Nature Park Bulgarka
The Nature Park Bulgarka (Bulgarian: Природен Парк Българка) is a vast Bulgarian nature park located along the northern slopes of the Balkan Mountains, occupying 22,000 hectares of territory in central and eastern part of Stara Planina between the cities of Gabrovo and Kazanluk.
The area’s historical and biological significance lead to the establishment of the Nature Park Bulgarka on August 9, 2002.
Some of the most striking landscapes are included in the Nature Park Bulgarka with steep cliffs and some of the highest waterfalls in the Balkan peninsula and lush vegetation. The Balkan Mountains are also called he Stara Planina (Стара планина), Bulgarian for “Old Mountains.”
This region, located between the steep topography of the Central Balkan Mountains and the lower and sloping eastern part of Stara Planina, is characterized by significant diversity in terrain. This diversity of terrain in the area supports a great diversity in flora and fauna. Further, due to the area's position in a section of the Balkans that served as a crossroads for Bulgarian for centuries, the park is also home to many historical sites.
The park has a continental climate, owing to its position in the Balkan Mountains and distance from the Bulgarian Black Sea Coast. The area has hot summers and cold, snowy winters – which is good for the popular sky resorts in the Uzana area. This part of Bulgaria has all four seasons, although spring is brief and falls mainly in April. The average high daily temperature in summer is about 27 C and in winter about 4 C.
All of the Stara Planina has a significant and special place in the history of Bulgaria since its foundation in 681. They served as a natural fortress of the Bulgarian Empire for centuries and formed an effective barrier to Moesia where most of the medieval capitals were located. The Central Balkan mountains, in or close to Nature Park Bulgarka, were the site of numerous battles between the Bulgarian and the Byzantine Empires, including the Battle of Tryavna (1190 CE). For many centuries the Byzantines feared that mountain and on several occasions Byzantine armies had pulled back only on the news of approaching Stara Planina.
During the Ottoman rule many haiduks (Bulgarian freedom fighters) found refuge in Stara Planina. Close to Botev peak is the Shipka Pass, the scene of the four battles in Russo-Turkish War, 1877-78 which ended Turkish rule in the Balkans. Close to the pass in the village of Shipka there is a Russian Orthodox church, built to commemorate Russian and Bulgarian bravery during pass defense.
Flora and Fauna
The Stara Planina is remarkable for its flora and fauna. In terms of zoology, the park is located the Balkan region of European fauna.
Many wild animals, such as the Eurasian wolf, fox, the golden jackal, Eurasian brown bear, wild boar, red deer, roe deer, hare, eastern hedgehog, squirrel, badger, mink and others inhabit the forested lands of the Nature Park Bulgarka. Birds in the park include the golden eagle, the common kestrel, rock dove, great spotted woodpecker, black woodpecker, green woodpecker, cuckoo, common buzzard, owl, white wagtail, turtledove, jay, magpie, raven, hooded crow, blackbird, thrush, starling, lark, finch, nightingale, domestic sparrow, oriole, great tit and others.
Reptiles native to the park lands include are three species of snakes, lizards and others. Amphibians include several frogs, salamander and invertebrates include snails, tritons and many kinds of insects. Fish in the waterways include trout, black fish, and others.
Forests cover about 80% of the park area, or 17,461 hectares. Various types of beech constitute the largest portion of the forest, at 65%. Other verities of deciduous trees include oaks, water locust, birch hornbeam, linden, elm, acacia, aspen, maple, ash, wild cherry, holly, rowan, birch and others. Coniferous trees found in the park include white and black pine, spruce, fir, white fir and others. Gymnosperm plants covers about 0.6 ha. This botanical uniqueness, which occurs only in this part of Bulgaria and has includes special combinations of beech, yew, and laurel, makes the park a significant conservation habitat. Within Nature Park Bulgarka are designated areas established to promote greater habitat conservation.
Nearly 70% of the officially recognized medicinal plants in Bulgaria may be found within the Nature Park Bulgarka.
At least 360 plant species grow in the park, including 31 species listed as threatened or endangered. This includes; yew, wild ticket silivryak gesneriaceae, mountain maple, Bulgarian types of orchids, medicinal tweeter, mountain onion cytisus, mountain vetch astragalus, among other. However, as one of the youngest nature parks in Bulgaria, a full classification of all the types of flora and fauna available is yet to come.
Its favorable geographical location, at the geographical center of Bulgaria, it is easy to access from nearby cities, airports and railway stations from across the country. It is a "Nature Park" and not a national park - there is no controlled access, no gates and people may enter at any time. In that it functions like an American National Forest, rather than a park.
Western portions of the Nature Park Bulgarka are easiest to access by roadways. The E-85, which is a trans-European transport corridor running from Helsinki to Dimitrovgrad and connects Gabrovo to Kazanluk, provides access to Etar Architectural-Ethnographic Complex, the Sokolski Moistary, the mountain villages of Chervena Lokva and Vodotsi and the Shipka Monument.
Railroads provide access to the park from the cities of Stara Zagora, Tryavna and Veliko Tarnovo.
Eastern portions of the Nature Park Bulgarka are easiest to access by railroad. A Bulgarian Railway Line running from Gorna Orjahovica in the north passes to Plovdiv in the south passes through this portion of the park with stops at Plachkovtsi, close to the park, and the mountain village of Krastec inside the park.
Nature Park Bulgarka is open to any who wishes to visit, there are no entry fees and no permits required to harvest plants and fungi from the park or to hunt in the park.
While there are a number of villages located inside the park, they are too small to have their own taxies, bus lines or marshrutkas. However, there is regular bus service between Kazanluk and Gabrovo, which stops at the Shipka Monument. While it may be possible to hire a taxi to take you into the park, this would be prohibitively expensive. To visit the more remote areas of Nature Park Bulgarka requires, hiking, bicycling or horse riding.
The 22,000 hectares of Nature Park Bulgarka are home to many beautiful sights and places to visit. Some of these include;
Activities available in the park vary by the season. In the spring, after the snow melts, through the summer and into the fall before the snow returns, hiking, fishing, gathering herbs, sight seeing and similar activities are possible.
The park is home to more than 30 hiking trails, some short and some of which require days to complete. Trails maintained the Nature Park Bulgarka directorte, which are entirely inside the park, include;
Refer to Get out, below, for information on other trails.
There are limited shopping opportunities located inside Nature Park Bulgarka itself. However, there are ample shopping opportunities in Gabrovo, Kazanluk, Tryavna and Shipka village. Unfortunately, there are no stores selling camping supplies in Gabrovo or Kazanluk, but both cities are home to stores which sell hunting supplies.
There are ample dinning opportunities in Gabrovo, Kazanluk, Tryavna and Shipka village. In addition, there are Bulgarian delis, called magazines, in most of the mountain villages located inside the park and small restaurants in some of those villages. Lastly, most of the hotels in the park have their own restaurants.
Drinking establishments are common in Bulgaria and the villages and resorts located in Nature Park Bulgarka. Beer and alcohol are available at almost all coffee shops, restaurants and shops where food and refreshments are available. There are few establishments which serve only alcohol.
Hotels are available in the nearby cities of Gabrovo, Kazanluk, Tryavna and the village of Shipka. Most of the hotels inside the park are located in the Uzana area, though some others and guesthouses (rental houses) are available in other locations.
Outdoor camping in Nature Park Bulgarka is permitted, however visitors are urged to use the hizha (хижа), or mountain huts, available for overnight stays in the forests. Some of the trails through the park require several days to complete, necessitating either camping or use of the hizha. The hizha are maintained by the Bulgarian Tourist Union and use of the hizha is on a first-come, first-serve basis. Regardless of actual out-of-doors camping or using the hizha, overnight visitors are urged to follow a Leave-no-trace camping philosophy.
Most of Nature Park Bulgarka qualifies as “backcountry,” being the forested hills, mountains and valleys of the Stara Planina, with paths and trails leading miles from nearby villages and roadways.
Bulgarians often have a flexible interpretation of hunting laws, at least in terms of when the seasons end and open, so visitors hiking back trails and engaging in camping during the autumn, winter and early spring should be alert and wear an orange vest, even if they are not hunters themselves. Hikers and campers are also encouraged to take cellphones with them and to be mindful of where the phones do and do not work.
There are two systems of trails in the park, one maintained by the directorate of Nature Park Bulgarka and one maintained by the Bulgarian Tourist Union. Trails maintained by the Bulgarian Tourist Union, which pass out of and into the park, include;
Refer to Do, above, for information on other trails.
GPS serve is good through out the park, in terms of getting a satellite signal, though many smaller roads and trails are not marked in GPS tracking software. Cell phone services is moderate in the park, with service available on the hills and poor or none existent in the valley. None of the villages have payphones.
A new tourist information center for the park is located near the southern entrance to the Etura Complex. In addition, the directorate of Nature Park Bulgarka may be contacted at;