Sultan’s trail (part 3): Through Sofia into the Rila Mountains (Bulgaria)

Distance: 295km |Total: 1,272km

After a lengthy wait at the passport control, I enjoyed a sunny sunday afternoon back in Nis, Serbia. First up i checked if my bike was still there… All good. I was dead tired from the previous festivities and ended up back in the hostel munching away another Serbian hamburger and watching some YouTube stuff on Laos – my destination for February.


One thing that was missing were my cycling pants. Probably still in london. So before setting off next day i quickly popped to the cycle store. Going without pants is just too cruel on my backside i figured. Gonna be enough pain anyway.

Off to Pirot

The Bulgarian border was a good 100km away on the roads – more if you avoid them and go off-road. The person in the hostel said the first 30km out of Nis are horrible on the road, so i followed the GPS tracks of the trail once more.


That worked well for a while until it took me uphill somewhere (generally the terrain is much more hilly now) and roads turned to dirt roads and those eventually disappeared too. I was somewhere in the forest with a GPS yet no trail. Brilliant!

Walking through these bushes would have been hard enough… But with a touring bike and panniers it was yet another challenge. I must have pushed the bike for over an hour before dirt roads reappeared. Scratches from branches all over me and half a forest somewhere stuck on my bike. Fun!


Eventually the road had me back and i abandoned my GPS markings for today. Initially it was a bit busy, but soon i was on a sort parallel road next to the new motorway and was in peace. Well, the sun didn’t give me much peace.

By 4.30pm i reached Pirot passing by its castle and called it a day after 80km. I booked myself into Ana Lux hotel, had a massage and a huge piece of meat for dinner. Time to relax a little more. Tomorrow i head for Sofia. The last capital city before Istanbul.


Sofia… Its been a while

The border to Bulgaria was some 35km away from pirot and the crossing again very straightforward – much better than at airports ๐Ÿ˜


The countryside got hillier though all towns and little villages up to Sofia were little inspiring to be honest.

Even Sofia, some 60km from the border, left me unimpressed. Definitely not a great place for cyclists even with some random cycle lanes. Well, i has reached the fifth and final capital city on this trip before Istanbul.


After a little sightseeing and a decent sushi dinner on the main shopping street, realising that i remembered almost nothing from a business trip to see the banks years ago, i headed back to the hostel for a lengthy chat with the manager – a Bulgarian lady in her 50’s – before hitting the bed super tired.

She was very friendly yet loves gossiping about other guests behind their back’s… I wonder what she thinks about me ๐Ÿคฃ๐Ÿ˜‚ well, not really. Thanks for everything.

Pushing the bike

This days target was Samokov, a town nestled on the foot of the Rila mountains. I chose to go offroad again after leaving Sofia in what seemed an endless straight road out of town.

After a decent climb on normal roads heading for the hills i had to capitulate… Dirt roads are not made for my touring bike. A jeep would struggle on these! My back wheel just kept spinning… So pushing was on the menu all the way up. Sofia’s concrete towers slowly disappearing in the background.


Well, nice views compensated for all the sweat and thankfully i had plenty of water with me. The way down was better though i had to carefully maneuver rocks, gravel, sand, bushes…

On the other side, not far from a large lake, i enjoyed a great lunch. Proper chicken soup (TWO in fact) and pork shashlik’s. Delicious ๐Ÿ˜‹.


From here it was more or less flat (it never really seems to be in Bulgaria) and by late afternoon i reached Samokov some 70km later. Tired. Even a horse carriage overtook me ๐Ÿ˜‰


The hotel Aleks was a great place to stay. The owner is a biker as well and speaks german. Good chat about travelling. He also recommended a local restaurant just around the corner. Very traditional and, as i found out, with huge portions. Tasty though.


I slept early after spending a little time watching world stock markets crash (correct?)… Gladly no office for me tomorrow. ๐Ÿ—ฝ๐Ÿ’น๐Ÿ“‰

Too tired…

Aleks prepared filled pancakes this morning and told me about this plans to cycle to the Danube delta in Romania next year. All the best for you man!

It was pretty fresh outside, but i got going just after 9am. The scenery of the Rila mountains remained impressive though i opted to keep to the roads after yesterdays offroad experience.


Not an hour into my ride some screws decided to go over board… Again the panniers holders. Clearly due to the rather shaky downhill ride yesterday. Well, it was quickly fixed with a spare screw and cable ties. I also added a little more air to the tires and reached the town of Dupnica by lunchtime after a good 40km. Brisk (helped by a long downhill stretch ๐Ÿ˜).


To get to the Rila monastery was only 40km more. But i was not at all in cycling mood and tired. So i abandoned my target for today and checked into the town of Kocherinovo to hang out for the afternoon.

Dont know why i am so tired, but my legs just feel heavy. Well, afternoon in a Bulgarian village then that has not a lot more than through traffic to the monastery. Maybe just what i need ๐Ÿค”๐Ÿคฃ๐Ÿ˜‚ Tomorrow off to see the monastery allowing for a good amount of time… After all Aleks told me they keep all the Bulgarian history there. I am curious.


2 thoughts on “Sultan’s trail (part 3): Through Sofia into the Rila Mountains (Bulgaria)

  1. If you are wondering why so little flat ground in the Balkans, know that “balkan” (ะฑะฐะปะบะฐะฝ) in Bulgarian literally means mountain. Rila Monastery and the entire Rila Mountain range are beautiful though of course this monastery does not contain all of Bulgarian history. Nevertheless it is well deserving of its status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site (

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