Vitosha is the most visited Bulgarian mountain. It rises immediately above Sofia and is one of the symbols of our capital city. Few are the big cities in the world, and capitals are even fewer, that possess such a natural advantage. Vitosha Mountain is the most significant part of the Plana-Zavala Mountain System. With its highest peak - Mt. Cherni Vrah (The Black Peak) (2290 m) it occupies the fourth place among Bulgarian mountains.
Vitosha is the cradle of hiking tourism in Bulgaria. The date 27 August 1895 is considered the beginning of the organised tourist movement in the country. After the invitation of the renowned writer and democrat Aleko Konstantinov 300 men and women then climbed Mt. Cherni Vrah - something incredible and unbelievable in those times. Since then thousands of hikers climb the peak every year on this day.
In ancient times the mountain was named Sko-mios, Skopios, Skombros, meaning in Old Greek "the sharp, steep mountain". These names are preserved in the present name of Mt. Skoparnik. The name Vitosha appeared in the Middle Ages and for the first time it was used in a document from the 11th century. There are two versions about its origin: the first of them says that the name is of Thracian- Old Bulgarian origin and means a "binary", "dividing" mountain; the second (more likely to be true and acceptable) says that Vitosha comes from the personal name Vitosh.
Vitosha is a typical dome-like mountain - one of the few in Bulgaria. It has a slightly prolonged profile from north-west to south-east. It consists primarily of granite rocks, but there are karst rocks as well especially in the southern part. A unique natural phenomenon are the so-called "stone rivers" (moreni) - piles of huge rounded granite stones along many of the river valleys, reaching up to 2 km in length and 50 m in width. Especially expressive and beautiful are the moreni in the Zlatni Mostove area (Golden Bridges). Similar phenomena can be seen in other Bulgarian mountains, too, the Vitosha moreni however being unique. They are the symbol of the mountain.
Since 1935 a meteorological station has been operating on Mt. Cherni Vrah, with many services, mostly in the chalets. Comparative data about Sofia and Mt. Cherni Vrah weather conditions: the average monthly and annual temperature - for the coldest month - January - in Sofia is 1.7°C below zero and on Mt. Cherni Vrah - 8.3°C below zero. For the warmest month - July in Sofia - 21.2°C and for Mt. Cherni Vrah - August - 9.0°C. The average annual temperature in Sofia is 10.5°C and at Mt. Cherni Vrah - 0.3°C. A characteristic feature of Vitosha climate is the inversion (mostly in December and January). When Sofia is covered by thick fog and cold, the Vitosha Mountain shines in sun and warmth. This happens in an average of 15 days per year. An average of 140 days per year are very cold on Mt. Cherni Vrah - the maximum values in these days are below zero and there are 222 frosty days (when only the minimum temperatures are below zero). The winter in the high parts of the mountain lasts between 5 and 7 months, and truly summer months are only July and August. The average precipitation rate on Mt. Cherni Vrah (mostly snowfalls) is 1178 litres per sq. m. and June is the most rainy month - 142l per sq. m., while September has the lowest precipitation figure - 71 litres per sq. m. Most thick snow coverage is formed in March. Mt. Cherni Vrah is quite inhospitable,an average of 250 foggy days in the year and only 50 clear ones and it is one of most windy peaks in Bulgaria. With an average wind speed of 9.3 m/s it occupies the second place among the monitored peaks after Mt. Mourgash in Stara Planina (10.3 m/s) and before Mt. Botev (9.1 m/s) and Mt. Mussala (7.6 m/s). Only 7 per cent of the days on Mt. Cherni Vrah are windless.
Clockwise, the borders of the mountain are as follows: to the north and north-east - the Sofia Plain, to the west - the Egulo-Palakari Saddle (1195 m above sea level) separates the mountain from the Plana Mountain; to the south it reaches to the Samokov Plain, and the Buka Preslav Saddle (1090 m) separates it from Verila Mountain, the next to the west is the Pernik Plain, and to the north-west the border with the Lyulin Mountain passes through the Vladaya Saddle (860 m above sea level). Vitosha has an area of 278 sq. km - 18 and 20 km in length and width. In spite of its expressly compact nature, the mountain is conditionally divided into 4 main ranges - Northern, Eastern, South-Western and North-Western.
The four main ranges of the mountain pile together to Mt. Cherni Vrah (2290 m) as a true centre of the mountain.
Part of the Balkan watershed, dividing the basins of the Black Sea and the White Sea (Aegian Sea and the Mediterranean Sea) passes along the mountain. The south-western rivers flow to river Struma and thenon to the White Sea, while the eastern, northern and some of the western - through Iskar River and then the Danube flow to the Black Sea. The longest, the biggest and the most popular river taking its rise from the Vitosha Mountain is Struma River. Its total length is 415 km, 290 of which - on Bulgarian territory. Matnitsa, Kladnishka and Rudarshtitsa Rrivers are among its biggest tributaries from Vitosha. Among the bigger rivers flowing to Iskar are Palakaria (39 km long), Valchi Dol River, Selskata (Zheleznishka) River, Bistrishka (Stara) River, Yanchevska River, Simeonovska River, Dragalevska River, Boyanska River, Perlovska River and Vladaiska River. There are no lakes in Vitosha. There were lakes in the past but they have been drained due to ore mining. A lot of artificial lakes have been built in the lower parts of the mountain near the resort villages, the most beautiful among which is the Boyana Lake ( since 1906).
The year 1934 saw the establishment of the first national park in Bulgaria, covering the greater part of Vitosha and aimed at preserving for the next generations the beauties of the mountain. Vitosha, nevertheless, has been developed. There are more than 100 places for accomodation with almost 6000 beds (not counting beds provided in near-by villages), two cabin elevator lines, numerous open-seat lifts, catering facilities, mountain shelters, kilometres of asphalt roads. All these are concentrated mainly along the northern slopes of the mountain, facing Sofia. There are two main tourist centres - Aleko and Zlatnite Mostove (The Golden Bridges). The first is at about 1800 m above sea level in the eastern part of the mountain and is one of Bulgaria's biggest ski-centres. There are several hotels - the 3 star Prostor and Aglika Hotels, the 2-star Moreni Hotel. There is also Aleko Chalet offering 88 beds in 3 suits and rooms of 2, 3, 4, 8 and more beds. The chalet is the starting point of the Bulgarian section of European hiking route E-4. Above it is the huge slope Stenata - the biggest natural ski-track in Bulgaria. Of course, there are lots of facilities to add to the comfort of skiers - open-seat lifts, snow-levelling trucks, special marking, etc. Near-by shops, booths, coffe-bars and restaurants offer wonderful opportunities for a pleasant stay. Behind the Aleko Chalet is the office of the Mountain Rescue Service (phone: 02 9671155). Aleko is also the starting point for climbing the highest peak of Vitosha - Mt. Cherni Vrah. The steep climb, at a difference of altitude of approximately 500 m typically takes 1.30 hours, and for those who think it is difficult, there is an lift to Mt. Malak Rezen, from where they can proceed along a flat route and reach the dreamed peak in 30 minutes only. All routes to the peak are marked by high metal pickets or pass by skiing facilities, thus reducing to the maximum the possibility of one getting lost. Still it is not recommended to climb the peak in bad weather!
On the peak itself, besides the meteorological station and the base of the Mountain Rescue Brigade (phone: 02 9671128), there is a tourist station where one can find shelter in bad weather (no beds, however). Tea and warm cooked food are also offered. Marked hiking tracks start from Aleko: to Zlatnite Mostove (2-3 hours, passing through the Platoto, Bor Chalet, Tintyava Chalet, Momina Skala Chalet), Academic Youth Base (1.30-2 hours), to the village of Bistritsa (1.30-2 hours), to Simeonovo Quarter (1.30-2 hours), to quarter Dragalevtsi (1.30-2 hours), to Prespa Chalet (30 min). Besides on foot, from above villages and Sofia quarters, one can reach Aleko by car - 16 km on a road starting from Dragalevtsi Quarter, or by regular bus line No. 66 starting from Hladilnika Quarter; by Bai Krustyo-Goli Vrah chair-lift, whose first station is above Dragalevtsi and can be reached with bus line No. 93 starting from Hladilnika Quarter or with bus ¹ 64 and then 20 minutes walk from the central square of Dragalevtsi; by the modern cabin-lift Simeonovo, starting in Simeonovo Quarter (to which one can take bus line No. 122 from Hladilnika or No. 123 from Durvenitsa).
Zlatnite Mostove (Golden Bridges) is the another popular tourist centre, located at an altitude of 1400 m above sea level in the Vladaya sub-part of the Northern Range of Vitosha. Most notorious here is the phenomenon we mentioned above - the moreni.
There are marked hiking routes in other directions as well: the chalets Planinarska Pesen, Borova Gora and Boeritsa (1 hour); the chalets Edelvais and Zvezditsa (about 1 hour), Ostritsa Chalet (a little bit more that 1 hour) and Selimitsa Chalet (yet another 1 hour), Bor Chalet (45 min), the chalets Septemvri (25 min), Momina Skala (30 min), Rodina (35 min) and Tintyava (45 min), the chalets Sredets (40 min.), Esperanto (45 min), Kamen Del (1 hour), Planinets (45 min), Kikish Shelter (1.15 hours), Belite Brezi Chalet (15 min) and Sofia quarter Knyazhevo (1.30 hours), quarter Vladaya (1 hour), the Kopitoto Area with the TV tower (1 hour). There are signs showing all tracks, and occasionally - information boards. Besides on foot from Sofia quarters Knyazhevo and Vladaya, to Zlatnite Mostove one can also drive along a 14 km road, starting from Boyana Quarter. A city bus line No. 261 is also available starting in Ovcha Kupel Quarter (by Slavia Stadium). There is a station of the Mountain Rescue Service in the Ofeliite Area - no phone line.
Another smaller tourist centre is established in the area of Kopitoto (1350 m above sea level - in the Knyazhevo part of the Northern Range) with a TV tower, newly built hotel-restaurant, shops, catering establishments, etc. The cabin-lift starting from Knyazhevo reaches this place, bus line No. 62 from Ovcha Kupel is also available. It takes 1.30-2 hours walk from Knyazhevo and about 1.30 hours from Boyana to reach the area. Marked tracks start here to Zlatnite Mostove (1 hour), Planinets Chalet (40 min), Momina Skala Chalet (45 min), Esperanto Chalet (40 min), etc.
A small tourist centre is formed around Selimitsa Chalet (1300 m above sea level, in the north-western range of the mountain). There are several rest houses and restaurants there. It takes a 15 minutes walk from there to reach the interesting Kladnitsa Monastery "Saint Nicola". Marked tracks lead to Ostritsa Chalet (1 hour), Edelvais Chalet (1.30 hours), Mt. Selichitsa (1.30 hours), Mt. Cherni Vrah (2.5-3 hours), the village of Chuipetliovo (2.5-3 hours). A starting point for this tourist centre is the village of Kladnitsa (3 km road, 1 hour walk along the road and then along a marked path). The village of Kladnitsa is 22 km away from Sofia and is connected to it by bus line No. 60, starting from Ovcha Kupel Quarter, and 16 km away from Pernik, with which it is also connected with a regular bus line. 3 km before Kladnitsa is the resort village of Rudartsi with an open-air mineral water pool.
All chalets in Vitosha (about 15) offer tasty dishes from the Bulgarian cuisine. The marked tracks are typically broad alleys, very good for mountain biking. There are two special ski-tracks down the hill (Aleko - Dragalevski Monastery and Mt. Ushite - Knyazhevo).
Almost the whole mountain is surrounded by small resort villages and villa areas, who were picturesque mountin villages in the past and now some of them are Sofia suburbs. Chuipetlovo, Bosnek, Kladnitsa, Rudartsi, Marchaevo, Vladaya, Knyazhevo, Boyana, Dragalevtsi, Simeonovo, Bistritsa, Zheleznitsa, Yarlovo are starting points to the mountain, connected with Sofia and Pernik with regular bus lines, and offering lodging in family hotels and food in attractive restaurants. Sofia quarters of Knyazhevo, Dragalevtsi and Simeonovo are first stations of cable lifts (cabin- and open-chair).
There are a number of valuable historical monuments here, the most popular among them being the Boyana Church (1259), whose frescos in the traditions of the Tarnovo Art School are the best of their kind in Europe retained from these early times. The church is included in the list of UNESCO of most valuable works of art. It is open from 9 to 12 a.m. and from 1 to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday (phone: 02 685304. It is in the centre of Boyana Quarter (bus lines No. 64 and No. 107).
The Dragalevtsi Monastery was founded under the reign of Tsar (King) Ivan Alexander in the middle of the 14th century. It had been one of the prominent monesteries of the so-called Mala Sveta Gora. During the Turkish yoke it was a centre of culture and dissent. Vassil Levski was often sheltered here and a secret revolutionary committee was established in the monastery in 1873. It is located 3 km above the village of Dragalevtsi on the road to Aleko. It takes 30-40 min walk from Dragalevtsi. The monastery is open to visitors all week round.
The Church of Sveti Georgi (St. George) in Bistritsa is located on the place where the main monastery of Mala Sveta Gora was in the past.
There are mineral water springs in some of the villages mentioned above - Rudartsi, Knyazhevo, Zheleznitsa.
Even though it is smaller in area than the other high mountains in Bulgaria, Vitosha has a lot of attractive advantages - high and beautiful peaks, thick woods, many tourist and two alpine sites, sufficient snow fall ensuring stable snow cover, pure air, hundreds of kilometres of well marked tracks, numerous lodging places and restaurants, comparatively well preserved nature, clean potable water, wonderful skiing facilities, rich history. Adding to all these its closeness to the biggest city, which is the capital of Bulgaria - this explains why this mountain is so often visited and so much loved.