Mount Vitosha is not as famous as Bulgaria ski complexes such as Borovets, but there are more reasons to get your snow sports fix here than mere proximity to the capital. As the very first Balkan National Park Vitosha is a haven for wildlife and boasts hiking trails, one of the nation’s highest peaks (Cherni Vrah) and Bulgaria’s biggest cave system, not to mention a UNESCO World Heritage site and some thermal mineral springs.
Getting From Sofia to Mount Vitosha Ski Resort by Public Transport
Promotional tourist literature cites how Vitosha is Europe’s only ski resort to be connected by public capital city transport, but that doesn’t make this trip straightforward. Sofia has a decent tram network, and Tram number 9 heads from the city to its terminus at Hladilnika. Here there is a small bus station with buses to Aleko, Dragalevtsi and Boyana. There is a chair lift from Dragalevtsi, which also sports a beautiful monastery. A bus to Aleko gets you a significant way into the heart of Vitosha National Park. Visitors can also hike up from Boyana but it’s a long, steep hike.
Aleko Ski Centre and Skiing on Vitosha
Surprisingly for a Sofia ski centre, Vitosha is quite uncrowded and filled mostly with locals who don’t require ski accommodation (as Vitosha has no developed tourist infrastructure, few hotels and non-existent nightlife, which are in many ways its blessings). Aleko, as the main access point, gets more crowded than anywhere else, and offers accommodation, as well as ski instructors. Slopes cater for all levels of difficulty and form the country’s highest piste. There is a medium (blue) run that starts just under the summit of Cherni Vrah itself (2290 metres), and the notoriously tough Vitoshka Lale is challenging enough to be used as a professional practice run. Click here for a map of Vitosha ski runs.
Wildlife Watching, Caving and Hiking Bulgaria Style
If skiing isn’t a visitor’s thing, Vitosha Mountain is also a nature lovers paradise. Wolves and bears lurk in the thickly forested slopes, which contain two protected reserves. One of these, Bistrishko Branishte, encompasses some of Europe’s rarest orchid and dragonly species (a dragonfly museum is planned).
Duhlata, the biggest Bulgaria cave complex, also lies in Vitosha National Park. This incredible subterranean system runs back some 17 kilometres into the mountains, with no fewer than six underground rivers flowing through its arteries. The cave is in the south-western portion of the mountain near Bosnek, but to descend into the depths one has to be an experienced speleologist.
The combination of forests, lakes, rivers and bare peaks make hiking a popular activity in Vitosha. It is, after all, Bulgaria’s most-climbed peak and as any Sofia resident will relate, the birthplace of organised hiking in the country. That said, many trails are poorly marked and taking a detailed map is well advised. The best hikes are the “stone rivers” or “moreni” route near Zlatnite Mostove and the walk from Aleko down to Boyana.
Boyana Church and Museum
Boyana is technically a suburb in the extreme south of Sofia, but it’s right under the mountain and a class apart in its vibe, wealth and location from the rest of the city. It’s the haunt of Sofia’s elite, too, and features many grand buildings.
Not least of these is the UNESCO World Heritage listed Boyana church, a series of three historic churches that comprise a tenth-century church and some medieval frescoes thought to be the best examples of early Eastern European art anywhere in the world. The church is run as a visitor attraction by the impressive nearby National Museum of History, Bulgaria’s most extensive collection of national artefacts.
If weekending on Vitosha, a great way to approach Boyana is via the spectacular Boyana waterfall, which plummets in a 15 metre plume off the mountain slopes.