By Christian Pauls
Sometimes people ask me if there are any nature trips you can do from Bucharest without getting into the standard traffic jam in Prahova Valley, driving many hours, or heading to Buzau Area (which I highly recommend). Well, about 90km from Bucharest, in Bulgaria, there is a stunning nature park, with plenty of hills, canyons, rivers, caves and old churches carved into the rocks above a winding river.
The Rusenski Lom national park is one of Bulgaria’s 11 national parks and is situated along the canyonlike valley of the Rusenski Lom River. It is a great area for easy walks, longer hikes, mountain biking, and the region is very suitable for families with children too.
The park is recognized as a precious site of high aesthetic value preserving beautiful riverside terraces, meanders, and high vertical rocks, areas of rich varieties of animal life, caves, rock formations, and historical monuments of national and international significance.
From Bucharest take DN5/ E85 direction Giurgiu. Pass by Adunati Copaceni and after the village of Remus follow it to your left (truck road signposted to Ruse). Take care, if you do make the turn, you will have to drive through the city of Giurgiu.
Once you arrive at the Romanian – Bulgarian boarder you will see a first checkpoint where you will have to pay a tax for crossing the Bridge of Friendship (RON 30 / car). The border checkpoint is right after the bridge. After passing border control you will have to pay for the Bulgarian road tax if you intend to drive on national roads and highways. It happened to me and to several more expats from Bucharest that they were asked higher amounts for the road tax than it actually costs. Make sure you will get a receipt and keep it with you at all times. It is also a very good idea to have a good map that you understand at this point, because every road sign will be in Cyrillic lettering.
Then you will travel by the city of Ruse. Follow the road to Sofia/ Veliko Tarnovo (national road no. 5) for about 20km and turn then to the left to Ivanovo. From there you will already see road signage leading to the “rock churches” of Ivanovo.
Outdoor activities in the region include: walking and hiking, mountain biking, canoeing, caves, and climbing. Also, when you are there, you must visit Ivanovo’s impressive rock churches. These UNESCO heritage sites date back to the second Bulgarian state, 12th-14th century, and have been carved into the rocks above Rusenski Lom River.
Another place of interest is the medieval village of Cherven, where you can enjoy stunning views from the castle (although the castle itself isn’t much more than a ruin now).
The region does not offer many guesthouses as tourism is not very busy there. The website Hotels Guide Bulgaria offers a complete list of accommodation offers in the region at www.hotels.guide-bulgaria.com/NC/Rousse.
Personally, I have tried out the Petrov Gueshouses in Cherven. There were two clean and neat houses with 3 double rooms each. Not suitable for families as you share the bathroom with the other guests. The food is decent, but you’d better take your own with you.
A wonderful weekend city break just 3 hours from Bucharest is Veliko Tarnovo. As a former capital of Bulgaria during the Second Empire you will find a city with plenty of history and unique architecture to discover. Its heritage ranges from medieval fortresses and Ottoman inns to the Bulgarian renaissance.
Even today, walking through the streets of the old town you will find plenty of cutlery, tannery, pottery, a carpenter’s shops and a weaving workshop, where the artisans use authentic technologies.
This free online guide about Veliko Tarnovo that should be helpful to prepare your visit: www.theoldcapital.eu.
If you plan to travel by car it will be an easy 3 hour drive from Bucharest to Veliko Tarnovo. From Bucharest take DN5/ E85 direction Giurgiu, then cross the Danube-Bridge to Ruse. From Ruse follow national road no. 5 towards Sofia and follow the road-signs towards Veliko Tarnovo (Велико Търново). I do not recommend traveling by train to Veliko Tarnovo unless you are passionate about it. It may take you more than 7 hours to get there (192 km).
Veliko Tarnovo is a great weekend escape for all kinds of travelers. The city itself is rich in galleries, artisans and museums. Close by there are several places of interest that can be easily reached by car, including: the old village of Arbanassi; Eco-trail hikes in Emen Canyon; and several monasteries.
Veliko Tarnovo offers plenty of hotels and six hostels at reasonable prices. If you prefer high-end luxury, there are Hotel and Spa resorts in the neighbouring village of Arbanassi.
My personal recommendation in Veliko Tarnovo is the Phoenix Hostel, run by a Cathy and Nick, two British expatriates and passionate motorcyclists who settled in Veliko four years ago. From my personal point of view they run the best hostel I have ever stayed in. Just in the middle of the old town, in a wonderful old Bulgarian house that they have renovated with a lot of care and passion Nick and Cathy cater to their guests with great attention, a wonderful breakfast and spotlessly clean rooms and facilities. They are the best source of information for activities in and around Veliko Tarnovo. Book in advance!
Address: Hristo Daskalov Str. 12
Phone: +359 (0)62 603 112
E-mail: [email protected]