is also from Samokov. Here was initiated the struggle for independent Bulgarian church, and 50 citizens of Samokov fought as volunteers in the Russian-Turkish War of Liberation. The decline of crafts at the end of the century ruined the town and it lost its economic, cultural and administrative power.

Landmarks. The town is rich of cultural and historical monuments. The Town Museum of History keeps totems and documents, related to the most specific for the region and the town industrial branch - iron mining, which existed until 1908. The collection of typical for Samokov embroidery of folk patterns and types of textiles is interesting. The Assumption of the Holly Virgin Church is one of the most remarkable architectural and artistic monuments in our country. Built in 1790-1791, it is the collective labour of the talented masters of Samokov - builders, wood-carvers and painters. The most remarkable thing in it is the iconostasis created in 1793 and 1821 - a bright example of the woodcarving school of Samokov. The Birth of the Holy Virgin Church is a monument of culture from 15th-16th century with rich mural decorations. The big drinking fountain (the drinking fountain with the earring) dates before 1662. The Convent (the Metoh - maidens' monastery) was created in 1772. St. Nikola Church, Belyo's House, Saraf's House, Otez Paisii Cultural Centre and memorial, a monument to the perished in the wars 1912-1918. Many are also the monuments dedicated to the Russians who were killed in 1877-1878, to the first printer Nikola Karastoyanov, to Konstantin Fotinov, to Chakur Voivoda (people's defender against the Turks) and others. As a resort, Samokov is attractive with its favourable climatic conditions, the beautiful coniferous forests around, the River Iskar and mostly with its closeness to Borovets and Malyovitsa.

Accommodation: Hotel Iskar, the Convent (Metoh) - a romantic, serene and cheap place. There are several family hotels and private lodgings. The resorts in the vicinity offer greater choice for accommodation than Samokov itself. There is a large fruit and vegetable market in the town and many catering facilities offering tasty Bulgarian cuisine. In this respect, the old Saraf's House is recommendable.

Tourist Information. Council on Tourism; Rilski Tourist Tourist Society (2, Iskar Bvd., tel.: 0722 22205) - in the green area along the right bank of Iskar River.

Transport. Samokov is connected with the country only by bus transport. Between the town and the capital city Sofia there are state bus lines at every hour as well as private minibuses. Every 30 min there are buses to Borovets departing from the bus station. There are no direct bus lines to Malyovitsa, but one has to travel to the village of Govedartsi, from where local transport is called by phone at the Training Centre or at the Hotel. Travelling by private minibus from the town is also possible, but the cost is higher. The town is connected by regular buses with Doupnitsa, Sapareva Banya, Belchin Banya, Dolna Banya, Kostenets and other towns and resorts as well as with all villages in the region. The bus station is in the centre of the town (tel.: 0722 2640). There are bus lines within the town. Surrounding areas. The town is the gate to the highest mountain in Bulgaria and the Balkans - Rila. Mostly through the famous resorts, Borovets and Malyovitsa (refer to the Rila related chapter herein) any point of the mountain can be reached along marked tourist tracks. At a distance of 13 km to the southwest, near the road to Malyovitsa the big resort village of Govedartsi is located, also an outgoing point for hiking tours round the highest mountain (refer to the Rila related chapter herein). At 3 km distance to the south of the village there are many recreation homes, profilactoria, administrative and private villas, as well as a tourist facility of the tourist institution - Sotsialen Otdih with 100 beds (in bungalows). Among these is Mechit Chalet with one of the best ski runs in our country, served by a ski-draw. There are several family hotels in the village, as well and many interesting catering facilities, some offering typical Bulgarian cuisine. There is an Ethnographic Museum. The famous Bulgarian writer and mountaineer Assen Hristoforov spent the greatest part of his life in Govedartsi. There is a bus connection with Samokov several times a day. The Belchinski Bani Spa is siutated at a distance of 13 km to the west of Samokov by the River Palakaria. The temperature of the mineral water is 41.5°C and is curative mainly for diseases of the joints, bones and the locomotion system. There are recreation houses, and open-air pool. At a distance of 10 km from the village of Alino is situated the famous Alino Monastery from 16th century. 30 km to the east of Samokov is situated the resort town of Dolna Banya with mineral water temperature - 56.3"C. The recreation campus is 5 km to the south, with many recreation facilities and children camps. There is a tourist challet, called Gerginitsa - 80 beds. Marked hiking tracks start from the recreation campus across Eastern Rila (refer to the Rila related chapter herein).

Kyustendil (top)
Intro:
The town of Kyustendil (50 243 inhabitants; 525 m above sea level) is situated in the most western parts of Bulgaria, only 27 km in the air from the three borders - Bulgarian-Macedonian, Bulgarian-Serbian and Serbian-Macedonian.

Full text:
The town lies in the most southern part of the fertile valley of Kyustendil, on both banks of the not large River Banshtitsa, leaning on the most northern slopes of the more than 2000 m high Ossogovo Mountain bordering with Macedonia. Quite close to the south of the town flows the big Bulgarian River - Strouma. It is 90 km from Sofia to the south-west, 70 km to the northwest of Blagoevgrad, at 40 km to the west of Doupnitsa and at 22 km north-east of the border point with Macedonia - Gyueshevo. The town is a spa resort of national significance. A regional administrative centre, too.

History. Kyustendil is one of the most ancient towns in Bulgaria. Fertility and the warm mineral springs attracted the Thracian tribes of danteleti and peontsi, which founded here a settlement far back in 519, in the Charter of the Byzantine Emperor Vassilii II, the town was mentioned by the name Velbuzhd, probably after the name of a leader. It was integrated to the Bulgarian State during the reign of King Kaloyan (1197-1207). From 1379 to 1395 feudal ruler had been Konstantin Dragash and by his name, later in the 16th centurth-4th century BC. During the 1st century the Romans turned it into an important fortress, trade venue and renowned spa resort, calling it Pautalia. In 4th century the fortress Hissarluka was built later reconstructed by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian I (572-565). After 553, the name Pautalia is not accounted any more. In 10y, the town was renamed Kyustendil (the land of Konstantin). From the middle of the 15th century, the Turks began to colonize massively the town and subjected the Bulgarian population to assimilation. In the end of the Ottoman domination and after the Liberation, in particular, the ethnic make up changed due to the numerous Bulgarian emigrants from the lands remaining under Ottoman rule and from the neighbouring settlements. During the Revival, the town rapidly grew and developed. A church school was opened (1821), its inhabitants took active part in the ecclesiastical and national struggles. The detachments of haidouts (armed volunteers), lead by llyo Voivoda and Roumena Voivoda, one of the few women leaders in Bulgarian history, were very active in the surrounding mountains. Kyustendil was liberated on 29th January 1878. After the liberation, some of the crafts depending on Turkish markets declined, but tobacco production developed, as well as spa resort activity.

Landmarks. The Municipal Museum of History (tel.: 078 23534) was founded back in 1897. Each of its departments is accommodated in various cultural and historic monuments: The Department of Archaeology - in a house built in 1575 and notable for its architecture. The Revival and National Liberation Struggle Department - in the house of llyo Voivoda, and Ethnography Department and Post-liberation Development Department - in the Emfiedzhiev's House, where the commander of the Russian troops was accommodated during the Russian-Turkish War. The Vladimir Dimitrov - Maistora Art Gallery is a sight of a particular interest, (tel.: 078 24469, working hours: 9.30 a.m. -11.30 a.m. and 2.00 p.m. - 6.00 p.m., Tuesdays through Sunday). It occupies a separate building marked by an original architecture and a modern interior design. The main part of the exposition consists of over 200 masterpieces of the national painter Vladimir Dimitrov-Maistora (the Master). Works of some of the most outstanding artists like Kiril Tsonev, Assen Vassilev, Stoyan Venev, Nikola Mirchev, Boris Kolev and others, who were born or lived in the region are preserved and exhibited in the gallery. An impressive monument to the Maistora is erected in front of the gallery. The Asclepion of Pautalia is an impressive Roman spa and shrine, dedicated to the god of health Asclepius, built in 2nd-3rd century. The whole building occupied an area of 3500 square meters. Large premises with a heating system, water pipes, architectural fragments etc., have been discovered. It is located in the foundations of today's buildings of Chifte Banya and the Ahmed Bei Mosque. Other remarkable sights of the town are the following: St. Georgi Church (12th-13th century) in Kolusha Quarter, The Holy Virgin Church (1816) and St. Dimitur Church (1866), Pirkov's Tower (16th-17th century), the wall of the Devehani Inn (1606), Lekarska House, Prokopiev's House, the old school (from 1849). There are monuments dedicated to the Russian soldiers who perished for the liberation of the town from Ottoman domination, other monuments, commemorating the heroes in the wars (1912-1918), to llyo Voivoda, to R K. Yavorov. One of the most valuable treasures of the town is the mineral water, which springs out of 40 springs in the foot of Hissarluka, with temperature up to 73.4°C. There are several spas, 3 open-air swimming pools, sanatorium, recreation facilities in Kyustendil. The town and its surrounding areas are well known as the Orchard of Bulgaria - mostly cherries, plums, apples, etc. are grown there.

Accommodation. In addition to the resort facilities, there are several hotels in Kyustendil: Velbuzhd Hotel (opposite the railway station and the bus station, 46, Bulgaria Blvd.), Pautalia Hotel (near the central square, 1, Bulgaria Blvd), Sport Palace Hotel (15, Kalossiya Sir.), Hissarluka (in park Hissarluka). As regards catering - there are no problems. The town offers a large agricultural market, shops, nice catering facilities, etc.

Tourist information. Ossogovo Tourist Association (in the centre; 5, Tsar Mihatl Street, tel.: 078 22154, 24232, 22622). Accommodation Bureau (tel.: 078 22090).

Transport. Kyustendil is connected with the other parts of the country by bus and railway transport. The town maintains regular every hour bus line with the capital city, as well as with all neighbouring larger towns - Pernik, Doupnitsa, Blagoevgrad etc. There are regular bus lines to all villages in the region. Due to its closeness to Macedonia, there are enough lines to this neighbouring country. The bus station (tel.: 078 22626) and the railway station (tel.: 078 29164) are next to each other in the northern part of the town. The town is a main station on the Sofia-Kyustendil-Gyueshevo railway line, and in near future it will be linked with the railway network of Republic of Macedonia. Town bus transport functions within Kyustendil.

Surrounding areas. In close proximity to the south of the town, at the lowest foothills of Ossogovo Mountain, is situated Hissarluka Park. The remains of a fortress, a hotel, catering facilities, walking alleys, alcoves, and beautiful villas are situated amidst a splendid coniferous forest, planted in the end of 19th and the beginning of the 20th century. The Spring Festival (organized about 22 March) is annually held there. Kyustendil is the outgoing point to the beautiful Ossogovo Mountain with many sights of interest. A marked hiking route leads consecutively to the village of Bogoslov (1.30 hours, there is an asphalt road from Kyustendil to Trite Buki Chalet - 5 km), to Iglika Chalet (about 3 hours, it makes 11 km along the road, tel.: 078 23132), to Ossogovo Chalet (4.30 hours, 17.5 km along the road) and to Trite Buki Chalet (about 5 hours, along the road 19.5 km, the highest chalet of all above-mentioned -1550 m above sea level, tel.: 078 22332). Regular bus transport from the town can be used to the village of Bogoslov. Trite Buki Chalet is a basic outgoing point to many marked hiking tracks across Ossogovo Mountain, to many peaks around, as well as to the highest peak of the mountain - Mt. Rouen (2252 m, situated on the very borderline with Macedonia - 4 hours). More information about the mountain can be obtained by the Tourist Association in the town. 13 km to the southeast of Kyustendil in Nevestino village (a bus stop of the lines between Kyustendil and Doupnitsa) is located Kadin (Nevestin) Bridge overthe River Strouma - one of the biggest engineering and construction facilities in our country from 15th century. It was built of hewn granite in 1469-1470 on the ancient and very important in the past Tsarigrad-Plovdiv-Samokov-Kyustendil-Skopie road. It has five impressive vaults. A commemoration inscription is preserved. The village ot Shishkovtsi is 10 km away from the town to the north and a large collection of pictures of Vladimir Dimitrov - Maistora, who lived and worked here for 27 years are preserved in its fund. The village is a station on the railway line Sofia-Kyustendil-Gyueshevo. It has bus connections with the town. 39 km to the north of Kyustendil, on the line to Sofia, the town of Zemen is situated and in its vicinity is the historic Zemen Monastery, built in 11th-12th century. Its murals are the most valuable ones from 14th century in our country. Along a 22 km distance from the town of Zemen to the village of Ruzhdavitsa, between Konyavska and Zemenska Mountains, Strouma River has created a rare, picturesque beauty, called Zemenski Gorge. It is a miniature copy of the Iskar Gorge. There are queer rock formations - Agapie, Saraya, Galabinski rocks, Ritlite, vigorous karst springs, unexplored caves, picturesque meanders, sideways running waterfalls, of which the most impressive is the Polsko-Skakavishki Waterfall (50 m) below the village of Polska Skakavitsa (there is a railway stop). At the end of the gorge, near Ruzhdavitsa village, one can enter into the fantastic canyon of the desiccating River Shegava (left tributary of Strouma). The railway line Sofia-Kyustendil, from where the whole gorge can be very well observed was laid out in the Zemen Gorge in 1909. There is no road and one can only walk along the railway track.

Pernik (top)
Intro:
The town of Pernik (86 133 inhabitants; 710 meters above sea level) is the largest town in Southwestern Bulgaria after Sofia. It is situated in the high Pernik Plain between Vitosha, Lyulin and Golo Burdo Mountains, along the Strouma River.

Full text:
The town is 30 km to the southwest of Sofia, 59 km to the northeast of Kyustendil and 70 km to the north of Blagoevgrad. It is the largest coal-mining centre in Bulgaria, and a regional administrative centre.

History. In the 9th century, the small Slav settlement of ancient history became part of Danubian Bulgaria. It was named Pernik (Perunik, Perinik), probably at its establishment. The town was turned into a strategic medieval centre and the 4.5 m thick fortress walls kept back the Byzantine invasions towards Sredets (Sofia) and Northwestern Bulgaria. The fortress withstood siege twice - in 1004 and in 1016. The local boyar Krakra Pernishki (from Pernik) led the defence. Already under Byzantine domination, the fortress survived a devastating earthquake in the middle of 11th century. It was restored and expanded and existed until 1189 when it was destroyed and set to fire by the Serbian joupan Stefan Neman. Because of the numerous raids of kurdzhalii (Turkish brigands) during the Ottoman rule, Pernik was a small, scattered cattle-breeding village. It numbered barely 1OOO people in 1879. After the liberation, the settlement developed as a mining village. In 1891 Pernik coal mining region was declared state property (first in Bulgaria) and the village became main energy centre of developing Bulgaria. In 1929, Pernik was declared a town.

Landmarks. The Town Museum of History (in the centre of the town, 2, Phyzkoultourna Street, tel.: 076 25747) displays more than 40 000 exhibits. The Museum of Coal Mining. A Thracian sanctuary was found in Daskalovo Quarter, nearby Sofia-Koulata road, at the bank of Roudaritsa River. The sanctuary is in the form of an irregular quadrangle and existed in 2nd-4th century. It is not the only one in Bulgaria but is the best preserved one with most complex construction. The remains of the famous Pernik Fortress (Krakra) are nearby the town. The Art Gallery and the Theatre of Drama are open throughout the year. Every five years Pernik hosts The Kukeri and Survakari Festival.

Accommodation. Krakra Hotel (near the railway station), Strouma Hotel (1, Krakra Square), Zora Hotel Complex (Iztok Quarter, 27A, Yuri Gagarin Street).

Transport: Nevertheless, its proximity to the capital city, Pernik is an important transport centre. The roads and the railway lines head in three main directions - Sofia, Blagoevgrad - Koulata and Kyustendil - Gueshevo. Most intensive are the transport links with Sofia where the greater part of the population of the town do their business. The buses and trains travel in short intervals. The railway station (tel.: 076 23846) and the bus station (tel.: 076 22803) are close to each other in the southwestern part of Pernik, There are railway stops within the town.

Surrounding areas. Pernik is a point of departure for tours in the surrounding mountains. Roudartsi Resort Village is 13 km to the east (in the western foothills of Vitosha Mountain) and is known for its mineral springs (28.9'C). There is a hotel, rest homes catering establishments, 3 open-air swimming pools and it is a wonderful place for recreation during the summer. 3 km above Roudartsi in the mountain is the village of Kladnitsa (both villages are connected to the town by regular bus lines) which is a departure point to Selimitsa Chalet and hiking tours round Vitosha (refer to the Vitosha Mountain related chapter herein). Nearby the village is the famous Kladnitsa Monastery. There are three chalets and Ostritsa Biosphere Reserve in the lower mountain of Golo Burdo. Pernik is a strating point to these sights. One can reach Slavei (Nightingale) Chalet for 1 hour along a 4 km road (tourist marking available). Further, in the mountain one can visit Kralev Dol Chalet (1.30-2 hours), Ostritsa Reserve (45 min) and Orlite (The Eagles) Chalet (1.30 hours). 10 km northwards is located the biggest village in Pernik region - Divotino, which can be used as a point of departure to the other low mountain - Lyulin. One can visit the Divotino Monastery, climb the edge of the mountain and then downwards to Bankya resort town or undertake a hilling tour to the only chalet - Bonsovi Polyani. 49 km north-west from Pernik, immediately to the boarder with Serbia is the town of Trun, known for its best master builders in Bulgaria. The imposing gorge of Erma River is 5 km to the south. The river springs in Serbia, flows in Bulgaria and again in Serbia pours into Nishava River. The high vertical rocks overgrown with lilac rise up to 150 m. A fantastic place! It was named when he saw its beauty of nature that the famous Bulgarian writer Aleko Konstantinov exclaimed, "What so about Switzerland!" The Rui Hotel-Restaurant is nestled in the gorge. 4 km in the direction of the town (1 km from Trun) is Erma Chalet. The well-known St. Archangel Mihail Monastery is 30 min away from the chalet. In Trun one can find accommodation in the Virad Erma Hotel (22, Vassil Stoyanov Street). Regular bus line links Pernik to Trun.

Pirdop and Zlatitsa (top)
Intro:
The two small towns of Pirdop (8548 inhabitants) and Zlatitsa (5648 inhabitants) of the sub-Balkan Range are located in the Zlatitsa-Pirdop Valley, between Stara Planina Mounatin (to the north) and Sredna Gora Mountain (to the south) at 680 m above sea level.

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The distance of 3-4 km between them is symbolic and not before long, they will be integrated into one. Moreover, this area accommodates the Copper Works as well - the largest industrial enterprise in the region, providing work to the greater part of the local population. The two towns are situated 77 km east of Sofia, 27 km south of Etropole, 32 km north of Panagyurishte and 32 km north-west of Koprivshtitsa.

History. The territory of today's towns of Pirdop and Zlatitsa was inhabited 6000 years ago. The ancient Roman road connecting Ulpia Trayana with Ulpia Serdika passed from here. This area was often visited by Alexander the Great, by the Byzantine emperors Isaac Komnin and Isaac II Angel. It is known that Zlatitsa in 4th century BC existed under the name of Ulpia Aurea and it is supposed that Emperor Trayan established the settlement in its today's location in the beginning of the 21st century. The first written evidence is traced in the notorious Vergin Charter of King Konstantin Assen (1257-1277), where the settlement of Zlatitsa is mentioned. The Byzantine chronicler Dukas who visited Zlatitsa in 1445 informs about the pass (of Zlatitsa or Kashana) and the settlement. Near the town took place the notorious battle of Zlatitsa between the troops of the Hungarian King Vladislav III (Varnenchik), the Transilvanian Voivoda (leader) Yanush Huniyadi and the Serbian Prince Georgi Brankovich against the Turks. Although the Bulgarians were a minority, in 1859 they built the Orthodox Church of St. Martyr Georgi and a school with the church. The convent with the church sheltered the Apostle Vassil Levski in 1872, who came to organise a revolutionary committee. After the liberation of the town from Turkish rule on 3rd of January 1878, it was almost deserted by the fleeing Turks. Many Bulgarian newcomers arrived from Macedonia. Zlatitsa gradually declined because of the absence of markets for its handicraft goods, but later cattle breeding and agriculture developed and brought it up. It is interesting to know that together with Sofia, Turnovo and Plovdiv, Zlatitsa was nominated to become the capital of Bulgaria after the liberation. The name of Pirdop is among those unknown names whose origin history keeps in secret. Numerous are the legends, trying to suggest an explanation, not even one, so far, has become completely convincing. The Thracian mounds and the remains of medieval fortresses unequivocally indicate that various tribes interrelated to their destinies here for many centuries. The first written traces of Pirdop date back to 12th century, when the Pirdop Chronicle of Apostles' Deeds was written - a valuable monument in writing, kept in the St. St. Cyril and Methodius National Library. During the years of the Bulgarian Revival, the entrepreneurial citizens of Pirdop managed to turn their settlement into an economic and cultural centre. In 1698, the Protopopinski (Pirdopski) collection manuscript was written by the teacher Georgi, thus initiating the literary activity in the settlement and its vicinities. The same author wrote the Tihonravov Damaskin, kept in the State Library in Moscow. Originally, an ecclesiastical school was founded and later, in 1820- the first municipal school in spoken Bulgarian with the teacher Todor Pirdopski. The local folk style abi (homespun coarse woollen cloth and upper men's garment made of it), shayatzi (woollen cloth), braids, woollen bed covers and blankets, candles and soap were highly valued at the markets in Vienna, Budapest, Tsarigrad, Thessaloniki, Alexandria. Only from the manufacturing of woollen braids by the 700 water-driven looms the town earned an annual income of over 9 000 000 Turkish grosh! The destiny of Pirdop after the Liberation is the same as it was of Zlatitsa - loss of markets, decline and strive for survival against a background of overall national boom. Landmarks. In Pirdop these are the Lukanov's House Museum (17, Slavtsi Street, tel.: 07181 5073), Nikola Poushkarov Museum - in the native house of the scientist who put the foundations of soil studies in Bulgaria (4, Nikola Poushkarov Street). The outstanding Bulgarian writer and public figure Todor Vlaikov was born here. The old Revival Period houses of Sokolov's and Boyanov's are places of interest in Zlatitsa. The clock tower of 1829, built of stone blocks is 16.70 meters high. The clock still strikes every hour.

Accommodation. In Pirdop: Borova Gora Hotel, Zdravets Tourist House (15th Street) and Sredna Gora Hotel Complex (Todor Vlaikov Square). In Zlatitsa: Frezia Hotel (3, Al. Stamboliiski Street). There are numerous coffee bars, confectioneries, restaurants and other recreational facilities in both towns.

Tourist Information. Except at the municipalities and at the hotels, information can be obtained from the Tourist Associations, as well. In Pirdop - Paskal Tourist Association (in the Zdravets Tourist House). In Zlatitsa - Svishti Plaz Tourist Association.

Transport. Both towns are situated on the main motorway and railway Sofia - Karlovo - Bourgas. Bus connection with all villages and towns in the vicinity are regularly maintained. There is a bus station in Pirdop (Tsar Osvoboditel Blvd., tel.: 07181 5016, 5002) and separate railway stations in both towns. The Pirdop railway station (tel.: 07181 5771) is in the northern part of the town and is marked for its mammoth trees, brought from North America and planted there in 1932. The railway station of Zlatitsa is in the western part of the town (tel.: 0728 2300). Between them, there is a railway stop at the Copper Works.

Surrounding areas. The ruins from the time of Justinian I are situated 6 km to the northeast of Pirdop. Near them, there are remains of an ancient settlement; most probably, it was the ancient Thracian town Bourdapa. Quite close to the modern town of Pirdop there are remnants of the Neolithic era and in its vicinity - many Thracian mounds. 9 km south of Zlatitsa is located the Old Kemer - a bridge, spanning over the River Topolnitsa from Roman time. The Spassovo Kladenche Church Complex is 500 meters away from Zlatitsa. The Kambana Park-Monument is located in the village of Petrich, in the region of Zlatitsa. Huddled between two mountains, Pirdop and Zlatitsa are points of departure for hiking tours round them. The Kashana Chalet is located in the Zlatitsa Pass (Kashana) in the Stara Planina Mountain, 15 km from Zlatitsa. Also from Zlatitsa, within a 3-hour walk along a marked trail (there is a 12 km long tarmac road) one can reach the Svishti Plaz Chalet. For bookings, call tel. 0728 2207. There is another chalet in the Balkan at 2-hour distance along a marked track from Pirdop - the Paskal Chalet. The three chalets are points along the Kom - Emine route. In the opposite direction, to the south, at 18 km distance, along an asphalt road in Sushtinska Sredna Gora, is located the Panagyurski Kolonii Recreation Campus with Raina Knyaginya Chalet. The regular buses connecting Zlatitsa and Panagyurishte stop there. At about 10 km east of Pirdop is located the Dushantsi Dam - a beautiful artificial lake, a wonderful recreation place, perfect for fishing and sports.

Panagyurishte (top)
Intro:
The town of Panagyurishte (21 228 inhabitants; 530 m above sea level) is situated in a small valley in Sashtinska Sredna Gora, on both banks of Luda Yana River. It is 91 km east of Sofia, 43 km north of Pazardzhik and 37 km south of Zlatitsa.

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Its name is of Greek origin and means a fair venue but to modern Bulgarians it has become the symbol of Bulgarian strive for freedom.

History. Close to the present town, a Thracian settlement existed even in the 4th century BC. In the 13th century, the settlement at this place had the name Kamenograd (Litopolis). It was remarkably developed and won notoriety during the Turkish domination, when it was a privileged village for accommodating soldiers. It had a special status, which was kept until 1839. According to it, no Ottoman Turk was entitled to settle or even to overnight in Panagyurishte. However, the privilege did not save it from the raids of the kurdzhalii (Turkish brigands) - it was plundered and set to fire many times. Nevertheless, in 18th century Panagyurishte reached its zenith. Its main way of life was cattle breeding. Woollen clothes, abi (homepsun coarse wollen cloth and upper men's garment made of it), sacks etc. were manufactured and sold across the whole Ottoman Empire. The citizens of Panagyurishte were famous as tradesmen of cattle (dzhelepi). They were also tax collectors (beglikchii). Very early a church school was opened, which in 1839 become a mutual school. A community cultural centre was founded in 1865, which turned into a cradle of Bulgarian spirit and consciousness. The popularity of this small town in Sredna Gora Mountain arose mostly from its particular role during the April Uprising (1876), when it became the centre of the IV Revolutionary District and in fact of all epic events. The apostles Volov and Benkovski organized a powerful and active revolutionary committee, managing to raise the whole population to an armed struggle for freedom. The first Bulgarian Republic was born with the president of the transitional government in Sredna Gora - Pavel Bobekov. Here the flag of the uprising was waved, sewn by the teacher from Panagyurishte, Raina Knyaginya, it had the words "Freedom or Death" embroidered on it. After exultation came defeat. In spite of the heroism and the self-sacrifice of the defendants, the much more numerous and better-armed enemy entered the town. Panagyurishte was burnt down. For their boldness to call themselves free, 650 citizens of Panagyurishte paid with their lives, "immortalising the name of their town" (Zahari Stoyanov). On 11th January the town was liberated from Turkish rule.

Landmarks. The Town Museum of History is almost wholly dedicated to the epoch of Revival and the April Uprising. The Doudekov's House (now an Ethnographic Museum) illustrates the way of life in the town at the end of the 19th century. Here were the headquarters of general Dandeville in 1878. The Toutev's House is famous for the fact that the uprising was declared in it on 20th April 1876. The native house of Marin Drinov, the famous Bulgarian historian, professor and social personality, the first minister of education in newly liberated Bulgaria. Raina Knyaginya Museum House with its preserved revival architecture. In its courtyard are the bones of the national heroine, who sewed the flag of the uprising. The Lekov's, Mateev's, Landzhev's, Smol's houses, Fidzhek's shops, etc. Interesting is The Holy Virgin Cathedral Church (1818), the St. Georgi Church (1856) and in particular the memorial complex, erected at Manyovo Burdo in commemoration to the 100th anniversary of the April Uprising. There burns an everlasting fire. Every year on 20th April, Panagyurishte is the centre of the national celebrations, commemorating April 1876. The town is the native place of Pavel Bobekov (main organizer of the uprising in the town and chairman of the transitional Bulgarian government within the short-lasting days of freedom), Nesho Bonchev - the first Bulgarian literary critic, Vasilii Cholakov- an ethnographer and dedicated supporter of Bulgarian Enlightenment, Pavel Deliradev - a notorious Bulgarian social personality and mountaineer, true follower of Aleko Konstantinov. In 1949 near the town the Golden Treasure of Panagyurishte was discovered - a unique Thracian treasure from the 3rd century BC, unique in the world with its original shapes and decorations. It has been exhibited all over the world, thus making the name of its "native" town famous as well as the name of Bulgaria. At present, it is kept in the Archaeological Museum of Plovdiv.

Accommodation. Kamengrad Hotel (House of Miners, 1, Bobekov Square. Bounai Tourist House located in the western part of the town, 15 minutes from the centre, in the boarding house of the Technical College of Optics (26, Stoyan Trendafilov Street). Some of the old houses of Panagyurishte host original taverns, offering local cuisine within the old Bulgarian folklore surroundings.

Tourist information. It can be obtained at the hotel, at the Tourist House and at Bounai Tourist Association (1, Doctor Long Street).

Transport. The town is connected with the remaining part of Bulgaria by bus and railway transport. Regular buses run to Sofia, Plovdiv, Pazardzhik, Zlatitsa and Pirdop and to all smaller settlements around it. There is a bus station (tel.: 0357 3383) and a railway station - the last along the line Plovdiv - Panagyurishte (tel. 0357 3623).

Surrounding areas. Ten km to the north-west is located the historical place Oborishte, on the small River Panova, amidst an old beech forest. Here, on 14th April 1876 convened the revolutionary committees of IV Revolutionary District (the First Great National Assembly in the history of Bulgaria), which took the decision for the declaring of the April Uprising. A modest commemorating monument was erected in 1926. 800 meters to the south of it, there is a chalet with the same name with 24 beds (booking is made at Bounai Tourist Association in Panagyurishte). An asphalt road reaches it or walking takes 2.30 hours along a special trail. The chalet can be also reached by bus to the nearest village of Oborishte and from there 6 more kilometers by car or on foot. Panagyurski Kolonii Recreation Campus is situated at the highest point along the road between Panagyurishte (15 km) and Zlatitsa at 1050 m above the sea level and all busses stop there. There are many recreation houses, villas, children's camps, as well as the Raina Knyaginya Chalet (Bounai Tourist Association in Panagyurishte). The village of Banya is located 11 km to the south-west of the town on both banks of the River Mechka. Twenty Thracian tombs were discovered round the village. Numerous are the ruins of ancient buildings and fortresses, the most famous of which is Kaleto Fortress (Gradishteto), erected in 11th-14th century. The St. Nikolai Church, dating back to 1856, is also interesting. The village is the birthplace of the famous priest Gruyo Banski - a colourful personality from the time of the April Uprising. There is a monument dedicated to him. The village of Banya is famous for its mineral water, which can be used for curative purposes. The spa was constructed in 1936. The village has a regular bus connection with Panagyurishte and Pazardzhik. Panagyurishte can be a departure point for hiking tours to Sushtinska Sredna Gora. It is most convenient to go to the Panagyurski Koloni and from there to proceed along the well-marked trails to: Bratiya Chalet (2 hours), Mt. Bratiya (1 hour), Sakardzha Chalet (3 hours), Manzul Chalet (Pavel Deliradev - 2.30 hours) and also to Oborishte (4 hours). It is possible to walk through the mountain to the town of Koprivshtitsa (5-6 hours) - an easy and pleasant one day track with a respite at Manzul Chalet (Pavel Deliradev Chalet).

Kostenets (top)
Intro:
The municipality of Kostenets (about 17 000 inhabitants; 500-600 m above sea level) with almost all its settlements is a spa and a resort region of national importance, situated in the valley of Dolna Banya, along the upper flow of River Maritsa.

Full text:
Centre of the municipality is the town of Kostenets (10 532 inhabitants) and the most notorious resort centers are the following: Momin Prohod (now a quarter of the town of Kostenets), Momina Banya (also a quarter of the town), Kostenets and Pchelinski Bani recreation campuses. The centre of the municipality is 76 km to the southeast of Sofia, 80 km west of Plovdiv, 27 km east of Borovets Resort.

History. The past of this region is related to many historical events. Today's village of Kostenets (7 km to the south of the town and the railway station) is proud with its longest history. It emerged in the early Middle Ages and existed from 7th to 14th centuries under the name of Konstanzia. It is mentioned in a Turkish register from 1576. According to the Turkish traveller Evliya Chelebi, Kostenets was an old Wallachian town, which long resisted the Turkish oppressors. It is presumed that Kostenets is the birthplace of the man of letters Konstantin Kostenechki. The first school was opened in 1856 and the community cultural centre in 1880. At the Cherkovishte Hill, to the west of the village there are the remains of a basilica (5th-7th century) and of a medieval fortress. A church from 1857 is still preserved. Trayanovi Vrata is a historical place at the saddle between the Mt. Eledzhik and Mt. Golak of Sredna Gora. There, close to the Thracian settlement, was constructed a Roman road station, called Sineum. From it, the Trayan Pass begins, also called Souki (narrow valley). Trayanovi Vrata (Trayan's Gates) was 15 steps wide and 24 steps high. In these area in 986 Samuil's soldiers won an important victory over the Byzantines, led by Emperor Vasilii II, delaying by this the fall of Bulgaria under Byzantine domination with 22 years. A small memorial plate commemorates this event. During the Turkish occupation, the functions of Trayanovi Vrata as a keeper of the pass declined. Unused and ill kept, it started to ruin. To the south of the great gate remains of old buildings are still preserved, probably parts of a fortress with a diameter of 30 meters and thickness of the wall 2 meters. Greatest interest arise Markova Mehana (Kaleto) where a large building has been discovered - a garrison with a spacious inner yard, open ground floor, 6 entrances and three inner turrets made of stone and 5 layers of flat bricks. The fortress (there are preserved parts of it 2-5 meters high) had unique water equipment and an underground passage. Archaeologists definitely prove the usage of this location during the Middle Ages (9th-10th century), which made it an important Bulgarian stronghold. Since antiquity, this old pass has continued to serve the people. The new Trakiya motorway passes under it. The distance between the eastern entrance of the two parallel tunnels to Trayanovi Vrata and the fortress is 500-600 meters. This historic location can be reached fastest along the motorway (from Sofia - 64 km and from Plovdiv - 72 km). The road from Kostenets or from Ihtiman to Mirovo station is convenient, and from there to the pass, it takes 1.20 hours along a marked route. Spas. From times immemorial the present Kostenets quarter, called Momin Prohod has been renowned for its spas which were used in Roman times. Now, the mineral water of the 9 natural springs is collected in catchments with a temperature of 65°C. The output is 920 l/min, and in radioactivity it rates second in Bulgaria (after the water from Narechen), third in Europe and 25th in the world. It cures illnesses of the bones and joints and the locomotion system, the peripheral nervous system, the respiratory system, the lungs etc. The resort is famous abroad with its good results in healing of poliomyelitis and spasmic children's paresis. There are many sanatorium, recreational facilities, and villas. Kostenets Recreation Camp is situated 9 km south of the town and the station of Kostenets and at 2 km above the village of Kostenets, right in the northern foots of the Belmeken sub-part of Eastern Rila. Three mineral springs with total capacity of 300 l/ min and temperature about 47°C have been in catchments. The water has similar curative properties with the one of Momin Prohod. There is a large spa complex, recreation homes, open-air swimming pool, villas, a pond, wonderful surrounding areas (the Kostenets Waterfall of Stara River, glorified Ivan Vazov, etc.) The combination of curative mineral waters, mild mountainous climate and beautiful environment makes it attractive throughout the year. Pchelinski Bani is a spa resort 8 km to the north-west of the town of Kostenets and 2 km from the village of Pchelin. It is situated on the southern slopes of Ihtimanska Sredna Gora. The mineral water is 73°C hot at the spring. In curative properties, it is similar to the others. There is a recreational children's home, recreational facilities, numerous villas, etc.

Accommodation. Accommodation facilities are available in all resort centers. In the town, the Konstanzia Hotel is on the central square, opposite the bus station and the railway station. Some of the rest homes accommodate guests to overnight. Private lodgings are available, as well. There is an Accommodation Bureau in the town of Kostenets.

Tourist information can be obtained at the municipalities, at the hotels, at the Accommodation Bureau and at Ravni Chal Tourist Associaton in the village of Kostenets (tel.: 07142 3281).

Transport. The town has one railway station and one railway stop (Momin Prohod) on the line Sofia-Plovdiv. The railway station is in the centre of the town of Kostenets (tel.: 07142 3126). There are regular bus lines within the whole municipality and the town has bus connections with Samokov, Dolna Banya, Ihtiman and others. The bus station is in the centre, close to the railway station (tel.: 07142 2321). The municipality is a departure point for marked tourist routes across Eastern Rila, mainly through Kostenets Recreation Campus (refer to Rila related section herein). The resorts of Dolna Banya, as well as Borovets Resort are in close proximity to the town. These sites can be reached by the regular bus transport and can add colour to one's stay in the municipality of Kostenets.

Velingrad (top)
Intro:
The town of Velingrad (25 509 inhabitants; about 750 meters above sea level) is our largest spa resort. It is situated amidst the wonderful natural surrounding of the Western Rhodopes, in the western part of the Chepino Valley.

Full text:
It was formed in 1948 by 3 villages: Kamenitsa, Ludzhene and Chepino. The town of Velingrad is located 120 km south-east of Sofia, 86 km south-west of Plovdiv, 48 km south-west of Pazardzhik, 69 km north-east of Razlog, 31 km south of Septemvri and 26 km north-west of Batak.

History. The numerous archaeological findings, such as stone and bone tools, bronze articles and others imply existence of life since ancient times in these places. Long-lasting traces have left Thracians, Slavs, Byzantines, and Romans. The traces, however, left by the Ottomans are bloody and morbid, related with forced conversion to Islam of the local Christian population. A moving account about that time has left priest M. Draginov. The national poet Ivan Vazov wrote at length about it in his travel notes from the Rhodopes. Later, when the spark of the Revival was kindled, the local population also made its contribution to the patriotic acts. The St. Trinity Church was built in Kamenitsa in 1816, which by that time was just a small underground monastery, and in 1846, the first school was opened with Iliya Zhdrakov as teacher. At the liberation time the settlements, forming the modern town Velingrad were in a sorry plight. Gradually the local population becomes conscious of the environment granted by nature, so that the town developed into a modern resort of national and international significance. There is a Town Museum of History (tel.: 0359 22591). Present. The abundance of mineral waters, the modern spa, resort facilities, mild climate and wonderful natural conditions, offer recreation to over 200 000 people here every year. The valley of Chepino is famous as the sunniest part of the Rhodopes. The sunny days come up to 74% annually. Fogs are a rare phenomenon, the average January temperature is 1.8°C and in July, it does not rise above 18.7°C. Summer is cool, winter is mild and autumn is warm and pleasant. In winter, there are wonderful conditions for skiing. Snow does not melt for a month and a half.
The greatest treasure of Velingrad are the mineral water springs (approximately 80 in number) with a temperature from 22° to 90°C and an output capacity of 130-140 I/ sec. The catchments area is about 800 km2. It is formed in three thermal zones: Chepino, Ludzhene and Kamenitsa, whereas half of the water resources come from the Chepino basin. The mineral water of Velingrad in quality and composition combines the curative qualities of the water in Hissar, Banya (Karlovo region) and of those of Narechenski Bani. They are used for treatment of the joint and bone locomotive system, the stomach and intestinal tract, the liver, skin diseases, urological diseases and others. Tens of spas, treatment centers, recreation centers, private villas and other infrastructure are built. The karst spring of Kleptouza in Chepino is a natural landmark of interest (the biggest karst spring in Bulgaria, output 570 l/sec). Near it, there is a beautiful lake and good tourist infrastructure - favourite place for rest and recreation of the local citizens and the guests of the resort as well.

Accommodation. As one of the biggest resort centers in Bulgaria, Velingrad offers comparatively good capacities to accommodate its numerous guests. Some of the sanatorium and the recreation facilities provide beds to tourists - Kamena Balneological Centre (Chepino Quarter, 4, Edelweiss Str.), Kolyu Ficheto Recreation House -3, Tsar Samuil Street-Velina Hotel, Zdravets Hotel (Fontanite Square), Kleptouza Hotel (Chepino Quarter), Mariela Hotel (90, Suedinenie Blvd.), Sofia Hotel (1, Kisselets Street), Olymapic Hotel-Restaurant (300, Suedinenie Blvd.), Kislovodsk Tourist House (Ludzhene Quarter), Bulgaria Tourist House (Chepino Quarter), the family-type hotels Toto-Chance, Elbrous, Vitosha, Velingrad, Filipopol, Skaya, Markita, Topevi Elite Lodgings, Presslav, Camping Site 4th kilometer. Private lodgings are also available. There is a great choice of entertainment facilities as well as restaurants where local Bulgarian cuisine is offered.

Tourist information. Council of Tourism (4600 Velingrad, 35, Khan Asparuch Street, tel.: 0359 25659 and 02 833902), at the hotels, at Yundola Tourist Association (16, Khan Asparuch Street, tel.: 0359 28467), at the sanatorium and resort complex.

Transport. The resort is connected with the remaining part of the country by bus and railway transport. There are regular bus connections with Sofia, Plovdiv, Pazardzhik, Peshtera, Rakitovo, Blagoevgrad, Batak, Surnitsa and many other smaller settlements, mainly in the Rhodopes. There are two bus stations - Beev Bus Station (tel.: 0359 23073) and Tonev Bus Station (tel.: 0359 23285). Velingrad is a main stop along the narrow-gauge railway line Septemvri -Dobrinishte. There are 2 railway stations -Central Railway Station in Chepino Quarter and Yug (South) Railway station in Ludzhene Quarter (tel.: 0359 24041). Bus transport functions within the town as well. Surrounding areas. At a distance of 16 km from Velingrad is situated Yundola Recreation Campus, spread in the saddle of the same name, dividing the Rhodopes from Rila Mountain (refer to Rhodopes related chapter herein). To the west of the town, at the narrow-gauge railway line to Dobrinishte is located the highest above sea level railway station on the Balkan Peninsula - Avramovi Kolibi (1455 m above sea level), also in the dividing saddle between Rila and the Rhodopes called Avramova Saddle. The village of Dorkovo is 14 km northeast of the town. In its very end in 1985, the largest paleontological finding of mastodons (from 5-6 million years ago) was discovered. The village has a regular bus connection with Velingrad. Tsepina - Medieval Bulgarian fortress is located 6 km (along an asphalt road) to the north-west of Dorkovo village. One can walk starting from Tsepina railway station on the narrow-gauge railway line Septemvri-Dobrinishte along a marked trail for about 2.30 hours. The fortress was erected between 11th and 13th century on the place of an old Thracian settlement. In the beginning of the 13th century, it had been the stronghold of the Bulgarian boyar Aleksii Slav. The Ottoman invaders destroyed it. Remains of the fortress wall, water reservoirs, churches and other buildings are now preserved. The Chepino River Bed - the valley of River Chepinska between the Rhodope subparts Alabak (to the west) and Karkaria (to the east) is about 30 km long. It is a picturesque gorge, through which pass the motorway and the narrow-gauge railway line from Septemmvri to Dobrinishte. Being carried by the low speed romantic train, one can admire the picturesque beauties of the surroundings. Velingrad is a point of departure for many tourist routes, mostly in the Phodopes' elevation Alabak (refer to the Rodopes related chapter herein).

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