Impressed by the beauty of the Balkans: cycling from Belgrade to Sofia
Before we started our bike tour through the Balkans, we didn’t really know what to expect from the region. We merely heard about its turbulent history with complicated relationships between countries and perceived it as a stopover on our way from Western Europe to Turkey. We didn’t know much about its people and what the scenery looked like. Now, after having spent 3 weeks in the region, we have to say that the Balkans have much more to offer than we imagined. We’ve got to love it here!
Movie time: cycling in Serbia — we can only recommend it
We’ve spent about two weeks in Serbia and we really loved cycling there. Manon made a short movie about it.
From the Serbian capital to the Bulgarian one
Let’s continue our story in Belgrade, where we stopped last time. As described in our previous blog post, we liked the northern part of Serbia — which is mainly flat —especially because of its people who are super welcoming and eager to share their stories.
Over the last 2 weeks, we’ve cycled from Belgrade to Sofia through the eastern part of Serbia and northern part of Bulgaria. We enjoyed this part for a different reason: its nature, which made a deep impression on us. It felt like we were cycling from highlight to highlight. Below a chronological overview, starting with a failed attempt to get out of the city of Belgrade.
Waking up early for nothing
So far, plans work out the way we want them to most of the time. Unfortunately, one Monday morning in Belgrade, we woke up at 5:30 and wanted to catch the first train to Vršac in order to avoid having to ride on a motor highway. We bought our train tickets in Belgrade Central Station, put our heavy bikes on the right platform and waited, waited, waited, … until we noticed that something was wrong. We went back to the ticket office and asked why our train didn’t show up. Surprisingly, the ticket vendor — who didn’t understand any word in English — got very annoyed by our question, asked for our train tickets, reimbursed the tickets without looking at us and simply ran away. We thought it was a matter of bad luck, but we found out online that it’s not a coincidence: Belgrade’s public transportation is not working properly.
After all, nothing bad happened. We only had to wait for 5 more hours to get the next train. Soon after we were able to catch the next train, 3 big highlights would appear on the horizon.
Highlight 1: Cycling in the Iron Gates gorge
Cycling along the Danube isn’t always flat. The Danube goes through the spectacular Iron Gates gorge on the border between Romania and Serbia. With Carpathian Mountains to the north and the Balkan Mountains to the south of the Iron Gates, this definitely belongs the most scenic parts of a bike tour along Danube.
At the end of the Iron Gates, we had to say goodbye to the Danube as we wanted to head southwards to Belogradchik, whereas the Danube goes further eastwards to the Black Sea. In total, we’ve cycled from Germany until Bulgaria more than 1500 km along the Danube river.
Highlight 2: Belogradchik
After we’ve crossed the border between Serbia and Bulgaria, we headed southwards to Belogradchik to visit the bizarrely shaped rock formations. The rock formations are very beautiful, but also the way to get there — especially the climb from Oreshets to Belogradchik — was more than worth it.
Highlight 3: Through the Balkan Mountains to Sofia
As we also wanted to visit Sofia, there was no other option than crossing the Balkan Mountains. After having cycled on mostly flat terrain, we were totally ready to discover something new. The mountains brought us more beauty in our eyes than pain in our legs. We enjoyed it very much!
Countdown to Istanbul has started!
Our time in the Balkans will be coming to an end soon. We’ll cycle in the next days from Sofia via Plovdiv and Dimitrovgrad to the next chapter of our bike tour: Turkey.
In 2 weeks, we expect to be in Istanbul, where we’ll spend one week with our family. We’re very much looking forward to that!
Some more pictures to end with:
See you in 2 weeks — happy cycling!