North of Sofia stretches the Iskar gorge, a canyon formed by thousands of years of erosion and river Iskar's force. The Iskar gorge makes excellent destination to take a break from city life in the capital and retreat in nature for a while. Svoge, being center of this region, makes a perfect base to explore the surrounding area.
Part of what makes Svoge ideal for an excursion from Sofia, is its proximity. Intercity trains take thirty-five minutes and 'Personal' trains, stopping at every station, do the stretch in fifty minutes. Intercity trains offer first class, nonetheless any ticket will cost you only a couple of Euros. No matter your means of travel - surely the route will surprise you with some nice views of mountains, valleys and quaint villages along river Iskar.
Svoge itself is a quiet town that offers you all amenities to explore the area around it. It has some shops, restaurants, cafes and even a hotel. Upon arriving in Svoge by train, cross the station building to reach the main square. Right in front is spacious restaurant 'Iskar', offering you various dishes and quick, good service. If weather permits, opt for the cozy terrace of restaurant 'Soleil' nearby. After leaving the station take a left turn, leave the main square, follow the street parallel to the railway tracks. After 80 metres, on your right hand is a sign that directs to 'Restaurant Soleil'. The restaurant also offers two hotel rooms. Both restaurants described here offer excellent dishes and courteous service.
As said, Svoge is a good base to explore closeby nature, some suggestions being:
Gara Bov - Ivan Vazov's Eco Trail
Provivided that the weather is suitable and you have good walking shoes, the Eco Trail in Gara Bov is definitely your best choice. Trains from Sofia/Svoge to Gara Bov leave regulary. Get a ticket, hop on and exit at the third station. From Svoge, you arrive in Gara Bov in approximately 13 minutes. Leave the station towards the bridge crossing the Iskar river, the main road being right in front of you. Make a right turn, walk until you see a sign with 'Touristic Road Vazov's Path' pointing left. After fifteen minutes uphill, the road turns into a gravel path. After thirty minutes of hiking, the waterfall is in full sight. From this point, it takes another fifteen minutes to stand right where the water hits the rocks. Standing in front of the clattering waterfall on a hot summer day is fantastic. If you'd like to see more of the area: the trail continues upwards to the village Zasele, located right above the waterfall. The climb is steep but offers nice views of the Iskar gorge once you make it up. From there, you can retrace your steps or make a two hour detour via another gravel road, starting on the other side of Zasele.
Gara Bov - Pod Kamiko Waterfall Trail
The second trail goes northeast of the village. By following this trail, you get to see a waterfall as well. This trail, the Green Route, starts from behind the 'stadium' of Gara Bov, which is just a large soccer field. You reach this field by walking straight ahead coming from the train station. Once uphill, there is a map of Gara Bov and the trail you are about to take. In about three hours, the path takes you by the waterfall, through dense woods, along steep hills and past abandoned houses. In the end, you have the chance to visit the 'Vazova Kushta', where Bulgaria's famous poet and writer Ivan Vazov spent some time writing. The trail ends at the same place where you started. It is an easy hike through lovely scenery and therefore it is absolutely perfect for a day trip from Sofia.
Gara Bov - Spending the night
If you'd like to stay overnight; two hosts welcome you to Guesthouse Alamorov with open arms. The cozy guesthouse is surrounded by mountains and has a large garden. Being fulfilled of hiking, a good dinner and the river's gentle sounds make for a good night's rest. There's opportunity for star gazing, the area gets completely dark at night. Prices start from 15 Euros excluding breakfast. Feel free to ask for directions to the guesthouse.
Eight kilometers from Svoge is the quietly located community Zhelen. In case you'd like to go on foot; the road ascends gradually, making the walk easy. To find the road to Zhelen; head right from Svoge's train station, passing a small park alongside the railway. The descending road then makes a curve right up until the junction with 'Iskar Boulevard' - turn left and cross the short bridge. The green building on your right is Hotel Collosos offering rooms from 15 Euros a night, excluding breakfast. Provided no wedding party is hosted and you don't mind noise of trains passing, you can have a good night of sleep here. To continue to Zhelen, pass under the railway brige and keep walking on. The village border starts three kilometers before the actual village center. There is a small store but you can never be sure it's open. The scenery and panoramas make this hike absolutely worth it. With some luck, an infrequent bus heads back down to Svoge - it's best to ask what time it leaves, provided it does.
(By turning right from Svoge's train station, I mean your back should be towards the front of the station. Right in front of you is the large, foursquare shaped town hall.)
About a hundred metres right of Svoge's train station is a small square where buses leave to villages nearby. You can venture out and take any bus - natural beauty guaranteed. One example: Iskrets is a village that is frequented with one bus each hour, covering the nine kilometer distance. On the way, you pass a chocolate factory, producing the well-known Svoge chocolate. In Iskrets, you can simply hike through the village and stumble upon some classic, seemingly abandoned cars. Alternatively, take the long but scenic, winding road up to Breze village. Buses back to Svoge leave from the same place where you got off. Good to know - departure times from both Svoge and Iskrets are listed at Svoge's bus station. From Iskrets, you can also get to the monastery behind the gates of the Tsar Ferdinand sanatorium. The complex is largely abandoned with just one building functioning. If you walk all the way uphill, you'll get to Dobarchin village. You'll need some form of navigation, as many paths cross the terrain of the sanatorium. As this is private property, you're not allowed to take pictures on the terrain. It ends somewhere before Dobarchin village. From there on, continue to Mecha polyana settlement, which is one of the most beautifully located in the country. Read more about this walk on the Tserovo page.
In conclusion, the Iskar gorge is immensely attractive for those who wish to make a daytrip from Sofia - possibly including an overnight stay. For any more insights or questions, do not hesitate to contact me.
Links that come in handy
Svoge - Hotel Collosos
Svoge - Restaurant Soleil (Nothing about their two hotel rooms is written on the website)
Gara Bov - Guesthouse Alamurov
Train schedule - Bahn.de