This Wild, Wild Bulgarian (Unexplored) Northwest
If you are tired of the city and decide to catch the forest, do not forget the wheel. However, this is one of the more interesting ways to travel. If you want to be in the wild, really wild, go west. There, according to some, is northwest, and according to others — a northerly Bulgaria. A point of view, and a few statistics.
Officially, according to Eurostat, this is the poorest region in the European Union. According to the statistics office on a GDP basis for 2015, people there are 54.5 times poorer than those living in central London. Unofficially, however, it is one of the most preserved parts of nature and culture on the continent. It includes the largest Natura 2000 area in the country, as well as a long list of landmarks, rock phenomena, cave systems, river waterfalls and very few people. And while Europe and much of the rest of the world are becoming more and more cultivated and overcrowded, wild is becoming more and more demanding and valuable, often also a tourist attraction. The Northwest, on its part, offers it abundantly, and recently on two wheels — in the area are developed biking routes, which have already begun to attract Bulgarian and foreign wildlife seekers.
There are 178 kilometers marked for cycling, starting from Berkovitsa passing through Chiprovtsi, a series of mountain ridges, river valleys, small villages, chalets and ending in Belogradchik. Approximately 180 kilometers, through which you can hardly see other people. If you meet them, however, there is a great chance that a “small” 200-gram brandy will draw you, “pull” two or three tomatoes from the garden and eventually send you, filling you with the apple bag. This, along with the “banging” on the gully, is part of the risks of mountain biking in the area.
The main route named “Wild Northwest” is divided into 6 stages for about 6 days and is marked in the autumn of 2016. Because of the early winter, few people have been riding on it.
The idea of the track comes to the three bikers behind the Bike Ventures. Dobromir Dobrev, Orlin Koichev and Panagiotis Gyotakis have set themselves the goal of developing new destinations and offering mountain biking tourism services in Bulgaria. They targeted mainly foreigners with medium and high riding skills and affinity to the extreme. Unlike their other tours, however, the “Wild Northwest” is available to Bulgarians as well as to people who have recently been in mountain biking and want to improve their driving skills by passing through scenic and not very popular places.
The “Wild Northwest” starts from Berkovitsa, climbs up to the summit of Zdravetska, the village of Dalgi del, the Kopren hut, over Kopilovtsi, continues to Chiprovtsi, through Gorno Yazovo peak to Midzhur hut, then through hut Gorski raj to Stakevtsi and from there to Belogradchik and, of course, its rocks. The route is long but does not require serious cycling experience. It is mainly driven by dirt roads, with only a tiny asphalt and an easy to walk path near Chiprovtsi. The stages are generally not very long and allow for daily riding. If they travel within about a week, about 180 km of the route is made about 5–6 hours of driving per day. However, the more ambitious and physically trained can pass the whole route for 3–4 days. Those who do not have the time to do it at once can cover it for 2–3 weeks. If it is done with an organized group, it can be accompanied by transport and so the luggage during the ride decreases significantly.
“Bike Ventures” have chosen the area because, as Pano says, “There are not many such places in Europe.” Civilization is far from the Northwest. Just because it is wild, the area is interesting. The boys from the Bike Ventures have already shown it to groups of foreigners from the United States and the UK and definitely liked it. According to Orlin, they were most impressed by the wild, the unknown and the … carts: “It is a great exotic for them, seeing grandmother and grandfather with the cart, stop and start shooting.” The region is also attractive for Bulgarian cyclists. The less familiar places they like are in the area of Chiprovtsi and Kopilovtsi. There, at the foot of Kopren peak, there are the Kopren waterfalls and eco-paths along which the route passes. In the town of Chiprovtsi, in the hotel “Torlatzite”, there is a workshop where everyone can see how to make Chiprovtsi carpets and try to do something. Other things are being tried — the wine from the Borovitsa wine cellar in Belogradchik and many local dishes. One of the goals of the route, according to Dobri, is to sense the area: “This tour is not just a ride, it has time for cultural tourism, to be studied, to study because the area is wild, reserved and extremely interesting.”
And as business initiatives in this region of Bulgaria are few, through the Wild West North, some of them manage to help. Although it is a complex task, the boys from the Bike Ventures have managed to organize food and overnight stays for the evening. They show cyclists crafts and culture that are on the brink of extinction, lead them to ethnographic centers and small workshops. In this way, most of the revenue remains with the local.
Some of the places where the route passes are related to small local businesses, with which the “Bike Ventures” united under the project’s hat which finances them — the Bulgarian-Swiss “Linking Nature Conservation and Sustainable Development of Rural Areas”. Among them is the Center for Arts, Crafts and Ethnography “School” in the village of Melyane, the home cookery factory “Sinueva” and the demonstration center “Crafts of the Northwest” in the village of Prevala. These businesses, together with a goat farm and a demonstration center for the production of yogurt and cheese and with the cooperation of the Association of Parks in Bulgaria, decided to act together to protect the area. “The idea is that the four organizations that develop businesses in the area and have received funding from the Swiss project will spend 20% of our profits in the next 5 years to return to the Western Stara Planina Mountains, so we will reinvest in the area to Preserving biodiversity, maintaining tourist routes, eco-paths, etc., “Orlin says. In this way, anyone who joins a Bike Ventures tour will not only be able to get to know a part of the Northwest but also to help him become less northwest and more northwest.