Wandering from Veliko Tarnovo to Arbanasi
VELIKO TARNOVO – distinguished by;
- the precipitous house-terraced hillsides and surrounding sandstone/limestone cliffs-all ribbon-carved by the Yantra River–affording spectacular panoramic views –
- its significant and lengthy history, including once being the capital of the mighty Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1395 AD) –
- the historical stronghold and still very imposing Tsarevets Fortress – a.k.a. the primary tourist site to this day –
- an Old Town district with cobblestone streets, unique shops, eateries, etc..
- the genuine and active rhythms of daily life –
- All making Veliko Tarnovo an excellent base for explorations of the numerous natural and historical sites in its immediate proximity.
It’s particularly fortuitous that several of the most interesting places are easily accessible by foot; The Transfiguration and Holy Trinity Monasteries, along with the Architectural Reserve of Arbanasi –
The village of Arbanasi is located on a high plateau above the city of Veliko Tarnovo. Existing primarily as a ruling class summer residence during the time of the Second Bulgarian State (1185- 1393), then rising to prominence as a stock-breeding and trading center during Ottoman rule. Characteristic stronghold house architecture was developed during the 16th & 18th century. A number of prominent examples exist today as museums. During the same period, the monasteries, convents and churches were established—several which exist today can be visited, offering incredibly ornate and beautiful displays of iconic murals and iconostasis. Arbanasi is the type of place where the most pleasure is derived from aimlessly wandering the town’s “streets”/paths, soaking in the details, and enjoying the views. Speaking of views—at the top/high point of the town, winding paths through a grassy knoll will take you to numerous vantages offering spectacular 360° panoramic views.
The small village center has several shops, lodgings and restaurants. After explorations of the town, would recommend grabbing a table on the patio of either restaurant (there are two), ordering a traditional meal and drink—-enjoy the meal, relax, soak in and enjoy the rhythms of village life that surround you. If you’ve relaxed long enough to not be eager to tackle the return hike, you’re steps away from the local bus stop. Check the timetable posted in the bus shelter, or, better yet, ask the folks at the restaurant about the (irregularly scheduled) departure time for the next bus. The other best (non hike) option would be a taxi, which seem to regularly appear—out of nowhere. Expect to pay 4 or 5 lev for a trip back to Veliko Tarnovo.
Getting There—the pleasurable way:
Sure—you can travel the short distance via cheap local bus or taxi. But this is a model example of the journey being a good part of the pleasure. The highly scenic approx. 3 mile hike is easy to moderate in difficulty. The panoramic views and idyllic perches will beckon you to take your time—to relax and soak it all in along the way. Worthy of a round trip circuit hike!
Veliko Tarnovo-Asenova District (lower town)
Best to begin your walk facing the entrance to the mighty Tsarevets Fortress. Simply get on the sidewalk on the left side of the road leading down to the Asenova District (also referred to as the lower town). Towards the bottom of the hill the Holy Forty Martyrs Church will be on your left, with the stone bridge crossing the Yantra River beyond it on the left. Tsarevets will be mightily looming on the steep hill to the right.
Continue straight ahead (not left across the bridge as the main road goes), through a short stretch of house/shop/church/archaeological site lined street—simply following the road that frames in the fortress hill. After about 3/8 mile the road will bend right around the hill and the river will have meandered back, flowing parallel to the left. After several hundred feet cross the Yantra on the suspended foot bridge on your left. You’ll be facing an area of (mostly) abandoned and crumbling factory buildings.
If you’re feeling particularly adventurous (an obvious “at risk” activity)—you’ll find some incredible socialistic graffiti art in one of the crumbling factory buildings beyond this point (as pictured below).
Turn right and follow the road alongside the river until it curves 90° to the left, skirting an operating “factory”. Follow the slightly ascending paved road (there’s also a fairly obscure trail along a creek to the right) approx. 1/3 mile until a steep trail entry appears on the left—-it’ll be immediately before a small/lively creek which channels under the road. There may, or may not be a small sign at this trailhead—if so, it’ll probably be your token sign…
Head up the heavily wooded path—-it’ll meander up through forest and (short stretch of) boulders until you reach the meadow plateau of the cliff-side escarpment—one of the most distinctive geological features of this area. Follow the path running alongside the escarpment for the next 1+ mile—around a cove the path will briefly traverse through a (brushy) wooded section, exiting on an upward incline of a meadow leading to the Arbanasi access road.
Turn right and follow the upgrade road several hundred yards to the first hairpin curve to the left. The Monastery of Saint Nikola–a worthwhile visit–will be on the right (if the dog is tied up—you’ll be fine…)
At this point, you can either follow the winding road upwards around a second sharp curve leading directly into Arbanasi town, or, if open, go through the wooden gate leading through the rock walled (Sevastokrator) hotel complex on the right after the monastery curve—and follow the steps up to the road (a shortcut!). The upper terraces offer excellent panoramic views towards Veliko Tarnovo. If you’re a bit worn and tired, it offers a highly-regarded restaurant terrace for a well-deserved rest with a view!
From the hotel, you can head (right) directly up the main road into the center of Arbanasi, or zig-zag through town, beginning with the first street to the left. Either way, enjoy your wanderings through the incredible architectural reserve of Arbanasi!
HIGHLY Recommended lodging for your stay in Veliko Tarnovo (tell them “VagaBob sent you!”)