If you happen to be in Sofia and have a car, you can do a quick daily escape to the fortress of Tsari Mali Grad. A very pleasant historical sight combining a bit of walking, kids activities and sightseeing.
How to reach: Tsari Mali Grad (from Bulgarian: the small city of the King/Tsar) is located 45 km from Sofia, near the village of Belchin and the winter resort Borovets. You need about an hour to reach there (the road goes through the mountain so no fast driving) and 3-4 hours to enjoy the whole of it.
What’s to see there: Upon arrival you have 2 choices: take the short lift to the fortress or walk the eco path. I’d recommend to take the short 20-min walk if you can – it’s very pleasant and suitable for kids (and even strollers) too. There are benches and tables alongside the path so you can also take a rest if needed.
Once you reach the end of the path, there you are among a number of (mostly climbing) activities for kids! That’s the reason the fortress is a favorite among families – kids do have a lot of fun, parents relax, everyone enjoys the fresh forest air. The area is suitable for picnic – there are tables/benches for picnic and tap water. During the summer you can usually also buy some food from the top.
Passing a rope bridge you reach the fortress – a fortified city inhabited between 4th and 7th century, by Thracian, Roman and Byzantine people. Getting a guided tour (tours in English also available) is highly recommended – you will find out the story of the church, which used to be rebuilt 3 times, over remnants of earlier religious buildings, will hear about the fall of the sacred tree in the fortress on 08/08/2008. Another curious finding is that the position of this fortress and other religious sights in Bulgaria has a specific dependency which also remains a mystery to the archaeologists.
The site works from 9-17 every day except Monday. On your way back, visit also the Church of St Petka and the museum, the museum is included in the ticket price.
What else to do while there:
- Visit the open mineral pools in the village of Belchin
- Walk around Samokov – a small city 10 kms from the fortress, has a very nice central street and good places to dine
- Visit Borovets resort – another 9 kms after Samokov. Recommend the mountain bike park during the summer – you can use the lifts to go up and then bike down the mountain biking trails (you can also bike with a non-pro mountain bike, just have in mind some trails are a bit steep). It’s also great for a summer walk with kids. During the winter of course it’s best for winter sports 🙂
A favorite one-day escape, even though it might get a bit crowded on weekends.