The Balkan Mountains are the perfect backdrop for your next big outdoor adventure. Discover thousand year old caves, the stunning Iskar Gorge, wildlife and amazing views of untouched natural beauty as you make your way through the unique landscape.
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The Balkan Mountains are a part of a larger peninsula in southeastern Europe that includes three other mountain ranges and runs through a total of ten countries. It’s the perfect place for an outdoor vacation filled with great wildlife sightings, epic hiking and plenty of unforgettable views.
Here are some fun facts about the Balkan Mountains and the surrounding peninsula:
1 What are the Balkans?
The word Balkan is Turkish and means mountain. The word is fitting considering that much of the Balkan peninsula is covered by towering mountain ranges.
This magnificent mountainous region comprises Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Serbia, Kosovo, Montenegro, Slovenia and parts of Turkey and Greece.
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2 Where are the Balkan Mountains?
As you can imagine, the Balkans are nothing short of massive. In the centre of this magnificent landscape is the Balkan Mountain range or Stara Planina as they are called in Bulgarian.
This mountain range lies from east to west across Bulgaria from Cape Emine in the Black Sea to Vrashka Chuka Peak on the border of Serbia. It covers a total of 557km. This mountain chain is a haven of natural beauty and includes many fascinating rock structures, caves and historical sites.
But they are not the only spectacle that the outdoorsy can look forward to. On the western edge of the Balkans, you will find the Dinaric Alps. They extend down the Adriatic coast through Italy, Montenegro, Serbia, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo and Albania. Here, there is no shortage of fantastic tours and hikes like our Via Dinarica tour.
On the southern edge of the Balkan range lie the Rhodope mountains. This mountain ranges in the south eastern Balkans that border Bulgaria and Greece. The region is known for its lush greenery, fascinating wildlife and beautiful mix of cultures.
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Keep in mind that such a diverse region experiences many different weather conditions. In winter you can expect snow cover in many parts of the Balkans. With the snow come low extremes. In summer the weather heats up considerably, especially in coastal regions like Dubrovnik. For outdoor enthusiasts, the best time to visit is in summer and autumn.
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3 How High are the Balkan Mountains
The highest range in the Balkan Mountains is Rila. Here you will find the highest peak Musala which stands at a whopping 2,925m.
The landscape is diverse and ranges from narrow gaps and to alpine meadows and luscious forests. The terrain is perfect for avid hikers looking for a challenge. But there are also many less technical routes that are perfect for nature and wildlife enthusiasts.
In the south of the Balkans the Rhodope Mountains stretch a total of 240km. The highest peak is Golyam Perelik which reaches a height of 2,191m. This section of mountains is filled with beautiful karst area with deep river gorges, large caves and sculptured forms that offer you stunning views and adventure.
On the southeastern edge of the Balkans the Dinaric Alps extend 645km. The highest peak, Maja Jezercë located in Albania and reaching a towering 2,694m. Here, you’ll find amazing hiking trails like the Via Dinarica and other great outdoor activities.
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4 Full of Adventure
This beautiful region may not be as popular as the northern parts of Europe, but the Balkans have no shortage of adventure activities to keep you occupies.
Just outside of Sofia, Bulgaria is the Iskar Gorge which is the principle pass from Sofia to other major cities in Bulgaria. The gorge is located in the central Balkan Mountains and is 70km long. It’s named after the Iskar River which flows through it.
In the Dinarites you have a choice of amazing outdoor activities such as white water rafting and kayaking in the Neretva Valley. Take a cruise on the Neretva River or on the Adriatic and discover Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovinia, and Montenegro. Or, embark on a journey of a lifetime on the Via Dinarica that weaves through Montenegro, Kosovo and Albania.
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5 Historical Sites that You Must Visit in the Balkan Mountains
The Balkans is a mash of diverse culture, traditions and a long history that is worth discovering. As you wander this massive region you’ll be surprised to find ancient caves, monasteries and other fascinating places. You can even pay a visit to the tomb of Bulgaria’s most famed poet, Hristo Botev.
Here are some historical sites that should be on your bucket list:
The Magura cave in the Balkan Mountains features the most important post-paleolithic cave paintings discovered in Europe. The paintings are said to be between 8,000 and 10,000 years old. Unfortunately due to vandalism in recent years, tourists are no longer allowed to see the cave paintings. But a trip to Bulgaria’s longest cave is still a must-try experience when there.
When in Bulgaria you don’t want to miss seeing the Belogradchick Rocks. The rock feature can be found outside the town of Belogradchick and are a group of uniquely shaped sandstone and conglomerate stone rock formation. Depending on the time of day, the rocks look as if they are changing colour between hues of red and yellow. While visiting, make sure to check out the historic fortress and village too.
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In the Rhodopes there are plenty of ancient sites including the Perperikon which are the remains of a city. Archeologists have found evidence of human activity that dates as far back as 5000BC here. There are plenty of beautiful Bulgarian villages in the area that offer you unique architecture and plenty of delicious foods to treat yourself to.
In Bosnia and Herzegovina a visit to the famed Stari Most or “Old Bridge”. The bridge was designed by the Turk, Mimar Hayruddin, and stood for a total of 429 years. During the recent conflict between Bosnia and Croatia it was destroyed, but it has since been rebuilt.
If you make your way through Albania, you will discover many historical sites that date back as far as 50 000BC. Head to Butrint National Park near Saranda where you can clearly see the many civilisations that have left their mark in the region, including Greek, Roman and Byzantine.
Related Reading: Hiking for Beginners: What You Need to Know To Start Hiking
6 The Fantastic Wildlife and Nature of the Balkans
When it comes to wildlife on the European continent, the Balkans are where you’ll find an exceptional array of large mammals. The area is well-known for animals such as brown bear, chamois, lynx, deer, wolves and boar that roam freely in many parts of the peninsula.
In the Rhodope Mountains, you will find the last remaining breeding colony of griffon vultures in South Eastern Europe. In recent years, the area has seen an increase in the griffon vulture population in the Eastern Balkan Mountains, which is largely thanks to vulture conservation initiatives like Rewilding Europe.
If you’re a wildlife lover then a visit to the Rhodope Mountains should be on your bucket list. Some of the other birds that you will see here include the imperial eagle and the saker falcon.
The Balkan Mountains offer many protected areas and parks where you can discover beautiful flora, fauna and wildlife. The Central Balkan National Park is the largest in Bulgaria and offers you stunning hikes, beautiful alpine meadows and 8 hectares of lush forests. Another famed area is Kozyata Steana where you’ll find stunning wildflowers including the famed Edelweiss.
7 The Balkans are Cheap
One of the best thing about visiting any part of the Balkans is that they are cheap compared to other European destinations. The Balkans are the perfect place for an epic vacation. From snow capped mountain peaks to beautiful beaches, there’s plenty to experience in the region. And considering how big it is, there’s definitely no shortage of things to do no matter which part you decide to visit first.
These fun facts about the Balkan Mountains and the surrounding mountain ranges are more than enough reason to add this fantastic region to your bucket list.