Bistritsa – Samokovishteto – Bistritsa

Starting coordinates: 42.56902, 23.34232

Distance: 3.8 km

Elevation Gain: 130 m

Time: 2 hours

Difficulty: Moderate

Transport: by car, or by bus to Bistritsa Village

Bistritsa Village is on the east side of Vitosha and can best be reached from the ring road. The three main districts on the north side of Vitosha, from west to east, are Boyana, Dragalevtsi, and Simeonovo. If you continue on the ring road past Simeonovo in an easterly direction, you come to Sofia Ring Mall and Ikea. Just before these is the turning that takes you to the start of the only lift that is still working on Vitosha, the Simeonovo-Aleko cabin lift. Immediately after Ikea is a roundabout. Turn right here and the road will take you uphill to Bistritsa. The road reaches a summit, where there are turnings left to Pancharevo and right to Simeonovo, and then descends into Bistritsa proper. After crossing Bistritsa River, you are in the centre, an open grassy area. The following buses – 69, 70, 98, 314 – will drop you here, at the stop marked “Selo Bistritsa”.

The mountain is on your right. You have just crossed Bistritsa River, which tumbles down the mountainside and eventually flows into Lake Pancharevo to the east. There are two walks that begin from Bistritsa – one to a small waterfall; the other to the village of Zheleznitsa. They both have the same starting point. To reach this point, you need to take the first turning on the right after the bus stop. This is Stefan Stambolov Street. There is a ProMarket grocery store on the corner. You follow this street for 2.9 kilometres. 700 metres from the centre, it crosses the river. Keep going uphill. After another kilometre, the road veers left – ignore the dead-end street in front of you. Having crossed back over the river, it then leaves the houses behind. There is a small car park on the left. Where it enters Vitosha Nature Park, ignore the turning on the right and keep going uphill. After another 400 metres, you come to a second car park on the left. This is a good place to park. If there are no places, you can park further up on the verge. Continue to where the road ends in another 300 metres.

You are now ready to start your walk. There are two paths, both of which form part of the “low-altitude circular trail”. Going left will take you to Zheleznitsa Village, a lovely walk with wonderful views. The walk to Samokovishteto Waterfall is much shorter, little more than half an hour, but the waterfall is so picturesque it is well the effort.

Take the path on the right. You will soon pass a hut on the right. In ten minutes, the low-altitude trail is dissected by a path heading up and down the mountain. Continue straight (signposted Simeonovo Lakes), and you will come to Yanchovska River, a tributary of Bistritsa River, which it joins in Bistritsa Village. Go right, and the path takes you back down to Bistritsa. You want to go left, in the direction of Aleko Hut and Cherni Vrah. The path climbs steadily through forest. You become aware of Bistritsa River chuntering along on your right. Ignore any side paths or shortcuts and stay on the marked trail. In little more than twenty minutes, you will reach Samokovishteto Waterfall.

The first thing you see is the white line of the river. There is then a beautiful cascade of water where the river slides down a large flat surface, almost as if it was at an aqua park. On your left is a pool under the steady gaze of a boulder. On your right is a bridge over the river which takes you to a picnic area with a couple of tables and an open shelter. Sit in the shelter and look through the glassless window. It’s almost like watching TV.

It is a lovely place to stop and enjoy the nature. The flow of the water is captivating. This walk can easily be extended by continuing in the direction of Aleko Hut or by returning to the low-altitude trail and continuing towards Simeonovo Lakes, though neither of these destinations is very near. Otherwise, having taken your fill, simply retrace your steps to the top of Stefan Stambolov Street and head back into Bistritsa.

NOTE: Instead of taking the low-altitude trail and then turning left to head up the mountain, it is possible to reach Samokovishteto by taking the turning on the right when you enter Vitosha Nature Park, 2.2 kilometres from the centre. You then simply head uphill until you reach the waterfall, crossing the low-altitude trail at some point. This will shorten the walk from the centre of Bistritsa Village if you are on foot.

This map shows the walk in relation to the top of the mountain above (Aleko Hut on the right, the radar station on the left) and to Bistritsa Village below. You can also see the line of the Simeonovo-Aleko cabin lift.
A short film of Samokovishteto Waterfall on Bistritsa River.

Dragalevtsi Monastery – Boyana Lake – Dragalevtsi Monastery

Starting coordinates: 42.6197196, 23.2976008

Distance: 7.3 km

Elevation Gain: 165 m

Time: 2½ hours

Difficulty: Moderate

Transport: by car, or by bus no. 66 to the stop for Dragalevtsi Monastery

This is the first of several walks for which you need to access the mountain via the district/village of Dragalevtsi, south of Sofia. The walk follows the path that links Boyana and Dragalevtsi. It is fairly flat and, were it not for the distance (7.3 km), I would classify it as easy.

Dragalevtsi is famous for the fourteenth-century Dragalevtsi Monastery of the Dormition of the Mother of God, which can be reached by a cobbled road from the central square. As you are going up this cobbled road, there is a turning on the left marked “Vodenitsata”, a traditional Bulgarian restaurant next to the start of the Dragalevtsi chair lift (no longer running). If you take this turning, you come to a roundabout, where you turn right, and in a short while you come to the monastery gates. Keep on this side road, and you come to a large car park behind the monastery.

If you continue on the cobbled road and do not take the turning to “Vodenitsata”, the road does a big loop and in three kilometres you reach the same car park from the other direction. Park the car here, or alternatively get off bus no. 66 at the stop “for Dragalevtsi Monastery” (the third to last stop on this route, an optional stop, you must inform the driver you want to get off). The monastery is on the other side of the car park, behind the trees. The bus will continue up the mountain in the direction of Aleko, where there is a ski slope and from where you can set out for the summit, Cherni Vrah.

The path to Boyana Lake is a shared trail (for walkers and cyclists) marked “Boyana” which leaves the road almost next to the bus stop. It climbs a little, passes a large and interesting boulder, and then continues in a north-westerly direction more or less on the same level all the way to Boyana Lake (3.5 km away). You pass through beautiful beech forest and cross several moraine rivers (moraines are large glacial boulders and form a common feature of Vitosha). At the first moraine river, after fifteen minutes, there is a fountain on the right. In another fifteen minutes, you come to the third moraine river, from where there is a wonderful view of Sofia. In another fifteen minutes, there is an open grassy area on the right with a stone plinth and an excellent view further west towards Kopitoto (“the Hoof”, where there is a hotel next to the TV tower, both visible from Sofia). It is an ideal spot for a picnic.

At this point, the path begins to descend gently towards the lake. You pass another grassy area on the right, where there are two shelters used for barbecues, and in twenty minutes you reach the lake on your left. From here, the path continues north towards Boyana Village. Another path heads west from the lake in the direction of Boyana Waterfall. You can walk all around the lake. In May, it is full of croaking frogs! If you have a dog, I advise not letting your dog drink the water, since it is pretty stagnant.

Once you’ve enjoyed admiring the lake from different angles, you simply head back up the path you came on and retrace your steps to the cobbled road with the bus stop and the car park. This should take less than an hour.

This walk will easily fit into an afternoon. If you are feeling keen, you can easily combine it with a walk from the same starting point (Dragalevtsi Monastery car park/bus stop), but going in the opposite direction, eastwards towards Aleko Waterfall and the Simeonovo Lakes. Both walks skirt the mountain at more or less the same elevation (1000 m). This walk is described in a separate text.