Bulgaria by bike

This item appears on page 32 of the December 2011 issue.

I had heard about the beauty of the Rhodopen Mountain region in the south of Bulgaria and took a cycling tour, Aug. 14-21, 2010, with Penguin Travel (9 Orlej Str., 1421 Sofia, Bulgaria; phone +359 2 400 10 50), which I found online.

The price, €710 (near $977), included ground transfers from/to the Sofia airport, hotels, breakfasts, dinners, my single supplement and bicycle rental.

Penguin required a minimum of two people for the tour to run. Luckily, a man named Don also signed up. We two were guided by the personable and competent Velislav (Velko) Kasamov. Meals were a delight with him as translator and storyteller.

Penguin rated this tour “moderate.” I’m reasonably fit at 66 years and found the terrain a comfortable challenge. Being in the mountains, it wasn’t too hot. Velko carried our luggage in a station wagon and waited at forks in the road to make sure we stayed on route. He always was willing to hoist the bikes onto the roof rack if we wanted a break or traffic was dangerous.

On day one we started in Plovdiv, enjoyed market day in Sestrimo, rode along a scenic river gorge and ended with a thrilling downhill at lovely Velingrad, where Bulgarians were celebrating weddings and holidays. After a swim in the hotel pool, that evening a lively band in the town enticed me to join the horo (circle folkdance).

We stayed at comfortable and welcoming, family-run pensions in mountain villages. In Trigrad, a group rehearsing for a festival invited me into the musty theater behind a general store to watch.

Another day ended in Smolyan, a small town with the best ethnography museum in Bulgaria. On our final day of cycling, we rode to the Wonderful Bridges natural monument, massive stone arches, and visited Bachkovo Monastery by car on the way back to Plovdiv.

I highly recommend Velko’s services for anyone who wants to pedal or hike in Bulgaria, Romania or Croatia.

Corona del Mar, CA