Indian food in Bansko

Indian food in Bansko

Indian food in Bansko

Indian food in Bansko.

 

Indian in BanskoThe Hotel Avalon has been offering Indian food in Bansko. for over 10 years now. It’s a slightly strange situation, an English guy cooking Indian food in Bansko but it makes sense I promise. A little bit of history will help.

On leaving school I trained and worked as a British modern chef. Cooking in most of the best restaurants in Bristol and upsetting nearly all of the head chefs. I never lasted long in one place! I’d work 3 months, learn everything I could and then dash off to the Alps to ski all winter or to Asia to wander around the Himalaya, Karakorum and Hindu Kush. My passion for food followed me to Asia. Where sat in wooden shacks in smokey kitchens I’d prize recipes out of everyone I could.15

Mostly we wouldn’t be able to talk in a shared language, there’d be lots of show and tell, spices would have local names, recipes would vary from village to village, but the general idea built up as I wandered through each region. For almost a decade I never really got a chance to cook any of the dishes I was learning. The U.K. was and still is in the throws of the Jamie Oliver food revolution. Cooking was all about “bung in a bit of Basil and slosh a load of olive oil”. I kept learning eating and tasting and writing everything down.

I was sent to Bansko in 2003 to do a job and decided to stay. I tried cooking a bit of “pukker grub” but no one was really interested in what I’d learned in Bristol, so we did a curry night. I thought I’d cook curry the British way and it was a total disaster, people wanted spice. There’s only so much shopska you can eat before you start craving a bit of flavour!

18The adventure started gently, I began by cooking Indian food in Bansko with easy classics from Delhi and Nepal. Then a few Pakistani dishes, aromatic and spicy numbers from up by the Afghan boarder. People loved it! I added some dishes from Goa, then Sri Lanka perfect for the summer. I’ve interpreted some Kashmiri dishes and made them my own ( so popular people now copy them!!) Afghanistan inspired me to make a chicken dish, sour and soapy with lemon and Cardamon and a bucket load of coriander.  Snacks that you would only find in the foot hills of Everest and now served as Indian food in Bansko ! As the years go by we keep changing the menu, this summer I unleashed a couple of new dishes that I thought our guests might like. One a creamy coconut dish packed with chilli from Sri Lanka and the other a mushroom and aubergine “Balti” full of tamarind and rich spices. It appears our guests are willing to be adventurous!

I will keep pushing the boundaries. I have a few dishes with goat that I want to try and a butter “carrai” from Tish Mir that might be too rich for western tummies. I’ve eaten countless versions of bean curries that I’d like our guests to sample. Now we have a tandoor maybe some of the highly spiced Afghan kebabs of offal might come out. Who knows, I keep going back to Asia and every time I get a new recipe or two and every time our guests love it. The adventure that is Indian food in Bansko continues!

We have a huge following of regulars and I’m proud of what we offer, people book months in advance and as a chef that is the most wonderful compliment. I love cooking Asian food and thousands of you love eating what we cook, thank you for your support!

16If you would like to try “Indian food in Bansko” it’s not just Indian ( Punjabi, Kashmiri, Pathan, Chitrali, Nepali, Sri lankan!) please book by Email:- hotelavalonbansko@gmail.com

Our curry nights are every Thursday in the summer season. In the winter every Thursday, most Fridays and some Wednesdays.

We start serving at 7:30 with a selection of Asian street food starters, Papad, samosa, bahji, sukuti, raita, pickles and chutneys.

The main courses are served at 8pm 9 different dishes split pretty much 50/50 between meat and vegan, we adjust the selection according to the season and what’s available. There is also a pretty wide spread of spiciness and heat. About half the meat dishes are cooked in the Tandoor to get that unique flavour as well as our Naan. The Basmatti rice is the best I can find in the U.K.

 

 

 

 

 

Summer in the Mountains

Summer in the Mountains

Summer in the Mountains 2017

 

Most people think of Bansko as purely a winter resort. Don’t get me wrong I love the winter months from Christmas to Easter I am one seriously happy bunny. The winter is just 3 or 4  months, for me the other 8 months of the year have their own unique charm. Summer in the Mountains is a really special time for me. The spring rains and the relentless gardening that they cause soon pass and then the 6 months of summer kick in.img_20170724_164004_240

If you red back through my blog you will see that I’ve been pottering, climbing, biking and generally exploring Pirin in the summer for nearly 15 years now. It will come as a bit of a surprise to you to find that I have barely scratched the surface. The main trails I know like the back of my hand. The secondary routes also pretty perfectly. Those unmarked trails  that look like a slight discolouration in the grass? Yup I know pretty much all of them too. The goat paths that always seem to lead to the top are my stomping grounds. Occasionally, more rarely now, the climbing routes get revisited.img_20170724_164843_455

This summer I heard of a new hut built in the south east corner of Pirin. This is an area I knew nothing about and the idea to explore really excited me. The most eastern ridge of Pirin runs almost exactly north to south. We planned to hike the ridge from Bez Bog hut to it’s end and then drop down to the hut.  Dylan is bigger and stronger these days so he came along. There is also now a really cool group of ex pats who love a good potter in the hills so we managed to get together a really nice group for the expedition.img_20170731_165002_354

Leading groups in the mountains is a dark art and I am not good at it. Distances change depending on weather, group size, style of walking, number of breaks, and soooo many other different variables. I normally get it wrong. My best f**k up was what I considered a 7 hour walk becoming a 14 hour walk ! So I was prepared for some issues. I had counted for 6 hours walking to the new hut. It was closer to 9 by the time we had had a picnic, swim, chat or two and sadly for poor Dylan a thousand and one breaks for him to rest!

Children in the mountains are a very un-quantifiable variable. Now the little man is a beast, we walk a lot, he does a load of sport and frankly he is a tough little man. When he is tired you just feed him and he carries on. Unfortunately even this didn’t work and for the last mile I had to carry him. A good lesson for Daddy and after some pasta and sauce a happy child. I would suggest if you are taking children into the hills halve the distance you think they can walk unless you are willing to carry them!img_20170702_193847_830

The second day was a bit of an adventure. New country is always hard to navigate and the endless forests that make up the eastern marches of Pirin are littered with trails and by ways that feel right but are very wrong. After a few hours we met a shepherd who told us we were on the right path if we were going to Greece but way off if we were going to Breznitsa! Herding his flock in front he took us on an hour yomp through the woods and set us on the right road. Again another long long day. Dylan ran out of steam when we got to tarmac so we hitched a lift down to the village.

Pirin is much much bigger than you imagine looking up from Bansko. 15 summers and I think  have covered only 80% of the trails and about the same amount of the peaks. Pirin is an ideal place for a Summer in the Mountains there are plenty of lake walks and easy trails. A project I am working on to bring more tourists to Bansko for a Summer in the Mountains is what I am calling the Davies. It is similar in concept to the Munro’s in Scotland.img_20170702_193757_380

Pirin Davies

If you are looking for a challenge during your Summer in the Mountains why not try bagging all the peaks in Pirin. The Pirin Davies challenge was thought up by my friend and mentor Di Davies, that’s why I’ve named the game after him. There are 89 peaks in Pirin over 2500m. Some are easy like Bez Bog which you could hike in under 3 hours others are epic multi day yomps like the Kamenitsa Begovitsa chain 7 peaks in a day but it takes 3 days in total. We think you could do them all in 10 weeks if you took it slow 6 if you pushed hard. All the peaks are doable without ropes on their traditional routes but some are a little bit hairy with scrambling and traversing steep unstable faces.img_20170702_194026_538

There are plenty of guides who would be willing to help if you need support on some of the trickier routes our friends at Summer Bansko are more than willing to point you in the right direction. The most south easterly and North westerly peaks would probably be best accesses with a tent so you can sleep at the peak and hike back the next day. Both get you 6 peaks in two days so there is some value in sleeping out for sunset and dawn!

I’m almost there with bagging all the peaks only 12 more to go and hopefully by this time next year we will have a lovely little web page with route guides and medals for anyone who bags them all.img_20170706_153142_549

 Annapurna Base Camp

I’m not a mountain guide! I failed my U.K. mountain leader qualification due to a technicality! However I do take people into the hills both summer and winter and some very special people to the Himalaya or Arctic. Guiding is an awesome responsibility that I normally leave to the professionals. The few times I have led groups in Pirin, Nepal, Greenland and off piste in the winter it always reminds me how amazing real professional mountain guides are!20171020_080819

This year I was planning my last trip to the Himalaya and mentioned it to a few of our regulars. Before long we had a group of 6 people interested and last week I came back from trekking with them to Annapurna Base Camp. The trek itself is one of the best in Nepal, at its quickest you can be in and out in 6 days starting from Jungle and passing through every variation of alpine until you get to  Base camp perched on a shelf above a huge glacier! 20171023_081901For me the Himalaya are a home from home the slow transition of landscape travelled though at walking pace, curry three times a day endless cups of tea and cigarettes friendly faces and beautiful places really appeal to me. What strikes me most about these trips is the human element and this trip was extraordinary for that. I had my usual team of Sulu Kumbu Sherpa. With Bihre leading and Sonam looking after the back of the group. This year a new guy came along called Kadgi, he’s been up Everest a few times and was a lovely addition to the team. The group were unbelievable, by far and away the funniest and fun people I have ever had the pleasure to hike with. Every day was full of laughter and banter even some of the harder days did not phase them. I will never forget this year, giggling like children over endless games of Uno teaching Daphne to swear like a navvy in her oh so lovely french accent . Trying to work out the probabilities of Yahtzee ( and failing dismally), the beautiful Chalet accommodation and the  snow at altitude. All in all an amazing trip made all the more amazing for the team.

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Summer in the Mountains

Once again Bansko and Nepal have made my Summer in the Mountains incredible. I’ve clocked god knows how many meters of altitude gain and miles of trail. Days and days of pottering new routes and new summits. As ever the views have been incredible and the experiences awesome. What has really struck me this year is the human contact. In the mountains you are away from the phone the computer and suddenly you are thrown into this old fashioned thing of actually meeting new people and talking to them, listening to them, enjoying their company. I’m not the most sociable of people outside work, as being friendly is my job but his year has been remarkable for the number of truly lovely people I’ve met in the hills.20171023_081901

If you are in Bansko in the summer go up, have a look. There appears to be an ars***le filter on the national park, you’ll only meet lovely people up there!!!

 

 

Summer in the mountains.

Dylan and Daddy in the hills!

 

img_20170731_165002_354This has been our first proper summer in the mountains. I’ve taken Dylan for a few trips each year for the last two years but nothing too crazy. We had an over nighter at Sinanitsa, a scramble with a little bit of rope with Di and a plenty of jollies. I started this summer with my best foot forward and haven’t really looked back.

 

Trekking in Pirin is a really hard game to explain. For each person who goes into our hills it means a totally different thing. If we make a scale of 1 to 5 to rate mountain nut nuts it’ll be a bit easier to understand.img_20170724_164401_150

 

 

Level One:-

Here is the The Man, 175 kilos of serious mountain man. He likes to walk from his car to a BBQ spot in the woods, the 100m stroll builds up an appetite. Gallons of beer will be strategically placed in the stream with a watermelon or two. Planning is essential as keeping beer cold and chilling a 10 kg melon is slow and difficult work. There are hundreds of dedicated BBQ spots. Most people have a favourite and will loyally go back to the same one week after week. The truly dedicate will spent a few years, possibly generations, building a villa but the principal is the same. Benches and tables hewn from whole trees, shade of some sort and a water source provide the supporting roles to the main star which is the fire pit. Pirin BBQ’s are not like your big green egg or Weber.  A U shaped pit of rocks cemented together make the frame. An intricate balancing act gets the grill in place over the roaring flames. Use of a flattish igneous rock as the grill and a roaring fire to heat it makes for an interesting fried/baked/smoked cooking style. This is proper cave man stuff none of your fancy metal grills here please. Just a bloody great rock heated up and slabs of meat slapped on top.img_20170706_153142_560

 

Pork fat, is crisped, peppers roasted, onions fried and maybe some other vegetable might be induced to show up. The real star of the show is the pork. No fancy marinades here, you use your favourite butcher and he’ll knock out a selection of different sausages, meat balls and spiced steaks of different cuts of pork ( neck is a personal favourite). This mountain of artery hardening goodness will be cooked to perfection by The Man and washed down  with gallons of cold beer. A ridiculously huge salad of home grown tomatoes and cucumbers will hint at vitamins. A few hours later in a meat coma under a tree our hero will be snoring happily.img_20170702_194026_538

 

Level 2:-

DFS, Down From Sofia. No one is from Sofia, not really. Sofiantsy are all recent immigrants to the big city. At most a generation ago they were all villagers and more likely only a couple of years ago. So Friday night means half of Sofia gets in the car and heads to the mountains. These guys are earning money so the clothes are nice and the trainers are nicer. They will eat in restaurants and HIKE! They split into two distinct categories. There are the jeans, t shirt and white trainers brigade and the everything from Decathlon brigade. These guys love the mountains! They will be up at the Rila seven lakes one weekend and Vihren the next. Limited in experience and stamina they will still spend most weekends exploring the main tourist routes in Bulgaria, scattering litter along the path all day and tucking into the local beers all night. Fun people who love spending time in the mountains these guys will be mountaineers soon!

 

img_20170706_153142_555Level 3:-

Trekkers , a truly international bunch. These guys can be from anywhere. Sofia, London, Buenos Aires , Paris or Milan. They’ve heard about how wild and hospitable Pirin is and they are here on an adventure. These guys can’t lie on a beach they will spend their whole summer in the mountains. Determined to be happy, super fit and willing to rough it in the hills they tend to respect the mountain more than most and LOVE what Pirin has to offer. Normally in town for a week hiking from hut to hut and then soaking in hot springs on their last day before heading home these easy going guys really get it!

 

Level 4:-img_20170702_193847_830

Summit baggers. Not all of this little group of nutters are interested in summits but they’ve got a goal and they are on a mission to get it. It could be all about climbing every mountain in Bulgaria or the Balkans, maybe its some epic adventure from Sofia to Greece. these guys are on one. Big packs and even bigger muscles, tales of insanely long routes, huge mountains and wild places that are beyond belief !

 

limg_20170724_164843_455evel 5:-

Mountaineers! There aren’t so many of these rare beasts in Bansko but  you can spot a few. Normally on north faces of something ridiculous  tooled up to the max with ropes and metal work. Leaving civilisation hours before dawn winter or summer these nutters will be hanging on by their fingernails to some hair raising  cliff before the rest of us have even had breakfast.

 

So where do I fit into this crowd? I’ve played at being a mountaineer and to be honest I’m lacking in the bucket loads of manliness needed to join them. I’ve played at bagging summits and still do from time to time. Long distance walks and multi day trips are still fun but I’ll only really do that a couple of times a year. Playing at being The Man is also pretty cool once or twice a year. I’m pretty partial to pork products and cold beer. But I think the truth of it is I like the playing most of all. National Park Pirin is , for me, a giant play ground. Now for Dylan as well.img_20170625_144915_068

 

We started our summer in the mountains together with an amazing group of ex pats. A crazily long trip to the wildest corner of Pirin. The south east corner of Pirin is visited by a few locals, hunters, trials bikers and the odd shepherd but otherwise is just a wilderness for the beasties. Last year the National Park built a hut about as far from anywhere as you could imagine so we decided to visit. It’s just a simple little bunk house for 8 people set in a meadow laced with crystal clear streams. A lovely little spot other than the clouds of mosquitoes! Getting there was a little harder than expected. I think it took us close on 16 hours over the two days to get from Bez Bog to Breznitsa and everyone was a little pooped by the end. I only had to carry Dylan for the last kilometre on the first day so he was a bit of a hero really.

 

img_20170724_164004_240I learnt my lesson so our next trip was a lot more child friendly. Bez Bog to Tevno hut and then on the second day Tevno to Damianitsa hut. We swam in lakes we had picnics. I had an afternoon nap and all in all it was a near perfect weekend. Telling bedtime stories under the stars and walking hand in hand through alpine meadows are experiences I hope he will never forget.Our next trip I plan to camp on a peak somewhere, then maybe the week after by a lake. I love this way of spending time in Pirin. Seeing the mountains through a child’s eyes is enlightening and walking at a child’s pace a real pleasure. Soon our summer in the mountains will be over and I will start testing myself against the high peaks and long trails again but for now I’m kind of loving the gentle life!img_20170625_145236_216

Bread and Jam

Bread and JamBread and Jam

Bread and Jam

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I really care about what I eat, it’s really important to me. Great flavours, textures and smells get me going, so much so that some might say I’m a couple of pounds over weight! But when it comes to our guests it matters even more. Not only do I want to offer the best we can but more and more people are caring about what they eat and really appreciate quality food.

Bansko is still trapped in the grip of the seasons. Yes you can by strawberries in Feb. but they are massively overpriced and no one locally would dream of buying them. The local way, the seasonal way is the old fashioned way, when there is a glut of fruit or veg it gets preserved, dried, pickled of fermented! So mid September we got hold of some raspberries, added a little sugar left them overnight and then slowly boiled them up the next day. 240 jars of jam later we serve it for breakfast. Local raspberries and sugar, nothing else, unless you count time and love. Just fruit and sugar and it is lovely.

I’ve been on a course to make bread and this summer I have been practicing, flour, salt and water. A little time and love to get the flour fermenting and with nearly a thousand loaves made in the last 9 months I reckon I have nearly got the perfect loaf! I make 100% whole meal, two types of seeded rye, brown and white loaves.

Bread and Jam, so simple and so often ruined by the supermarkets, are such a treat when home made! I hope you guys enjoy them as much as we do!

 

 

Rock climbing in Bansko

Rock climbing in Bansko

Rock climbing at Peshteritay

Rock climbing at Peshteritay

 

After our little adventure on the north face of Vihren I decided that the time had come to learn to rock climb. There are some things in life that are best learnt in the heat of the moment. Climbing with all its reliance on knots and technique and fatal consequences is not one of them.

I love Alpine style mountaineering and Trad climbing lightweight climbs on unknown routes leaving no trace that you were ever there. The independence of having everything you need on your back  the freedom that comes from being able to look after yourself no matter what. A rope, a stove, some gear and a good waterproof sleeping bag is nearly all you need in life. Add to that someone you trust and can get on with no matter what and life clarifies into a simple chain of pre ordained events and their responses. I have spent many happy years of my life riding this clear chain of thought and to be honest I love it. Questions answer themselves, life’s great mystery condenses  into a kind of enlightened clarity.

All good in principle but the lesson from Kuloara is that there are some technical skills needed as well. So last weekend we went off to Peshteritay to hone some skills. Peshteritay is a cave just outside Bansko next to the ski road, in the winter you’ll pass it on your way back from a days skiing. There is a little restaurant there that offers some great local food and hospitality at properly local prices.

Rock climbing in Bansko is a pretty hairy game, as most of the big mountain rock is cast limestone. If you imagine concrete that has not been mixed properly you will have a good idea of what this rubbish is. At Peshteritay there is some lovely rock, stable and with lots of great big holds. Mountain rescue and some local enthusiasts have fixed bolts onto the rock here so it is safe and easy to attach protection. Vania, Dylan, the nannies and I have been practising here for a month now. Vania and Dylan are now very very good, I am still struggling to master hauling so much weight around but hey we are having fun! If you want to go and try it out I really recommend George and his tear at INTERSPORT

climbing centre walltopia sofia

climbing centre walltopia sofia

As the family have taken so well to Rock climbing in Bansko we recently spent a weekend in Sofia at some indoor climbing walls. Bulgaria is the world leader when it comes to indoor climbing thanks to a company called WALLTOPIA we went to one of their newest ventures called boulderland.  A truely amazing experience, Vania it turns out is a natural rock climber, at moments she was hanging upside down efortlessly moving over the walls like a gecko. I on the other hand am still struggling to move the 110kg!

 

 

The little world of Don Camillo

The little world of Don Camillo doesn’t seem to have got across the channel . On the continent it has been a huge part of peoples lives for nearly 70 years. I was introduced to the books by The Old Man and a very strange choice it was to suggest to a teenager. The stories have stuck with me for life, I have read and reread them over and over and love the characters like members of an extended dysfunctional family.

The little world is somewhere in the flat misty plains of the Po river in northern Italy, that agricultural land that gave us Parmesan, risotto, Balsamic vinegar and Barilla pasta. Lush fertile land breeds a type of hardened man that knows, through graft he will succeed the Po valley is such a land. miles and miles of flat green fields, soil as black as tar, bordered by the Alps far to the north and the Apennines to the south, the food and wine, the people and the climate have interested me since I first stepped into the little world through the books of Giovannino Guaresch.

December the 26th 2013 is Avalon’s 10th Birthday and as we can’t really take a holiday right at the beginning of the season I decided to take Vania and Dylan on a trip overland through the little world of Don Camillo, the drive from Bansko to Igoumenitsa in Greece was a bit of a pain but once we were on the ferry things slowed down to a more manageable pace. 3 hours a day of driving followed by lunch and a lazy walk around whichever town we ended up in.

I wont bore you too much with details of meals eaten and wine drunk castles visited and views seen but there are some details that really stand out. The first place we stopped was just outside Modena a small nothingish little village with one bar and a couple of hotels, the main square was an exact replica of how I imagined the village of Don Camillo, arcades, a huge church tower and the whole village packed into the one barrestaurant, young and old alike eating and drinking. The food was incredible! Just a pizza and a risotto to share between the three of us but wow what a rissotto, plump white rice in the creamiest starchy sauce, flavoured with nothing more than a hint of Rosemary and Balsamic. As the evening wore on the background music changed to techno for half an hour to get rid of the olds and then back to chilled house for the rest of the night to make the place more of a bar than restaurant.

The next 14 days carried on in much the same vein, France and Italy really blow the mind when it comes to living well, we stopped a few times at motorway services to have lunch and even there you will find a better steak than anything in Bulgaria and a selection of hot cooked food that would baffle the average British motorist. The pace of life on the continent really is lovely, lots of muddling around talking rubbish, drinking coffee and making lunch a proper sit down meal rather than a rushed sandwich at the desk. Compared with the hectic 10 days we had in the U.K. our two weeks on the road were snail like!

Back in Bansko we have been plugging away at getting the hotel ready while the town hall plugs away at smashing everything up before the season starts. Sadly I do understand why our Dumb Mayor Georgi Ikonomov  has decided to attack the town with a buldozer but none of the reasons are publishable here due to worries about prosecution! 3 out of 6 of the main roads into Bansko are now shut due to building works, 1/4 of town has been without water for the student holiday which supposedly brought 11000 tourists to Bansko for the weekend. The whole area around the gondola station has been smashed to pieces in a frenzy of destruction. All this just in time for the start of the season. Obviously none of this could have been done in May, June, July, August, September or even October. I now fully understand why the leader of Ikonomov’s party refers to him as “Our Dumb Mayor from Bansko” and recently at a party meeting trying to find something nice to say about him suggested he wasn’t too bad at watering the lawns!

Koncheto ridge

Koncheto thanks to panoramio.com

Koncheto thanks to panoramio.com

02/09/2013 A return to Koncheto it has been nearly a year since I was last on koncheto. For those of you who don’t know this ridge it is the saddle to the right of what looks like the highest mountain in Pirin when you look up from the village. I am not quite sure how butKoncheto has become a bit of a “must do” thing for budding hikers. Yes it is very high (about 2700m or 2800m) yes it has a cable to hold onto and yes there is a bit of a plummet down to Banski Suhodol on the north side of the ridge. But really Koncheto itself is only a small part of what is a truly spectacular bit of mountain. Last time I was up there we were a very big group of mixed abilities and frankly my mind was so focused on getting everyone off the hill in one piece that I forgot to really enjoy myself! So Yesterday I decided to go back up there and have a bit of a play on my own. As it turned out a new guest had just arrived in the hotel who is a bit of a mountain man so he agreed to join in. The route I normally take up both Vihren and Kutelo starts from behind the Bunderitsa hut, a lovely trail that rises steeply out of old pine forest into alpine meadows and then into high alpine sedge and scree slopes. the 1100m climb to the top of Kutelo took about 2 hours of hard walking but it is worth allowing 4 hours so you can enjoy the views and have a brunch at the foot of the north face of Vihren. last year to save the effort of starting the ridge from the top of Kutelo we traversed from the col between Kutelo and Vihren onto Koncheto. This year with no team to worry about we pushed on the extra 200 vertical meters to Kutelo, unfortunately the top was covered with cloud but occasionally we got a little peek through into the valleys below. The first 200m from the top of Kutelo down towards Koncheto itself is just as exposed as the main ridge with many thousand feet of vertical cliff plunging down from the edge. The ridge is wide enough so not too scary but exhilarating. It is well worth starting the walk from the top of Kutelo to enjoy the extra bit of ridge. It also means you don’t have to access Koncheto itself from the normal mid point which involves a much harder traverse across smooth limestoney marble.

With the wind and cloud it was really quite cold as we muddled our way along, the cable is a great help and makes things a lot easier, allowing the novice climber to get a feel of proper exposure above the huge depth of Banski Suhodol. The more faint hearted can stay away from the edge on the south side of the ridge using the cable as a banister and enjoy the view from the safety of a nice wide clear path. Banski Suhodol is an area I am yet to explore much but tales of bottomless caves and huge limestone caverns abound, One day I will have to go and have a proper look!

I left my guest on the west side of Koncheto as he wanted to carry on to Yavarov and then the golf course and back to Bansko that way! ( a little too hard core for me) and I shot off back to the Bunderitsa car park for some lunch. The walk down on my own was lovely, quiet and beautiful for most of the descent. About an hour out from lunch I started to hear faint voices rising up on the breeze ahead of me. I couldn’t make out the language but the tone of the conversation was truly international. ” I never wanted to come up this bloody mountain in the first place” ” I’ll never make it home in one piece” “just leave me here”…. A very unhappy girlfriend and a very harangued boyfriend trying to make it off the hill. I am pretty sure, from the dark scowl on the boyfriends face, that the relationship was broken beyond repair! With a chirpy Dobra Den I trotted past and left them to their domestic. Lunch in the Bunderitsa car park has turned into a splendid Sunday tradition, loads of locals drinking and making merry, cheap food and loads of mingling between tables lends an atmosphere closer to a working mans club than a sketchy BBQ in a car park. A group of my friends from Belitsa and Sofia joined me, I had a beer with the mountain rescue boys who had just come off the hill having finished an operation. Another table was full with the recently returned heros of the Eiger… all in all a great sense of camaraderie prevailed! Even if you are not planning to head off into the hills loaded up with ice axes and ropes this is a lovely spot to have a wander around, look at the oldest pine tree in Bulgaria and have a lazy lunch.

72 hours at Tevno

 

 

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Dawn over Tevno lake 2512m

I’ve just come back from 72 hours at Tevno lake and other than the usual aches and pains from 3 longs days hiking I feel like a new man. Tevno is a magical place.  At 2512m it is higher than what I consider a mountain but surrounded by mountains giving a secret valley feel.

Tevno is not one place as such it is the name of a lake (Tevno Ezero) and a hut (Hija Tevno) and the shelf of land on which the two perch. Cut off from the rest of Pirin by a curtain of mountains on 3 sides the meadows around the lake are a salve of lush green in a land of boulders. The 4th side drops away south towards Sandanski and Greece lending an infinity pool feel to the landscape.

In the summer months when Pirin is busiest Tevno is a riot of tents and tourists. It is only 4 hours walk from the top of the Bez Bog lift and 4 easy hours at that, with food, shelter, electricity and drinking water it is a perfect base for hikers. The tiny hut can squeeze in 120 people, packed in like sardines. Suffocating in their own farts, baked in their own body heat, August is not the time to visit. Valia and Ivan who run the hut do an amazing job, on one tiny stove Valia will cook 3 hot meals a day for the crowds that pass through, Ivan with his train of ponies constantly work the route down to Damianitsa hut collecting supplies. July and August must be brutal graft.

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The outflow from the lake has been connected to a generator at the bottom of the infinity pool cliff giving light and power. Mobile phone signal still hasn’t and probably will never get to Tevno, the nature of the valley and its distance from the civilised world means it isn’t really viable. But by climbing to the col above the hut you can get signal if you really need to keep in touch.

Amazingly for a Bulgarian mountain hut, especially one that is so busy, the loos are fantastically clean! Some ingenious plumbing means that the classic squat toilets have been turned into self cleaning squat toilets! The huge drop down the front of the hillside helps keep a certain distance and a blind eye to downstream pollution makes the whole experience remarkably pleasant.

Aliki GreeceFor me Tevno is an Autumn thing, the hotel quietens down in September and we are normally closed by the 15th of October. My birthday is at the end of September and for the last 5 or 6 years we have gone with a small group of friends to a small beach on Thassos, away from the crowds late in the season it is normally deserted. With great rocks of diving a cafe and a restaurant it is everything we need for a super chilled break. This year we closed the hotel early and as soon as I got back from Greece I packed my rucksack and nipped off to Tevno.  Pirin is not quite deserted in the Autumn but my god it’s close. Once you are off the main tracks there is not a soul in the hills.  The way to Tevno follows the main Bez Bog / Popovo Lake motorway as far as Popovo, this track is insanely busy in the summer , crowds from Sofia and Plovdiv trying to get away from the summer heat, school summer camps and packs of trekkers heading deeper into the hills make it a hectic place. But now with the night time temperatures below freezing and the official holidays over silence prevails.

The few hikers that I passed on the main trail don’t venture past the lake so the faint track from Popovo up to the pass is empty. This little valley sandwiched between the Popovo valley and Djangal ridge might have a green floor but the high rocky walls lend an imposing gates of Mordor feel that is added to but the silence. Rocks that have been shunted around and then welded in place by ice overnight are now freed by the warm sun. Rock falls punctuate the silence suggesting goats among the scree, the odd crow and the clump of my footsteps are the only sounds.

I try to focus on my breathing tempering my pace to the terrain keeping my breaths constant my mind ever balanced on the in and out of my breath. I pace myself to never feel tired by any step, little steps, constant breath. The sun’s warmth, hot on one side, the cold mountain air chilly where my shirt is damp with sweat. I stop every hour for a drink and some nuts, I don’t know how but my body has a pretty accurate clock for these breaks, give or take 5 minutes I’ll decide to have a rest on the hour every hour. the relief of  ditching the bag and taking the weight off my feet is bliss, a different awareness of nature floods my mind as the tiredness eases out of me. The rhythm of steps and breaths , the focus on the ground in front of me is replaced with a symphony of luxury, resting in the view all around me.

The final pull up over the pass at Kralev Dvor always looks so much bigger that it really is, the daunting ever steepening wall of scree and smashed rock disappears in the steady rhythm of breaths and steps. It is a magical feeling looking down toward Tevno from the pass. Scree and jagged peaks give way to a grassy meadow. I’m tired now as I’ve been in the hotel too much this summer and my pack is heavy with all my camping clobber but in no time I’m sat on the bench out front, slowly taking off my boots zoned out in my little world of sweaty quiet. 

Tevno Hut 2512m

Tevno Hut 2512m

Valia is the same as ever, maybe a little more chilled, maybe a little older. I have been coming here for 13 years and she has been running the hut all that time. She is a mum now and her son Bojidar is staying at the hut as things are quieter. A couple of plastic toys and children’s clothes on the washing line lend a domestic air to this remote spot. I normally come with a friend so Valia is surprised to see me alone, we half chat neither needing the conversation but enjoying the renewed acquaintance. Soup and sausage make for a simple lunch and dinner and then I’m off again.

I don’t sleep at Tevno,  I am not a fan of mountain huts at the best of times but the stifling insulation of the high mountain huts is too much for me. This far from civilisation I like to sleep out under the stars. I have my normal spot the other side of the lake but today I’ve decided to sleep on the top of Valiavishki chukar 2664m. It is a bit of a plod up the ridge and with the wind picking up and clouds in the valleys I worry that it could be a cold and pointless night. I found a perfect spot, flattish grass between some big boulders out of the wind right on the summit! IMG_20151002_130927

There is a fine balance to sleeping in a bivvy bag yes you must be warm but not so warm that you are claustrophobic. I like my feet toasty but my head cool, shoulders and neck warm but face cool. Turning over in your sleep is a delicate affair if you don’t want to get tied in a knot, getting up to go for a pee in the night, lethal! Tonight I get it perfect. I fall asleep practicing my meditation just after a fantastic sunset, I wake up again to the most amazing night sky I have ever seen. Pitch black, the milky way dominating my vision, every star clear and bright. I lie there for a while blown away by the vastness of it all. The beauty of the universe stretching away into infinity is awesome!  The freezing air is biting at my cheeks so I pull the hood over and go back to sleep. I’m awoken again, this time by the moon, it means nothing to me just a harsh bright white light like a torch shone in my face, grumpily I try to ignore it and go back to sleep. Dawn is a riot of colour, nature has no shame! Like a whore who has won the lottery, technicolour splashes of red and gold, pink and orange smear themselves across the landscape. I wait for the sun to come up properly, half extract myself from my bag and sit reveling in the warmth of the sun on my skin.

IMG_20151002_151226Packing fast stiffly I set off towards a 2600m peak with no name a click or so to the west. It is a little drop down and then a gentle climb back up to the peak, a nice warm on such a chilly morning. The scramble down through the boulders back to Tevno hut is a bit nerve wracking with stiff sleepy legs. A quick breakfast of eggy bread and tea and I am off again. I want to explore a ridge called Mazgovishki chukar. Our plan to map and promote all the peaks in Pirin occasionally needs boots on the ground. on the three maps we have the ridge could have anything from 1 to 5 peaks on it. It is a hard climb up the steep ridge by the col but once I am on the ridge the mix of boulders and  grass is fun walking. After a couple of hours three things become clear. 1) I am in terrible shape compared to last year. 2) There are 5 peaks on the ridge. 3) There is no way I am doing 2 of them today. One is at the end of a narrow rocky ridge with certain death on both sides ( I’ll need Di and some rope to tackle that) and the other is out on a flying buttress of  dwarf pine covered smashed rock that will take hours to get to and back from. That one will have to be a mission on its own probably from below.IMG_20151002_150410 I wander slowly back to Tevno worrying about the clouds, if they come in it will be a warm wet night with lots of dew if they stay away it will be cold and clear. Probably very cold as it will be the second cloudless night in a row. I decide for a lower more sheltered spot in the folds of meadow towards the far edge of the fields away from the hut. Hopefully out of the wind and with a good view of sun set and rise.

Errors all round! too many clothes on, no hat, restless sleeping meant I got tied in the most awful knot in the bivvy bag. A freezing boulder under my mattress , heavy frost and minus way too much, all in all a shit night. Well the stars were amazing again but otherwise shit! I left my phone in my rucksack so that got frozen which killed the battery. Same for my water bottles, and my head.  I woke up with a blinding headache which I can only think was due to my head being out of the bag all night without a hat. Feeling miserable and not a little sorry for myself I start digging through my medical kit where I know I have some amazingly powerful opiates, nope they’ve run out as well. Packed and ready to roll I head off for breakfast . Bojidar and I make some puzzles as I nurse some tea and eggy bread. It is a long day back to Vihren hut and I am not feeling my best. I want to climb 3 peaks that are off the main trail and really don’t know if I have the energy. IMG_20151002_150814 It is a long hard walk on a good day but today isn’t a good day. I pace myself as best I can, stopping a lot of water and nuts, slowly up and slowly down pausing at every excuse but it is soon clear that I’m not going to get those extra peaks. Malak Tipits it way off the main trail, Vazela looks huge and impossible and the ridge to Vasilashki chukar like death on a stick. I know it is my addled brain that is making things look worse than they are but still I can’t face it. The sun is burning and every little bit of shade is a blessing and a curse. The cool in the shade is both a balm for my brain and well as my skin but then it also means that the ice from last night has not defrosted yet so the rocks and mud underfoot are treacherous. Eventually I start down through the boulders into the valley above Vihren hut. down down down, giant careful steps, solid easy rocks, wobbly ones, giant steps down onto tiptoes, flowing paths of crushed rock. on and on the descent goes. I keep telling myself not to get too happy about getting to the grass at the bottom as there are two more sections of equally difficult terrain but still my heart skips as I step off the rocks onto soft grass. The path get busier, a group of Bulgarians heading to Tevno, two beautiful girls dressed for a wedding, a lost lone walker asking for directions. Down down down the path heads into the dwarf pine, offering a little shade I’m happy to be in amongst this most annoying of plants. I stop to chat to an Israeli couple but too tired carry on after the briefest of conversations. More rocks, more sun, now so tired. I stop in the cool damp shade under a huge boulder, I can see the last meadow before the bridge, Vihren hut is 20 minutes away at this pace but it feels further. More nuts, more water, my stomach is not happy about the nuts it wants something easier to work with but nuts is all I have so nuts it is. I am pretty zoned out now my brain has been in a state of nothing for hours so as I come up to the bridge and see Dylan, Vania, Niki and the dogs it is with a strange sense of equanimity, that I drop my bag, kneel down to hug Dylan.

The Davies, Route 6.

http://alextrek.com/gallery-alextrek-pirin-vasilashki-chukar-climbing

Photo Credits to Alex Trek

The Davies, Route 6.

Vazella #33, Vasilashki Chukar #34

 

This is a lovely little walk close to the road head at Vihren hut. The Davies, Route 6 will take you about 5 hours of which 3 hours are on clearly marked main trails. 2 hours of the route is off piste and involves a little bit of easy scrambling. This is a great route to practice hiking off piste and a wonderfully easy introduction to scrambling. I took my son here to get his confidence back after his first scrambling adventure!

Starting at Vihren hut follow the main trail to Damianitsa hut. This trail is marked with red and white blazes and green and white blazes. The trail follows the river up the valley towards Ribno lake then climbs to Jabeshko lake. Here the trail splits and the red and white markers go south east towards Tevno Hut and the green and white markeres head almost due east towards Damianitsa hut.  Follow the green and white path as it zig zags up the slope towards the pass “Todorina Porta” .

 

Near the top the path skirts round a field of boulders at this point turn right (east) across the boulders towards the summit of the ridge . Follow the ridge south east. There is a path along the top of the ridge but in places it is over grown with klek, fight your way through the klek! There are a couple of spots where you walk along the ridge edge but nothing too scary!

There are some magnificent views down to Vasilashki lakes and across to the pinicaled ridge of Strazhite and Polejan and Djangal in the background. This enjpoyable but short ridge walk ends abruptly with a section that requires a little care. The first pinicale can be avoided by taking the path that skirts below it down to the right. I would recommend taking with direct route over the top of this pinacle. Follow the ridge line straight up to the summit. It will require some easy scrambling. The next few spikes can be climbed in the same manner but they are covered in klek. It is better to go around them following the vague path down to the right of the ridge.

Don’t be tempted to follow a “path” down and across the bottom of the south west face of Vasilashki Chukar. Stay high! Make your way up to the foot of the final face of Vasilashki Chukar. This North West face looks intimidating from below but don’t be put off it is not as scary as it looks! A few minutes sfitt climbing up the grassy slope and then a scramble through the rocks and you are on the summit. Please be aware the rocks are loose here so go gently. The summit is a lovely spot so take a break here and enjoy.

Descend directly south from the summit.  The route is clear, follow the ridge over boulders and loose ground passing 2 rounded pinicles. Asscend again to reach the narrow col between the 2 peaks. there is a vague path here that curves up and around some boulders to the summit of Vazella.

From Vazella, drop down south east over easy ground to the main red and white trail that goes from Vihren Hut to Tevno Hut. From here you will descend through a huge boulder field down to Dulgoto lake. Before you do take a moment to enjoy the majesty of Bashliyska Chukar, Vihren and Kutelo. From Dulgoto lake it is an easy walk back to Vihren hut following the red and white trail.

 

 

The Davies, Route 10.

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The Davies, Route 10.

#22 Bim 2520m, #23 Georgiytsa 2589m, #24 Sinanitsa 2516m, #25 Peak 2520m.

The Davies, Route 10. It is certainly possible to do this circuit in a single day, We would recommend an over night stay and the beautifully situated but basic Sinanitsa hut. There are 4 possible approaches to the hut:-

  1. The clearly marked yellow trail from Vihren hut via Banderishka porta to Sinanitsa hut.
  2. Follow the description in The Davies, Route 7. After descending #19 Muratov Vrah, join the main Vihren-Sinanitsa trail.
  3. Approach Sinanitsa from the SSW, this is rarely used by people from Bansko but a beautiful walk up through the southern forests.
  4. The Davies, Route 10. The Gergiyski lakes approach which I will describe here. Very much an off piste route through some wonderful country. 20160714_151306

The Davies, Route 10. From Vihren hut follow the gentle and well marked yellow trail up the valley to Muratovo lake, in early summer this valley is full of wild flowers, an alpine paradise!  From the lake you will be off the marked trail but the path is relatively clear and easy to follow.

20160703_152624Circle the beautiful little lake until you reach the inlet stream to the west. The stream emerges from a gully filled with boulders. Follow the faint track up the right hand side of these boulders. Near the top the going gets a little steep but not difficult. You will emerge onto the ridge which offers a great view of Vlahinski lakes and #21 Gredaro. From the ridge pick your way down through boulders and rough ground heading for the obvious pass between Gredaro and Muratov. There are some cairns and a faint trail but it is a case of hike and hope rather than following a clear path!20160714_123512

From the pass there is a wonderful view of the Gergiyski lakes. This valley is rarely visited and a pristine little kingdom of wild alpine meadows.  The “path” passes between the two largest lakes and then south west between a fine rocky peak and the main Georgiytsa ridge line. Again there are some cairns and a faint trail. Keep SW under the magnificent rocky structures of Georgyitsa peak which you will climb tomorrow.

20160714_112944Turn west over lots of boulders as you reach the sharp rocky NW ridge of Georgyitsa. Once you have passed this ridge turn back sharply to the SE. Contour around the curves of Georgyitsa and then head almost straight south descending into the bowl shaped valley with two tiny lakes (sometimes they are dry). Climb up about 50m through rocks and a steep klek filled path that traverses to the west. From here you drop down onto the marked trail to the hut.  This last section feels a lot longer than the description but keep your bearings and push on and you will reach the path eventually!The hut is sheltered beneath the impressive cliffs of Sinanitsa in mixed country of meadows and klek, Sinanitsa lake is pretty and inviting but the water is very very cold! Swimming is only for the brave as it sees little sunshine. Di suggests a lazy start as the return journey isn’t arduous. I prefer to leave early and then take my time on the beautiful summits of the return.20160704_103538

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Descend the ridge line steeply down to the south and then east. Just above the pass you will cross Momin Vrah which doesn’t quite scrape into the Davies at only 2480m.  From Momin Vrah descend steeply through the rocks to Sinanitsa porta. From the porta the main blue trail to Vihren hut traverses almost flat beneath the ridge line. Ascend the broad stony ridge line NNE  towards the unnamed peak #25 2520m.  From the summit keep along the ridge line NNE descending through boulders and then rocks, diverting off the true ridge where you have to. There is a rocky saddle between #25 and Georgiytsa. Ascend again NNE to the summit at 2598m.

The ridge swings NE and then E after about 1.5km you reach #22 Bim at 2560m. Descend ENE over easy ground to join the main path before Banderishka porta.  Rest at the pass before you descend again to Vihren hut.

Allow 6 hours for each day.  The return route is dry so make sure you bring lots of water.20160704_093255