All you need to know about the Balkan Mountains and the Balkan Peninsula

 

  Balkan Mountains - photo courtesy of Deyan Krastev ( https://www.instagram.com/krastevdeyan/ )

Balkan Mountains - photo courtesy of Deyan Krastev(https://www.instagram.com/krastevdeyan/)

Let's talk about the elusive and obscure Balkans! How many areas in the world do you know that have been turned into a verb? And not just any shy, demure verb. To Balkanize means to divide or break up into smaller and often hostile units. The name comes from the deep and tumultuous history of the region, marked by being on the crossroads of Europe and the Middle East. The term Balkans is often used to describe both the geographic area and the mountain range so let's take a look at each of them.

  The mountain pass to Buzludzha

The mountain pass to Buzludzha

While definitions vary a bit, the Balkan Peninsula is usually considered to comprise the countries of Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Kosovo, the Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia, and Slovenia. Greece and Turkey or parts of them are sometimes also included.

The region takes its name from the Balkan Mountains. Few mountain chains in this world can claim to be home to such a deep-rooted culture and have such long history as this storied mountain range. In Bulgarian, the mountain is called Stara planina, which translates to “the old mountain.” Quite fitting, considering the fact that its history goes back thousands of years. This region has seen many wars and its culture has been influenced numerous times. Thracian, Latin, Roman, Byzantine, Ottoman, Slavic influences - the history of the Balkan Mountains is vast and epic. But, where are the Balkans?

Where Are the Balkan Mountains Located on a Map?

The Balkan Mountains can be found in the South-easternmost corner of Europe. Beginning at the Vrashka Chuka Peak, which is situated near the Serbian-Bulgarian border (with Serbia in the west), the Balkan Mountain range travels east, covering central Bulgaria and ending by the Black Sea - at Cape Emine. The Balkans peak in Central Bulgaria. As it forms a natural border within the country, the central location of the Balkan mountains naturally separates Bulgaria in the southern and northern half.

What Is the Balkan Region Like?

The mountain range is heavily wooded and diverse. There are several notable caves, each worth visiting and exploring. The Magura Cave contains the most important and extensive European post-Palaeolithic cave paintings. The Ledenika Cave, is home to an abundant number of galleries with stunning karst formations. Several towns upkeep the spirit of Bulgaria and form the heart of this cultural region. Since the mountains were not fit for agriculture, their inhabitants excelled in crafts, manufacturing and trade. The villages of Zheravna and Bozhentsi have preserved many examples of the architecture and crafts of the region.

A Balkan Mountain range map shows that from high to lowlands, open spaces and plains, waterfalls, and a wide range of flora and fauna basically everything a nature lover’s heart desires can be found in this unique biosphere. This is also home to various microspheres due to the different heights. The fauna is very rich and weather can change quickly.

Stara planina refers to the actual part of the mountain chain itself. Apart from that, however, the Predbalkan (the northern, or “front” part of the Balkan region with small villages and beautiful waterfalls), Podbalkan (the “under-the-Balkan” valley, specifically known for its rose oil), as well as Sredna gora (a smaller, adjacent mountain chain where you find well-maintained old architecture and beautiful flora) make up the differently shaped geographic terrain of The Balkan that is as diverse as the region’s historic and cultural heritage. Sredna gora in particular is a meaningful region next to the Central Balkan chain, as it is the birthplace of many Bulgarian revolutionaries, heroes, and those guarding the heritage, spirit, and folklore of the country itself.

  Village of Zheravna in the heart of the Balkan Mountains (Stara Planina) in Bulgaria

Village of Zheravna in the heart of the Balkan Mountains (Stara Planina) in Bulgaria

What is the best way to explore the Balkans?

How can you experience this unique, culturally and historically rich region? Hiking is one of the best ways. You can climb the highest peak - Botev Peak (2,376 metres or 7,795 ft) near Vratsa and combine it with a visit to Ledenika Cave. Road tripping across some of the most picturesque villages and mountain passes is a great option. One great route takes you to to world-famous Buzludzha monument - an abandoned communist relic that sits on a mountain peak and eerily resembles an UFO. Spending time in the storied Valley of the Roses, also known as Valley of the Thracian kings is a must. Drop me a line and petia@flyingracinteur.com if you need ideas for a specific itinerary.

Now go conquer those mighty Balkans!

  Buzludzha Monument

Buzludzha Monument