Spirituality +10 points: visiting Rila Monastery

We set off from Sapareva Banya on Sunday morning with zero Levs in our pockets in search of breakfast in the next town (Dupnica). We quickly gave up on this idea after walking into the first alcohol-soaked establishment at 8am to a group of local kids sitting in the near darkness and polishing off their pancakes with the first beer of the day. Fortunately, we were able to get cash at least and set off in the direction of Rila Monastery, grabbing a croissant and a coffee on the road with a view of the mountains.

I don’t know what you have read or heard about Rila Monastery but I can tell you is that no words or pictures can do it justice. I can tell you of the transcendental calm of the ancient pine forest in which it lies and how the crisp, clean air is especially pure. How the melting snow had caused waterfalls to cascade down all sides of the mountain filling the valley with the ringing sound of water moving over stone. I can tell you how the breath leaves your body as you first enter and begin to take in the thoughtful elegance of the buildings, the grace with which each archway and column has been painted. How the devotion of so many lives working harmoniously has created that which is astonishing to behold. I can tell you all those things but the feeling of awe that you get whilst standing under those towering snowy peaks surrounded by this colossal example of humanity’s power to create beauty is something you can only experience for yourself.

I really wasn’t prepared for it to be honest – I cried. The advice I would give though is to go early. We were pretty early (10.30) and it was quiet so you got the full spiritual experince vibe however by the time we left there were many buses outside and it was getting busy. The other thing which I cannot recommend enough is to get the package ticket to look at the guest rooms, tower, kitchen, museum and the icon gallery. It was totally worth 20 Lev per person even just to be able to go upstairs for the view.

After this intense experience, we recovered with a delicious meal at the restaurant furthest into the valley (“При Чичо Киро”) and then followed the footpath up the hill which, if you follow it to the end, takes you to a mountain hut called Fish Lakes. Picking up a couple of German hitchhikers that we’d actually spotted on the same hiking trail, we continued on our way to the next destination, Bansko.

In case you didn’t already guess, I would definitely recommend visiting Rila Monastery. It’s been one of the highlights of our trip so far. The valley itself is absolutely wonderful and is a great place for camping. There are mountain trails all around and several options for something to eat. “При Чичо Киро” also had rooms and seems to be well reviewed on Google. The road itself is perfectly passable with a normal car (we had no issues) but is a bit narrow and pot-holey towards the end. There is even 4G near the monastery although further in, you lose signal and there was no WIFI in the restaurant we visited.

Our next stop would be rather a contrast to our experience at Rila Monastery! Continue reading for details of our rather *interesting* experience in the ski resort town of Bansko.

A Road Trip through Southern Bulgaria

Check my other Bulgaria Posts for other off-the-beaten track destinations on Southern Bulgaria

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