The Mt Vitosha range, 23km long and 13km wide, lies just south of Sofia; it’s sometimes referred to as the ‘lungs of Sofia’ for the refreshing breezes it deflects onto the capital. The mountain is part of the 22,726 hectare Vitosha Nature Park (www.park-vitosha.org), the oldest of its kind in Bulgaria (created in 1934). The highest point is Mt Cherni Vrâh (Black Peak; 2290m), the fourth-highest peak in Bulgaria, where temperatures in January can fall to -20ºC.
As well as being a popular ski resort in winter, the nature park is popular with hikers, picnickers and sightseers on summer weekends, and receives around 1.5 million visitors a year. There are dozens of clearly marked hiking trails, a few hotels, cafes and restaurants and numerous huts and chalets. Other draws include a centuries-old monastery in the hills above the suburb of Dragalevtsi and a fascinating 'stone river' at Zlatnite Mostove.