In the south-east of Europe sits Bulgaria. Often overlooked and rarely read about. We decided to change that and are attempting 6 weeks of family travel in the 14th largest country in Europe. First stop, Sofia, for a few days of city life before retreating to the coast for some much needed rest and writing time.
We didn't have two days to see the Seven Rila Lakes and the Rila Monestary so we had to squish the trip into one day. Our guesthouse owner didn't think it could be done. She doesn't know us very well.
We drove through Sapareva Banya to reach Panichishte and rode the Pionerska chair lift through the Rila National Park. It was a mission to find as the signage isn't clear and we stopped to ask quite a number of hikers along the well. Little honey huts lined the street to the chairlift and their proprieters asked us to park at the bottom, I drove through and used the carpark at the top. My guess was they were hoping for business as we walked through.
The chairlift was 18 lev each (€9) for a return ticket and the kids were free. That AUD$27 was worth so much more. The 20-minute chair trip goes over the most beautiful landscape you can imagine. Although I imagine in the winter it would be even more so. Tip: Bring a light sweater, the higher you go the cooler it gets.
At the top of the chairlift Mia spotted snow on the mountain. And that was her newest wish, to have a snowball, so the adventure began. We commenced a hike to the top of a mountain just to get a snowball, oh and to see one of the famous Seven Rila Lakes, both were well worth the effort and scraped knees.
I was so proud of my 4 and 5 year old – this was their first “real” mountain hike. They really pushed themselves and it was all worthwhile being on top of the world.
After our hearty climb the kids were beat and napped as we drove to the world famous Rila Monastery.
It was a beautiful complex filled with a very rich history. Dating back to the 10th century, it has been damaged and rebuilt multiple times. It is the largest and most famous Eastern Orthodox monastery in Bulgaria and is situated high within the Rila Mountains. The peace and serenity that surround it, due to its remote location, is just phenomenal.
The whole complex occupies about 8,800 m² in a strange square-type shape with the 19th century majestic church in the centre. With 5 domes, 3 altars and 2 side chapels it’s hard not to just stare at the exterior for the hours you spend there. But inside you will find famous frescoes from 1846 and icons dating back to 14th century.
The buildings around the outside are the monks living quarters and it was forbidden to climb the stairs and take a peek. Apparently there are 300 chambers, a kitchen and a library.
While we didn’t take the time to visit the museum, since the kids were bordering on boredom, if you have time we do recommend a visit to go see Rafail’s Cross. This wooden cross was made from a whole piece of wood and whittled down using magnifying lenses to recreate 104 religious scenes and 650 miniature figures. It took the monk 12 years to make. I wish we had given the kids an ice cream to tide them over and taken a look.
The Rila Monastery is a beautiful, peaceful place, where one can meditate and enjoy the views. While realistically this is less likely to happen with children, they did find the small water fountains with giant steel spoons very fascinating just long enough for me to gain one minute of spiritual quietude.
We were so glad we had made the effort to squeeze this in before leaving for Poland. The road trip was one of the best memories we had of Bulgaria and this day topped them all... in more ways than one.
Erin Bender, 34, Female. I am a family travel writer. My husband is the photographer - Josh Bender, 34. My kids are the adventures. Mia, 6, Female. Cause, 5, Male. They love adventure and recently abseiled down a 18 metre cliff face in Malta!
We are nomadic. We travel full time. 2013 - 28 countries, 2014 - 26 countries, 2015 - only time will tell.
March/April - Australia
May/June - Bali, Indonesia
July - Malaysia
August - USA and possibly the rest of the year.
We are up for anything. We do have two younger kids, but it hasn’t stopped us - Husky sleds, snowmobiling, abseiling, hiking, jungle, safari, trekking, etc.
As above in number 4 we will be in Asia until mid year before heading to North America.