About 30% of Bulgaria is mountainous. The country’s mountains are exceptionally diverse in relief and offer abundant options for relaxation, along with sports and entertainment for tourists, since conditions are exceptionally conducive for tourism in both winter and summer. The ski season in the medium high and the alpine resorts last about 130 days each year, while during the summer months enthusiasts may hike in centuries-old forests. The numerous hotels and the recreation centers provide accommodations for a wide variety of tastes and preferences.
The Balkan Mountains are the longest range in Bulgaria. They are also known simply as the Balkans, the source of the name for the entire peninsula. It divides the country into two parts – north and south. The Balkan Mountains are famous for their numerous mountain routes. The highest peak in The Balkans is Botev (2,376 meters above sea level). Excellent conditions for mountaineering, skiing, and spa tourism are to be found in Berkovitsa, Ribaritsa, Belogradchik, Beklemeto, Uzana, Karandila, Chiprovtsi, Varshets, Troyan, Teteven, Apriltsi, Tryavna, Elena, Kotel, Zheravna, Bozhentsi, and many other locations in the Balkanss. Tourists may also visit the monasteries located in the mountains – the strongholds of Bulgarian Orthodoxy. In close proximity and parallel to the Balkan Mountains lies the second longest mountain range in Bulgaria – the Sredna Gora.
The mountains Rila and Pirin are alpine, characterized by steep ridges, high peaks, deep valleys, and gorges. The highest peak in Bulgaria and on the Balkan Peninsula is located in the Rila Mountains – Mount Musala (2,925 m). Here is located one of Bulgaria’s landmarks – the seven glacial lakes that are located at an altitude of 2,095 m to 2,535 m. The largest resort in the Rila range is Borovets. It possesses excellent ski runs and mountain hotels. Unique opportunities for combining hiking, skiing and spa tourism are also offered in Panichishte and at Sapareva Banya. The ski centers of Malyovitsa, Semkovo and Govedartsi are also very popular with tourists.
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More excellent opportunities for hiking and skiing are offered in the Pirin Mountains, widely admired for their alpine beauty. Here are located the resorts of Bansko, Dobrinishte, and Predela; along with the Popovi Livadi and Kamenitsa lodges, among other destinations. The resort of Bansko has developed into a resort of European and global importance, and during the past few years it has host a number of World Cup competitions in both alpine skiing and biathlon. It offers impressive ski runs, a plethora of hotels and pensions, and the renowned Pirin cuisine. Dobrinishte and the holiday complexes in the locality of Predela also offer opportunities for relaxation and many types of entertainment. The second highest peak in Bulgaria and the third on the Balkan Peninsula is also located in the Pirin range – Mount Vihren (2,914 meters above sea level). The national park Pirin is included in the UNESCO list of natural heritage sites.
The Rhodope Mountains, known as the home of Orpheus, is divided into the alpine western part and the lower eastern part. The highest resort here is Pamporovo, located in a densely forested area, boasting skiing that rivals Bulgaria’s other premier winter resorts. Other options for recreation are to be found in nearby Chepelare, Yundola, Belmeken, Batak and Byala Cherkva. Tourists can enjoy the unique traditional architecture of the Rhodope villages Momchilovtsi, Gela, Dolen, Leshten, Kovachevitsa, Shiroka Laka, among many others, and sample traditional Rhodope dishes. The Rhodope Mountains are dotted with lodges that offer comfortable accommodations for hikers. The highest peak in the Rhodopes is Golyam Perelik (2,191 meters above sea level).
Mount Vitosha is located in close proximity to the nation’s capital, Sofia. With its beautiful natural setting and numerous well-marked hiking trails, and cultural landmarks, it is excellent for mountain ecotourism. The mountain also is the site of the oldest natural park on the Balkan Peninsula, the Vitosha Nature Reserve. There are two ski areas on the mountain, Aleko and Konyarnika, both of which offer excellent conditions for skiing and snowboarding during the winter months. The highest peak is Cherni Vrah (2,290 meters above sea level).
In the Osogovska Mountains there are also opportunities for skiing at “Lyudmil Yankov”, and in the northeastern part of the range is the ski area “Valchi Dol”. The highest peak in this region is Ruen (2,251 meters above sea level).
The Belasitsa Mountains offer exceptional mountain hiking. There are two lodges that welcome tourists. The highest peak is Radomir (2,029 meters above sea level).
Strandzha is distinct from the other Bulgarian mountains, since its peaks are much lower and its climate milder. Strandzha is home to a wide range of flora and fauna.
The mountain resorts Pamporovo, Borovets and Bansko have gained an international reputation. Pamporovo is located at 1,650 meters above sea level in the Rhodope Mountains. Snow falls on average more than 150 a year, and the runs are from 800 to 3,800 meter long. Borovets is located in the Rila Mountains, at 1,350 meters above sea level. It offers excellent ski runs, and its biathlon course is one of the best in the world. The fastest developing mountain resort in Europe is Bansko. Besides offering world-class skiing, in the city of Bansko there are also more than 140 cultural monuments. Bansko is also the home of an acclaimed school of icon painting. There are also good conditions for skiing at the following resorts: Malyovitsa, Panichishte, Batak, Beklemeto, Ribaritsa, Osogovo, Momchilovtsi, Chepelare, Kom-Berkovitsa, Uzana, Yundola, Belmeken, Bodrost-Kartala, Predel, Semkovo and Aleko.