Bulgaria’s Golden Treasure Trail
In December 1949 three brothers made an amazing discovery near the remote Bulgarian village with a tongue-twister name, Panagyurishte. What they found was a golden horde of regal objects from the ancient kingdom of Thrace, dating from around 400 BC. Boffins recon that the cultured kingdom of Thrace buried the treasure to keep it out of the hands of invading Celts; the truth may never be known. This ride takes you from our stable near Bulgaria’s capital, Sophia, along peaceful forest trails to the pretty little town of Panagyurishte, the cradle of Renaissance Bulgaria.
The ride begins with a couple of days spent on ‘ground work’ getting to know your horse and taking a couple of short rides around the ranch and Makotzevo village. Once bonded we set off on a 5 day forest trail with the opportunity to use all paces. Accommodation is in comfy farmhouses and small hotels; all meals are included.
Day 1. Sunday
Fly from the UK to Sophia. Met upon arrival and transferred to the ranch (45 mins) just outside Makotzevo village. Originally the village was home to cattle herders who kept their stock in the surrounding mountains for most of the year. One aspect of local life that you will notice riding through Bulgaria is that even the smallest village has a church. Christianity here is very different from the version we have in the UK: this is the Eastern Orthodox Church which has more in common with Russian Christianity than it does with the Anglican Church. Churches here are incredibly ornate and there are no pews inside! The congregation is expected to stand for the entire service.
There is a short walk around the village to orientate yourself and to help you get your bearings. Adjourn to the stable where you’ll meet your horse for the first time and we’ll begin some ground work basics.
Return to the guesthouse for a ride briefing and dinner.
2 hr workshop with your horse in the arena on the ranch.
Day 2. Monday: Ground Work and ride.
If you’ve never experienced working with a horse without sitting on it, then you’re in for a treat! You can get to know so much about a horse (and the horse can get to know you) before swinging your leg over; it can be an extremely rewarding experience. It’s all about tuning in to one another and building a partnership based on mutual respect.
After lunch we’ll ride out from the ranch into the surrounding countryside. We’ll ride along quiet country lanes, cross field headlands and ford a couple of streams to reach an old lime pit, deep in the forest. Return to the ranch in time to try your hand at preparing home-made traditional Bulgarian yogurt and enjoy folklore dancing with local villagers. Dinner
3 hrs ground work; 3 hrs riding.
Day 3. Tuesday: From Makotzevo ranch to Belopaski monastery and return.
After breakfast we set off across neighbouring fields and along forest trails that link small villages and remote communities together. We’ll stop for lunch in Bajlovo tavern and sample rural Bulgarian food at its finest: locally produced, traditionally prepared and served fresh – perfect! There is a guided walk around this beautiful Bulgarian village. In the afternoon ride on to the monastery at Beloposkii. Bulgaria has a wealth of monasteries: in the UK monasteries have all but ceased to exist, but here they are numerous. Some are famous, such as the one at Rila, but this one is small and discretely tucked away. Each one is dedicated to a particular saint, and I must admit, many of these saints are obscure! Who were saints Kosma, St Ivan or St Damyan? But that’s not really the point; these monasteries open their doors to riders, much as they did a thousand years ago when they were first built, and it’s a peaceful experience to visit one.
The trail today is circular and brings us back to Makotzevo ranch via a spring from where the Baylovskata River emerges. We reach the ranch in time for supper.
6 hrs riding.
Day 4. Wednesday: From Makotzevo ranch to Smolsko.
Today we set off in earnest following a challenging trail that leads to the village of Smolsko: rough forest paths lead up to higher ground and eventually to Alpine meadows on the higher parts of Mount Voynyag (950 m). We’ll cross several rivers and some tricky, uneven ground where all the ground work you did on day one will come to the fore. Some of the route is too rough to ride and we’ll need to dismount and lead for about 25 to 30 mins. By mid-day we’ll reach a stunning meadow called Shindarska Polyana where we’ll have our picnic. The afternoon is quite short and it won’t be long before we pass the vines and gateway of a traditional farmhouse, complete with gorgeous veranda, perfect for a sundowner!
Overnight traditional village house; D, B&B.
6 hrs riding
Day 5. Thursday: From Smolsko to Panagiurishte.
We return to forest trails and ascend into the Ihtiman Forest. During the 1870’s a guerilla war raged between the Turks (Ottoman Empire)who had invaded Bulgaria and local residents who resented their presence. These remote mountain villages have a long heritage of freedom fighters who led the resistance. We continue on to the village of Panagyurishte.
7 hrs riding.
Day 6. Friday: From Panagiurishte to Koprivshtica
The day begins with a visit to the town’s museum to see the ancient horde of gold. The quality of workmanship is simply amazing, particularly when you compare it to the same period of English work which would be pre-Roman treasure: even the Romans themselves rarely produced anything as fine as this! The drinking horn in the fashion of a goat is particularly fine. The museum is housed in “The house of Princess Raina” – who wasn’t actually a princess at all! During the “April Uprising” against the Turkish Ottoman Empire in 1876 she was the village school teacher and was called upon to embroider the guerilla’s flag with the slogan, “Liberty of death”. The early efforts of the resistance were unsuccessful and Raina went into exile in Russia. Eventually the resistance was successful, Bulgaria was re-established as an independent country in 1878 and Raina returned to her post as village school teacher where she was highly respected.
After an early lunch we ride on to the market town of Koprivstica, which is like riding into a living museum! It’s famous for its authentic Bulgarian architecture and all the houses have been sympathetically restored. The town hosts a national music festival once every five years with a main focus of keeping traditional music and folk dance alive. As you ride through the meadows and forests today you’ll notice frequent mounds which resemble the round barrows we see in England. These are Thracian burial mounds and it was inside one of these that the Panagyurishte gold treasure was found. We overnight in a small family run hotel and it’s here that we say goodbye to the horses.
Dinner and overnight in hotel. 6 hrs riding.
Day 7. Saturday: Explore Koprivshtica
You simply can’t come to Koprivshtica without taking time out to explore the passageways and quiet “time warp” streets of this charming place. There are also a few good little shops to pick up some souvenirs and last-minute gifts. How can you resist a town that has more than 40 fountains! Also found here is a bridge over the River Topolnitsa that is known as “First Shot”: the spot where the first shot was fired in the April Uprising. Return by car to the ranch at Makotzevo.
Dinner and overnight in ranch house.
Day 8. Sunday: Return home.
We will drive you back to the airport after breakfast for the flight back to the UK.
Min number: 2 riders
Max: 8 riders
Riding holiday Bulgaria
Pace: each day there is the opportunity to use all paces, depending on the terrain.
Horses: are calm and well-trained. They are bred on the ranch Paint and local Bulgarian stock. They are calm and well-mannered.
Tack: snaffle and Pelham bits; western saddles. English saddles are also available.
Rider’s involvement: riders are expected to be responsible for the horse – saddling, unsaddling, grooming and care during the breaks; the guides are always around to assist and advise.
We use shared bedrooms with shared bathroom facilities.
Guest house Makotzevo x 4 nights
2 double rooms; one extra-large room with 5 single beds, 2 bathrooms (one on each floor), kitchen and a dining room, a spacious porch, a nice garden.
Guest house in Smolsko x 1 night
3 double rooms, 1 triple room, bathroom, toilet, kitchen and terrace.
Hotel Dzudzeva Kashta Panagiurishte x 1 night
Single/Double rooms with bathroom.
Hotel in Koprivshtica x 1 nights
Single/Double rooms with bathroom.
Meals: traditional Bulgarian home-made cuisine and picnic lunches
Accommodation in guest houses and hotels.
All meals and picnic lunches (except Fri night).
Transfers to and from the airport in Sofia
2 riding guides
The folklore dance group
International flights (please call for a quote)
Personal travel insurance
Dinner in Koprivshtica Hotel on Friday evening which is a la carte. Select from the menu, allow 30€ per person.
Dates and Prices
Private parties of 2 riders or more can be accommodated on any day; please enquire for itinerary and price. We also have set dates which have a min of 4 riders and a max of 10. Individual riders are welcome to join in.