Route 2 – Bulgaria Tour
Trekking north from our southern Bulgarian initiation, left us a little sad, only because of the innocence and raw beauty of this undiscovered piece of heaven. And as we said goodbye to the pine forests, we came into flatter land; well relatively speaking. There were, in truth, some rolling hills and golden fields of corn, which offered us a lovely contrast to the mountains, and here sunflowers reigned supreme. With heads bowed to the sun’s dominance, acres of bright yellow start to give way to a lime green hue as the season’s fruit bears its gift.
The Stone Mushrooms
Petrified Stone Mushrooms, Beli plast
A little stop at the rock phenomenon, Stone Mushrooms, just outside Beli plast village, in between Kardzhali and Haskovo, is worth doing. 2.5m high stone formations unique to this area, shows Mother Nature at her best. 20 million year old volcanic rocks that have been weathered by sun, rain and wind hold great legend. It is said that the petrified mushrooms are the daughters of a villager who lived in a fortress. The fortress was attacked one day by the Turkish Ottoman army and the daughters took defensive action, killing the Ottoman leader. The slain soldier’s friend took his revenge and caught the murdering daughters and, one by one with his magic staff, killed each one, turning them to stone. Geologically speaking, the rocks have a high volume of zeolite minerals, which are said to purify water. A great little stop.
Camping Alexandrovo – A little retreat
Alexandrovo Campsite sunrise
Our retreat, after what seemed like a big exploration of new territory that left us a little travel weary, was Camping Alexandrovo, just east of Haskovo. (41.987199 25.726452 www.alexandrovocamping.com). A fabulous home-from-home spot that allowed us to rest up, run by the lovely Matt from England. The wildlife here was wonderful, with Golden Oriels, Hoopoes, Woodpeckers, nesting doves and Wolves as our nighttime melody and the cattle being herded – our morning song, lit up by amazing sun rises. Just such a wonderful stopover for four nights and a place we would definitely recommend and come back to.
Here’s Dave’s view of this lovely spot.
This was though, where we sadly said ‘au revoir’ to our convoy buddies from Followourmotorhome as our paths took different routes as we headed directly north, into the central mountains. What treasure would this region hold for us?
To reach the mountains, a passage through Kazanlak was required, which from our southerly approach was seriously ugly and the first time I felt a little uncomfortable. We wanted to visit the World Heritage Site of the Thracian tombs, although finding somewhere safe to park was tricky. So we hopped, skipped and jumped out of there and headed for the mountains.
The Belly of Bulgaria
Our tyres continued to roll towards the Valley of the Thracian Kings, and Shipka, where ancient and modern history both leave their marks. 4th Century BC tombs are scattered in the plains of the Shipka valley, interlaced with lavender and sunflower fields, making a pretty landscape for history to really feel embedded. Thracian Kings and archeological sites are found all over this region. Although what caught our eye more so, was the distant sparkle of something hidden in the woods. And so like magpies, we felt compelled to take a look. What soon became clear was that gleaming mirage was in fact an enormous Russian style Monastery that belied the simplicity of the charming and humble Shipka village. A short walk up hill is rewarded by a breathtaking piece of architecture that transports you to something out of the Kremlin rather than Bulgaria. Although of course the intricate partnership between the Soviet Union and Bulgaria during the Communist rule, soon allows the penny to drop. A short visit to this wondrous religious monument is definitely worthy of your time. Check out the intricate detail of the exterior, its shiny domes and gaze in wonder at the surprisingly small yet highly decorated interior. This is a serene place to while away half an hour or so.
Captain James T. Kirk, I presume?
Our little diversion did not deter us for long though, as our original destination was the Shipka Pass, where talk of a UFO piqued our curiosity. This stunning road allows you to enter deep into the belly of Bulgarian culture, as carved into inch of earth are the battles of the Russo-Turk war of 19th Century, where Bulgarian volunteers played their role in defeating the Ottomans alongside their Russian comrades. Monuments throughout this region offer reminders of this significant war.
The pinnacle of this route though is the almost eerie building that rises up from the mountain’s heart as if in some dominant defiance against the rebels. The Buzludzhanski Monument perched 1441m up on the mountain top looks more like a UFO than the Social Assembly Hall that was its original identity. Looking like something out of Star Trek, this concrete spaceship is, these days falling apart and offers the now democratic Bulgaria a real diplomatic dilemma; repair it – showing solidarity to the past or leave it to decay and focus on surging forward progressively under EU protection. There are rumours that there is to be some investment in restoring the building and turning it into a historical museum – so watch this space – if you pardon the pun!
Scoobie’s wild spot
There’s a couple of great wild spots up here (42.731573 25.389351 and 42.7314 25.3872) where the views up and down the mountain are quite spectacular. The hike up to the now derelict UFO is worth it for the view alone, and the 2 mile round-trip to see the other monuments in the forest is definitely worthwhile.
Etar – Ethnographic Museum
We seriously thought about stopping at this peaceful place, where even the birds seemed to be silenced by the eery eyes looking down the valley. Still after a few days of respite earlier in the week, we carried on, along one of the worst roads we’ve encountered so far in Bulgaria. It was a doable road, although had to be taken with caution and slowness of speed as the rough, pot-holed tarmac left a lot to be desired. Picking up a couple of Hitchhikers, which is becoming a Motoroaming habit, allowed us to stay a little distracted from the stress of the terrain and after dropping them off we found a decent surface, under which we could get into third gear, finally! A short 20 minute journey took us to Etâr, which is an open-air museum presenting historical arts and crafts indicative to the region. The village has been created beautifully and invites you to step into a rustic way of life, with nearly 50 authentic workshops, many of which are powered by water mills. It’s a great portrait of a Bulgarian by-gone era and really helps you appreciate the culture of this central mountain region. And for 5 Leva per person, that’s about £2.00 each to you and me, it’s a steal. Whilst so close, a little trip up to the Sololski Monastery, 6 miles up the hill is worthy of the diesel. Although not as grand as Shipka’s offering, this understated 19th Century religious building, set with the backdrop of pine forest, is a sight to behold. Especially the original chapel, which with its sky-blue exterior and ornate inside, is worth a peak, even if you’re not of a religious persuasion.
A synchronistic meeting half way down the hill with, not only another motorhome – a British couple to boot ended off the day beautifully as we shared an evening together. John and Kath had been hot on our tails since Greece strangely and it was lovely to pass the time and share travelling stories together.
Our finale of this little section of the central mountains was Tryavna, home to wood-carvers extraordinaire. The town, despite its mountainous position and perceived ‘middle of no where’ image, has built on its wood fame and is an elegant and buzzy administrative centre, which we were not expecting. Outside of the touristy central square, the old town gives you the real feel of the carpentry skills that were and still are to some degree, renowned across Bulgaria. The 19th Century artistry amidst a romantic blend of cobbled streets and bridges is a working town, where craftsmen still train. If you look up above the tourist shops, the architecture of the buildings is incredible and every door has an ornate carving of some sort, revealing the talents of the modern day and historical experts. An hour will suffice in this cute little place as Veliko Tarnovo will call you onwards. And onwards we came – a new chapter we begin to write and share with you we will – soon enough.
Until then, we will leave you with images of mountain monuments, spaceships and authentic Bulgarian culture hidden deep within the heart of this central treasure trove of loveliness. Kx
One of my first impressions of Greece as we rolled off the Anek Lines ferry, was how the full moon lit up Drepano Beach, Igoumenitsa and made the sea sparkle in its darkness. It welcomed us with open arms and from that moment on our love affair with Greece began. And now as we sit in Nafplio in the south-east Peloponnese, the full moon once again reminds us of his dominance over the night, signalling that we have, incredibly, had one calendar month in this beautiful land. It seems almost impossible to imagine that we arrived here just 30 short days ago on 11 April.
And yet in one month, we have already learned so much about the country, its customs and diversity, how to fit in with the locals and how to ease into Greek life effortlessly. I absolutely know that the next full moon will have taught us even more, although for now, I thought I would share my insights from my Greek teacher!
- Greece is amazing in spring. Before the sun turns on her power, you have some amazing weather that starts to acclimatise you
for the hotter days ahead. On top of that, the spring brings new life in the floral world with yellow cactus flowers, red, pink and purple bougainvillaea and the most intense deep red poppies. The kaleidoscope of colours just wake up our dark, winter eyes with joy and beauty.
- Talking about weather, the afternoons, at least at this time of year, seem always to be windy. There has been an uncanny pattern that as the sun’s heat rises, the wind decides not to be outdone. Even on the eastern edge of the Peloponnese, almost without fail, our afternoons have been rather breezy. It has been great to keep us cool, although does thwart our bar-be-que efforts.
- Wild camping is a joy in Greece. Now I know that this can be a contentious subject and often rallies the hotly debated issue of campsites v wilding. Although for those of you who follow us regularly, you know how respectfully we treat wild camping in terms of contributing back to the community for the privilege of camping in the wilds. At that’s the word I would use for camping in Greece – it’s an absolute privilege. We’ve camped in some of the most wonderful, wild, secluded and sensational places I have ever had the honour to call home and the memories they have created will stay with me forever. And certainly camping in this way, ‘out of season’ has caused us no issues with locals or authorities, despite indications in camping books suggesting otherwise.
- Of course wild camping brings its own problems such as toilet dumping and water. Water is not a problem here as almost every beach has a shower and tap, which you can fill up from – and whilst not potable water, it’s fine for showers and washing up. Just use bottled water for everything else. Also find yourself a marina that are two to a penny here, as they always have taps for the visiting boats. The toilet is a bit more of a challenge. The biggest advantage we have is that we have a second cassette, which has been worth its weight in gold, giving us up to six days if we need it. Although when it comes to emptying, we either drop into a campsite and tie it up with washing and internet or we find a garage who often let you use their outdoor toilet, if you fill up with petrol. So it’s doable, although it would have been more challenging with one cassette.
- And whilst talking about camping, it’s also worth saying that many of the campsites certainly early April are not yet open. The season doesn’t really start until mid May in Greece. And although some of the campsites are beginning to open up slightly earlier as us snow-birds are making our presence known, this is the exception and not the rule. So do be aware of this as you plan your trip if you are not a comfortable with wild camping.
- Not all wild ‘pitches’ are as they seem. There are some of the most wonderful spots to pitch up on, on beaches close to the water’s edge, although this does come with some dangers. Firstly, Greece is incredibly mountainous, which means that some of the roads to these out-of-the-way spots can be a trek, down narrow, steep and sometimes tricky to navigate roads. So we would recommend parking up and assessing on foot before making a decision to commit to a road that might be difficult to turn around in. These beaches, with their azure seas are a magnet. Why wouldn’t you want to park up close the sea with the crashing waves as your lullaby? Although do check these spots, as the pebble pitches lure you into a false sense of security and are not always as stable as they look. We had to tow two vans out of said beaches because their tyres sank into the pebble floor beneath them.
- Camping here feels safe. We’ve had some ‘incident’s during our 14 months full-timing and although it hasn’t put us off our wild camping experiences, it certainly turns your dial to ‘high alert’. Although so far in our first month, we have felt as safe as any other country we’ve been in.
- Travelling in Greece takes time. It’s a strange thing to see your next destination on the map just around the corner, and then, on putting in your co-ordinates, finding that 30km is going to take you 90 mins! Still, when you see how windy some of these roads are, you will understand why. There is no rushing here and the routes are so magnificent that you will want to take your time to breathe it all in.
Our convoy buddies
Being in convoy is a great way to cut your Greek teeth. We’ve had the joy of travelling with our buddies Andi and Paul, from Followourmotorhome, for the last three weeks. And whilst we are about to ‘go solo’, having a chance to travel new lands together with someone else makes it for a great virginal experience. The support you can give each other is priceless and it enhances your confidence and pleasure in your early weeks.
- Greek customs are wonderful to share. If you come at Easter, go to Corfu, where they apparently have one of the most amazing celebrations on Easter Saturday and Sunday. It’s a short ferry ride on foot or bicycle from Igoumenitsa. May Day is where you will see ladies out picking their wild flowers for headdresses and wreaths to celebrate summer’s battle over the winter. And each morning locals gather at the most charming chapels found along the road and coast, to honour their Greek Orthodox faith and light their candles of remembrance.
- Eating out here is a joy. Slouvaki (kebabs), Moussaka, Prawn Saganaki, Tzatziki, Taramasalata, Greek salad with fresh feta, olive oil and fresh oregano blossom, pitta breads, aubergine, courgette balls and meatballs are all laced with garlic and homegrown love. And it’s not that expensive. For two with a main meal and a beer each, you’re looking at €30. And what is so delightful, is that in each restaurant we’ve been in, you are presented with either a complementary liqueur or a biscuit cake at the end of your meal. We have found some wonderful places, off the beaten track. Some of the tourist places will draw you in with a their sales pitch, where you feel obliged to sit down. Avoid these and go back a couple of streets to find more authentic Greek hospitality in family run establishments. Out of season and in some smaller villages and towns, many of the restaurants will not have very much fresh food in and so their menus may be limited and frozen. You will though get plenty of grilled food, although not the long-baked dishes that Greece is famous for. Although hunt well for your restaurants and you will not be disappointed.
- On a practical note – lamb is really expensive here. I thought that we would have an abundance of lamb here, and although you can buy a whole carcass (especially around their feast days), minced lamb in particular is impossible. Because the meat is so expensive you pay €10 per kilo and given that most of that is bone, it makes for an expensive option.
- Whilst talking about money, the cost of living here is an interesting one. So far we’ve found that food is more expensive than say Spain, although perhaps on a par with Italy and France. Although the Greek wine is cheap, the boys say it’s not great, although they happily report that the Ouzo is superb. You can get a 2 litre bottle for €16. Other spirits are expensive so stock up before you come. Beer is more than palatable although again can be quite expensive. Six small cans of Fix larger is around €4.65. Do try the local road-sellers as their fruit and veg tends to be a little cheaper and more tasty, especially their oranges. Diesel prices vary; in larger towns like Igoumenitsa we were paying €1.29, although further south in the Peloponnese we found it at €1.15. And a lovely surprise has been the regularity of LPG. There are no issues on availability here and is coming in around €0.79.
- So far we’ve found three main supermarkets; Lidl of course are pretty much everywhere and there is also My Market and AB. At Lidl you know what you’re getting as it’s pretty standard across Europe, although the other two have some different ranges on offer and some staples that Lidl don’t offer.
- If you want big shops for clothing, haberdashery, health shops etc, then look for a larger town. In our month travelling south from Igoumenitsa to the eastern board of the Peloponnese, we’ve only come across two big shopping centres, Patras in the north and Nafplio, south east. Whilst butchers, bakers and local supermarkets have always given us our day-to-day essentials, other items like clothing etc have been a bit more limited, so you will need to work your way to a larger town for other essentials and the good old ‘Chinese Shops’.
Sea Urchin, Porto Cheli
If the ocean calls you, you will be treated like a king or queen. The waters here are incredible for all sorts of activities. We suggest that you wear water-shoes as around some of the coastline, the sea-urchins will act out their revenge on human imposters, so take care. There are jelly-fish too, although they look pretty harmless. Look out for turtles as they call this coastline home, evidenced sadly by one that was washed up on shore this week. The snorkelling apparently is amazing, if this is your thing.
- Talking the lingo. We have always adopted the philosophy that wherever we go, we learn the language basics, so we can at least show we’re trying. My sense is that the locals always appreciate you having a go. So I have put together The Motoroamer’s Guide to Getting by in Greek list, with some of the basics that we have learnt over the last month. Although it must be said, that many Greeks, especially in the retail trade, speak a little bit of English and German.
- The Greeks are the most delightful people; warm, welcoming, polite, helpful and engaging. We have loved being amongst them. They invite you into their kitchens, give you tasters in shops to sell their wares and are always offering you something complementary. They shake your hand, smile at you, wave and, there are often impromptu serenades at restaurants from budding Pavarotti’s. If you are ever in need, just ask and the Greeks will do as much as they can to help you. They have kindness at their very heart.
- The Greek economy may be in dire straights, although we haven’t really seen much evidence of this on the whole. Some of the roads are a bit ropey, although not as bad as we thought. Italy is definitely worse! In fact some roads have been recently relaid, making some of the advertised wild-spots listed in books and apps impossible to reach because of the drop. There’s evidence of new cables going in for better internet provision and some of the villas you see here are quite magnificent. The only real issue we’ve seen are some of the hotels in more ‘out of the way spots’ that just have gone to wrack and ruin. Otherwise I thought that Italy showed more deprivation than Greece, so far anyway. Interestingly, we found in Nafplio that they have half day shopping on Monday, Wednesday and Saturday – we’re not sure whether this is because of the economy or contributes to the state of the economy! So do check before shopping. This is not true though for supermarkets, it’s worth adding.
- The countryside is to die for. In our first week, I was so shocked to see such a rich, luscious and diverse landscape. In many ways it reminded me a lot of the Lake District in UK. Rolling hills, stunning greenery, dense forest and so many beautiful flowers. It will blow you away and that’s before you even set eyes on the craggy coastline with azure blue seas that invite you to test their waters and the ancient monuments that take you back to Greek mythology and historical intrigue.
So Greece, what else can we say? It has taught us a new tongue, it has taught us about the art of convoying, how deeply profound the Greek culture and heritage is and how much it has brought us into the heart of the way of life here. It is beautiful beyond any adjectives I could use from the Thesaurus and that beauty comes as much from Greece’s soul as what you see with your eyes. So if you are considering coming here, then do. It is a stunning place to learn about, call home and rest awhile. I have a fancy we will not want to leave. Here’s to more lessons coming in the next moon month of our Greek Odyssey that takes us to the island of Crete and then up the eastern coastline. For now, yamas!
Karen and Myles, The Motoroamers
As I sit here watching the sun go down over the Ebro Delta on Spain’s north-eastern coast, I can hear the gentle cries of the flamingoes in the background and the plentiful birdlife playing in the twilight sky.
We stumbled upon this little haven after moving on from Peniscola where the campsite there was door to door vans, with no room to breathe. I felt completely hemmed in and claustrophobic so we hopped, skipped and jumped out of there and up the autovista to somewhere more wild, open and beautiful. And we found it. The Ebro Delta.
It does seem odd to put the next two words in the same sentence; car park and stunning, although this is the truth of Casa de Fusta (co-ordinates N40° 39.505′ E0° 40.523). As a centre for tourist activities, cycling, bird watching and walking, offering a restaurant and toilets, this large parking area accommodates at least fifty motorhomes, for free. There are services although you pay €3 for grey waste and water and €3 for black waste.
Casa de Fusta camping
One of the things we have come to appreciate in our year on the road is how wonderful car parking spots can be for camping overnight. We’ve called a few of them ‘home’ in the last twelve months and our experiences have changed our perspective of car-park style Aires. And this one serves to be a positive reminder of that opinion.
This region is really a slice of heaven. A good five miles from the motorway, you weave your way through some pretty narrow roads to find yourself in the Ebro Delta – a Natural Park and conservation area, which is changing by the year as the sea reclaims the land. Although for now, the natural beds of salt pans, natural lagoons and reed beds hide a multitude of birds, some rare species claiming this as their territory.
And then you catch a glimpse of brilliant salmon-pink wings as the flamingoes land with surprising grace, right in front of you. What a privilege that is. These creatures that simply don’t look like they’ve been designed to fly and have jumped right out of the pages of a comic strip.
We saw flamingoes at El Rocio in western Spain last year and again in the Po Delta in Italy, although neither place offered such an easy-to-access view of these stunning birds. In fact Italy had turned it into a fee-paying tourism activity, fencing the birds off so that only the largest telephoto lens would pick them up.
So for me as a bird-lover to get so close to these magnificent creatures and hear their cries as my morning alarm has been a rare treat. Miles of cycling along flat roads that run alongside the irrigation channels, where birds take flight as they hear you approach, just adds to the magic. Only five miles away you have El Trabucador – a causeway of sand that shelters the lagoons from the often ferocious Mediterranean sea determined to win the battle over the protected waters. You can park here during the day ( N40° 36.565′ E0° 43.522’ ) and watch the kite surfers skim the lagoon surface, dancing with the on-shore winds. No camping is allowed here over night, although the for the day, it is a great spot to watch the mountains whilst listening to the roar of the ocean. The peace and tranquility are palpable – minus the exception of the odd arctic lorry that gingerly passes on the compacted sand towards the salt factory at the end of the spit.
Deltebre wild camp spot
Our final night in the region was sadly awash with heavy rain, so we were pretty relieved that we didn’t stay any longer on the beach as we’d have made a nice based for a sandcastle. Although we still found a lovely little wild camping spot right on the River Ebro. ( Co-ordinates N40° 42.851′ E0° 42.932′ ) On a good day, the river walk looks lovely, although in this weather, we gave it a miss. Deltebre is a functional town rather than anything pretty, although I do accept that the rain and the need to shop could easily have affected my view. Still there all the supermarkets are here, together with really cheap petrol – the first we’ve seen this year at .99c.
So if you haven’t gathered by my vociferous bigging up of this area – we like it here and really feel that it deserves your time and adoration as it offers so much to the active, bird-loving, nature adoring camper. If you love having a town’s vibe, nightlife, shops and restaurants, right on your doorstep, then this probably isn’t for you. If instead you love nature’s orchestra, then this is definitely worth putting on your To-Do list when travelling up or down this eastern coast of Spain. We hope you like it as much as we did. Kx
Here’s our Gallery of Ebro Delta pictures;
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