the layout of the city as well as the whole atmosphere. Also, the nature seems more mediterranean and, when I visited, it was far more humid than I was used to. It felt really southern, not strange because Petrich is on the Greek border. It's located in the very south of the country, also at only 20 kilometres from Macedonia. I took a train from Sofia, which took about 4 hours. The trip was long but interesting, passing the towns Pernik, Blagoevgrad, Dupnitsa and Sandanski. You pass the Kresna Gorge right south of Blagoevgrad, as well as the site Rupite. Read more about Rupite below.
What's to see in town
When you arrive in Petrich, either by bus or train, you're two kilometres north from the center. The bus will be a bit faster than the train. On the other hand, you can walk around the train and the haul is quite long either way. Best is to spend some more time in the south and travel long distances in bits, provided you have the time. I directly found Hotel Zora and spent one night there. Just fine for my needs. I walked to the center, a bit uphill. Petrich is at the foot of the Belasitsa mountain ridge, which Bulgaria shares with Greece and Macedonia. Only 20% of the mountain range is on Bulgarian territory. There's lots to see in the Belasitsa area, read more on Belasitsa.net. At just 9 kilometres from Petrich is Hizha Belasitsa, a mountain hut where I expect you could spend the night. Best is to call to make sure: +359 (0) 74527960.
Unfortunately, I was too late for the Baba Vanga house (Baba Vanga was a world-famous medium from the area). So, I walked around the center instead and sat down at Restaurant Detelina, which was alright. The place has a nice terrace on a little square. You could try Restaurant Morsko Dano as well.
A bit of history
Petrich is in the Struma river valley, even though it's not directly on the river itself. Struma river is 415 kilometres long. A little known fact is that its source is at Vitosha mountain, near the Bulgarian capital Sofia. Struma river then flows south into Greece, first into Lake Kerkini. This lake is an immensely important bioreserve for birds, thousands of species stay around. One reason for the huge number of birds is that the lake is on a flying route towards the Aegean Sea, where Struma river eventually flows into. The part of the Aegean Sea where the river flows into, is called the Strymonic Gulf. A great place to spend a vacation. Either way, back to Petrich.
The first settlement in the area was founded at the current place 'Rupite'. The place used to be a Thracian tribe's main city, called 'Heraclea Sintica'. Also, it's the place where the world-famous medium Baba Vanga lived and was buried. There's a church named St. Petka, which was founded by Baba Vanga's admirers. If you look closely, you can see the Herculaneum Sintica, a Roman wall, from the train. The Rupite site is on your right if you sit following the direction of the train, coming from Sofia. Rupite itself is about 8 kilometres from Petrich and as far as I'm aware, there's no public transport. The train doesn't stop - just at the station General Todorov, but you'd have to cross a railway bridge. Please don't do that and take a taxi from Petrich, you could negotiate a deal.
Rupite was destroyed in the 6th Century when it was burned down by Slavs. It is then assumed that survivors moved and built a settlement near the Belasitsa mountains, where we find the Petrich of today.
The area became part of the First Bulgarian Empire under Knyaz Boris I. Tsar Samuil then had the area play a strategic role and a lot of horrific violence took place in the Battle of Kleidion (1014), between the Byzantine and Bulgarian empire. The event is also known as the Battle of Belasitsa. This battle took place near the current village of Klyuch. The name of the village means 'key' and it explains, because it's located in the Klyuch gorge.
A nice place to spend the night in Klyuch village is Complex Dinastia.
In nearby Kolarovo is the Complex Sveta Nedelya.
The Byzantines fought under the leadership of emperor Basil II. Military commander Nikephoros Xiphias launched a rear attack and the Bulgars suffered severe losses. Tsar Samuil survived but his men, the anywhere between 8.000 and 14.000 whom survived, were divided into groups of 100. Then, 99 of them were blinded and the last man had one eye spared to guide the others home. It gained Basil II the notorious title 'Bulgar Slayer'. Samuil is said to have suffered a heart attack two months later at the sight of his troops. At that point, the First Bulgarian Empire had not yet fallen. Yet, the loss certainly set back the Empire and let the Byzantines further conquer Bulgaria. Eventually, in 1018 the Bulgarian Empire was destroyed by Basil II.
The area was conquered by the Ottomans in 1395. The Bulgarian people struggled to keep their language and culture alive during the National Revival Period. Petrich was freed from the Ottomans in 1878 but returned under the Berlin Treaty, staying under Ottoman reign until 1912. Then, Petrich became Bulgarian again after the Balkan War. Turks and Greeks left the country and built the town Neo Petritsi (New Petrich), still inhabited today.
Local agriculture was going strong for all this time, because of the mediterranean climate wheat, cotton, tobacco and fruits could be produced easily. Today, people still make money the same way - at least in the countryside around Petrich. After the liberation, Petrich continued to develop along with the rest of Bulgaria. Petrich is now to see the development in tourism, which the local people will receive with open arms. They are proud of their historical and very pretty region, and rightly so.
The nature around, which you should definitely see
As the center is not too big and I felt like going for a hike, I looked for the nearest path into the Belasitsa mountains. Search in Google Maps for Коктейл-Бар" Яворите" Петрич. On the left of the bar are stairs going up into the hills. Eventually, you get to the Youth home, a big building with a brick facade. On the right side of this building is a path called Health Alley - Алея на Здравето. This is a bike route but it's easy to walk there as well - just a few kilometres through the forest before you get back to the other end of Petrich, still the southern part though. You go uphill, have some wide views over town and then get back downhill. Eventually, you can either go left or right. Left is farther into the mountains and right is back to Petrich. I believe you have to get back to town first should you want to continue to mountain hut Belasitsa, you can check Google Maps for the actual road there. Should you go left here and continue into the forest, however, you're in the Kongura reserve. I am not sure how to get to mountain hut Kongurin the Kongur in the area, best is to buy a hiking map locally or from a Sofia bookstore. Onthe mountain hut Kongur website are three phone numbers you could try to get in touch with the place.
Belasitsa.net has a page with phone numbers of all mountain huts in the area.
The forest is very dense and from spring on, it gets so beautifully green. It's hot in this part of the country and at least when I visited, it was quite humid. Yet the walk was very pleasant. Just interesting mountains that only few people know about, even people living in Bulgaria. There are, as said, a few mountain huts and guesthouses and I am quite certain you will manage to find a room if you knock on the door, at least outside of summer.
The Belasitsa natural park is 11.732,43 hectares. The area stretches all the way west to Macedonia and south into Greece. On the Bulgarian side of the border, there are many abandoned, interesting watchtowers. The ancient forests are home to 800 species of intervertebrates, 10 amhibian species and 21 reptilian species (Source: Belasitsa.net). There are various routes you can follow, mentioned on this page. Do keep in mind that tourism, especially for non-Bulgarian speakers, is developing only now. The area is yours to discover and there will certainly be some adventure, in the way that you should just go and see where you end up. This is part of the charm, however, each visit to the area is unique and can't be replicated. It's the charm of adventure that keeps me in Bulgaria and even more so, it will draw me back to the Southwestern part.
If you visit by car, check out the Камешнишки водопад - Kameshnishki waterfall as well! Easily found in Google Maps.
In my 'Bulgaria section' you can find many more places to travel to! On the way south to Petrich, coming from Sofia, you have numerous places to visit. Make a detour through Dragoman, Tran or Zemen. Also, make sure to stop in Blagoevgrad. Apart from Petrich, in southern Bulgaria you have some interesting towns. Sandanski, Gotse Delchev and Pirin village are worth your visit!
Where is Petrich and how to visit
At 180 kilometres south of Sofia, on the border with Greece, is the small town Petrich. Quite a unique place, if you ask me. At the point I visited, I was in Bulgaria for nearly three years. Still, every trip I find something surprising. Yet Petrich is completely different than other Bulgarian towns. It feels a bit foreign -