Sapareva Banya – A Warm Day Trip from Sofia, Bulgaria
Sapareva Banya is only an hour away from Sofia which immediately puts it into the must-do day trips from the capital of Bulgaria. This small town is the best place to start your journey to the Rila Mountain and its hidden treasures. Whether you want a laid-back day in the mountain, a long hike, romantic weekend, or winter sports adventure, look no further and start planning from here! Waterfalls, lakes, ski slopes and beautiful mountain views are available throughout the whole year. Apart from the beautiful nature that is surrounding Sapareva Banya and providing numerous options for hikes, the town makes for a perfect weekend getaway also because of its many modern spas and mineral pools. What better way to spend the rest of the day after straining your muscles in the nature than to unwind in a hot water with healing properties (or that’s what the rumors say).
The hottest geyser
Can you make a wild guess trying to say where the hottest geyser in continental Europe is located? Island? Nope! It is right here in Bulgaria, in the small town of Sapareva Banya. It is the main attraction in the town and one that its citizens are probably most proud of. The geyser has a temperature of 103C and its water is used to heat most of the public buildings in the town. The water of the geyser comes out from a fountain in an almost rhythmical way while the steam surrounds the whole place beautifully and makes Rila Mountain look even more mystical in the background. Its majestic silhouette is guarding Sapareva Banya and is one of the first things you see once you enter the town.
Sveti Nikola Church
Just a few minutes away from the Fountain, you can see a church hidden in a small park in the heart of the town. Its beautiful medieval architecture stands out and you just can’t pass by and miss it. The Byzantine feeling and the red brick construction with interesting details make it truly unique. It is not currently active so you can’t get inside but it serves as a religious and cultural monument.
The highlight of our day trip around Sapareva Banya and the area was Skakavitsa waterfall. It is the highest waterfall in Rila Mountain at 1750m above sea level. The water falls from 70m literally jumping around the high jagged rocks. The view is not just beautiful – it is powerful! During the winter the waterfall freezes and it makes for a great ice climbing spot for all of you adventure seekers with an experience! Best time to visit is around May-June when the water is at its highest.
Most of the hike to the waterfall is through the forest with the sound of the water accompanying us most of the time. The fresh air of the mountain is in such a stark contrast to the polluted air in the city. Far away from the hustle and bustle of the city you can relax close to the nature and spend a few hours (or a few days) exploring the surroundings.
The challenging part of the hike is about 30 minutes and the rest was pretty laid back. The beautiful views around us, the fun talks our group shared as well as the excitement to finally reach Skakavitsa made conquering the trail pleasant even for someone like me who’s not very big on hiking. There’s also a hut with the same name where you can grab water or beer and recharge or have a lunch on your way down. The signs were pretty good so you will not have a problem finding the right way even if you’re not accompanied by someone who has already visited.
Our next stop in the afternoon was the Resilovski Monastery. The convent is located between Sapareva Banya and Dupnitsa and was built between 1932 and 1940. It is permanently active which means that you can visit the church inside. There are religious and residential buildings in this very quiet complex meaning there are women that has taken vows to serve God living there.
After our previous hike, we were happy to hear that the next waterfall we were going to see was only 15 minutes away from the parking lot where we left the car. Judge me all you want, but I am kind of a lazy tourist sometimes! The short hike was through a beautiful path and we ended up in a small balcony-like view point with a gorgeous scenery of the Goritsa waterfall. A friend of mine told me they actually managed to go down to the water, so I guess that is an option as well, one that I would definitely appreciate on a hot summer day!
The village that the waterfall is located is called Ovchartsi and there are a few more waterfalls but they are not that easily accessible. The legend tells a story of a young Bulgarian girl named Goritsa. She was the most beautiful girl in the area and the local Turkish ruler wanted to get her as a wife. She was in love with another guy and while desperately trying to escape the Turks that were chasing her she committed suicide and jumped from the cliffs. It is a common story you can hear about many peaks, cliffs, and waterfalls around the Balkans. ‘Goritsa’ also means a small forest and considering the area around the waterfall I think it is kinda suiting with or without the romantic legend. Now just imagine this view with the colorful Autumn palette!
Explore Rila mountain – routes and hikes
The area around Sapareva Banya and especially the village Panichishte is a starting point to explore Rila mountain and its many wonders. The tourist info point of National Park Rila is located in Panichishte and there you can find more information about your preferred destination, hike, transportation or winter sports as well as learn some more about the flora and fauna of the mountain. Apart from Skakavitsa waterfall that I told you about above and the rest of the places we visited, there are a few more options in this area that will definitely catch your attention and leave you breathless when visiting. Not only from the hiking but from the amazing views!
– This is where your journey to the famous Seven Rila Lakes begins. An iconic Bulgarian destination with magnificent views and stunning nature! You can walk all the way up from Panichishte or take the lift to the hut and explore the lakes one by one. Read more about the lakes here.
– If you want to skip the crowds but still enjoy some gorgeous lakes in Rila mountain – head to the Urdini Lakes. They are a bit hidden and you will need a guide in order to explore safely, so read our experience and tips here.
– Probably the longest and most tiring hike that will take you the whole day or more is to the Rila Monastery. Don’t worry, there are huts where you can spend the night, just plan accordingly. Alternatively (and preferably), you can easily reach it by car. Whatever you choose, the monastery is definitely worth it and in my humble opinion, it is one of the most beautiful places in Bulgaria. You can even spend the night there and enjoy some peace and quiet. Read more about it here.
– Malyovitsa Hut and Malyovitsa Peak are a popular place for hiking enthusiasts and winter sports lovers. There are ski slopes and ski-lifts close by that you can take advantage of during the winter or have a picturesque hike during the warmer months.