We took a ferry from Kea to Naxos. We had planned to stay five nights and use Naxos as a base camp to visit one or two of the small Cyclades Islands. Neither of these plans went accordingly. The first night we were there, we stopped into the travel agency (which is also where you buy ferry tickets). I asked about getting to and from one of the small Cyclades Islands. I was told that, at this time of year, I could not get to and from any of these islands (Iraklia, Schoinousa, Koufonisi, etc.) in the same day. When I tried to ask more questions, I was rebuffed and simply told no. This was not the helpful or positive information I was looking for. Then, on the fifth night of our stay, we discovered there would be a ferry strike for the next two days. However, between these two unfortunate pieces of information, we thoroughly enjoyed the island of Naxos.
We stayed in the Old Town at an Airbnb.com for about $89 a night. While this was more expensive than I would have liked, it was a great location. We felt like we were living in a piece of history as the apartment was built into a structure that is centuries old.
We found some amazing little restaurants and bars in the Old Town of Naxos. One such restaurant has a logo of two fat men drinking. Even though we had dinner there three times, I never learned the name of the restaurant, but it was consistently delicious and I can highly recommend the meatballs and the carbonara pasta. Follow the signs; you’ll be happy you did. We also frequented a bar called Elia. It is in the Old Town and has a red door. It may look closed, but keep trying. The wine options are lovely and not your average young, Greek wines, especially when it comes to the reds. Also, the bakeries around town, even near the port, are great spots to grab a filling snack like spanikopita for around 2-3€.
When we ventured out of the Old Town, we found Nostimon Hellas among many other shops and restaurants. The restaurant takes a creative spin on Greek food and the service was very friendly.
We rented a car for two days while on the island. We drove to a few other towns and spent an afternoon hiking between five towns. We used this link to plan one of the hikes.
The hiking route was well-marked once we were on the trail. When looking for other hiking trails and information on things to do around the island, these two websites were very helpful.
We landed at the Sofia airport on a cool October afternoon and made a beeline for the Sixt car rental counter. We’d booked a car for seven days for 107€. After some issues with the first car’s engine (thankfully I’m a wary traveler and knew not to take the car that was violently shaking when started), my husband and I were off to the Rila mountains. The drive was pleasantly smooth and road signs were usually in both the Cyrillic and Latin alphabets.
We arrived at the Rila Monestary at 5 p.m. and asked about staying in the monastery itself. It took a few minutes and all of our horrible Bulgarian language skills, but we did it. We met one of priests who lives at the monastery and he gave us the option of a room with a shower (25BGN per person) or without a shower (20BGN per person). We chose the latter to save a little money. The room had 5 cots, a table and chairs, and a sink. There were also some beautiful carved wooden wardrobes and a lovely painted ceiling. While the room had electricity, it did not have heat. The temperature that evening dropped to 44 degrees Fahrenheit. We made due by sleeping under all of the wool blankets from the five cots and wearing a lot of clothes.
The monastery does not offer meals, so we walked over to Hotel Tzarev Vrah (through the North gate of the monastery) for dinner and breakfast the next morning. The food was tasty, although nothing to rave about, and the prices were reasonable. We split a generous sized shopska salad, each ordered a meat dish, each had a drink (beer and wine), and split a rakia for about 31BGN total.
While in the area, we hiked to the Seven Lakes. If you are in Bulgaria, you need to do this. It’s one of the most beautiful and magical places I have ever been. To get there, we drove to the chair lift. We had planned to take the chair lift instead of hiking the 1.5 hours but we found out that it only runs on the weekends outside of summertime. Our other option was to take a ride in a Jeep from a man that hangs out nearby for this exact reason. We decided to do it as it was already 1 p.m. and we wanted to make the hike that day. The Jeep ride, round-trip for two people, was 50BGN. This is definitely not budget friendly but we went for it. Once we got up to the top of the ski lift, the man with the Jeep gave us his card and told us to call him when we were ready to come back down the mountain.
We started the hike up the hill, then the path flattened out for about 30 minutes. From here, you can see three or four of the lakes. We then hiked another 45 minutes up a rocky mountainside. It took us about two hours from the top of the chair lift to the point above all seven lakes. If we were to hike from the bottom of the ski lift, round-trip it would have been a seven hour hike. We made our way back down to the Rilski Ezera Hut and hopped in the Jeep. I do want to make it clear that the Jeep ride was incredibly bumpy and unnerving for those who are not use to off-roading. While in reality the ride down took only 25 minutes, it seemed to take forever as I feared we would tip over. I also want to note that the Rilski Ezera Hut seemed to be closed for the season, but I cannot be sure of this.
After hiking, we spent a few minutes in the car to make a plan of where to stay that night. It was 5 p.m. and we didn’t have accommodations. We picked a guesthouse room (40BGN a night for a double room with bathroom, balcony, and access to a communal kitchen) on Booking.com in the town of Sapareva Banya. The room was lovely, as was the owner of the guesthouse. We only stayed one night but this would have been an ideal base for exploring the Sapareva Banya area.
The next day we packed up into our VW Polo and headed back up the mountain to find the trail head for Skakavitsa waterfall. This was hard to find, but we did it! We parked at the Zeleni Preslap Guesthouse (Google Зелени Преслап to find the location or follow this link to the Booking.com for the location) and walked up the trail that kind of looks like a gravel road. In high season, you might want to ask about leaving your car there but in mid-October there were only two cars there and no people. From the guesthouse parking lot, the hike to the Skakavitsa Hut took one hour. Once again, it seemed like the Skakavitsa Hut was closed for the season but I cannot be sure. From the hut to the waterfall is another 30 minutes. While the trail starts off very flat and road-like, it makes a turn and you are quickly in a pine forest. From there, it’s all uphill to the hut. Both the Seven Lakes and Skakavitsa hikes were some of my favorite experiences in Bulgaria. They were well worth the effort and energy. If we had more time, I would have loved to stay in one of the huts overnight.