Bulgaria's Svoge: a Starting Point to Explore Beautiful Iskar Gorge
Novinite is republishing with an abridgement a second (after the one about Lakatnik) story by our reader Leon de Leeuw, who visited the area of Lakatnik, a place not far from Bulgaria's capital Sofia which has much to offer to hikers and nature lovers.
North of Sofia stretches the Iskar gorge, a canyon formed by thousands of years of erosion and river Iskar's force. The Iskar gorge makes excellent destination to take a break from city life in the capital and retreat in nature for a while. Svoge, being center of this region, makes a perfect base to explore the surrounding area.
Part of what makes Svoge ideal for an excursion from Sofia, is its proximity. Intercity trains take thirty-five minutes and 'Personal' trains, stopping at every station, do the stretch in fifty minutes. Intercity trains offer first class, nonetheless any ticket will cost you only a couple of Euros. No matter your means of travel - surely the route will surprise you with magnificent, green mountains, valleys and quaint villages along river Iskar.
Svoge itself is a quiet town that offers you all amenities to explore the stunning area around it. It has some shops, restaurants, cafes and even a hotel. Upon arriving in Svoge by train, pass the station building on your left to reach the main square. Right in front is spacious restaurant 'Iskar', offering you various dishes and quick, good service. If weather permits, opt for the cozy terrace of restaurant 'Soleil' nearby. After leaving the station take a left turn, leave the main square, follow the street parallel to the railway tracks. After 80 metres, on your right hand is a sign that directs to 'Restaurant Soleil'. Both restaurants described here offer excellent dishes and courteous service.
As said, Svoge is a good base to explore closeby nature, some suggestions being:
Gara Bov - Ivan Vazov's Eco Trail
Provided that the weather is suitable and you have good walking shoes, the Eco Trail in Gara Bov is definitely your best choice. Trains from Sofia/Svoge to Gara Bov leave regularly. Get a ticket, hop on and exit at the third station. From Svoge you arrive in Gara Bov in approximately 13 minutes. Leave the station towards the bridge crossing the Iskar river, the main road being right in front of you. Make a right turn, walk until you see a sign with 'Touristic Road Vazov's Path' pointing left. After fifteen minutes uphill the road turns into a gravel path, where the actual trail starts. After passing some creeks and thirty minutes of hiking, the waterfall is in full sight. From this point it takes another fifteen minutes to stand right where the water hits the rocks. Standing in front of the clattering waterfall on a hot summer day is fantastic. If you'd like to see more of the area: the trail continues upwards to the village Zasele, located right above the waterfall. The climb is steep but offers stunning views once you make it up. From then you can retrace your steps or make a two hour detour via another gravel road, starting on the other side of Zasele.
Eight kilometres from Svoge is the quietly located community Zhelen. If you'd like to hike there, the road ascends equally, making the walk easily doable. To find the road to Zhelen; head right from Svoge's train station, passing a small park alongside the railway. The descending road then makes a curve right up until the junction with 'Iskar Boulevard' - turn left and cross the short bridge. The green building on your right is a hotel offering rooms from 15 Euros a night, excluding breakfast. Provided no wedding party is hosted and you don't mind noise of trains passing, you can have a good night of sleep here. Pass under the railway bridge and start the stunning walk to Zhelen. The village border starts three kilometres before the actual main square, it has a small store but you can never be sure it's open. The scenery and panoramas make this hike absolutely worth it. With some luck an infrequent bus heads back down to Svoge - it's best to ask what time it leaves, provided it does.
About a hundred metres right of Svoge's train station is a small square where buses leave to villages nearby. You can venture out and take any bus - natural beauty guaranteed. However, Iskrets is a village that is frequented with one bus each half hour, covering the nine kilometre distance. On the way you pass a chocolate factory, producing the well-known Svoge chocolate. In Iskrets you can simply hike through the village and stumble upon some classic, seemingly abandoned cars. Alternatively, take the long but scenic, winding road up to Breze village. Buses back to Svoge leave from the same place where you got off. Good to know - departure times from both Svoge and Iskrets are listed at Svoge's bus station.
In conclusion, the Iskar gorge is immensely attractive for those who wish to make a daytrip from Sofia - possibly including an overnight stay. For any more insights or questions, do not hesitate to contact me.
The article originally appeared on Mr De Leeuw's website.
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