Spectacular mountains encircle spiritual sights in this swathe of inland Bulgaria. Landscapes are as diverse as sandstone pyramids, glacial lakes and snow-streaked peaks more than 2000m high.
Europe’s oldest continuously inhabited city, Plovdiv anchors the region. Roman ruins and a sparkling artistic quarter provide a thrilling backdrop to the city’s calendar of festivals, which brims ahead of its reign as European Capital of Culture 2019.
Quiet winemaking villages snooze in Plovdiv’s surrounds, while the Rodopi Mountains reach south, dotted with ski centres such as Pamporovo. To the west lie the Rila Mountains, home to a monastery that is a spiritual lighthouse for all of Bulgaria.
Perhaps most spectacular is the Pirin Mountain range, which grumbles south of pleasant, student-filled Blagoevgrad. High-octane Bansko is the region’s leading ski and snowboard spot, but in spring and summer Pirin National Park comes to the fore: its hiking trails weave between gem-blue lakes, and up to arid peaks such as Mt Vihren (2914m).