Bulgaria’s newest nature park of Belasitsa offers a walk in the mysterious world of chestnut forests. The first tourist guidebook, named Belasica could be your guide into this adventure. It presents the uniqueness of this southern mountain that opens the doors to the culture of Bulgaria, Macedonia and Greece. If people still cannot cross the borders freely, the birds have done this for a very long time. “Nature knows no boundaries,” author of the Belasitsa guide book and manager of the local branch of Biodiversity Foundation Latinka Topalova-Zhezhiha says.
“Unfortunately Bulgaria has not entered Schengen yet, but I hope that it will soon happen. On the other hand this makes us think about borders that we, people, place between each other. Belasitsa has many secrets. It is one of the mountains with well-preserved biodiversity and that was one of the reasons why it was turned into a nature park. There are many rare plant and animal species there. One can see for example the beautiful Teeny Yellow Violet /Viola stojanowii/ and the Belasitsa Mountain is the only place around the globe, where this flower can be found. Lilium albanicum that grows only in the Balkans can be seen in Bulgaria only in this mountain. A curious fact – more than 80 percent of butterfly species can be spotted there. Many amphibians and reptiles, typical for Bulgaria, also live in the mountain. Some 30 percent of the bird species, flying over Bulgaria inhabit this nature park too, the rare Black and White-backed Woodpecker among them.
Belasitsa is the only Bulgarian mountain, shared by three countries, Latinka Topalova says. However, there are differences. Nice cool breeze can be felt through the summer on its north slopes that is not so typical for this part of the Balkans. It is due to the specific, glorious atmosphere of the century-old beech and chestnut forests.
“The situation is different on the southern slopes. There are two lakes at the foot of Belasitsa, one of them named Doiran and it is divided between Greece and Macedonia. The other one is entirely Greek and called Kerkini. Mixed colonies of pelicans, cormorants and egrets nest there – it is a true bird oasis! Lifestyle and culture are really well preserved in the three bordering countries. The guidebook pays special attention to Bulgarian folklore and the traditional for the region dishes that are worth tasting. Rice with Crab is a meal, prepared at St. Todor’s Day in the village of Gabrene, situated a kilometer away from the Bulgarian-Macedonian border. Cheese pastry and the so-called “kraishtnik” are also very popular. Of course, in the heart of chestnut forests one should really taste some chestnuts in the autumn. The neighboring Greek and Macedonian cuisines are also pretty attractive, while fish is worshipped in the area of Doiran.
Despite being situated a bit away from traditional tourist routes, Belasitsa offers picturesque views, many archaeological and historical sites and also ancient churches and monasteries. The guidebook describes all of them and paths at the villages are marked, so that even an unprepared tourist can walk along them. However, the climbing of the mountain itself requires a more serious preparation, since Belasitsa is one of the steepest in this country.
“Spring is a really good time for a visit to Belasitsa, since it comes quite earlier here,” Mrs. Topalova says. “The blooming of chestnuts is one of the good things in spring. One of the theories on the mountain name’s origin is related to this period – when chestnuts bloom, the whole place turns into white – hence the name: “Bela-“ /”White-”/ - Belasitsa.”
English version: Zhivko Stanchev