Sofia irradiates roads. I discuss the three that go to the Black Sea in my description of Sopot Waterfall. Then there’s the II-16 that takes you north along the Iskar Gorge to Bov and Dobravitsa. And the E79 (or the A3 motorway) that takes you south to Ovchartsi and then Greece. The E871 heading south-west in the direction of Polska Skakavitsa and Kyustendil. And don’t forget the II-63 that takes you west to Tran on the Serbian border (I still remember visiting Bilintsi Monastery along this road and meeting the abbot, who gave us tea next to an open pit and had taken it upon himself to ‘improve’ the ancient frescoes in the church).
Well, here we are going to take the II-81, which also heads north from Sofia in the direction of Montana and Lom. It is as if Sofia has antlers – the II-81 on the left, and the II-16 on the right. What makes the II-81 famous is Petrohan Pass, which you must pass over in order to reach north-west Bulgaria (Vidin and Romania). You leave Sofia through the district of Nadezhda and cross the ring road. The II-81 starts gently enough, passing through Kostinbrod and Buchin Prohod (from here you can turn right and cut across to the II-16 if you’re suddenly overwhelmed by a desire to visit Dobravitsa Waterfall).
After Buchin Prohod, ignore the turning to Godech on the left (though this, for me, is a very attractive part of Bulgaria with the wonderful Razboishte Rock Monastery) and the ‘Historical Road’ (the main road continues left), and pass through the pretty village of Gintsi, much favoured by artists and beekeepers. The road then begins to twist and turn as it climbs Petrohan Pass. The pass is often closed in winter because of snow, but the rest of the year it’s normally fine. The top of the pass is 65 km north of Sofia. There’s a large reservoir, which I understand was once a fish farm.
The road then descends on the other side. More twists and turns (try not to get stuck behind a van!). Ten more kilometres, and you reach what in my parlance would be called a ‘roadside caff’ on the other side of the road, a restaurant much favoured by my father-in-law, I am told (he was a famous opera singer and his family hailed from Vidin) – you can always stop here to try the kebabs and meatballs. Another six kilometres, and you enter Barzia, the Gintsi of the north, so to speak. From here, a road heads right to Klisura Monastery, well worth a visit, if you have the time.
But we must continue to the town of Berkovitsa in order to reach Haidushki Waterfall. So stay on the main road. Three kilometres out of Barzia, you will see a turning on the left, marked ‘Berkovitsa, 2 km’. Take this turning, climb the hill, and soon you will reach an OMV petrol station. I have a particular fondness for this petrol station, because this is where I bought Timon, the meerkat who features in The Lion King and was once my son’s favourite teddy.
You can stop here for petrol or a coffee. After OMV, the road goes right, alongside the railway. After 1000 m, the road goes right again, over the railway, but you go left. This turning is marked ‘x. Kom, 17 km’. Another 700 m, and you must take a turning right, marked ‘Kom Peak, 14 km’. Continue along here for 2½ km, passing a stadium on your right, until you reach a fork in the road. Take the right turning, and now you have a decision.
The road you are now on leads directly to the waterfall. I can’t tell you the distance, because I parked the car by the marble (‘mramor’) factory which is in front of you and walked. But plenty of people take the car further, there being lots of picnic places and several summer houses along the way. So you have a choice. How far do you want to walk?
The car journey from Sofia to this point is about 1 hour 45 minutes (90 km). The walk in front of you is the same, 1 hour along the flat, and then 45 minutes gently climbing the mountain. You never leave the road, though it becomes progressively more rutted and covered in leaves, and I wouldn’t want to think what happens if you’re on the mountain and meet a car coming the other way. You’ve also got the question of having to turn around. So it’s really the 1 hour on the flat that can be shortened. Plenty of people drive this distance, leaving the car as the road begins to climb (this point is marked by the beginning of an ecopath, for which there is a rusty yellow sign).
If you leave the car by the marble factory, you will have a 4½-hour outing there and back, including a lunch stop. You walk alongside the marble factory for ten minutes, the road then appears to fork – actually it continues on the left (this is where many people park), while a track heads right, up the hillside. After that, you can’t get lost, unless you want to. All along the road, there are picnic spots. It’s up to you how far you take the car. But after an hour’s walking, when the road begins to climb and the waterfall is only 45 minutes away, it really is time to leave the car behind and enjoy the nature.
We went at the end of October. Haidushki Waterfall is a series of beautiful short waterfalls, and one of the few waterfalls it doesn’t matter if you go in the spring (after the snow melt) or in the autumn. Leaves carpeted the ground. The river below the waterfalls shone black. Other leaves that hadn’t reached the ground yet seemed to rain down on us, but it was the river that kept drawing my attention. Sometimes the leaves on its surface meant you didn’t know it was there, and it was easy to put your foot in it – in fact, I did precisely this: I became part of the waterfall for a moment.
It is clear when you reach the waterfall, because there are several signs. You have to descend a little. There is a shelter with some benches, a small mirador, and then the waterfall in front of you, but don’t forget the other waterfall on your right, hidden around the corner. They’re both beautiful.
If you continue upriver or downriver, no doubt you will come across other cascades. The traffic coming back into Sofia was dense, I had to drive with only one sock (the other was wet), but we had had our adventure. Life is not a choice, we only think it is – it is an experience.