Vratsa is inseparable from its mountain - except that it can be seen from any point, the paths, which climb through stunning views to rocky ridges, waterfalls, historical sites and wild spots begin literally from the town's outer rim of houses or residential blocks. Vratsa Mountain Nature Park is home to many protected species and enjoys preserved biodiversity along with enjoyable places for relaxation and overnight stay. The park stretches along the slopes of the Mountain, which is part of the Western Stara Planina (Old Mountain), skirted to the north by the impressive Iskar Gorge. The Vratsa Limestone geological reserve, one of a kind for this country, is located on its territory.
Nature is preserved outstandingly well in Vratsa Mountain, and its colony of endangered Griffon Vultures showcases this. Special bird-watching facilities have been installed in places where various wild bird species can be observed and photographed in their natural environment. Free of human intervention, this area has also preserved hundreds of insect species - of which 18 are endemic and occur only here. And wherever insects abound, colonies of bats are also well represented. Protected from extinction, these small mammals inhabit rock niches and caves, and sometimes even dwell the ceilings of abandoned houses. 22 out of the 33 bat species in Bulgaria inhabit the Vratsa Balkan. Beautiful and fascinating as they may be, these winged mammals should not be chased, touched or moved unnecessarily. Each year the Nature Park Directorate joins the European Bat Night in late August, when various games and educational programs are held at the Environment Protection and Training Natura Centre.
The Natura Centre is just a few minutes' walk away from Vratsa‘s central square. It is housed in an old mosque building. Various types of free entry events take place at the centre, and the rest of the time you can always walk in and learn about mountain hiking routes and places worth visiting. To say that the paths into the mountain start from the city itself is no exaggeration: several routes start from the Natura Centre, e.g. through the Vratsata Straight to Zambina Mogila, to the Ledenika cave, to Parshevitsa chalet, the Skaklya waterfall or through Zgorigrad village along the Pine Stone eco-trail all the way to Okolchitsa Mount.
Starting from the village of Lyutibrod a route winds all the way up to the summit, where the national poet and revolutionary Hristo Botev allegedly perished from a gunshot. This route passes through the Ritlite landmark, a few sheer, sharply chiselled limestone cliffs, named so for their resemblance to a wagon ladder. Seen close-up they resemble walls that rise above the Iskar River bed. The abundant vegetation around the cliffs has triggered debates in recent years over whether it should be cleared in order to protect the rock formation from erosion. In the vicinity stand the remains of old Koritengrad, once an important town on the Iskar Gorge, destroyed after the Ottoman incursion. Koritengrad had plentiful temples and bishops' palaces, but only the foundations of an early Christian basilica from V–VI centuries AD and a medieval church have survived.
One of the most beautiful routes is the Pine Stone eco-trail, which starts in the outskirts of Zgorigrad. This picturesque village is just above Vratsa and in itself is a great place to relax – in a more active or lazier way. The Pine Stone eco-trail shadows the Leva River, framed by wooden railings and small bridges to finally hit the Pine Stone waterfall. The road quaintly passes under the waterfall and then climbs on top of it to an observation deck. A marked trail starts here to reach Parshevitsa lodge after about an hour and a half walk; another trail leads to Okolchitsa Mount within a 4-hour trek.
A host of marked trails in the Vratsa Mountain lead to the historic Okolchitsa Mount, but the top event is the Kozloduy-Okolchitsa trek, which follows the route traversed by Botev‘s revolutionary squad. Hiking groups depart every year in the last days of May from the Kozloduy Danube bank and walk the mutineers' whole journey. Its 120 km ought to be completed by 2nd June, when the whole country honours the memory of Botev and all who perished for national freedom. The route was first trekked in 1947, an event initiated by the writers Pavel Deliradev and Dimitar Osinin and the historian Ivan Velkov. Deliradev stood behind the 1923 first mass climb of Moussala Mount; ten years later, he and Pavel Tsvyatkov were the first to cross the Kom-Emine route along the crest of the Balkan Range.
The Fairy Tales Forest Trail offers a relaxed experience to the youngest hikers. The trail starts from the Forest Home location, near the Parshevitsa Lodge. Fairytale corners, little cottages, photo sites and info-boards describing all forest dwellers string the route all along. Young and old are welcome to the Ledenika Cave, open to visitors throughout the year. Ice sculptures adorn it in winter and give its name, the Bulgarian for „ice cave“. It is located 17 km from Vratsa, with the journey meandering along multiple bends on an asphalt road and passing through the Vratsata pass.
Vratsa Mountain also has a small skiing track next to Parshevitsa Chalet. It sits at the foot of the highest peak in the area, Beglichka Mogila, rising to an altitude of nearly 1500 m. The track is equipped with a ski lift, and enjoys plentiful snow cover in winter that keeps a long time.
This review comes from a luxury hardcopy publication with plentiful photos by Siela publishing house titled "From the Old Mountain to the Danube - Hiking Ideas across Danube Bulgaria" (2018)