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Philip Stanimirov – The Belogradchik Rocks and Magura Cave

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Philip Stanimirov is one of the first freelance guides that Traventuria started to hire. I personally have learned a lot from him and many of our tours have been improved by taking into consideration his recommendations. He is a person always on the road and he works as guide-driver as well. It really amazes me how he has the energy to take with passion so many tours per year. I have addressed him with some questions regarding the Belogradchik Rocks and Magura Cave – a tour that Traventuria can organize upon request.

There are foreign tourists that book private day tours from Sofia to the Belogradchik Rocks and Magura Cave or visit the area with a rent-a-car. It takes about 3 hours to get there from Sofia. I know that you work as a guide-driver. Which road to there do you recommend? Do you have a favourite place to stop for a break?
As an experienced guide, I try to understand prior to our trip about the interests of our travelers. So I choose the route but usually, it is via the Petrohan pass – a picturesque and interesting road, for the best part of which the road is good quality and winding through some really mountainous areas with small villages. Not so far away from the beginning wе make a stop at the Gintsi village and I buy a jar of sheep’s yoghurt – one of the products by which Bulgaria is famous all around the world. I give my travelers a taste of it and even if they don’t like it I know that they have tried some of the best of our countryside homemade products. Our next stop is at Montana – we’ve done already more than two-thirds of the drive so a little break for stretching up is always welcome.

The Magura Cave is one of the most beautiful caves in Bulgaria and the first to open doors for the general public. The thing that fascinates me most about it is the prehistoric drawings. Can you tell me more about them?
Absolutely! The cave was formed due to tectonic movements some 15 million years ago but the paintings are very “new” – only about 6000 years BC! Practically they date from the time soon after the Ice age and it was occupied by the pre-humans who had to find where to live in found the cave to be a well sheltered and cosy place. They had to share it though with some wild animals and their pictures present their daily life, their beliefs and traditions – we can see a bear, a snake – symbol of wisdom in the past, a dog – where hunting scenes are depicted, roes, goats, checkers in their functions of a calendar – by the way quite precise, mushrooms – possibly hallucinogenic, used by the prophets for their visions and predictions, so we learn about the lifestyle of those ancient humans.

What other things seem to impress the tourists?
Surely the size of the cave – one can spend easily about 2 hours and there are quite a few galleries still to explore, in the cave have been formed six separate chambers, the biggest being the Arc hall, and many typical formations – stalactites, stalagmites and stalactons, with the major formations to be The Poplar, The Pipe Organ, The Oriental City and The Cactus, of course depending on one’s imagination.

There is a wine cellar associated with the cave (http://www.magurawinery.bg/en/index/). Have you tried their wine tasting offer?
The Magura winery is the only one in Bulgaria where naturally champanised wines are made using the traditional method, as well as the traditional red wine – Gamza, which is very popular for the North Western part of Bulgaria. As the time for a daily tour is a bit restricted I had never had the chance to try their wines other than buying them for home.

Which types of wine do you recommend to the tourists?
Of course, the Gamza on first place as a more typical sort for us, but their Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are also rather good full-bodied dry wines to enjoy some delicious meals with! I have to mention of course our brandy – “Vrachanska Temenuga” which is one of the best high alcohol drinks produced in Bulgaria, with a very mild taste and naturally flavoured.

In 2009 the Belogradchik rocks were competing with 261 other natural wonders to become one of the 7 new natural wonders of the world. As the time during a day tour to this natural phenomenon is limited, to which places do you take the tourists so they can enjoy fully the area?
Once we’ve spent about 2 hours at the Magurata cave it takes just 25 mins. to drive to the Belogradchik Fortress – a citadel that has been there for more than 2000 years incorporating just a group of the Belogradchik Rocks. Themselves the rocks present a vast area of 50 square kilometres, so it is not possible to visit and see all the different groups and formations. Yet, from the top, once we go through the courtyards of the fortress, the traveler will enjoy a beautiful sight of the red rock formations far and far away! The view is amazing – it is like the sea full of waves and at the same time as living still life!

Is there a preferred spot for taking photos of the fabulous landscape of the area?
Many places give great opportunities for the nature lovers and those keen photographers. While the place is magnificent for me most important is the safety so when choosing your position you must be very careful. I do not have a specific spot.

The north-western part of Bulgaria where the Belogradchick rocks are located is considered one the poorest regions in the EU. At the same time, it feels very authentic and not ruined by mass tourism. The culture and the cuisine in the area are also influenced by nearby Serbia and Romania. Is there a dish that must be tasted when there?
When you get to North-Western Bulgaria you have to realise that the climate and the local conditions surely have affected the agriculture and the cuisine plus the fact of close-by Serbia, Romania and the Danube. Potatoes are part of our cuisine all through Bulgaria, red sweet peppers too, white beans as well as pork, lamb, poultry. Yet, a typical meal for Belogradchik region are the stuffed red sweet peppers – instead of the usual filling with mince and rice, the locals stuff the peppers with white beans and this is part of the tradition for the Christmas fasting period.

Can you mention also other highlights of the day tour to Belogradchick Rocks and Magura Cave?
Nearby – some 30 mins. drive is the “Venetsa” (The Wreath) cave and of course as a spectacular site is the Rabisha lake – just at the exit of the Magurata cave! It would be great if one could extend the day and visit Chiprovtsi village for its handmade carpets as well!

Why do you think that the Belogradchik Rocks are not so often included in the multi-day tours of most Bulgarian tour operators?
Northwestern Bulgaria is the least commercially developed part of our country and there aren’t many options for high-quality accommodation, similar is the situation with the restaurants. Driving through the mountains can be picturesque but at the same time takes the traveler to what feels like a remote area and maybe these are the main reasons.

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