Road trip in Bulgaria and Romania

 

My friend Micke came over for some biking and we kind of copied Johann Müehlegg’s set-up from Salt Lake City 2002 – well not the steroid part obviously, but: “Open hard and then increase!”

We just got back from 6 days of awesome biking in different mountains in Southeast Europe. The temperature in Bucharest has been around 40 degrees lately and it’s a bit of a shock for Micke. But thumbs up!

We head South. Cross the Danube and enter Bulgaria

It’s about 5 hours in the car to Sofia. Once there we meet up with Orlin for some planning over food and beers. Orlin is by the way about to start his own business: Bike Ventures

Day 1 – Three hills in Stara Planina

There are several mountain ranges in Bulgaria. One of them is Stara Planina and it stretches from West to East. The peaks are around 2500 meters but there are also some nice hills, valleys and ridges. We have decided to try three rides starting in three different villages – approx 30 minutes by car in between.

The first village is Zhelyava. The vertical climb of 600 meters is very tough – it’s 36 degrees and hardly any shadow

We reach a peak at 1200 meters and enjoy the view of the 2300 meter tall Vitosha Mountain and Sofia right at the base, in the haze.

Getting ready for the downhill

Orlin and Micke take off

At some nice formations we stop to play around for a while

The trails are taking us back to the village and like in all other forgotten villages in Bulgaria there is a local joint where you can get something to eat and drink. The ”Kebache” and ”köfte” are heavenly good. French fries with Sirene cheese, beers, coke… and we only pay 5 Euros

Off we go to the next village: Seslavci. With renewed energy we climb the 450 vertical meters and enjoy the super nice single tracks

It’s a quick ride and we make it back to the flat dirt road in no time

We find the local joint and get a bit surprised when mother Earth decides to set of a 4,5 Richter scale earth quake – after shake from the big one in Pernik (one hour away) some 1,5 month ago. Luckily it’s a short one and we just get wagged on the bench we are sitting on and then it’s over

Tired but hungry for more. We go for the third village: Lokorsko, a bit further west. The climb starts in this amazing landscape and we gain some 400 meters of elevation

Close to the trailhead Orlins chain snaps. Is there something else wrong or is it just the smell of the pile of shit to the right…

The trail is the best so far and so fun. Micke goes Olsson airlines:

Sometimes technical and sometimes just full blast. Wow!

After drinking a lot in the heat we try out the features at the local square

We sum up the first day of riding: 1400 meters of climb, more than 40km and I don’t know how many liters of liquid and lots of fun

Day 2 – The Seven Rile Lakes

Actually not too tired from yesterday, but it would be nice to go biking where it’s not too hot. We head for the Rila Mountains south of Sofia. We were looking for a ride that would be more than just biking. Orlin had this idea of finally biking one of the hiking trails he had done by foot so many times as a guide.

Just 1,5 hours from Sofia and we reach a newly inaugurated chair lift that most probably wasn’t built with all the permits achieved the right way… Anyway, now it’s there and we bought tickets. It feels a bit like cheating and a bit awkward seeing all the people in jeans so far up the mountain. The lift takes you to a gigantic “cabin” at 2100 meters above sea level.

The three mosquteers posing

There are 7 astonishing lakes in the area, hence the name ”The Seven Rila Lakes”. We work our way up the trails and the temperature is just perfect

Micke is leading the way through the wet

Partially it’s a ”real” climb, but we knew it from the beginning and actually enjoy it

The last 250 vertical meters are more like mountaineering. None of us have tried it before to this extent or at this elevation but it’s fun. People that we are meeting are staring. A lady is telling Orlin that we will regret carrying the bikes. Sure…. If she only knew!

We reach the first peak where all the tourists hang out. 6 out of 7 lakes in one stitched picture

And from there we leave the crowds

We continue the climb

We are now at 2600 meter elevation, yet only in t-shirt while enjoying the amazing views. If you know what you are looking at you can spot the Musala Peak in the distance to the right. It’s the tallest mountain of the Balkans at 2925 meter above sea level. Still on my bucket list.

We continue. To the right you can see the Vitosha Mountain. Right behind it is Sofia.

We find four more lakes. Here’s one of them

Orlin

Awesome trail

We follow the narrow ridge and catch some speed

Then we go all in for a downhill run that never ends. It’s so hard to convey what you are experiencing, but check out the trail!

20cm wide. The incline it’s just perfect for a stroke or two here and there and maybe touching the brakes a little bit sometimes. We are doing some 40-50km/h and reach a max of 57km/h. We are stoked! After 2km on this trail of epic dimensions we dive in between some vegetation

Some more basic clips

And then someone just tilts the whole mountain and takes the run into another dimension. We go skidding wide in the corners laughing out loud. Blurry but fun:

The run ends with a section of wet trail and we feel like home. Insane change of type of trails – like a dream come true trail. 1200 heavenly vertical meters. We slowly pedal uphill for a while and come across a hole-in-the-wall-in-a-barn-business. Cold cokes give us extra energy to climb an additional 200 vertical meters. We get cooled off once in a while:

We reach a mountain cabin where the BBQ gets fired up and we enjoy a fantastic lunch/dinner or whatever you call it when it’s five o’clock and you haven’t eaten since breakfast. Nice side table

After the food we get back to the car. Micke drove it down to the village while Orlin and I had another rush speeding down the mountain. All in all we did 2400 vertical meters descent and 1000 meter climb – 32km. I’d say a pretty OK day

Day 3: City hang out in Sofia

The plan is to leave for Bucharest but we make sure to get a bit of a city hang out before leaving

We start off being cultural about it. Like admiring the Russian Nicolai church

…but it gets out of control right away. Warning: a lot of wheeling pictures …

The pedestrian street Vitosha Boulevard, with the Vitosha Mountain as a backdrop

Art? According to some…

So… some more wheeling, outside the center of culture

More cruising

The pedals are not tight enough so we drop by a friends shop to borrow some tools

Further on to South Park and a short track down the hill from the American Embassy

Art? Possible to ride on at least

More art…

In the shadow of this year’s Shandy trend.

The guy with the shop – Tsutsu – has built a dirt in one of the parks, squeezed in between cafes and restaurants

The skaters normally hang out at the Soviet army monument. So do we.

Wheeling… at the Alexander Njevskij Cathedral

Grand finale of the city hang out

Time to go back to Romania

Day 4, Eastern Bucegi

On the way home from Sofia – just as we approach Bucharest – there’s a storm coming in and with the rain the temperature drops 15 degrees – to 25. The day after it’s blue sky again but with lower temperatures. It’s only 1,5 hours to Sinaia and the Carpathians, but the clouds seem to gather up around the peaks. We meet up with Horia from Mtb tours – the guy that has helped me out before. For three days of awesome guiding, accommodation and food we pay 135 Euros per person

We use the cable car from 900 meters to 2000. It’s around 13 degrees – perfect for biking. The same thing that happened to me last time up here is happening again – much better weather up the mountain. We start off towards the Omu peak at 2507 meters.

Far up in the landscape there’s a rugby team practicing. Thumbs up!

The trail is very smooth except for some small gullies

If you haven’t read earlier reports from Bucegi, here’s the sphinx again

A lawfully correct dog is looking for something to bark at. Lawfully in the sense that it has the stick tied to its neck in order to not run after wild animals. Not all dogs have them though

We continue towards the peak

The guy who designed this mountain really knows how to build big kickers with a nice inrun. OK, bit of a hard landing after the 100 meter drop…

We reach the top and get a well deserved soup in the cabin. The clouds are coming and going and we get going in the fog down one of the ridges

The proportions are amazing

We continue downhill but get to work our way up sections of uphill also

The downhill is fast and we get that feeling back that we had in the Rila Mountains

At one point we have to squeeze through the vegetation

Full speed downhill again. Lots of vertical meters and speed. Heaven.

We reach the ridge from where we can see what the biking will be like tomorrow. Looks OK…

More speed and some few uphill sections

After 900 meters of vertical climb and 1500 descent we reach the mountain rescue cabin of Padina. This is where we are staying for the night. The bikes get some care

They serve delicious Romanian traditional food. Of course with a Palinka for the starter. Not in the picture… The housewife serving the Palinka had a shot with us as well

Day 5, Quiant hills in Western Bucegi

Breakfast and then a short climb. 400 vertical. Accompanied by donkeys

It will be warmer today. The cold weather is gone and also; we are at a lower elevation

We reach the pass ”Şaua Strunga” at 1800 meters elevation but it’s the highest point of the day. It’s a special feeling enjoying the quiet landscape when you know that in some minutes you will be bombing down the trail. Piatra Craiului in the background.

A Shepherd is passing and then we get going on one of the best trails around

Horia can’t keep up with us with his hard tail and 71 degree head angle. We get to cool down a bit waiting for him

The pass we came from in the background

After a while we dive into the forest and that section is insane! Roots, rocks and full speed! We are totally carried away and after a while we realize that there is no Horia around. Finally he appears. Luckily, since we had continued down the wrong trail. We get to go uphill again

We reach the quaint hills with farming technique straight out of the medieval times.

The landscape is rolling down towards the valley

Quaint…

5 meters next to the trail:

Sure, we are fast in every downhill section but get beaten in the uphill sections. Horia behind the camera

The distance is noticeable. The pass we came from is now very far away

We continue

And then I come out of a corner with far too much speed. The middle section of the dirt road is washed away in a rainfall. I jump out of the bike and try to use some old Judo technique skills and land just beyond the biggest rocks, but the impact is very hard. My head gets a hard hit, but the back is worse. Probably muscular… Too good trails to not keep going though…

We make it down to the valley. We want more! Up again! Micke is the kids favorite.

After a good climb and more trails we reach the open meadows again

Time to pick up the car. A colleague picked it up from the other side of the mountain and parked it at his parents place. We pass the Dracula castle (or Vlad Ţepeş as his proper name was) and get some more uphill.

We arrive at the absolutely superb accommodation! The bikes get their needed love after another day of brutal treatment.

The place is magic with views of the mountains. The food is fantastic and only made out of local stuff. The back feels better after Palinka and red wine. After the dinner we play some table tennis. So fun. So many years since last time

What a day! In spite of the crash it was far beyond any of our expectations. Epic ride in a landscape out of a fairy tale. Sum up: 1100 meters of vertical climb, 1800 descent. 43km

Day 6, Piatra Craiului

We get the gear in and on to the car and dash off to Zarnesti 30 minutes away.

A canyon for starters

We reach the plateau

 

Here’s the view of the area we passed yesterday

Double Schnitzel sandwich from last night’s accommodation

Open landscape and then into the forest

And a long and very steep climb up to the Curmatura cabin at 1470 meter above sea level

From there the trail is awesome but the rocks are sharp… But the flat tire is giving us the chance of enjoying the silence in the forest

The landscape is opening up before we dive into the last steep downhill back to the car

A lot of pedaling this day… 1300 vertical meters up and down and 35km

So, 6 awesome days have come to an end and no serious injuries. Ok, the back still hurts a bit but maybe it wasn’t the best thing to do kayak roles just some days after…

If you want to know more or plan a trip I strongly recommend:

Bulgaria: Orlin at link

Romania: Horia at link

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