8 breathtaking places in the Pirin Mountains

Pirin may only be Bulgaria’s second-highest mountain range, but it easily competes with the national champion Rila in terms of scenic Alpine summits, crystal-clear glacial lakes and unbelievable high-altitude hiking trails.

A UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of Bulgaria’s three national parks, Pirin’s highest marble and granite peaks reach over 2,900 metres in height in Bulgaria’s southwest corner. Its stunning landscapes, rich flora and fauna and diverse trails of any difficulty have consistently placed it among the Balkans’ most amazing hiking experiences.

From a super-narrow ridge that you cross at 2,800 metres above the abyss to Bulgaria’s oldest evergreen tree, kashkaval tourist presents 8 breathtaking places in the Pirin Mountains! 

1. Ridge so narrow you can ride it: Koncheto

Ridge so narrow you can ride it: Koncheto

Ridge so narrow you can ride it: Koncheto

Situated between Pirin’s second and third-highest peaks, Kutelo and Banski Suhodol, Koncheto is perhaps Bulgaria’s most notorious mountain ridge. And with good reason, as crossing it from side to side is a challenge for anyone with a fear of heights! At times just half a metre wide, Koncheto (Кончето, “The Foal“) has that name because reportedly, inexperienced tourists would rather cross it by riding it than walking on top of it.

Koncheto is about 400 metres long and it has an abyss on each side, dropping almost vertically towards the Banski Suhodol cirque and glacieret and at a 70° angle towards the Vlahina River valley. For the ultimate high-altitude experience and an amazing sunrise, you can spend the night at the tiny Koncheto shelter at the ridge’s northwestern end.

2. The split marble peak: Sinanitsa

The split marble peak: Sinanitsa

The split marble peak: Sinanitsa

Regarded as one of Bulgaria’s most beautiful summits, Sinanitsa (Синаница) lies in Pirin’s western parts, above a stunning little glacial lake and the cozy Sinanitsa Hut. Sinanitsa’s unique appearance owes much to its characteristic split shape and its vertical walls of pink-grey marble.

Ascending Sinanitsa is a challenging one-hour hike from the hut at its foot, but the breathtaking views of Vihren, Koncheto and Kamenitsa from the top and the sheer pleasure and pride of conquering this marble giant is worth all the effort!

3. High-altitude camping by the lake: Tevno Ezero

High-altitude camping by the lake: Tevno Ezero

High-altitude camping by the lake: Tevno Ezero

Tevno Ezero is an incredible glacial lake surrounded on all sides by rugged mountain peaks, including the local champion Kamenitsa. Thanks to the little building on the lake’s eastern shores, Tevno Ezero (Тевно езеро, “Dark Lake” in the local dialect) offers Pirin’s highest-altitude manned accommodation. You can sleep in the building or camp in the vicinity and enjoy warm food and electricity up above 2,500 metres!

The easiest trail to Tevno Ezero starts at the Bezbog Hut chair lift upper station and takes you through the challenging Left Kralev Dvor Gate, a narrow saddle between two of the peaks surrounding the lake. For the best views of the area, though, take half an hour to scale the nearby Valyavishki Chukar peak, which reveals a sensational panorama of the lake and the hut on one side and the rest of Pirin with Dzhengal and the Valyavitsa Lakes on the other.

4. Bulgaria’s oldest evergreen: Baykushev’s Pine

Bulgaria’s oldest evergreen: Baykushev’s Pine

Bulgaria’s oldest evergreen: Baykushev’s Pine

Even if you’re not an avid hiker, you can still enjoy Pirin’s unique nature without venturing too far away from the road. Right near the Banderitsa Hut above the world-famous ski resort Bansko stands Baykushev’s Pine, a 1300-year-old Bosnian pine tree that is the oldest conifer tree in Bulgaria.

Discovered by royal arboriculturist Kostadin Baykushev in 1897 at an altitutde of 1,930 metres, this majestic tree is 26 metres high and nearly 2.50 metres in diameter. Incredibly, Baykushev’s Pine (Байкушева мура, Baykusheva mura) happens to be just as old as Bulgarian statehood: around the time when it was just a cone, the First Bulgarian Empire was founded in 681.

5. Skyscraping champion of Pirin: Vihren

Skyscraping champion of Pirin: Vihren

Skyscraping champion of Pirin: Vihren

The Balkans’ third-highest summit, Vihren may well be the region’s most aesthetically impressive ultra-prominent peak. Pirin’s highest mountain towers above Bansko with its height of 2,914 metres, leaving it only behind Musala in Rila, Bulgaria’s highest point, and Mount Olympus in Greece in the entire Balkan region.

Amazingly, Vihren’s bare marble slopes look very different on each side. As seen from Vihren Hut, the slope appears more gradual, though from the Premkata saddle it is much more steep, and from the Kazanite area Vihren (Вихрен) is so vertical it can only be climbed by alpinists.

6. Lake with a priest’s hat in the middle: Popovo Ezero

Lake with a priest’s hat in the middle: Popovo Ezero

Lake with a priest’s hat in the middle: Popovo Ezero

Popovo Ezero is the largest and deepest lake in Pirin, and as such it is the endpoint of one of the most popular and unchallenging trails in the mountains that starts at Bezbog Hut. Popovo Ezero (Попово езеро, „The Priest’s Lake“), one of a group of eleven high-altitude lakes, is in a valley surrounded by peaks and covered with meadows and dwarf mountain pines.

One of the lake’s trademarks is the cute little island in the middle. The island is tied to many local legends, most of which tell of an Orthodox priest who drowned in the lake and who hat resurfaced to form the island.

7. Thundering down the mountain: Popina Laka Waterfall

Thundering down the mountain: Popina Laka Waterfall

Thundering down the mountain: Popina Laka Waterfall. Photo credit: Lotroo, Wikipedia.

Though it may not rank among Bulgaria’s highest waterfalls, the Popina Laka Waterfall is still an impressive landmark with its height of 12-15 metres. What’s more, it’s situated just 20 km up the road from the scenic and warm spa resort town of Sandanski, which makes it a perfect day trip destination.

At an altitude of 1,230 metres in the thick forests of Pirin’s lower reaches, the Popina Laka Waterfall (Попинолъшки водопад, Popinolashki vodopad) takes the waters of the Bashilitsa River down towards the Sandanski Valley. The surrounding Popina Laka area is home to many chalets and villas and the Yane Sandanski Hut, which offers cheap and convenient accommodation.

8. Europe’s southernmost glacier: Snezhnika

Europe’s southernmost glacier: Snezhnika

Europe’s southernmost glacier: Snezhnika

Unlike the higher Rila and Olympus Mountains, Pirin is unique in that it features the southernmost glacial masses in all of Europe. It may be tiny, but Snezhnika in the Kazanite („The Cauldrons“) area below Vihren is more than 500 years old!

Some 70-100 metres long, 40-90 metres wide and with a firn 8-11 metres thick, Snezhnika (Снежника) may not be as impressive as the spectacular glaciers of the Swiss Alps, but it’s a rare and memorable sight in the Mediterranean climate of Southern Europe. What’s more, it’s a favourite place of Pirin’s mountain goat population who love scaling the ancient firn and the vertical marble rocks nearby!

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