Vishovgrad

The third waterfall in terms of distance north-west of Veliko Tarnovo is Vishovgrad (‘Zarapovo’). Hotnitsa (because of the turquoise waters) and Emen (because of the canyon that precedes the waterfall) may take the fame, but do not underestimate the charms of this waterfall 3 km east of Vishovgrad, on the road between this village and the village of Emen. This waterfall can be visited on the same day as Emen since Emen is only 4 km further east.

To get there, follow the instructions for getting to the village of Emen. Once you arrive in the main square in Emen, continue for another 200 m, until you reach a crossroads. The road to Vishovgrad is on the right. After 400 m, you will see the dirt track leading to the start of the ecopath to Emen Waterfall on the right. Stay on the main road. After another 3 km, you will pass a factory on your right, and 600 m later, where there is a bend in the road, you will see two white signs on the right, with a dirt track leading into the forest. This is Zarapovo. You can park the car on the verge. The ‘ecopath’ (any path in nature seems to be termed thus) heads to the right and in only five minutes takes you to the waterfall.

The path divides. The left fork takes you through some trees to the bottom of the waterfall. The right fork takes you round the rock and over a wooden bridge to the top of the waterfall. The area below the waterfall is ideal for rest and relaxation. There are even several smaller falls further downstream.

These three waterfalls are all worth a visit – Hotnitsa because of its turquoise waters and the ‘ecopath’ up the gorge; Emen because of the canyon; and Vishovgrad because of its charm. I found Vishovgrad the most restful. Even though there were lots of people about (on a Saturday), everybody was very friendly!

If you’re travelling to or from Sofia, there is no need to go via Emen and Veliko Tarnovo. Travelling east on the E772, 14 km after Sevlievo, there is a turning on the left for Dobromirka (4 km) and Pavlikeni/Suhindol (25 km). Take this turning, ignore the signs for Suhindol, follow the signs for Pavlikeni. Vishovgrad is situated 11 km before Pavlikeni. Turn right here, at the main square of the village, and in 3 km you will reach the waterfall.

The ecopath from the road to the waterfall is so short you can see the end, where the tree is.
At the end, you are standing on a rock above the river. Down below is the wooden bridge that takes you to the top of the waterfall.
On your left is the path through some trees to the bottom of the waterfall.
The waterfall, which seems to me to resemble a seated figure.
Vishovgrad Waterfall.
A smaller fall further downstream – looking back up to the main waterfall.
A view of the wooden bridge from the other side of the river, and the rock where you arrive after you leave your car.

Kapinovo-Ruhovtsi

There are two waterfalls south-east of Veliko Tarnovo, near the villages of Kapinovo and Ruhovtsi. They can be visited together.

Ruhovtsi is a village 5 km east of the town of Elena. The waterfall is named ‘Hristovski’ after a nearby settlement. Drive from Veliko Tarnovo along the E772 in the direction of Varna. After 10 km, turn right for Elena (33 km). Drive past Elena and continue for another 4 km until you reach the turning on the right for Ruhovtsi (1 km). When you reach the main square of the village, turn right and continue for 1.8 km. Just after crossing a river, you will see a sign for the waterfall on your right and an open space to park your car on the left. Follow the dirt track that leaves the road on your right for about 15 minutes. The dirt track veers left through the forest and then leads directly to the waterfall. This waterfall is attractive because of the width of its cascade.

To visit Kapinovo Waterfall, you need to go not to the village of Kapinovo, but to Kapinovo Monastery. The waterfall is in the grounds of the monastery. Drive back past Elena in the direction of the E772. 15 km after Elena, you will reach the village of Mindya. Turn left for Kapinovo. Drive straight through Kapinovo (ignore the sign for Kapinovo Monastery on your left, just before the main square, the road is not fit for normal vehicles), continue through the villages of Tserova Koria and Pchelishte, and then turn left at the sign for Velchevo (7 km). Drive straight through Velchevo and continue for another 6 km to Kapinovo Monastery. The grounds of the monastery have been turned into a campsite. On entering the monastery grounds, you will be able to park the car at a small roundabout. The waterfall is over on your left, by the rocks. There is a guesthouse overlooking the waterfall. The path to the waterfall descends to the right of the guesthouse.

Don’t forget to visit the church of Kapinovo Monastery, which is dedicated to St Nicholas and has an impressive fresco of ‘The Last Judgement’ on its façade. The church is a short distance from the waterfall and can be reached by following a subsidiary road.

Of course, it is possible to visit Kapinovo Waterfall without going to Elena and Ruhovtsi. In which case, all you need to do is to take the E85 south of Veliko Tarnovo in the direction of Debelets, Dryanovo and Gabrovo. After only 1 km, there will be a turning on your left for Prisovo, Kapinovo and Mindya. Take this turning. Drive through Prisovo and then turn right at the sign for Velchevo (7 km). Drive through Velchevo and continue to Kapinovo Monastery.

These waterfalls are not as impressive as the waterfalls north-west of Veliko Tarnovo – Hotnitsa, Emen and Vishovgrad – but they are still beautiful and worth a visit. There are numerous other monasteries in or near the surrounding villages of Kilifarevo, Prisovo, Plakovo (this monastery is just before Kapinovo Monastery), Merdanya, Maryan… Just remember while some monasteries are located in the village, most are some distance away – at the end of the road…

Mural in Elena.
The dirt track leaving the road for Ruhovtsi Waterfall.
The dirt track as it passes through the forest.
April blossom!
Ruhovtsi (‘Hristovski’) Waterfall.
Close-up of Ruhovtsi Waterfall.
The waterfall from the side.
The path to Kapinovo Waterfall in the monastery grounds (campsite). The path leads right of a guesthouse.
Kapinovo Waterfall from above.
Kapinovo Waterfall.
Close-up – the rock resembles a dog lapping water!
The peaceful view downstream.
The fresco ‘The Last Judgement’ in Kapinovo Monastery.

Emen

Emen is the second of three waterfalls that lie north-west of the medieval capital Veliko Tarnovo – Hotnitsa, Emen and Vishovgrad. What sets Emen apart is the canyon with the river Negovanka at its bottom. Just before the Negovanka forms a large reservoir, there is a ten-metre waterfall called ‘Momin Skok’, meaning ‘Maiden Jump’ – as with Ovchartsi Waterfall in Rila, this refers to the legend of young girls jumping to their death in order not to be forcibly converted to Islam during the Ottoman occupation of Bulgaria (14th-19th centuries).

To get there from Veliko Tarnovo, take the main road to Sofia (E772) and after 20 km turn right for the village of Balvan. Follow the road to the centre of this village and then turn right for Emen (8 km). Be careful because there is a sign for Emen in Balvan that has been turned back to front and seems to indicate that you should go straight ahead when the road veers left. This is not the case. The road veers left and after a short while you reach the centre of the village.

Here you turn right and after 8 km arrive in Emen. The road takes you over a bridge on the river Negovanka and immediately you arrive at a small square opposite the town hall where you can park the car. There is also drinking water. A smaller road leads to the right, following the left bank of the river. The road becomes a dirt track and then a path. After fifteen minutes, you reach a wooden suspension bridge over the river, but you stay on the left bank. The path climbs up to another dirt track, which then leads on your right to the beginning of the ecopath, where there is a cave. The cave is 3 km long and is home to various species of bat. In communist times, it was used as an arms depot for a military base located directly above it.

The ecopath is said to have been the first in Bulgaria and was created in 1992, shortly after the fall of communism. I think the initial idea was to follow the course of the river at the bottom of the gorge, but the wooden bridges crisscrossing the river have long since succumbed to the elements, which is a shame, and now the ‘ecopath’ actually runs along the top of the canyon on the left. From the beginning of the ecopath, where the cave is, to the waterfall is about forty minutes. The path takes you up to the top of the canyon and then winds along the edge, in amongst trees. After about thirty minutes, the path divides, but it doesn’t matter which branch you take – one continues among the trees, the other skirts the precipice. The path then descends to the left (this is clearly marked by blue arrows) to rejoin the river at the bottom. Turn right, and you will arrive at the waterfall in five minutes. You can hear the waterfall from the top of the gorge.

It is possible to drive to the start of the ecopath. Continue past the main square in Emen and after about 200 m you will reach a crossroads. Turn right, and just as you are leaving Emen, a dirt track forks off to the right, leading to the ecopath. Continue along this road, without taking the dirt track on your right, and in a short while you will reach the waterfall of Vishovgrad, ‘Zarapovo’. Both waterfalls can easily be visited on the same day since they are only a short distance apart.

The Negovanka River as it passes through Emen.
The wooden suspension bridge in Emen.
The path on the left bank of the river joins the dirt track leading to the start of the ecopath.
The start of the ecopath – steps leading up to the cave, the 17th longest in Bulgaria at just over 3 km.
The start of the ecopath, after the cave.
Having immediately climbed to the top of the canyon, view of the canyon itself.
Cragged rocks.
View up the canyon.
The path divides – either branch will lead to the waterfall.
The remnants of the ecopath clinging on for dear life!
A blue sign indicates the beginning of the descent from the top of the gorge to the waterfall below.
Emen Waterfall.
Close-up of the waterfall.
Panoramic view of the waterfall.
If you decide to drive to the start of the ecopath, you need to take the dirt track on the right. Continue along the asphalt road, and you will soon reach Vishovgrad Waterfall.

Hotnitsa

There are three waterfalls north-west of Veliko Tarnovo – near the villages of Hotnitsa, Emen and Vishovgrad. Hotnitsa (‘Kaya Bunar’) is the closest. The journey takes about forty minutes, and on the way back you have the chance to visit one of the most beautiful monasteries in Bulgaria, Preobrazhenski (‘Transfiguration’) Monastery.

The waterfall is where you park the car and is undoubtedly one of the most magical and mystical waterfalls we have visited. To get there from Veliko Tarnovo, follow the brown signs for Preobrazhenski Monastery and for the ancient Roman town Nicopolis ad Istrum. These signs will take you north of Veliko Tarnovo, from where you join the E85 and head in the direction of Samovodene. This main arterial road that joins the towns of Haskovo in the south and Ruse in the north passes along the gorge formed by the river Yantra. After a short while, you will pass the turning for Preobrazhenski Monastery on your left. Keep going straight. In Samovodene, the road divides – the right fork is signposted for Ruse, the left for Resen. You take the left fork and, about a kilometre after leaving Samovodene, take the turning left signposted for the villages of Hotnitsa (5 km) and Pavlikeni.

When you arrive in the centre of Hotnitsa, the waterfall is clearly signposted on your left. The distance from the centre of Hotnitsa to the waterfall is 3 km, and it is clearly signposted all the way. The road ends at the waterfall, where you can park the car. This astonishing waterfall is on your left. The colour of the water is turquoise blue because of the karst spring and limestone rocks.

There is an ecopath (1.5 km) that takes you up the left-hand side of the waterfall, a little up the gorge above the main waterfall and back along the top of the gorge on the right. This ecopath is not for the faint-hearted! I did it carrying our dog, but there are places where you have to climb or descend steep wooden ladders and clamber over the rocks. There are several wooden bridges that take you from side to side of the river Bohot. You can literally stand at the top of the main waterfall. There are smaller waterfalls further upstream. Once you have reached the top of the gorge on the right, the path descends slowly back to the café at the bottom.

On your return to Veliko Tarnovo, don’t miss the chance to visit Preobrazhenski Monastery, which overlooks the Yantra gorge and offers views back to Veliko Tarnovo. The church was built by noted Bulgarian National Revival architect Kolyu Ficheto and painted by another nineteenth-century Bulgarian artist, Zahari Zograf (who also painted Rila and Troyan Monasteries). It has some of the most beautiful frescoes in Bulgaria, including the famous fresco ‘The Circle of Life’ on the outside of the building. Behind the church is a very large rock that missed the church by inches and has been left there to remind us of God’s providence! On the opposite side of the gorge can be seen another important monastery, the Patriarchal Monastery of the Holy Trinity.

The road from the village of Hotnitsa ends at the waterfall.
An overview of Hotnitsa Waterfall.
The upper part of the waterfall.
A view from the side.
A view from the ecopath above – note the turquoise blue water!
The ecopath (no, it’s not a dungeon!).
A view back to the pool below the waterfall.
Standing at the top of the waterfall – be careful!
A smaller waterfall further upstream.
One of the wooden bridges crossing the river Bohot.
One of the steep wooden ladders.
The sun captured in the river.
A view from the top of the gorge back to the car park.
The fresco ‘The Circle of Life’ at Transfiguration Monastery.
View from Transfiguration Monastery to Veliko Tarnovo – note the plateau on the left, above the gorge, where the village of Arbanasi with its famous churches is situated.