Zemen is a quaint, little town southwest of Sofia. It can be reached easily by train (2 hrs) or by your own transport (1,5 hrs). You pass Vitosha mountain and hills, valleys and interesting villages can be seen along the way. Here, in the country of yoghurt, rakia and the world famous Shopska salad, you can get well-rested in the hilly surroundings of the village. Zemen being just a small town, it still has some surprises awaiting you. One such example is Zemen Monastery, right outside the town. It can be reached from the village center by car or on foot. It's a monastery with a nice yard and it sits right where the dense forest starts.
Bulgaria is a relatively small country but luckily, it happens to be packed with adventures. Zemen has such a place as well; the Struma Canyon, where the once gigantic river Struma carved unique shapes and forms into the rocks. The Struma Canyon route begins at the end of the village and you get there by just following the river south. The river is still there but is a more quiet river where people love to fish and take long walks.
As you follow the river and leave Zemen, the landscape changes and steadily gets more rigged and rough. On the way, you pass a small hamlet in a field amidst the high rock formations lining the river. It's where a few people have settled in wild nature, built their own houses and have their own cattle. You could have a nice picknick in the field. Trains chugs through the same valley. If you take the right path, you will never cross the train tracks. One station after Zemen, following the canyon, is an abandoned train station. Further down are two tunnels and there is a waterfall nearby. It is a well-known place to visit but it is strongly advised against going there. You have to cross train tunnels to get there and this is extremely dangerous. Trains still pass frequently and you do not want to meet one; therefore - never walk along train tracks and never take a tunnel! I heard of ways the tunnels can be avoided but when I visited, I did not see such option. Walking back to Zemen is the same way you came and after the pleasant walk, you can enjoy a nice, cold beer in the center.
There is a nice vacation park called Aelea Complex, with good accommodation, a swimming pool and bike rental. The accommodation is relatively small and consists of modern rental homes with 3 or 4 rooms for 2 persons. The train station and center of Zemen are located about 20 minutes walking, at two kilometres.
Why Zemen is a good destination? Warm summers, a laid-back atmosphere, the Bulgarian village life and untouched nature. It is situated only seventy kilometres from Sofia and it is easy and convenient to visit by either car or train. You could combine Zemen with several other destinations, such as Kyustendil (Zemen is on the railway line Sofia - Kyustendil), Lobosh Lake and even the Rila monastery.
As I visited Zemen twice, once in summer and once in winter, I posted pictures of both seasons. In the 'winter' part of the album, I included pictures of Zemen Monastery.
Not too far from Zemen are both Tran and Dragoman. If you have a sense of adventure you will find plenty to do in western Bulgaria. Should you travel all the way south, be sure to visit Blagoevgrad and Petrich as well! Pirin village and Gotse Delchev are interesting places in the south that you could add to your itinerary, if you have some time left.