Bulgaria was not the first tourism destination that came to mind for enduro star Jérôme Clementz. And even less so for mountain biking. "I have to admit that I never consider to visit this place until I got invited to an outdoor Film festival in Sofia in November 2016," says Clementz. "During the festival they broadcast some video of different sports filmed in Bulgaria and I noticed some beautiful mountains, scenic places, and trails that looked rad. In the meantime, I met the Bulgarian MTB scene and they were all keen to show me around." And that's just what happened. Press play to learn more.
Clementz met Dobromir Dobrev, one of the fastest Bulgarian riders, and a guide in Bulgaria and Madeira. Along with Tsvetelin Ivanov Cuco, the owner of the Bulgarian bike brand, Pulse, they started planning a road trip in four stages through the southwest of the country, which is home to the highest peak of the Balkans and the best mountain bike trails. Here in his own words is a recap of Clementz's trip. All photos are by Jeremie Reuiller.
Borovets is one of the closest Ski center from Sofia. In the summer it offers a bike park but also some cool natural trails below the highest peak of Bulgaria called Mousala (2925m). Being fan of the big mountain we take the gondola to try to get closer from the peak and then ride around. We could go to the top but the weather wasn't that great and the riding a bit rough, so we decided to check a nice ridge trail that will lead us back to the summit of the bike park. We are at the limit of the vegetation and the glacial rock garden with a view over Borovets and Sofia in the background.
The trail is technical and we have to find our way between massive rocks and these typical local dwarf pine that spread along the ground to 2m height. In these conditions the speed is not too high but it's a challenge to try to find the smoothest line and not putting a foot down. On the way down, we enter a pine forest and the flow gets better and faster, not many riders rode this trail so it's loamy and full of Pine cone, perfect to drift and slide around.
After a little climb we get to the bike park, the good surprise is that there is a brand new trail freshly cut, with some berms, jump and roller. We didn't ask for more and we start shredding all the way down, sending it over everything, jibbing when we could with a smile on our lips.
This first part of the road trip wasn't bad and after some shopska salad (traditional Bulgarian salad) and few beers, we are already thinking of the next stop who should be one of the highlights of the trip.
Seven Rila Lakes
If you google « Tourism » « Bulgaria » it will probably be the first destination that will pop out. It's an iconic place with 7 lakes disposed like stairs in the mountain. Unfortunately, when we get there the clouds are stuck on the mountain and the view isn't as great as we could have dreamed. We can see a bit of disappointment in our guides eyes. But the luck will be on our side this time and after 1h the clouds moves away and the place reveals all his potential just when we arrive toward the top, where we can see all the lakes at the same time.
It's the end of the spring and there is still snow and iceberg, which make the scene even more epic. We play around on the different trails linking the lakes, for the afternoon, before starting our descent toward the valley on a long and fun trail, sorry we didn't stop for photo but it was so good that we forgot to stop!
Bansko and Pirin Range
After 2 hour drive we get to Bansko. The Courchevel or Gsaadt of Bulgaria. A proper fancy ski resort, famous in the winter with some FIS Ski World cup, big party with all the jet set from the Balkan. But in Summer it also worth a visit with the big Marble peaks in pyramid shapes all around and it's great climate.
Andy, from the White Lavina hotel, is our host, he's a former Ski freeride world tour rider and develop MTB in the area with trail and bike camp for kids and Adults. After a proper Bulgarian Dinner where we tasted some local wine and Raika (local Grappa) assorted with some meat on the grill, we get some rest.
For the first day we start a ride to discover the high alpine, the surrounding is majestic, with the peak in the sky and the sea of cloud in the valley. The trail is not the easiest to ride and there is some hike a bike, but the view and the way down to the mountain hut make it worth.
The second day we go for some dedicated trails build for MTB. Some of them where used for the National enduro race last year and some are fresh. The gradient in this part of the mountain is perfect and you don't need neither to pedal not to break and just play between the rocks, roots, and turn around the trees and ferns. The dirt is just perfect with the little rain of the last evening, the natural movement of the terrain makes the ride playful and with a nice road to shuttle these trails, we keep riding until the storm arrives and ends our ride! Time to go back at the hotel for a little Spa session and some down time in town.
We continue our trip down south! Petrich is nested at the bottom of a massive mountain range that make the border with Greece and Macedonia and has a big MTB scene. The locals built tons of trails on the lower parts with jumps, berms and north shore. Some of them are huge and to be honest I did not send everything on my trail bike and open face! All the tracks are not that big, you can relax, get into speed and enjoy. We had good fun following each other for some runs, skidding around and enjoying the shuttle up. But I rode and jump some stuff that was outside my comfort zone, for the camera and the photo. This feeling never gets old, when you land and clear something big for the first time, there is this adrenaline rush and excitement running through your body that just make you stoked.
In the evening in the middle of the mountain, where one of the DH tracks ends there is an Electro Festival, called Petrich Forest fest. So, we joined the party with the local crowd in this cool atmosphere with a nice sunset and crazy DJ. We didn't dance until the sunrise because we had a plan for our last day.
Our goal was to get to the summit of Mt Kongur (1951m) which mark the border with Greece. From the top you can see Greece and Macedonia and there is a unique singletrack on the ridge towards Petrich. A flowy ride with an amazing scenery in the middle of nowhere. The we get to the Beech forest with some really playful sections. The trail is endless until we joined the downhill course. From there we can still enjoy some singletrack all the way to Petrich which stands at 165m. This 1600m descend will probably remain one of the highlights of the week for its variety and length.
When you plan a trip based on rider's suggestion you never know how good it will be as all the locals always tend to oversell their riding place. For this journey we weren't disappointed and Bulgaria delivered unexpected quality and variety of riding, and our guide said there is more to see. Definitely it's a destination you can add on your travel list. The best thing is the MTB development is just at the beginning and everywhere we've been we heard some project to develop MTB trail, lift operation, guided tour. Last but not least give a tour in Sofia for the history of Bulgaria and some gastronomy, it's a good way to make a transition before coming home.