AUG 14,2012 - AUG 28,2012 (15 DAYS)
Last summer we went 2 families with 2 children each (ages one year and three years) for a two-week trip to Bulgaria and Macedonia. Here's a travelogue.
In Sofia, we were supposed to pick up our car from Rentcarbulgaria. It's a company working with various car rental companies. They really disappointed us, as we were suppose to get a Peugeot 308sw and instead we received a Renault Partner. It wasn't so bad, however, as the car was big and spacious.
Another problem we had was they brought us only a single child seat (for both families). We got pissed but there was nothing we could really do.
From the airport we drove to a large, relatively new mall in Sofia called "The Mall" where we changed money (we heard they have the best rate in Bulgaria), and bought a SIM card for our mobile (there are different kinds; we bought only data for internet, Skype etc..; 1G cost us 30 Lev.)
We did more shopping in the huge supermarket in the bottom floor (Carrefour). You can find everything there, very cheap. We bought water, some food, something for the way, and left toward Borovets.
Within an hour we reached to Borovets, a ski town in the winter and a nice place to tour in the summer. Borovets is very cold even in the summer. We visited there in the middle of August and the temperature there was around 15 Centigrade during the day. Sometimes it's rainy, but it wasn't too bad.
We got to Borovets and settled at the central Rila hotel (60 Lev for a couple, plus 12 Lev for children (>2 years) including breakfast.
We did a short trip in town, a very nice place. The kids did 10 minute horse back rides, ate dinner (Pizza Napoli is recommended). We did some walking and went to bed.
The next morning we took the cable car toward the mountain. Everybody recommended for us to take the cable to the hilltop and go down by foot. When we reached the top it was pretty cold but we were with warm clothes, and as we started walking, the our bodies warmed up.
On the way down we picked blueberries and raspberries you can find them everywhere. The locals also come with boxes to pick them.
The trail is very nice, and most of it is in the forest. There are beautiful views and the atmosphere is really nice. The entire trail took us less than three hours with some stops on the way and a very easy pace.
The next day we headed toward the Seven Lakes. It was around 40 mins drive from the hotel. Parking cost 5 Lev and the cable car is 15 Lev per person (important to buy two way), kids under 6 years old don't pay.
We got up in the car. Pay attention, it's very cold. Come with warm clothes!!! After 25 mins of ascend, you reach the the starting point of the lakes.
Here you have several options:
1. Take the green/yellow route, and start from the first lake and reach the end.
2. Take the red route (I think it's better), steep ascent and reach directly to the 5th lake.
3. Pay 10 Lev per person for a horse that will take you on the red route to the 5th lake.
We choose the third option. Climbing with the horses wasn't easy, the ride was very jerky and the kids sat with the parents holding tight, but it was a good solution for climbing with the kids.
We reached the fifth lake and the view was amazing. We took a break and went toward the fourth lake (yellow/green marked road). We thought about walking to the 6th and 7th lake but we thought it was too much for the kids.
We continued the green marked road, plenty of walking, most of it plains and descents (all the ascents were down with the horses). Some rocks, mud and puddles. All in all it took us 5 hours - with two kids ages three and a half and another two kids age one and a half, on carrier backpacks.
We got back to Borovets, tired but satisfied.
We left Borovets in the morning and drove toward Rila Monastery. After an hour drive we reached to the town, from there you continue straight ahead and after a long and very winding road, you'll reach the Monastery (20-30 mins drive from Rila). The monastery parking is free. The monastery is very impressive, but take into account that kids will be bored there. There's not so much to do.
From there we drove to Bansko (hour and a half). Bansko is a very cute town, most of the hotels and shops are closed for the summer, but the pedestrian only main street is full of life and the atmosphere is nice. After some searching we found a hotel which was quite cheap - 50 Lev for a family including breakfast.
We passed all afternoon on the street, ate dinner and went to bed. The next morning we woke up for a very poor breakfast - anyone can order his egg, cereals or muesli and hot drinks. We went to the grocery store, bought some products and bread and headed toward the mountain, to the lake trail.
After a half an hour slow drive, you reach to the point where the trail starts. After an easy climb of 30-40 mins you reach the first lake. The view is breath taking. From there you can continue to the second lake but it's another hour of climbing so we passed. Instead we went toward the river (from where we reached) and did a picnic there. It was just great, good weather and breath taking views.
We woke up, ate, and made our way toward Melnik. I can't recommend Melnik for families with small kids - there isn't much to do there.
We were very disappointed with this town. We arrived and found a hotel at the end of the main street, 50 Lev for a room with double bed, small bed and a cot. We went out looking for something to do and there was nothing!!!
We climbed along the street following signs for wine tasting, hard climb but short - 5-10 mins. We arrived to the hill top and found someone who was really not nice who told us that if we want to taste wine we need to pay 5 Lev for a person, and only if you pay that he will let you get inside and see where the wine is stored. We considered paying but because he was obnoxious, we headed down the street.
Besides that, there was nothing to do. We started driving toward the monastery, but the kids fell asleep so we headed back to the hotel.
If you come from Bansko and still want to stay the night at Melnik, there's a nice restaurant 2-3 km before Melnik with a creek, and kids can play in the garden, and looking back it looks like a good deal and it was too bad we didn't booked there.
Perhaps if we weren't with kids we could have found something to do in Melnik and perhaps even have had a good time there.
We got up and flew from Melnik heading south. We passed the border to Greece. The border pass was fine, they weren't the nicest. One vehicle passed easily. The second car was detained for 20 mins because they took each passport for a check. Be careful not to piss off the Greek cops - they turn angry quickly.
We drove till we reached Dojran where we crossed the border to Macedonia (5 mins crossing).
We drove till we reached Dojran where we crossed the border to Macedonia (5 mins crossing). After half a kilometer, we found a local beach with many people in the lake... We decided to go to the beach. We went down to the beach, rented a sunshade and it was really nice.
The moment you arrive to town you see many people with signs offering rental apartments. After a search we realized that the first line of hotels in front the lakes are pretty expensive (80-100 Euro for a night). Eventually, we postponed the hotel search to after dinner. After wandering around (we wanted a hotel and not an apartment) we found for 42 Euros a hotel called Diplomat (http://www.hoteldiplomatohrid.info/)
The hotel was reasonable plus, very spacious rooms, a very nice crew that helped and assisted us, and a reasonable breakfast. To make a long story short - recommended.
One comment - our air conditioning didn't work. In the other room it worked fine. Make sure you ask for a room with working AC.
We toured the lovely Ohrid promenade, there's a great breeze from the lake, the atmosphere is good, plenty of people... In short, a good place. We changed some money, and had a nice dinner.
The next morning, we ate breakfast and left for Cuba Libre beach which was a 10 mins walk from the hotel. The beach is amazing. All the beaches are great, full with trees and lawns, but in Cuba if you order a drink you can get sun beds and umbrellas for free.
We swam in the cool lake, the kids played in the kids play garden, and it was really nice.
We went back to Ohrid for siesta and went outside in the evening to tour the promenade and the old city. In the promenade there are plenty of attractions for kids - carrousels, gymboree, trampolines and more.
The next morning we left toward Saint Naum which is 20 mins south of Ohrid. We parked the car in a parking space (50 Denar) and went inside the town (reservation). We went on the main road, plenty of stands selling souvenirs and all kinds of useless stuff. In the middle you cross a bridge passing a water pass toward Ohrid lake, plenty of water flowing from the springs to the lake (10 cube/sec).
Right after the bridge there's a restaurant, once you get inside, all the way at the end and you'll find there a row boat cruise. The cruise costs 5 Euro for couple , kids are free. You can rent the boat alone for 15 Euros or you can wait for another 6 adults.
The cruise is in the reservation and includes guidance. Just lovely and worth it. You'll see the springs feeling the Ohrid, and the clarity of the water is absolutely unreasonable. The cruise is half an hour (back and forth).
After the sail we continued wandering around in the town. You can also bathe in lake but we went back north to Trpejca. We parked the car at the entrance to the town and went down (10 mins of steep descent) and in the end you'll reach a lovely nice beach, one of the prettiest places we'd seen. Crystal clear water, a lot of people who just put their towels, tanning and getting into the lake. Highly Recommended!!!
In addition, after taking a bath in the cool lake, we ate fish in one of the restaurants there, and it was perfect.
We packed the kids back into the car and drove back to Ohrid to the lake. We spent the entire afternoon there and in the evening we went to the old city. It was pretty complex to drive all the way up with a car because the streets were closed for cars. Somehow, using narrow alleys, we managed to get to church at the mountain top. We did a tour around the church, walked a bit and went down back to town.
It's recommended to come see the old town around 5PM so you can see Ohrid both in day and night.
We left Ohrid on morning, set up our GPS toward Matka (you can also set it on Skopje) and went on our way. The way from Ohrid to Skopje is bending and twisting until you reach a toll road, where the roads are better. Between Ohrid and Skopje there are 3-4 toll booths, each one costs around 300 Denar. One kilometer after the last passage toward Skopje (3 km before the town) you turn right (there's no sign) toward Matka Canyon. On the T-junction you turn left and right after the gas station right and then straight ahead all the time until you reach a big parking place. You can ask anyone on the way because it's a famous site.
The drive from Ohrid to Matka took two and a half hours.
We parked the car, and started walking toward the dam, 10 mins of easy walking and you'll reach the dam, and afterwards to the canyon itself. You can find there a restaurant and and an hour long cruise to stalactite cave. We took the cruise, if I'm not mistaken 10 Euro for a person and kids are free.
The cruise is really nice, with breath taking views, and at its end you'll reach the stalactite cave. The tour inside the cave is around 15 mins, and you get an explanation on the cave and then back to the boat.
From Matka Canyon we drove toward Skopje to search for a place to stay. We quickly realized Skopje is very expensive and there's no point to stay. We started driving toward Bulgaria and suddenly saw a sign in the middle of nowhere pointing to a place to stay, restaurant and a zoo. We entered and found an amazing place for kids, very big lake with many animals - fishe, turtles, swans etc. Around there were the restaurants tables and a small zoo with horses, rabbits, goats, deer etc.
We asked the friendly landlord if there's a place to stay and she took us to the cabins by the lake. I must admit the cabin was quite modest, but all the surroundings made it worth every dime.
She has three cabins and a shower. The price is really cheap - 22 Euros for a family including breakfast. We took the rooms, and kids played around the lake and with the animals. We sat to eat very tasty and cheap dinner and went to bed.
We ate breakfast on the lake and headed on our way. The border passing was rather simple, and the Bulgarian clerk was really nice. After a two hour drive we reached Beli Iskar near Borovets.
In Beli Iskar you drive into town straight all the way. If you arrive to the tourist information and it's closed you need to continue straight all the way where you reach the starting point of the trail.
We parked one car near the 6th bridge and another at the entrance point. The trail is very easy and adequate for kids. You pass bridges along the way above crystal clear frozen water - too cold to swim, but nice to dip your feet. Along the trail there are 8 bridges. We went till the 6th bridge where we parked the car (an hour walk). On the way back we stopped for a picnic at the river. Many people reach the 8th bridge and then walk on the road back to the parking lot.
We drove to Borovets (8 mins) and signed in to Club Hotel Yanakiev, a bit more expensive than the Rila hotel (70 Lev in the middle of the week) but the place was very nice, clean and spacious. It has a pool and basic breakfast.
We ate dinner at the Salamander Restaurant which was very good. You just go out of the hotel, turn right toward Rila hotel and you can find it on the left. Very recommended.
The bears we didn't see - we got up in the morning with good spirits and we decided we're going to Belitsa, which has a large park with large bears gathering from all over Bulgaria. We set the GPS and went on our way (according to the GPS, hour and a half). We drove toward Beli Iskar toward the wood, and after 20 mins drive we reached a barricade in which they told us we couldn't pass through because the water in the area is protected. We tried finding an alternative road and realized it would take us more than two hours so sadly we had to skip.
So we drove to Samakov and toured the center. Nothing special to see, on the GPS we saw there was a shopping mall, so we tried visiting it and besides 3-4 stores which were open everything was empty. Either it wasn't the season, or people there just don't visit the mall, because it looked modern, new but empty.
So we decided to drive to Borovets and ride up the the second cable (closed cabin), 10 Lev for a person (kids are free), we got up and discovered there was a light trek of an hour of walking to the lake. We decided to do it. The trek is easy, and in the end you reach two beautiful lakes and a breathtaking view. We had a picnic on the lake, took pictures, and got back to the cable.
It's recommended to bring long sleeve shirts because it's very cold.
We packed the car first thing in the morning and headed toward Sofia. We arrived, drove up to Vitosha mountain which looked very impressive, and there we had plenty of places to stop and make a picnic and rest.
We decided to continue to do some shopping in the Mall. On the way to the Mall we saw a large store named Jumbo. We hung out there in there for an hour and a half and couldn't get enough. You can find there everything with cheap prices. From there we continued to the Mall. We did some shopping and went down to the supermarket on the first floor carefoure where we bought many chocolates, cheese and many other things for crazy cheap prices.
The hotels in Sofia are very expensive so we went to Gorubliansko hotel (http://www.hotelmontecito.bg/bg/intro) but I really don't recommend it because we were pissed there. It's rather cheap, 60 Lev for a double bed (you can use it as a family but there's only a double bed), you don't get extra towels, only 2. We also saw that there was a nice pool there but we didn't use it because we arrived in the evening.
The next morning we had a delay in the flight and we asked to go to the dining room instead of the takeaway we pre-ordered. They didn't allow us to enter claiming we already got a takeaway which was a poor sandwich and for a cup of coffee they wanted to charge us for. We were pissed but didn't let it ruin our morning. We got back to the airport, returned the car and went back home.