The teeny village of Panichishte was at the beginning of our journey, and it was there that we’d booked the friendliest hotel ever: Villa Ema. Welcomed with open arms, rich cooking smells, carpeted rooms and warm smiles, we wondered for a moment whether we’d inadvertently taken a wrong turn on the way and left the country. Nope, we were definitely in the right place.
We know we’re on holiday, as we get up earlier than any other days of the year; on this particular morning we’d packed our weekend rucksacks and were ready by 8am. Picked up by our guide Evgeni and his friend Mario, we drove to the bottom of a ski lift and 10 levs each later, we were sailing up the hill, almost brushing our feet on the treetops whilst turning round to see the horizon fall away behind us.
We walked for nine hours at a comfortable pace with Evgeni explaining where we were …and more importanty, where we were going all the way. Taking the road less travelled, we started at Dolnoto Ezero, weaved our way past Ribnoto Ezero, Trilistnika and Bliznaka, as we watched the tiny people silhoutted against the sky slowly inching their way up the steep slopes in the distance.
“What is that white rock surrounding some of the lakes?” I asked, quite early on, thinking it might be quartz sparkling away in the hills.
“It’s snow,” said Evgeni. I know, right?! In July! When you’re being burnt by the sun beating down keenly at some 25+ degrees, it’s hard to believe. In fact, I was only completely convinced when I’d actually touched some.
Arriving at Bubreka (aptly shaped like a kidney) we girded our loins, topped up our water bottles from the fast flowing mountain spring and joined the trail of walkers in all manner of attire (sandals! bare feet!!) and with the oddest of companions (tiny dogs! babies!!) to scramble up past the last two lakes, Okoto and Salzata to Otovishki Peak, a mere 2535m above sea level. Admittedly it was a bit chilly up here.(I still wouldn’t have expected snow.)
After that we wended our way down rather more quickly, via Seven Lakes lodge (and a welcome cup of mountain herb tea) and across into a forest for another hour’s trek to Skakavitsa lodge, where we were to spend the night. As the trees thinned and turned into meadow, the lodge loomed up ahead like a mirage, offering much needed rest for our weary bodies. (Which it turned out had also been burnt to crisps as well as worn out!)
Replete after chilli-enhanced bean soup, meatballs and a hearty slug of cockle-warming red wine (useful after sundown when temperatures quickly dropped), it wasn’t long before we were ready to collapse onto our lumpy mattresses. Lumpy or no, that night we could have slept on a washing line, we were so exhausted…
…the next morning we were only popping up to the Skakavitsa waterfall, but even that was an effort for our well-used leg muscles. Surprisingly different terrain consisting of all those flowers, and mountain greenery that could have come straight from the pages of Heidi, the waterfall was spectacular and noisy. A few more hours of aromatic pine forests later, we finally arrived back at where we’d left the car.
What a stunning two days. The views were breathtaking and the weather couldn’t have been more perfect for our trek. Thanks to Evgeni and Mario for helping us make amazing memories, and thanks Bulgaria for reminding us that you are actually brilliant.