Hiking in the Stara Planina

The Stara Planina (Old Mountain) range, also known as the Balkan Mountains, stretches across the length of Bulgaria, from its border with Serbia to the Black Sea. Nearly 30 peaks are taller than 2000m, with Mt Botev (2376m), north of Karlovo, as its highest point. Bulgaria's Rila and Pirin ranges dwarf the Stara Planina peaks (which average 700m in height), but still their verdant nature reserves and rippling hills are very inviting for hikers.

Good maps are essential. For short treks, Domino has a series of Stara Planina (1:50,000) maps covering different sections of the range. Dedicated hikers can consult Julian Perry's Walking in Bulgaria's National Parks, which includes four excellent central mountain walks, and his Mountains of Bulgaria. Hardened hikers ply the strenuous 25-day Kom–Emine 'Friendship Route', which stretches almost 700km across the entire Bulgarian part of the range (part of the trans-European E3 trek).

Guided hikes are a superb way to explore the Stara Planina, and local insight can be essential when it comes to local culture and the condition of different trails. Bulgaria Walking (http://bulgariawalking.com) offers tough trekking tours up to Mt Botev.

Some of the more interesting hikes include the following. Trail markings are of variable quality.

Cherni Osêm to Hizha Ambaritsa Four hours.

Dryanovo Ecotrail Four hours.

Etâr to Sokolski Monastery One hour.

Gabrovo to Hizha Uzana Seven hours.

Karlovo to Hizha Hubavets Three hours, or continue to Hizha Vasil Levski (another two to three hours) and Mt Botev (further two to three hours).

Shipka Monastery to Shipka Pass Three hours.

Sliven to Hizha Karandila Three hours.