Vitosha is the most visited Bulgarian Mountain. It rises immediately above Sofia and is one of the symbols of our capital. Few are the big cities in the world, and capitals are even fewer, that possess such a natural advantage. Vitosha Mountain is the most significant part of the Plana-Zavala Mountain system. With its highest peak - Cherni Vrah (2290 m.) it occupies the fourth place among the Bulgarian moun- tains.
Vitosha is the cradle of hiking tourism in Bulgaria. The date 27 August 1895 is considered to be the beginning of the organized tourist movement in the country.
After the invitation of the renowned writer and democrat Aleko Konstantinov 300 men and women then climbed Cherni Vrah - something incredible and unbelievable in those times. Since then thousands of hikers climb the peak every year on this day.
Vitosha is a typical dome-like mountain - one of the few in Bulgaria. It has a slightly pro- longed profile from the northwest to the south- east. It consists primarily of granite rocks, but there are Karst rocks as well especially in the Southern part. A unique natural phenomenon are the so-called "stone rivers" (moreni) - piles of huge rounded granite stones on many of the river valleys reaching up to 2 km in length and 50 m in width. Especially expressive and beautiful are the "Moreni" in the area of Golden bridges (Zlatnite mostove). Similar phenomena can be seen in other Bulgarian mountains too, the Vitosha Moreni however being unique. They are the symbol of the mountain.
Since 1935 a meteorological station has been operating on Cherni Vrah, with many posts, mostly in the chalets. Comparative data about Sofia and Cherni Vrah weather conditions: the average monthly and annual temperature - for the coldest month - January - in Sofia is minus 1.7° and on Cherni Vrah - minus 8.3°. For the warmest month - July in Sofia - 21.2° and for Cherni Vrah - August - 9.0°C. The average annual temperature in Sofia is 10.5°C and at Cherni Vrah - 0.3°C. There is an interesting phenomenon featuring the Vitosha climate - the inversion (mostly in December and January). When Sofia is covered by thick fog and cold, the Vitosha Mountain shines in sun and warmth. This happens at an average of 15 days per year. An average of 140 days per year are very cold on Cherni Vrah - the maximum values in these days are negative and there are 222 frosty days (when only the minimum temperatures are negative). The winter in the high parts of the mountain lasts between 5 and 7 months, and truly summer months are only July and August.
The average precipitation rate on Cherni Vrah (mostly snowfalls) is 1178 I per sq. m and June is the most rainy month - 1421 per sq. m. while September has the lowest precipitation figure - 71 I per sq. m. The biggest snow coverage is formed in March. Cherni Vrah is quite inhospitable, having an average of 250 foggy days in the year and only 50 clear ones and it is one of most windy peaks in Bulgaria. With an average wind speed of 9,3 m/s it occupies the second place among the monitored peaks after the Murgash Peak in Stara Planina (10.3 m/s) and before Botev Peak (9,1 m/s) and Musala (7,6 m/s). Only 7 per cent of the days on Cherni Vrah are windless.
Clockwise, the borders of the mountain are as follows: to the North and Northeast - the Sofia Plain, to the West - the Egulo-Palakari Saddle (1195 m) separates the mountain from the Plana Mountain; to the South it reaches to the Samokov Plain, and the Buka Preslav Saddle (1090m) separates it from Verila, the next to the west is the Pernik Plain, and to the north- west the border with the Lyulin Mountain passes through the Vladaya Saddle (860m above sea level). Vitosha has an area of 278 sq. km - 18 and 20 km in length and width. In spite of its expressly compact nature, the mountain is conditionally divided into 4 main ranges - Northern, Eastern, southwestern and northwestern.
The slopes of the Northern range descend steeply to the Sofia plain above which dominates the Kamen Del Peak (1862 m) after which this range is also called the "Kamendel range". In its turn it is divided into four parts: Vladaya (without expressed peaks, but one of the most popular tourist sites - Zlatnite mostove is located here), Knyazhevo (here the highest peak of the sector is Lavcheto - 2052 m, as well as the peaks - Sredetz (1969 m), Chernata Skala (1869m), Kopitoto (1348m with the TV- tower), Dragalevtsi -with the two-headed al- pine peak - Kominite (1620), Ushite (1960), Kamen Del and others) and Simeonovo. There is a Gondola lift to the Aleko challet. The Eastern part, also called Kupenski, borders the Plana Mountain. Some of the highest and well known peaks are here - Golyam Rezen (2277 m - the second after the Cherni Vruh), Malak Rezen (2191 m), the interesting Golyam Kupen (1930). The eastern edges of the Rezen peaks are particularly expressive - they offer a site for Alpine rock climbing. Under this crown of peaks spreads the reserve "Bistrishko branishte". The well-known Vitosha resort and ski centre Aleko is located in the Eastern part as well.
The southwestern range is the largest but least visited in the mountain. It borders the Verila Mountain. It is subdivided into three parts - the Vetren part is the most Eastward with the high peaks Skoparnik (2226 m), Kupena (2195), Siva Gramada (2003); The middle part - Petruska which is the lowest with its peak Petrus (1454); and to the West end is the Bosneshka part with its flat, and low watershed, where the highest peak is Krasta (1561 m); the longest cave in Bulgaria - Duhlata is located here as well as the interesting Karst water spring - Jivata voda.
The city below is Sofia
The Northwestern part borders the Lyulin Mountain and is called Silimishki. The ridge beginning at the Samara peak (2108 m) and then continuing with the peaks Silimitca (2014), Ostretc (1836) and Ostritca (1696) dominates it. To the North of the ridge is the specific Vladaiski Cherni Vrah (1641). The four main ranges of the mountain pile together to Cherni Vrah peak (2290m) as a true centre of the mountain.
Part of the Balkan watershed, dividing the basins of the Black Sea and the White Sea passes along the mountain. The south-western rivers flow to river Struma and then to the White Sea, while the Eastern, Northern and some of the Western - through Iskar river and then the Danube flow to the Black Sea. The longest and biggest river taking its rise from the Vitosha Mountain is Struma. Its total length is 415 km, 290 of which - on Bulgarian territory. Matnitza, Kladnishka and Ftudarshtitza rivers are among its biggest tributaries from Vitosha. Among the bigger rivers flowing to Iskar are Palakaria (39 km long), Valchi Dol, Selskata (Jeleznishka) river, Bistrishka (Stara river, Yanchevska river, Simeonovska river, Dragalevska river, Boyanska river, Perlovska river and Vladaiska river. There are no lakes in Vitosha. There were lakes in the past but they have been drained due to ore mining. A lot of artificial reservoirs have been built in the lower parts of the mountain near the resort villages, the most beautiful among which is the Boyana reservoir (1906).
The year 1934 saw the establishment of the first national park in the area of Vitosha aimed at preserving for the next generations the beauties of the mountain. Vitosha, nevertheless, has been developed. There are more than 100 lodging places with almost 6000 beds (not counting beds provided in near-by villages), two Gondola lifts, numerous chair lifts, catering facilities, mountain shelters, kilometers of asphalt roads. All these are concentrated mainly along the northern slopes of the mountain, facing Sofia.
There are two main tourist centres - Aleko and Zlatnite mostove (The Golden Bridges). The first is at about 1800 above sea level in the Eastern part of the mountain and is one of Bulgaria's biggest ski centres. There are several hotels - the 3 stars "Prostor" (phone.: 02/ 67 11 72, 73, 74, fax: 02 671158, the same phone for "Moreni"), 3-stars "Aglika" (02/67 28 70), 2-stars "Moreni" (02/67 10 59, the same fax as "Prostor"), and "Shtastlivetza" (presently under reconstruction). There is also a tourist chalet Aleko with 88 beds in 3 suits and rooms of 2, 3, 4, 8 and more beds. The price per bed is 3-5 DM (phone,: 02/67 11 13). The chalet is the starting point of the Bulgarian section of the European hiking route E-4. Above it is the huge slope Stenata, one of the biggest natural ski tracks in Bulgaria. Of course there are lots of facilities to add to the comfort of skiers - elevators, snowlevelling trucks, special marking, etc. Near-by shops, cafes, restaurants offer wonderful opportunities for pleasant stay. Behind the chalet is the office of the Mountain Rescue Brigade (phone: 02/967 11 55). Aleko is also the starting point for climbing the highest peak of Vitosha -Cherni Vrah. The steep climb, at a difference of altitude of approximately 500 m. typically takes 1,5 hrs., and for those who think it is difficult, there is an elevator to the peak Malak Rezen, from where they can proceed along a flat route and reach the dreamed peak in 30 min. only. All routes to the peak are marked by high metal pickets or pass by ski facilities, thus reducing to the maximum the possibility of one getting lost. Still it is not recommended to climb the peak in bad weather!
On the peak itself, besides the meteorological station and the base of the Mountain Rescue Brigade (phone: 02/967 11 28), there is a tourist station where one can find shelter in bad weather (no beds however). Tea and cold food are also offered. Marked hiking tracks start from Aleko: to Zlatnite Mostove (2-3 hrs., passing through the Plateau, chalet Bor, chalet Tintyava, Chalet Momina Skala, chalet Septemvri), to the student base Akademic (1.5-2 hrs.), to the village of Bistritza (1.5-2 hrs.), to Sofia quarter Simeonovo (1.5-2 hrs.), to quarter Dragalevtzi (1.5-2 hrs.), to chalet Prespa (30 min).
The area of Aleko chalets
Besides on foot, from the villages and quarters mentioned above one can reach Aleko by car - 16 km on a road starting from quarter Dragalevtsi, or by regular bus line No 66 starting from quarter HIadilnika; by chair-lift "Bai Krustyo-Goli Vrah, whose first station is above Dragalevtzi and can be reached with bus line No 93 starting in quarter HIadilnika, or bus K° 64 and then 20 minutes walk from the central square of Dragalevtsi; by a sophisticated cabin elevator Simeonovo, starting in the village of Simeonovo, to which one can take bus line 122 from HIadilnika and 123 from Durvenitsa.
Zlatnite Mostove (Golden Bridges) is the other popular tourist centre, located at an altitude of 1400 m. above sea level in the Vladaya part of the Northern range of Vitosha. Most notorious here is the phenomenon we mentioned above - the "moreni". In old times this was a place where gold was washed out of the sands, hence the name of the place. The hotel restaurant Zlatnite Mostove is under re- construction now. Around it there are numerous pavilions, shops, cafes, rest houses, children playgrounds. Zlatnite Mostove is also a starting point to Cherni Vrah (about 3 hrs.), which route passes by one of the oldest and most beautiful chalets - Kumata (1 hr.) and the ski centre Konyarnika, which is 15-20 min. walk above the chalet. There are marked hiking routes in other directions as well: the chalets Planinarska Pesen, Borova Gora and Boeritsa (1 hr), the chalets Edelvais and Zvezditza (1.5 hrs.), chalet Ostritsa (1 hr.) and chalet Selimitsa (yet another 1 hr), passing by chalet Trendafila, chalet Bor (45 min.), chalets Septemvri (25 min), Momma Skala (30 min), Rodina (35 min) and Tintyava (40 min.), the chalets Sredets (40 min.),
Esperanto (45 min), Kamen del (1 hr.), Planinets (45 min) shelter Kikish (1.15 hrs), chalet Belite Brezj (0.15 hr.) and Sofia quarter Knyajevo (1 5 hrs.), quarter Vladaya (1 hr), the peak Kopitoto with a TV tower (1 hr). There are signs showing all tracks, and occasionally - information boards. Besides on foot from Sofia quarters Knyajevo and Vladaya, to Zlatnite Mostove one can also drive along a 14 km road, starting in Sofia quarter Boyana. A city bus line No 61 and 261 is also available starting in Sofia quarter Ovcha Kupel (by Stadium Slavia).
There are two stations of the Mountain Rescue Brigade in the area of Zlatnite Mostove - near chalet Tintyava (phone: 02/ 957 47 03) and in the area called Ofeliite. Another, smaller tourist centre is the Kopitoto (1350 m. above sea level). - in the Knyajevo part of the Northern range with a TV tower, newly built hotel-restaurant, shops, etc. The cabin elevator starting from Knyajevo reaches this place, bus line 62 from Ovcha Kupel is also available. It takes 1,5-2 hrs. walk from Knyajevo and about 1,5 hrs. from Boyana to reach the area. Marked tracks to Zlatnite Mostove start here (1 hr.), the chalet Planinets (0.40 hrs.), Momma Skala (0.45 hrs.), Esperanto (0.40 hrs.), etc.
A small tourist centre is formed around chalet Selimitsa (1300 m above sea level), in the northwestern range of the mountain. There are several rest houses and restaurants there. It takes a15 minutes walk from there to reach the interesting Monastery Saint Nicolas. Marked tracks lead to chalet Ostritsa (1 hr), chalet Edelvais (1,5 hrs.), peak Selimitsa (1,5 hrs.), peak Cherni Vrah (2.5-3 hrs), the village of Chuipetliovo (2.5-3 hrs.). A starting point for this tourist centre is the village of Kladnitza (3 km. road, 1 hr. walk along the road and then along a marked path). The village of Kladnitsa is 22 km. away from Sofia and is connected to it by bus line No 60, starting from quarter Ovcha Kupel, and 16 km. away from Pernik, with which it is also connected with a regular bus line. 3 km. before Kladnitsa is the resort village of Rudartzi with an open-air mineral water pool.
All tourist chalets in Vitosha (about 15) offer lodging the price for which is 6-8 DM, and tasty dishes from the Bulgarian cuisine. The marked tracks are typically broad alleys, very good for mountain hiking. There are two special ski tracks down the hill (Aleko- Dragalevski Monastery and peak Ushite - Knyajevo). Small resort villages, some of which are Sofia suburbs now, surround almost the whole mountain. Chuipetlovo, Bosnek, Kladnitza, Rudartzi, Marchevo, Vladaya, Knyajevo, Boyana, Dragalevtzi, Simeonovo, Bistritza, Jeleznitza, Yarlovo are starting points to the mountain, connected with Sofia and Pernik with regular bus lines, and offering lodging in family hotels and food in attractive restaurants.
There are a number of valuable historical monuments here, the most popular among them being the Boyana Church (1259), the frescos in which are the best of their kind in Europe retained from these early times. The church is included in the list of UNESCO of most valuable works of arts. It is open from 9 to 12 a.m. and from 1 to 5 p.m. with a lecture Tuesday through Saturday. Phone: 02/68 74 34. It is in the centre of Boyana (bus line W 64).
The Dragalevtzi Monastery was founded under the reign of King Ivan Alexander in the middle of the 14th century. During the Turkish yoke it was a centre of culture and dissent. Vassil Levski was often sheltered here and a secret revolutionary committee was established in the monastery in 1873. It is located 3 km. above the village of Dragalevtzi, on the road to Aleko. It is 30-40 min. walk from Dragalevtzi. It is open to visitors every day of the week.
The Church of Saint George in Bistritsa is located on the place where the main monastery of Sveta Gora was in the past. There are mineral water springs in some of the villages mentioned above - Rudartzi, Knyajevo, and Jeleznitza.
Even though it is smaller in area than the other high mountains in Bulgaria, Vitosha has a lot of attractive advantages - high and beautiful peaks, thick woods, many tourist sites, sufficient snow fall ensuring stable snow cover, pure air, hundreds of kilometers of well marked tracks, numerous lodging places and restaurants, comparatively well preserved nature, clean potable water, wonderful ski facilities, rich history. Adding to all these closeness to the biggest city, which is the capital city of Bulgaria - this explains why is this mountain visited and loved so much.