By Radoslav Raikov
Protected territories, national parks and nature reserves are amongst the outstanding riches of a country. Bulgaria really is a rich country – high mountains, deep gorges and abysses, steep rocks and caves, springs gushing out, roaring waterfalls, cool climate, wild fruit and medical plants, rare and endangered species, and more…
All of this can be seen at one place – if you visit the “Central Balkan” National Park.
It was established in 1991. This is one of the largest and most precious protected territories in Europe. Here, animal species, extinct in most European countries and numerous plants listed in the Bulgarian and Old Continent’s Red Book of Endangered Species can be seen. The area on which this genuine keepsake of natural treasures spreads is near 717 sq. km. There are 9 natural reserves on the territory of the park. The park itself is on the UN list of Representative Protected Areas, which is recognition for its uniqueness.
“Central Balkan” is called the ‘spring of life’ not by coincidences. It impresses with its exceptional biological diversity. Four of the nine reserves are included in the World Biosphere Reserves Network under the UNESCO Man and Biosphere Program. More then half flora of Bulgaria has been identified within the park, and of these, 11 species are endemic, and are found nowhere else in the world. This wild magnificence includes 229 species of moss, 256 species of mushrooms, and 200 species of medical plants. Endangered and rare species are the stara planina primrose and violet, the edelweiss, the Balkan rock dill, the rhodopean haberiea and many more. The largest protected beech massif of old beech woods, some of them well over 250 years, and northernmost white fur locality in the world (in the “Tzarichina” reserve) are here. The bird kingdom is represented by 224 species, which places “Central Balkan” amongst the places of ornithological importance on a world-scale. Here live the protected bird-species such as the imperial eagle, the golden eagle, the white-backed woodpecker, the tawny owl of Ural and tens of bat species. The park is one of the few places in Europe inhabited by bears, wolves, pine marten, Balkan wild goats and more.
For this reason, special routes have been developed for bird-watching or animal-watching fans and photo-safaris. The 10 horse-riding and the 4 cycling-tourism routes are relatively new. The park offers short or one-day excursions. There are many huts, chalets and holiday homes.
You can enter the park from different directions. There are information centers in Gabrovo (where there is the park administration), in Karlovo, Kalofer, Cherni Osam, Ribaritsa, Klisura and Rosino. You can get detailed information on any matters connected with your stay or services offered inside the park.
Locals have lives and worked here for centuries, managing the preserved ecological equilibrium. People collect firewood and hay, prepare splendid fruit and berry jams – from blueberries, strawberries, green walnuts and many more, they collect herbs to put in their superb local dishes and make aromatic tea. They collect medicinal plants and still use them to treat illness, living in conformity with the laws of nature, which is still preserved here. Animal breeding is an old and main occupation for the tough Balkan mountain people. Old dairies, in which not long ago milk was turned into the famed sheep’s milk cheese and Balkan kashkaval (yellow cheese), reminds us of a lifestyle inseparable from the gifts of nature.
Locals are exceptionally hospitable and the traditions, preserved up to a nowadays, together with the many cultural, historic and natural sites provide a magnificent opportunity for pleasurable time and genuine relaxation. Signposted tourist paths lead to the most attractive places of the Balkan Mountain. The international trekking route E-3 Atlantic Ocean-Carpathians-Black Sea passes along the central ridges of the park. In this place, preserves by the nature of Bulgaria the benefits from the contact with it can be felt. Specialized guides will lead you to bear liars; you will see the Balkan wild goat on the black rocks of some of the reserves or the tawny owl perched on a tree. After the day, filled with fleeting impressions, you can relax in front of the fire in an unfamiliar rural house (nights here are almost always cool), among the silent chinking of bells and sheep bleating. You will go deep down into the rugs made of goat’s fur to wake up feeling fresh and relaxed, ready for big breakfast and more hiking through this spring of life.